Don McAlavy: Local Columnist
Ï doubt if anyone in Clovis remembers the radical union organization I.W.W. founded in 1905 in Chicago. Its purpose was “to put the working class in possession of the world.” Most people called them the “Wobblies.”
One of their members, a streetcorner Socialist whose death provoked an investigation that trailed off into time, was buried in 1942 in Sapulpa, Okla.. This person died in 1917.
He was called “I.W.W. John” as he had no other identification. My uncle, John McAlavy, died that year or disappeared, and the old folks in my family said he died in Texas or Mexico, and many thought I.W.W. John could have been our kin.
Here’s the rest of the story, as told by Charles Payton and his wife Irene, who were employees of the Buffington Brothers funeral home at Sapulpa.
“The dead man’s name was never known. He was tall, slim and wore his black hair in a pompadour. In 1917, the Industrial Workers of the World was in its heyday in Oklahoma. I.W.W. John was the Sapulpa exponent of the organization’s peculiar theories.
“To residents of Sapulpa, he was just ‘I.W.W. John.’ Sapulpa received him with disfavor and a little suspicion. He had no home there, and identified himself simply as ‘John.’
“John mounted the soapbox on streetcorners and preached the socialistic ideologies. He was found dead one morning after a street oration the previous night. His body was brought to Buffington Brothers.
An inquest was held, and Buffington was instructed to retain the body until an investigation could be held. Under the law, a removal and burial permit had to be issued before the body could be interred. None ever came.
He body was stored in a packing case in the corner of the funeral home storeroom. In order to conserve space, a muslin band was tied around the body and the box was stood on end.
“And there “I.W.W. John” stood for more than a quarter of a century.
“My wife and I left Sapulpa in 1926.
“ ‘I.W.W. John’ was forgotten until his body was found by Harold Rampp, who recently (1942) purchased the funeral home,” said Mrs. Irene Peyton.
“Bert Buffington died years ago,” said Mrs. Peyton, “and no one in Sapulpa could give a clue to the identity of the man who stood up in a corner so many years.
Mrs. Payton wrote a letter to G. B. Coryell, Creek County attorney, in Oklahoma, and explained “I.W.W. John” to him.
“Finally, Mrs. Peyton said, “I.W.W. John” had a Christian funeral and was buried in Sapulpa on a Monday afternoon in 1942.
The Industrial Workers of the World was founded by Wm. D. Haywood, president of the Western Federation of Miners, David DeLeon, leader of the Socialist Labor Party, and the famous Eugene V. Debs, leader of the Socialist Party who attempted to run for President of the United States around 1913-1914.