On today’s episode I have the pleasure of speaking with history professor and author Aaron Goings.
Aaron’s latest work titled, The Port of Missing Men, is an in depth look into the life and legend surrounding Billy Gohl the charismatic, controversial and infamous labor organizer of the Sailors Union of the Pacific.
After being convicted for the murder of a good friend, Billy was unjustly credited with the murder of dozens of port workers and was branded by the press as The Ghoul of Grays Harbor.
Aaron’s book looks into this bizarre slice of history and attempts to untangle the complicated story of big business, organized labor, citizen committees, and shady detective agencies in pursuit of the truth behind the multitude of dead bodies known as the “floater fleet” that clogged the frigid waterways of Gray’s Harbor, Washington in the early 1900’s.
More than just a true-crime novel, The Port of Missing Men exposes the brutal treatment sailors and loggers suffered at the hands of lumber barons and ship owners in the early Pacific Northwest extraction economy and details the heated and sometimes violent clashes between pro-union and anti-union forces.
Aaron’s book exposes a class system of income inequality that persist even today and serves as a poignant reminder that the fight for fair pay, safer working conditions and basic workers’ rights is far from over.
The Show Notes
The Port of Missing Men
Welcome to Grit Nation. I'm Joe Cadwell, the host of the show, and on today's episode, I have the pleasure of speaking with history professor and author Aaron Goings. Aaron's latest work titled The Port of Missing men is an in depth look into life and legend surrounding Billy Gohl, a charismatic, controversial and infamous labor organizer of the Sailors Union of the Pacific. After being convicted for the murder of a good friend, Billy was unjustly credited with a murder of dozens of Port workers and was branded by the press as the ghoul of grays harbor. Aaron's book looks into this bizarre slice of history and attempts to untangle the complicated story of big business, organized labor, citizen committees and shady detective agencies in pursuit of the truth behind the multitude of dead bodies known as the floater fleet that clogged the frigid waterways of grays harbor, Washington in the early 19 hundred's. More than just a true crime novel, The Port of missing men exposes that brutal treatment sailors and loggers suffered at the hands of lumber barons and ship owners in the early Pacific Northwest extraction economy and details the heated and sometimes violent clashes between pro union and anti Union forces. Aaron's book exposes a class system of income inequality that persists even today and serves as a poignant reminder that the fight for fair pay safer working conditions and basic work rights is far from over. After this episode, be sure to check out the show notes for more information about Aaron goings in his book, afford a missing man. And now on to the show. Aaron Goings Welcome to Grit Nation.Aaron Goings:
Hey, thanks so much for having me. Good to talk to you, Joe.Joe Cadwell:
Yeah, thank you so much, Aaron for taking your time to be on the show. Today. I'm really excited to introduce you to my listener audience. You are an author of a book that I recently finished called the port of missing men Billy Gohl labor in the brutal times in the Pacific Northwest. And for those who don't know Billy Gaul story, it's an interesting story, a fella who was once considered to be perhaps the the first or largest serial killer in America. Seems like maybe there's upon reading your book, there's a little more to the story that has deeper roots in labor history. And before we get into your book, and Billy goal, Aaron, what got you interested in writing a book about labor history and Billy's story?Unknown:
Right? So thanks so much for asking me asking me that. So I'm a historian. I work in teach history and research history. And growing up in a working class family of blue collar family on Washington's coast, I always very interested in the working class experience. And growing up in a working class family, it's kind of hard to escape the reality of class, you see it all over the place. You see it in conditions faced by working people, including me and my family, versus those who own say, factories etc. and other bits of business. And so when I was in college, first generation college student working class college student was fairly turned off by the traditional story of history, which is often to this day is still a very top down story, elite white men and their heroic acts. So I picked up first Howard Zinn's famous people's history. And from there, I went on Learn learned about the wobblies very prominent here in the Northwest. And more and more I saw my story reflected, I saw the working class majority's story reflected and I, at that point, really, when I was in my early 20s, until now, my main goal professional goal personal goal is to research and write and tell working class stories working class history, because it's a very different story than the one you get from the news media. From most textbooks and the like, and this I thought the Billy Gohl story, because it his life is fairly well known in the Northwest that this was a great opportunity to reach a larger than usual audience with labor history book. Yeah,Joe Cadwell:
