Oklahoma has always had an interesting history regarding socialism. In 1914, for example, the Socialist candidate for governor won 21 percent of the vote, and Socialists held 6 seats on the Legislature and a majority of the county level elected offices. There were 12,000 dues paying members of the party in Oklahoma in that year. It is likely this was a result of a massive recruitment among the tenant farmers (a system that had its own unique Oklahoma twists as well). Among the Socialists were the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW) and the WCU (the Working Class Union). Among the differences between the IWW and the WCU were that generally, the IWW considered farmers to be part of the problem, capitalists, not true wage workers, while the WCU recognized that, in Oklahoma at least, many farmers were little more than starving exploited laborers on land they didn’t, and couldn’t, own. The WCU, unlike the IWW and the Socialist party, were a secret society (sometimes referred to as the Jones Family or the Jones Boys) willing to use violence to further its goals. Among the IWW and WCU goals were the abolition of profits, interest, rents, public ownership of everything, the eight-hour day and a workers’ compensation program, old age pensions, child labor laws, and free school textbooks, no police, no conscription, the equality of women and of all races.
In 1916, Woodrow Wilson was elected president on a platform that included “He kept us out of war”, so in April of 1917, when he declared war on Germany, many people felt betrayed by this. In August of 1917, an interracial group of Oklahoma tenant farmers determined to resist conscription, and at the end of the Green Corn festival (about 2 August) rose up. Hundreds of men, whites, African-Americans and Native Americans (some WCU, some IWW, some Socialist, some just poor and angry) gathered on a bluff near the Sasakwa farm of John Spears. Their plan was a simplistic one – to first seal off their local counties (Potawatomi, Seminole, Pontotoc and Hughes), recruit a larger army, and then march onto Washington DC, picking up the recruits along the way, overthrow the government, end the war, and reform the economy to return to the workers the fruits of their labors. They believed that the more organized brotherhoods would join with them, and they’d have the power to pull it off. I know this sounds ludicrous, but if you consider what the Bolsheviks were able to do later that year in Russia, it was not an absolute departure from reality.
They began by cutting phone and telegraph lines, and destroying railroad bridges. They were put down by huge posses from the local towns, who hunted them down. Finally, at Spears Bluff, a final battle occurred in which 3 of the rebels were killed. The rebels surrendered fairly easily rather than shoot at their neighbors and there were over 450 arrests. There were several bloody engagements with holdouts, but within a week, the rebellion was over. There were 184 indictments and of those 150 were convicted and were shipped off to the prison at Leavenworth.
During the Great War, a massive repression of anti-war sentiment occurred throughout the nation, and Oklahoma had its own twist to that as well, likely in some part tinged by the Rebellion. As an example, on 17 August 1917, a little over a week after the Rebellion, Captain Leo Rooney of the Tulsa Home Guard led the “Slacker Raid” in which over 2000 suspected conscientious objectors were rounded up and interned (incidentally, Rooney also organized the internment of the African American citizens of Tulsa during the Tulsa Race Riot). The IWW were eventually driven from Oklahoma by lynch mob and legal arrest.