Always Look Under the Floorboards!

Never know what you can discover in old mining camps—under the floorboards, that is. Forget the hardware lying around, or even grains of gold. So far, my friends have found old photos, food cans (labels still-colorful), tobacco cans, and even cans of condoms. But a miners’ union entire ledger? Letters?

This is a rich treasure, at least to me. I am so excited to announce the discovery of ten letters and documents, originating from Frank Little or Fred Little, Frank’s brother. If you have read Frank Little and the IWW, then you know the relevance of Fred Little’s story. These papers were discovered twenty years ago in the crawl space of a building once housing Mojave’s WFM Local #51 in Mojave, California. The building no longer exists due to an open pit mine, but the discoverer had the foresight to know their significance and save the papers. And, he contacted me. Since the letters are not mine, I cannot publish them, but I will share what is significant with each document should you be one of those folks who can’t get enough of Frank Little or just labor history. Yes, these letters are the “real thing”!

January 13, 1904 – Letter to W. O. Emory in Mojave, CA, from Fred Little in Bisbee, AZ, concerning initiation and membership dues. Emory is the secretary-treasurer of WFM #51. Significance: This is when Frank Little (and Fred Little) first joined the WFM though he is not working in California. Fred Little is in Bisbee where evidently, he worked with Frank. He mentions lots of Mojave boys in Bisbee. Since he and Frank are joining the Mojave local while working in Bisbee, it must be assumed that a transient miner population used Mojave as their WFM base even if not working in that area. No unions were permitted in Bisbee. Further importance is that we now know where Frank first worked when he arrived in California in 1900.

July 16, 1905 – Letter to W. O. Emory in Mojave, CA, from Fred Little in Stauffer, CA, where he is working on a “grubstake.” He sends money for his dues to the Mojave Miners Union and asks that his card be sent to Tulare. He states that he is “about sick of mining,” no money in it, and the mine is hot. He is about to quit. Significance: While I have documented Fred as working as a laborer in Tulare, he also continues to have mining fever. 

July 20, 1905 –Letter to W. O. Emory in Mojave, CA, from Frank Little in Tulare, CA, where Frank is recuperating from illness or an accident. He hopes to be back at work by August 1. Frank is behind on his Mojave dues, and asks not to be put on the delinquent list. Significance: Frank Little and IWW catalogs all Frank’s injuries and illnesses. Just added another one!

October 23, 1905 – Letter to W. O. Emory in Mojave, CA, from Frank Little at 405 8th street in Oakland, CA, [Socialist Headquarters] with his upcoming dues [$3] and his WFM card. He asks that Emory stamp and send his card back quickly since he will be leaving soon. He has just had his leg stitched up and plans to return to the mines. The letter is written on Socialist Voice stationary. Significance: Frank Little arrived in Bisbee in October 1903, and now we know he had been in nearby Oakland. While researching the book, I had tried to determine why he was in San Francisco, and investigating this letter clearly proves he was staying at the socialist hall. Is this why he was in San Francisco? Also, another injury. Mining was not for the faint-hearted!

March 26, 1906 – Letter to W. O. Emory in Mojave, CA, from Frank Little in Globe, AZ. Frank inquires about certain individuals while in his new job. Frank is now a “walking delegate” for Globe WFM #60. Significance: We now know the hierarchy of duties that Frank assumed as he rose in the ranks in Globe.

March 28, 1906 – Letter to W. O. Emory in Mojave, CA, from Fred Little in Tulare, CA, sending his 1906 dues to Mojave Miners Union. He is apparently struggling with finding work. Significance: Fred is still trying to work as a miner, and his and Emma’s move to Fresno, CA, may be a result of his not finding work in mining (besides his later, failed political race).

May 27, 1906 – Letter to W. O. Emory in Mojave, CA, from Fred Little in Tulare, CA. Fred states he has had a bad time due to taking care of Emma for month while she was sick. He could not work during this time. He discusses his intention to run for office on the Socialist ticket. He talks about the money necessary to run a campaign, out of poor men’s pockets. He asks for Emory to help raise money to support his campaign. Significance: The letter provides rich details about this failed political race.

July 28, 1906 – Frank Little signed a Physician’s Certificate for G. M. Dodd. Frank is now business agent for Globe Miner’s Union, WFM. Significance: The hierarchy of Frank’s WFM duties continues.

August 7, 1906 –Letter to W. O. Emory in Mojave, CA, from Frank Little in Globe, AZ., on Globe stationary regarding membership information. Frank signs as business agent for Globe #60. The envelope has an IWW stamp. Significance: Love that IWW stamp!

August 16, 1906 – Another letter to W. O. Emory in Mojave, CA, from Frank Little in Globe, AZ. Significance: Frank states that the “Socialist Party [of America] is a pure and simple Reform Party” and that he is a “revolutionist… a member of the S. L. P. the fighting organization.” He plans to go to Colorado in the fall. 

I don’t regret what I did not know. Yes, the letters would have added so much more to Frank’s experiences in Arizona. I would love to have just one of these letters. Besides these documents, we have discovered one more photo of Frank. That makes three Frank Little photos existing in the world.

Maybe one day I will get lucky and discover some floorboards that need examining.

Jane Little Botkin