For sure. And you know, in reflection on the the captains of industry, the Rockefellers and the and the Carnegie's and those type of people, they are sort of idolized, but there are a lot of bad sides to what they had accomplished as well. And a lot of that holds true today. And I think we just recently back with the Occupy Wall Street, got a fresh taste of what income inequality was all about. And so in writing your book, which centers around Grays Harbor, and Aberdeen, Hoquiam area, there was the huge division of wealth back in the early 1900s. And why did that division of wealth become so prominent,Aaron Goings:
the roots of of that inequality really have a lot to do with the nature, nature of industrial capitalism. So whether you're in Pacific Northwest, where the largest industry by far almost the only industry in the late 19th, early 20th century, or certainly the largest, by far is lumber, whether you're talking about mining, whether you're talking about steel mills, or large scale plantation agriculture, the owners of of those firms, the owners of logging camps, they had such incredible power, they had real control over the political parties, both the Republicans and the Democrats, they had a lot of say, in the laws that were passed, they had a lot of control over police and newspapers that often only presented their story, really turning employers into heroes. And then anytime workers organize, anytime workers fought back, they would be met with violence in one form or another, whether that was mass arrests, whether it was the passage of anti union legislation, which was very common in Washington state where I am, and in Oregon, and many other western states, essentially making it illegal to belong to certain kinds of labor organizations. And that power that employers had a century ago, is, and I think you were maybe hinting at this a bit, we can see it reflected in the 21st century as well. I do think for a lot of people who had maybe kept their head buried in the sand, it was occupy that really made that gross division of income inequality, wealth inequality, really obvious, and we couldn't deny it any longer.Joe Cadwell:
So it's a pretty age old story, but it's really in the context of your book, again, the port of missing men, which focuses on Billy Gaul, who will get into as a labor organizer. He got involved with that, not not representing the lumber industry, folks, but the people that were actually transporting a lot of the cut lumber out of the Grays Harbor port, which at the early 20th century was the largest producer of timber in the world, is that correct?Aaron Goings:
Right. So today, Grays Harbor is if it's known for anything, I think it's perhaps as the hometown of nirvana or as the rainiest place in the contiguous United States. But a century ago, Aberdeen and Hoquiam were some of the largest cities in the Pacific Northwest on both were top 10 largest cities, and they produced billions and billions of board feet of lumber that was shipped out of what became the port of grays harbor out of Aberdeen out of Hoquiam. And it was the largest lumber port in the world for decades on end. And of course, for that to happen. Workers need to put the lumber on the ships and workers need to transport that lumber on the ships. So we're talking about the importance of longshoreman longshore workers as well as sailors and they represented this important choke point. Although there's only 100 200 longshoremen and sailors at any one time in places like Aberdeen and Hoquiam. During mobility goals, lifetime, they had the power that they could exercise and did exercise to shut that port down and really stop, stop the transportation of cut lumber and thus stop the acquisitionJoe Cadwell:
of wealth, inordinate wealth for those lumber barons. And this all came about right after 1906 when San Francisco caught on fire, I think 80% of the city had burned to the ground, there was a great demand for building materials. And here just up the coast is Hoquiam. All this wealth of wood can be shipped down there and people were making a lot of money, who owned the rights to the forest to do the logging who owned the ships for the transportation but the people that weren't making the money, were those sailors and that's where again, Billy goals role came in. He was looking to get livable wages and livable working conditions for the sailors. And a lot of people took offense to thatAaron Goings:
