1911. Countywide, civil unrest began to develop prompted by members of the International Workers of the World (I.W.W.) or “Wobblies.” 

As the unrest grew, Wobblies began starting riots throughout the city. When the police department responded with arrests, more Wobblies from across the US were sent in. 

The demonstrators caused so much trouble every jail in San Diego was filled to capacity and still more were arriving daily. 

After two officers were almost killed trying to deal with out of control Wobblies, John Shehon ordered Wilson to use whatever force was necessary to put and end to the problem. Wilson started by posting mounted officers, foot patrolmen and specials to intercept southbound trains and return any undesirables back to Los Angeles. With the jails bursting at the seams, the department began marching Wobblies more than 20 miles out of town to trains that would take them to other parts of the country. Before getting onto the train, vigilantes beat many of the Wobblies and made them kiss the ground and sing the national anthem. 

The program was only partially successful because for every demonstrator that was deported, another came in. SDPD officers and the fire department tried using fire hoses to break up protests but it backfired when the media blasted the department for using excessive force.

Because of the added workload, many officers found themselves working 18 hours a day on an almost regular basis. The stress caused almost ¼ of the department to resign. Vigilantes began roaming the streets of San Diego to hand out Old West justice to anyone disturbing the peace. The unrest lasted almost two years. 

Click an image for a closer look. All photos are property of the San Diego Police Historical Association.  For permission for use please contact us. 
Well dressed but badly behaved
Double click here to add text.
Huge crowds created huge
problems for SDPD
Police use firehoses to break up the protests
Feb 2, 1912. Antagonistic speakers keep the crowds emotions at an all time high. Here Mrs. Emmerson speaks to a crowd in front of the City Jail
Feb 25, 1912. Jack White delivers a speech to a crowdin front of the City Jail
Some newspapers of the day described the
ordeal as "Free Speech versus the Law."