Before Hoffa There Was Frank Little

When the small gang of thugs strung Frank Little by his throat on August 1, 1917, it wasn’t because he was half Native American, nor was it his leadership in the copper worker’s union. It was his rhetoric about World War I.

The fact that he was also those other things was only a bonus, all the more reason to end his life as far as the his murderers cared.

The comparisons to Hoffa are thin. Both Hoffa and Little were union organizers. Both men died for their respective convictions. But, in the spectrum of radicals, Hoffa was more of a Billy the Kid, whereas Little was closer to Gandhi.

Oh yeah, and we know exactly what happened to Little.

Frank Little was a hero to individual rights, a man unjustly slain for fighting the man, and whose murder never saw the light of justice.

Growing up Little

Of Frank Little’s youth and developmental years, we know squat. Life started in 1879. His mother was part Cherokee, and that’s about it before the 20th-century.

He was living in Fresno, California when he started organizing with the Western Federation of Miners union. In time, Frank Little would fight not only for the rights of laborers but for the right to free speech.

All over the United States, he would employ nonviolent tactics of revolt, yet uncommon for revolutionaries. He would also piss off a lot of people by doing those things.

Revolutionary Industrial Unionism

It was in 1906 when Little joined up with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Founded in 1905 in Chicago, the IWW or Wobblies as some knew them, were a general union over more specific labor unions.

One who belonged to the IWW also belonged (most likely) to an industry union. Ideologically, the IWW sought to keep trade unions from quarreling by unifying their objectives. That way, employers could put them against one another.

The philosophy of the IWW, revolutionary industrial unionism, referred to the organization’s socialist and anarchistic ties. This was before Joseph McCarthy, before the Red Scare. The United States hadn’t yet learned to fear socialists, but there were some who would come to fear Little.

World War I

Frank Little was the chairman of the executive committee of the IWW in 1917. At that time, the United States was drafting soldiers for the Great War.

Little’s position, the one he made public, was that laborers should resist the draft. To the executive committee, he lobbied that the IWW was a revolutionary organization, that they should oppose the U.S. entry into the war as an organization.

The execs didn’t tend to agree, but that didn’t stop Little from speaking his mind on the matter, like he did in Butte.


Little’s funeral procession in Butte |

When Little spoke to the miners of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company, he made his position on the war clear. The mini company wanted its employees to go back to work two they could contribute to the war effort.

Little told the workers they should refuse the demands of the company, and they should refuse to contribute to the war.

Days later, six men wearing masks dragged him from his hotel, tied him to the back of a Cadillac, then dragged him through Butte to a rail trestle.

Someone in the party knew how to tie a hangman’s noose, but not one person came up on charges.The rumor was that a mining company representative offered $5,000 to kill Little. Whoever took the payout, it worked.

Hoffa and Little do share one more thing. Little’s death disappeared along with the mining company’s problems, both wiped from most accounts of history too. Few people know the story of how they killed Frank Little 100 years ago.