anytime there's a disaster. There are people with power who are looking And to profit off of that disaster, whether it's an earthquake and a fire, as in San Francisco, whether it's the pandemic, in our own time, unfortunately, but it was 1906, this devastating earthquake and fire that just level San Francisco. And in the aftermath of that, there was, of course, a reconstruction project. And for that reconstruction, people in San Francisco needed cut lumber. And the main source of that cut lumber was going to be the Northwest. And to get it there, and to get it there by just an incredible amount of ships needed to transport it. Employers needed to rev up production rep, rev up transportation, and they saw money signs that a shipping owners that captains, the owners of Mills, they saw the opportunity to rebuild San Francisco and line their own pockets. The workers though, whether we're talking about building trades, in San Francisco, whether we're talking about longshoreman, whether we're talking about sailors, like Billy Gaul, and his and his co workers, they weren't automatically going to improve their condition. In fact, they were going to have to fight and in some cases die to get a living wage, you know, doing the labor necessary to rebuild San Francisco. And Billy goal was at the center of that.Joe Cadwell:
All right, so let's go let's now focus in on Billy goal, infamously known as the ghoul of grays harbor, we'll find out why in a little bit. But where did Billy goal actually come from?Aaron Goings:
So Billy is an immigrant from Germany and came to the United States in the late 19th century, he was part of this massive flow of millions and millions of immigrants to to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th century. And he also represented this group of Northern Europeans who dominated Pacific shipping. In fact, almost all Pacific Coast sailors, like Billy were Germans, Scandinavians, fins, and the like. Virtually no native born Americans perform that work. It was one of these jobs that many considered to be too dirty, too difficult, too dangerous. It had very little appeal to most people. And so immigrants ended up doing it. And Billy came to the United States, and traveled as a sailor, but also performing other types of migratory labor across the Pacific coast from Alaska to San Francisco. And he was one of these millions of migratory workers who in many ways built the modern American West, who built the roads did the mining who who cut the trees who did the farming, and who transported those goods by 1900, Billy's living in a boarding house along with other sailors in San Francisco, dozens of German and Scandinavian sailors. And it was in that in that job in those living conditions that he has, by the early 20th century emerged as a fairly prominent as a fairly important voice for for organized labor in the Bay Area, which was and is the home of the sailors union of the Pacific, as well as the West Coast longshore workers that set the it's always been the center of maritime unionism.Joe Cadwell:
And then he ended up in Aberdeen in the early 1900s. And when he got there, again, taking that reputation, that experience he had, he became sort of a business agent for the sailors union of the Pacific in Aberdeen, didn't he?Aaron Goings:
Right, so after years of working on on ships, and often loading and unloading those ships on imports, where there were always longshoreman, he was elected by the Union as a whole to be the union representative in Aberdeen and we're talking about 1902 1903. So Aberdeen and Hoquiam were just being carved out of the forest carved out of the mud carved out of the river side, and starting to become important industrial centers. So right at that time, right as the city is moving from being a village into one of the largest cities in the Pacific Northwest, Billy is elected by his colleagues to become the union agent, and he settles there in 1903. Right at this time when Aberdeen and Hoquiam are becoming important industrial cities. This transition is very important for for Billy's life because he had spent many many years enduring some of the most unspeak COBOL conditions really truly violent conditions on ships as wage laborer aboard ship. It endured certainly violent captain's violent first mates who beat sometimes killed sailors who shanghaied. So they would kidnap sailors because the conditions aboard ships are so bad. And he endured shipwrecks. So he brought those experiences those class experiences as a worker as a working class immigrant to his life as a union official. And as a business agent, he basically provided the sailors for the ship owners for the captain. So in order for a ship to sail out of Aberdeen and Hoquiam, they needed to be supplied with union labor. And so Billy had, again had this important choke point. If captains if ship owners had reputations for violence, for cruelty for being bad employers for shorting workers, he could and did refuse to provide them with sailors refuse to man the ships. And that, of course, is going to antagonize the ship owners and the lumber mill owners. And they're often the same same people who need these ships and need workers to in order to make money.Joe Cadwell:
So as Billy was, was standing up backing his sailors, you know, he pushed back and he said, Look, if we're going to subject our people to working on these very dangerous conditions, let's at least improve their living conditions and prove the humanity of the work they're doing. Try to give them a little bit more money. And the folks that had that all the power all the money and all the wealth said no. And so Billy used the strength of his union and his connections to basically shut down the port, as you said, and stop that flow of money to those folks and they didn't like it. So they employed some union breaking firms to look into what was going on here and see what we can do to get rid of this Billy gold fella.Aaron Goings:
