31 May 2011

Art, the IWW, and WWI

The Thomas Brooks family, ca. 1890, in Texas. Artemus Clark Brooks stands tallest. Photo courtesy of Linda Schritter. 

I'm still catching up on everything after a month of travel in all directions. Next up is The Next Major Event at the new building, in which we add the emeritus curator's name to the building in front of his friends and family. This is a little overwhelming emotionally for everyone who has worked with him all these years. Just to make sure that everyone in the vicinity finds out how easily I choke up at these events, the Powers That Be have asked me to emcee the presentation. I'm not sure how long I'll make it before I have to claim laryngitis, the sun in my eyes, or whatever other pathetic excuse comes to mind. 

There's also a lot of catch-up work on the genealogy front. As I have had cause to mention before, one should not get into this line of investigation if one is not prepared to deal with all sorts of startling and even abhorrent behaviors on the part of one's ancestors. So far Shirley's family is winning in the reprobate sweepstakes, but that may be only because Ralph's family is a bit more difficult to track. In Ralph's family, we have the die-hard Confederados. In Shirley's, we have at least one known moonshiner, we have Cleophas/Clovis, and now we have Great-Uncle Art. None of this was anything anyone expected. 

Cleophas/Clovis Walker was my grandmother Johnson's uncle on her mother's side. We've discussed his fall from grace with the Feds. His father, John Hinton Walker, was a known moonshiner (which my grandmother denied hotly to the end). On her father's side, however, we find her uncle Artemus Clark Brooks. And his troubles were also with the Feds, but in a strikingly different way. 

Take a look at that gang up at the top. Those are mostly the Brooks children. Twelve of them. Art is standing at the far left. My great-grandfather, Joseph Newton Brooks, is seated at the far right, with his little sister Mandy standing behind him, and his oldest brother William Washington seated next to him. Newt is in his late teens. Art was a couple of years older, the next-to-oldest, born in 1873. 

This is a frontier, homesteading family with precious few resources beyond their own capacity for hard work. That board-lumber house was a lifetime accomplishment. The three oldest boys will take very different paths. William Washington Brooks, the oldest, took his wife and daughter to Mexico--no one seems to know exactly where--and died there. No other details are known. Newt went down to Mexico to bring the widow and daughter back. He homesteaded and made a fairly decent living. 

But Art was different. 

I didn't have any problem finding a reference to Art online, even after all these years. His records were right there with all the others released by the FBI. THAT got my attention. 

Great-Uncle Art was prosecuted as a draft evader in 1921, it turns out. He was not, however, just a typical slacker. 

There are two records for Art that are available. In the first one, we find him charged in Arizona with evading the WWI draft in 1918. Apparently he had moved there to work in the mines, and had incurred the wrath and suspicion of a neighbor who was a grieving father of two soldiers killed in action. The FBI (actually, at the time, just the Bureau of Investigation) followed up on the (anonymous) neighbor's complaint that Art Brooks was a draft evader and  probably plotting the overthrow of the government. 

From the neighbor's complaint: "Art Brooks was very loud in his condemnation of the government and parising [sic] the I. W. W."

Art was arrested on the Forest Reserve near Prescott, Arizona, as an alleged draft evader. His defense was that he was way past draft age: in 1918, he would have been 45. He was 48 when he was arrested. 

P. 2: "A further investigation of subject at post office developed the fact that subject has been receiving what the clerk of the Post Office thot [sic] was radical literature in large packages. On examining his post office box, No. 799, Agent discovered two copies of the APPEAL TO REASON, addressed to Art Brooks, Prescott, Arizona." 

"Subject was unable to make bond and was remanded to the county jail." 

Appeal to Reason was a Socialist Party of America newspaper founded in 1895, when Prairie Populism was a growing trend. In 1921, it was on its last legs and would in fact cease publication the next year. Great-Uncle Art was apparently the family's outspoken Socialist, at a time when Socialism was seen as a major threat by the government. As a supporter of the International Workers of the World, Art would have caught the BI's attention even without the draft evasion charges. Or perhaps he had, but the charges were actionable. 

But it makes no sense, because he was in fact 45, past draft age. He seems to have been guilty of, at worst, being obnoxious. IWW membership was not illegal, and he was not in a place to pose much of a threat to anyone. 

When he appeared for the hearing, the rest of the story came out.

"On cross examination Agent questioned subject with reference to his registering for voting on August 3, 1910, at which time he gave his age as 36 years. He stated that he always stated that he was younger than he really was for the reason that he was unable to secure a position as a miner if he were to disclose his true age." 

The agent seemed to realize at this point that there was not a lot of evidence for draft evasion. The trail stops here. Art seems to have been caught up in a bad combination of his misrepresentations and his unpopular Populist political beliefs, at a time when the country was still recovering from The War to End All Wars. If only that had been true... 

Art died 7 years later in Texas and is buried in the family plot in the Panhandle. He was 55. No descendants are known. Obviously he got out of Arizona and made it back to Texas, but I get the feeling that his life was blighted by his arrest in Arizona. 

If there is a moral to this story, it escapes me. Art was probably never much of a threat to anyone. He was too old to fight in WWI, and he was the only one who suffered for his misrepresentations. But he's not exactly a likable character, either; not much of a poster boy for his beliefs. The Socialist Party of America was collapsing at the time, due in no small part to dissension within its ranks. If Art is a representative of its stance in 1921, it's not hard to see why. 

Content Source: The National Archives Publication Number: M1085 Publication Title: Investigative Case Files of the Bureau of Investigation 1908-1922 Publisher: NARA Short Description: NARA M1085. Before it was called the FBI, the Bureau of Investigation investigated real and perceived threats to the nation and its citizens. Collection Title: Investigative Reports of the Bureau of Investigation 1908-1922 Series: Bureau Section Files, 1909-21 Case Number: 25-8-259-1 Case Title: ALLEGED DRAFT EVADER Suspect Name: ARTEMUS CLARK BROOKS 

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