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Emanuel Garrett

Men and Women of Labor

Out of the Past

John Dos Passos

Joe Hill
(Executed Nov. 19, 1915)

(1 August 1939)


From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 55, 1 August 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

Joe Hill wasn’t the sort of man who left much of a record of his life – what he had done this year, where he had gone the next. All he left was a monument of song known and sung by every worker-militant. That and the memory of a courageous working-class fighter who stood his ground up to the very last moment. What is known of Joe Hill’s life, John Dos Passos has put down in the magnificent portrait we reprint here [1]:

* * *

A young Swede named Hilstrom went to sea, got himself calloused hands on sailing ships and tramps, learned English in the focastle of the steamers that make the run from Stockholm to Hull, dreamed the Swede’s dream of the west; when he got to America they gave him a job polishing cuspidors in a Bowery saloon.

He moved west to Chicago and worked in a machineshop.

He moved west and followed the harvest, hung around the employment agencies, paid out many a dollar for a job in a construction camp, walked out many a mile when the grub was too bum, or the boss too tough, or too many bugs in the bunkhouse; read Marx and the I.W.W. Preamble and dreamed about forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

He was in California for the S.P. strike (Casey Jones, two locomotives, Casey Jones), used to play the concertina outside the bunk-house door, after supper, evenings (Long-haired preachers come out every night), had a knack for setting rebel words to tunes (And the union makes us strong).

Along the coast in cookshacks, flophouses, jungles wobblies, hoboes, bindlestiffs began singing Joe Hill’s songs. They sang ’em in the county jails of the States of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Idaho, in the bullpens in Montana and Arizona, sang ’em in Walla Wallah-San Quentin and Leavenworth, forming the structure of the new society within the lails of the old.

At Bingham, Utah, Joe Hill organized the workers of the Utah Construction Company in the One Big Union, won a new wagescale, shorter hours, better grub. (The angel Moroni didn’t like labor organizers any better than the Southern Pacific did.)

The angel Moroni moved the hearts of the Mormons to decide it was Joe shot a grocer named Morrison. The Swedish consul and President Wilson tried to get him a new trial but the angel Moroni moved the hearts of the supreme court of the State of Utah to sustain the verdict of guilty. He was in jail a year, great on making up songs. In November 1915 he was stood up against the wall in the jail yard in Salt Lake City.

“Don’t mourn for me, organize,” was the last word he sent out to the workingstiffs of the I.W.W. Joe Hill stood up against the wall of the jail yard, looked into the muzzles of the guns and gave the word to fire.

They put him in a black suit, put a stiff collar around his neck and a bow tie, shipped him to Chicago for a bangup funeral, and photographed his handsome stony mask staring into the future.

The first day of May they scattered his ashes to the wind.


1. From 1919 by John Dos Passos, pp. 421–423.

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