Right. So I think probably your listeners, if there's one company in American history that's as notorious or infamous as any other for its anti unionism. It's the Pinkerton Detective Agency, the most notorious anti union agency in American history. They provided detectives, undercover agents, to to break unions. Well, in the late 19th century, in the American West, in particular, a second agency emerged, there were there were several of these agencies. But the second largest, was an agency called the field detective agency. It actually is formed by Pinkerton, and the fields become just not as famous for sure, but they do the exact same thing. They provide detectives, to mine owners, to factory owners, to local officials, to essentially bust up unions. That's right to bust unions,Joe Cadwell:
there was no detective work being done. It was a union busting business model.Aaron Goings:
Absolutely. And quite often, they would work hand in hand with arm strike breakers. And so in the 1906 strike that you mentioned, the local police are refusing to and incapable of breaking the strike. And so local employers, dentists, lawyers, small businessmen, they are sworn in essentially as vigilantes. And then these strike breaking firms that promised they could get 1000s of workers anywhere in the United States within 48 hours. They're very efficient strike breakers, they would provide these arm strike breakers and during the 1906 strike, like in so many other strikes, those strike breakers, often operating hand in hand with the detectives hand in hand with the Pinkertons murder to unionists, which is again, unfortunately very common in American labor history.Joe Cadwell:
So aside from murdering people that are standing up for themselves, what other tactics that they use Aaron to try to break up the strikes, right.Aaron Goings:
So it varies over time. One tactic is to get a large group of vigilantes and to round up the so called troublemakers and rat and deport them from town that happened in Aberdeen and hopefully in neighboring towns quite often. It would happen as often is not to immigrant groups who had started to stand up for their rights. So 1906 1907 a group of Italian road builders were rounded up and shipped out 1911 1912 The same thing happens with Greek and Finnish workers. And then beyond this, the ethnic element to it quite commonly, it would just be a massive roundup of any labor agitator, they would be picked up, not put in jail just shipped right out and then refused entry. That that's one option, the perhaps better known option is for these Pinkertons for these Thiele agents to infiltrate a union, or say a left wing workers political party, Socialist Party, Communist Party, and to stir up trouble and to then produce reports that they would send to their employers lying about the activities of the workers. And this, although today, 100 years later, many people know that this happened. And 100 years ago, many people knew that that happened. Unfortunately, the Pinkertons in the field agents and other strikebreakers had very good reputations in the eyes of the Chamber of Commerce in the eyes of newspapers. So anything that these pinker temps that these strikebreakers do is painted in the most positive light imaginable. They're often cast as heroes in the Seattle Times in the Oregonian, in the Centralia Chronicle and locally for me the Aberdeen daily world and all the other local newspapers these people whose job it is to destroy unions are cast as heroes standing up to darkness that dark, the Red Scare in the light.Joe Cadwell:
So again, the the money control the media, the media painted the picture that these were, you know, folks doing the right thing and that those strikers were in the wrong and we just need to get back to business the way it was. So, so how did Billy goals survive all of this?Aaron Goings:
Unfortunately, he didn't for that long, but for several years, he did what so many union activists did. He relied on numbers. He relied on the reality, which was that Aberdeen and Hoquiam were among the most heavily organized the most had among the highest union densities of anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. And he was enormously popular among those people. He was elected twice as president of the Grays Harbor Labor Council, which again, not only is he being elected by all the Pacific sailors, US Pacific sailors, so 1000s. He's also been elected to serve as the representative of 1000s of local unionists, as their voice to write letters to the newspapers and stand up. So for years, he had this tremendous backing of fellow unionists and they, they treat him like like a hero. He gets arrested on several occasions that for violently attacking strikebreakers for leading strikers in sort of like Gangs of New York style warfare against strikebreakers,Joe Cadwell:
