Joe Hill, born Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden, and also known as Joseph Hillström (October 7, 1879 – November 19, 1915) was a Swedish-American labor activist, songwriter, and member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, also known as the "Wobblies"). A native Swedish speaker, he learned English during the early 1900s, while working various jobs from New York to San Francisco. Hill, an immigrant worker frequently facing unemployment and underemployment, became a popular songwriter and cartoonist for the radical union. His most famous songs include "The Preacher and the Slave" (in which he created the phrase "pie in the sky"), "The Tramp", "There is Power in a Union", "The Rebel Girl", and "Casey Jones—the Union Scab"....
By this time using the name Joe or Joseph Hillstrom (possibly because of anti-union blacklisting), he joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or Wobblies around 1910, when working on the docks in San Pedro, California. In late 1910 he wrote a letter to the IWW newspaper Industrial Worker, identifying himself as a member of the IWW local chapter in Portland, Oregon....
By the end of 1913, he was working as a laborer at the Silver King Mine in Park City, Utah, not far from Salt Lake City. On January 10, 1914, John G. Morrison and his son Arling were killed in their Salt Lake City grocery store by two armed intruders masked in red bandanas. The police first thought it was a crime of revenge, for nothing had been stolen and the elder Morrison had been a police officer, possibly creating many enemies. On the same evening, Joe Hill appeared on the doorstep of a local doctor, with a bullet wound through the left lung. Hill said that he had been shot in an argument over a woman, whom he refused to name. The doctor reported that Hill was armed with a pistol.
Considering Morrison's past as a police officer, several men he had arrested were at first considered suspects; 12 people were arrested in the case before Hill was arrested and charged with the murder. A red bandana was found in Hill's room. The pistol purported to be in Hill's possession at the doctor's office was not found. Hill resolutely denied that he was involved in the robbery and killing of Morrison. He said that when he was shot, his hands were over his head, and the bullet hole in his coat — four inches below the exit wound in his back — seemed to support this claim. Hill did not testify at his trial, but his lawyers pointed out that four other people were treated for bullet wounds in Salt Lake City that same night, and that the lack of robbery and Hill's unfamiliarity with Morrison left him with no motive.
The prosecution, for its part, produced a dozen eyewitnesses who said that the killer resembled Hill, including 13-year-old Merlin Morrison, the victims' son, and a brother, who said 'That's not him at all' upon first seeing Hill, but later identified him as the murderer. The jury took just a few hours to find him guilty of murder.
An appeal to the Utah Supreme Court was unsuccessful. Orrin N. Hilton, the lawyer representing Hill during the appeal, declared: 'The main thing the state had on Hill was that he was an IWW and therefore sure to be guilty. Hill tried to keep the IWW out of [the trial]... but the press fastened it upon him.'
In a letter to the court, Hill continued to deny that the state had a right to inquire into the origins of his wound, leaving little doubt that the judges would affirm the conviction. Chief Justice Daniel Straup wrote that his unexplained wound was 'a distinguishing mark,' and that 'the defendant may not avoid the natural and reasonable inferences of remaining silent.' In an article for the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason, Hill wrote: 'Owing to the prominence of Mr Morrison, there had to be a 'goat' [scapegoat] and the undersigned being, as they thought, a friendless tramp, a Swede, and worst of all, an IWW, had no right to live anyway, and was therefore duly selected to be 'the goat'.'
The case turned into a major media event. President Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller (the blind and deaf author and fellow-IWW member), the Swedish ambassador and the Swedish public all became involved in a bid for clemency. It generated international union attention, and critics charged that the trial and conviction were unfair.
In a biography published in 2011, William M. Adler concludes that Hill was probably innocent.... Evidence pointed to early police suspect Frank Z. Wilson, and cites Hilda Erickson's letter, which states that Hill had told her he had been shot by her former fiance.... Joe Hill was executed by firing squad on November 19, 1915. When Deputy Shettler, who led the firing squad, called out the sequence of commands preparatory to firing ('Ready, aim,') Hill shouted, 'Fire — go on and fire!'
That same day, a dynamite bomb was discovered at the Tarrytown estate of John D. Archbold, President of the Standard Oil Company. Police theorized the bomb was planted by anarchists and IWW radicals as a protest against Hill's execution.... The bomb was later defused by police. Just prior to his execution, Hill had written to Bill Haywood, an IWW leader, saying, 'Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don't waste any time in mourning. Organize... Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don't want to be found dead in Utah.'
His last will, which was eventually set to music by Ethel Raim, founder of the group The Pennywhistlers, reads:
My will is easy to decide,
For there is nothing to divide.
My kin don't need to fuss and moan,
'Moss does not cling to rolling stone.'
My body? Oh, if I could choose
I would to ashes it reduce,
And let the merry breezes blow,
My dust to where some flowers grow.
Perhaps some fading flower then
Would come to life and bloom again.
This is my Last and final Will.
Good Luck to All of you,