using the tactics of the strikebreakers on them on themselves.Aaron Goings:
Yes, absolutely. And that's something that you see throughout the early 20th century is you see, strikers workers, Unionists arming themselves to fight on the streets against strikebreakers against police, and the like. So he was enormously popular, easily the most popular, best known, best respected union leader in again, the place that in some ways had the strongest labor movement in the Northwest along with Seattle, and a few other places,Joe Cadwell:
and then became the beginning of the end for Billy Gaul, when he met someone named Patty McHugh, who I think was one of those field detective agency spies. He was a bar owner who befriended Billy and began to concoct a story about Billy's involvement and killing of one of Billy's best friends, Charles Hedberg. What can you tell us about that?Aaron Goings:
So after years of the sailors union, along with other maritime unions really fighting for workers rights, of course, after the real high point of labor activism, the 1906 maritime strike, but then, after several years of Billy refusing the ships owned by and operated by notorious captains, a group of business owners come together and we know some of their names we know. Banker William Paterson who was also the head of the Chamber of Commerce, head of the Elks club, one of the most important and wealthiest employers in the Pacific Northwest, him and a few others form Citizens Committee and people familiar with labor history in the north. West sorry, in the American West and the wider United States, that term will ring a bell, just like Pinkertons, just like strikebreakers. Because the citizens committees came together, they were employers who came together to figure out strategies to deal with what they would call the labor problem. They sometimes would call themselves citizens alliances, and in fact, there was a national organization of citizens alliances, so they would communicate with each other, they would send each other lists of problematic workers who need to be blacklisted. So in Grays Harbor, this group of employers, they decide who's going to be the next mayor. They wanted someone who was pliable, they wanted someone who they could control, someone who would appoint anti labor police chief, and police officers who they could control. And they raised about $10,000 to hire several field agents, to come to Aberdeen and Hoquiam. And to get to know Billy and to infiltrate his union activities that they started to refer to almost as a mafia. They started to paint this narrative that these union activists were corrupt, violent mafia style people, it's in some ways it's similar at a smaller level to what would happen with the Teamsters and later, later decades, soJoe Cadwell:
they started drumming up false charges on Billy like, they said, they brought him in saying, Hey, you stole a bicycle. And it turns out the bicycle was was actually his own and they kind of got laughed out of court and then they they trumped up something else on him and that one got dismissed. But then the Charles had Berg murder was sort of the first of many nails in his coffin, it seems likeAaron Goings:
right so Charles had bird was a working sailor like Billy he. He lived with Billy for some time, Billy and and his wife Bessie goal. But beyond that, he also lived in one of these Riverside shacks, along the CHE hatless and the wish car rivers, they're in Aberdeen and these shacks alone are kind of interesting because sailors as migratory workers, they are essentially homeless, when they're not working, especially if they can't afford room and board. So Billy and some other sailors constructed this, these small cabins along the river sides for sailors and had bird lives there. Well, what happens in late 1909, early 1910 Is that Charles Hedberg again, one of Billy's good friends, disappears. And the field agent, this Patti McHugh goes to the chief of police in Aberdeen, and his Thiele agent tells the chief of police that Billy had confessed to killing this guy Charles Hedberg, his friend, his his probably best friend. So a body turns up in a local waterway in early 1910. Billy is then arrested because there's this accusation from this Pinkerton agent that Billy had done it and now there's a body and a body that's unexplained. Billy is put in jail, in Aberdeen, and at that moment, early 1910, Intel he's convicted a few months later, and all the way up to the present. There's headlines produced the story produce. Not only that Billy killed Charles had bird, but that he had run a murder ring worse than what we would know today, uh, the kinds of crimes committed by Ted Bundy and the life that he was one of the worst serial killers in American history. So they take this accusation from a union busting private detective, and the existence of a dead body floating in the in the river arrest. Billy, and then local newspapers. Ken cocked this story that Billy had killed dozens, possibly hundreds of people, every crime that had been committed in Grays Harbor which like so many areas of the so called Wild West did have a very violent history did have a lot of you know, young people dying too soon. But those all get placed at Billy's door get pinned on him, right. And it's It's this incredible bit of narrative creation because this place that had gotten a reputation as the port of missing men as my books called but also this place with a almost worldwide reputation as a tough place like view like men. Other Western cities, all of that violence, all of that danger gets placed on one person. So in the aftermath of Billy's arrest, the city city elites can claim fit Aberdeen that Hoquiam are now safe places safer visitors safe for tourists and investors. It's an incredible bit of narrative creation.Joe Cadwell:
So I'll stop you right there. And because from what I understand from reading your book that the body was never quite identified as being Charles hatteberg that the sailors in the hundreds came to the morgue to see this body that was found that they claimed was Charles Hedberg, and none of them could identify that body as Charles had Bergen that Billy Gould was not given access to properly identify this person. So there's no true evidence that that the body that they found was truly Charles had Berg's.Aaron Goings:
Right. And I think that this is a very important point you just made and something that I think listeners need to try to wrap their heads around here. There's a dead body that had been floating for some time on first underwater then floating in a waterway. It's brought to the morgue, and city officials identify it as being Charles Hamburg, the only people who had no Charles had burned ours, fellow workers, the sailors, as well as his very good friend, Billy Gaul. The sailors are initially refused access to see the body. But there's a lot of them and they forced their way in. And they say that's not Charles Hedberg, Billy Gaul, his very good friend is not able to identify him, he's not able to be led out of jail to go identify or not identify the body. So local elites do identify it as hatteberg. And I admit there's a chance who is his body. But it's quite a leap to suggest as so many people have, that not only is that his body, but that his best friend kill them. But all those youth union activists then lied. And then also Billy was responsible for all the deaths that had ever happened in this area. The Union even went so far as to refuse union burial to this body. So they are really taking it to the limit. They're standing with their comrade, their leader, their elected official, illegal and saying, that is not Charles Hamburg, how would you local elites, local police possibly know who that person is.Joe Cadwell:
And so, again, this friend of the working class this advocate for for workers rights, a person who stood up against the tyranny of these lumber barons is now being proposed to be that the mass murder of so many other people he was standing up for, and as you said, it's a very dangerous environment, the logging industry dangerous being a sailor at sea being dangerous being a longshoreman all dangerous occupations. And it wasn't made any less dangerous in Aberdeen and Hoquiam. By basically the living conditions there were unlit streets, there were canals and waterways that the saloons would butt up right against you. And it wasn't uncommon for sailors to be what sailors are and, and get have a little too much to drink fall off in the middle of the night and end up in the frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest and drown. And so hence the floater fleet came, came to be known, but they're now trying to say that Billy goal, you know, a friend of the working class is responsible for this, he would rob these people he would then execute them. And I understand that even concocted a story that he had a trapdoor in his office that he pulled a lever and they'd splash into the river below his office place. Is that true?Aaron Goings:
Yeah, that's part of the story and that, like this trapdoor that he would dispose of bodies. That's a very interesting piece of this story. Like so many because in the years prior to his arrest, Billy became something of a temperance advocate, he began to argue that there were these dozens of saloons in Aberdeen and hookworm, and there were there about 50 and that the worst of them would prey upon workers, you know, these workers who support him elect him that he's friends with, and that they oftentimes saloon owners and local, whatever local ruffians would rob and drug local workers and then drop them in to the, into the river. So Billy had been making these accusations against some saloon owners who were themselves a very powerful local group. And he outright accused some of the saloon owners in letters to the editor of taking advantage even killing workers and it's interesting because the narrative they get has remembered, really flips it on his head. And he is remembered as the person who did that even though he was the one who is trying to get some of the worst saloons, some of what he called dives to be shut down. And you're exactly right about how dangerous the Pacific Northwest was logging was easily the most dangerous job in the West. Dozens of people would be killed per year in that sawmills were one of the most dangerous loggers, longshore workers also very dangerous and most of the local deaths were industrial cause of what we might call industrial accidents, industrial violence, those who didn't die from that quite often stumbled off the streets into these waterways on a you know, a cold winter night after drinking too much.Joe Cadwell:
And it's not a stretch of the imagination by any means to go from Billy gold to Billy ghoul ghoul of grays harbor. And that was, you know, again, construct of someone's imagination, at least according to Billy himself who said that this sounds like it's the you know, the imagination of Pulp Fiction writers, and he denied the accusation of killing his friend Charles had Berg but suppose they had an accomplice and this accomplice was according to what I read in your book coerced into making confession that Billy actually did do the murder. What can you tell us about John Klingon burger?Aaron Goings:
So John klinkenberg, like almost all Pacific Coast sailors was a Scandinavian immigrant. He was one of these people like Charles Hamburg, who was very close friends with Billy and he, in early 1910, left Aberdeen on a lumber ship heading to Mexico, he was down in Mexico, local officials in Aberdeen, contact the captain of the ship down in Mexico and say, Hey, we think klinkenberg might have information, grab him. And so in Mexico, Klingenberg, tries to quit, and tries to leave the ship, but he's not allowed to leave the ship. He is instead drugged and kidnapped by the captain of a vessel and brought back to Aberdeen and Hoquiam where he is then interrogated by one of a couple different possible men who very who basically offer if he will testify against illegal saying that illegal, killed Charles had heard that he will not be prosecuted. So they kidnap a guy in Mexico bring in to Grays Harbor, he's then interrogated without a lawyer. Oh, yeah, there's no there's no lawyer involved in this. And quite likely, the person who interrogated him was one of these Pinkertons, who were known, just absolutely so well known for their violent behavior. And so they coerce a confession out of klinkenberg, he does end up testifying against Billy cool. And then he then himself, John klinkenberg, is put on trial, at which point he says this whole thing is a put up job. So, again, I want to emphasize that there's certainly a possibility that Billy girl killed one person, but I wrote this book, because there's something else going on here. There's very clearly a group of powerful people who saw Billy as an enemy, and went to great lengths to silence him. But these links that they went to, are not unheard of, in fact, union activist the country and the world over have been assassinated. They've been imprisoned. They've been deported. This is just one part of that story.Joe Cadwell:
And so wrapping up the story about Billy Gaul, though he did get sentenced to life in prison, hard manual labor, and after being sentenced, I think it was seven years later he passed away in a in the penitentiary is that, is that correct? 17 years later, 17 years of hard labor.Aaron Goings:
So he is sentenced to life in prison at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. His wife Bessie, who was always by his side, who had helped with his defense, she moves to Walla Walla as well to be near to him. They divorced a couple years later, but he ultimately is declared insane, and then dies in a prison hospital in eastern Washington in 1927.Joe Cadwell:
Wow. That's horrible. And yet the myth continues today a quick search on YouTube you can find all sorts of conspiracy theories. worry type videos out there touting the ghoul of grays harbor legacy and continuing to add more fuel to that what appears to be not a very truthful story,Aaron Goings:
right. And I think that this story, and I picked it up, it's one of several labor histories that I have written that I intend to write during my life. But this story is so stood out to me because it speaks to the importance of power and the importance of, of class, and, and of activism, and not just activism by workers, but by activism of employers. We see it today. And then the supposedly progressive Northwest, with Amazon with Starbucks, etcetera, doing anything they can to bust unions, that's been the case, since the beginning of Euro American settlement in in the northwest, is that those in power will coordinate, and they will use the state when necessary to harm workers. And this story stands out to me, because so many people have heard of Billy Gaul. And there's so much on the internet about the so called Google of grays harbor, they seem to be very dismissive of the reality of his life and the reality of what American history is.Joe Cadwell:
So being a professor of history and someone who's involved with the the labor movement, what do you what do you think we can learn Aaron from our somewhat bloody past? And what people listening right now? What is the takeaway after reading your book? Where should we go from here?Aaron Goings:
Well, I think that I try to always take a couple of lessons out of this. And one of them, just to reiterate, what I said is that United States, like the rest of the world is, is divided in a variety of ways. One of the main ones is by class, and those who own factories, those who those who have a great deal of wealth, those who have high incomes, they are always organizing, they have tremendous political power, tremendous media power, and they know each other they act, they meet together, they have organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, like the Business Roundtable, they of course act through, you know, political parties.Joe Cadwell:
And we're talking real quick, Aaron, not not this the general business owner, I mean, we're, you know, a lot of the listeners here are working for, for construction companies, perhaps that, you know, it's a lot of them have humble beginnings, but we're talking about the people, the multimillion dollar corporations, the billion dollar corporations, that conglomerates out there that are truly controlling the narrative that can change policy that can affect the bottom line of the working middle class of this country. Those are the people that we're addressing, not not necessarily the, you know, the startup construction companies.Unknown:
I mean, I think the the locally rich is organizing, and its own its own ways, but no, I mean, there's, there's an awful lot of small business owners, who are just struggling to get by what I'm talking about, again, are those who run the show those Bezos, etc, the people who have access to the White House, to the governor's offices, the senators, et cetera, they have tremendous power, and they're always organizing. My takeaway from many years, studying labor being involved with the labor movement in different ways, is that they're if they're always struggling, if they're always collaborating, if they're always working together, we better do it too, because they're going to take care of themselves. And all we have is each other. And what working people have is numbers. Employers have money. Employers have a lot of power workers have the power of the vote. The vote Yeah, certainly part of it, and then the potential of the strike. And if 100 years ago, 120 years ago, these the workers of the world came together and fought back and formed unions in the face of danger. I think that that's a real inspiration for what working people can do today. And I'm constantly impressed, especially in the last few years by what's happening at Starbucks, what's happening at Amazon. It's happening all over the country, and what's going on all over the world that workers are fed up, and they want a piece of the pie. And they're figuring out old strategies, and it's been mighty impressive.Joe Cadwell:
Absolutely. Yeah, a lot of blood has been spilt over the years to get us to where we are now. And it's slowly being eroded. If we do not stay on guard, it can it can be eroded and it has been eroded. But we need to be able to recognize that and begin to push back So Aaron, this has been a fantastic conversation. Where can people go to find more about you and your work and more importantly, the new paperback release of the poor of missing men.Unknown:
Yeah, thanks, Joe. This is quite the good timing here. In mid-July, the paperback version of the The Port of Missing Men has just released from the University of Washington Press, a press that is actually the workers there are unionized, which is a bit rare for academic presses. Beyond that can find the book anywhere online. I always encourage people to go to Powell's can order a book from Powell's get it from a unionized bookstore, then it's a unionized press, a unionized bookstore, it can be delivered to your house by unionized postal service workers. And then if you want to know more about me, I tweet sometimes about the labor left at Red Harbor, that name there's red harbors a book that I'm working on my next project.Joe Cadwell:
Fantastic. I'll make sure to add all that to the show notes. Well, Aaron, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for taking the time to be on the show today.Aaron Goings:
Thank you so much, Joe. It's been a real pleasure.Joe Cadwell:
My guest today has been Aaron Goings author of The Port of Missing Men. To dive deeper into this topic, be sure to check out the show notes for this episode, or visit the grid nation website at Grit Nation podcast.com. Please consider sharing the show with a friend, family member or anyone else you think may get something out of it. If you haven't already done so please take one minute to leave a review on Apple podcast or Spotify really does matter. And if you have left a review or rating thank you so much. I really do appreciate it. As always, thank you for your continued support. And until next time, this is Joe Cadwell reminding you to work safe, work smart and stay union strong.Unknown:
Not to be too much Captain Obvious here but I've always been impressed by apprenticeships at building trades do and I know that perhaps more active than others at like reaching out to incarcerated people, but just in general, like offering this important opportunity to you know, to have a halfway decent life. And I mean, man, it's it's so good that you all do that.