William Morley Bouck

The Progressive movement of early 20th century produced many lasting reforms. There were Roosevelt?s anti-trust laws, direct election of US Senators, many


Krist Novoselic on The Progressive Movement, The Grange, and William Morley Bouck


William Morley Bouck

The Progressive movement of early 20th century produced many lasting reforms. There were Roosevelt?s anti-trust laws, direct election of US Senators, many states achieved Direct Legislation (the initiative process), women?s suffrage and public primaries / nominations. (The era also experienced a growth with the mostly forgotten Single Transferable Vote election reform.)

Many people and organizations in Washington State embraced Progressivism with fervor. The Washington State Grange had an important role in this movement.

Founded in 1867 in the reconstruction south, the Patrons of Husbandry (Grange) was an organization of family farmers advancing their interests. Collectively, they were a force against the railroad monopoly. The organization also stressed developing the character and expanding the knowledge of members. The Grange was cutting edge because it allowed women and teens as voting members. And any position of elected leadership was open to all members. To guard against infiltrating agents, the Grange conducted closed meetings requiring secret passwords and such from members.

Farmers in Oregon and the Washington Territory had their own transportation issues on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. The Oregon Steam Navigation Company dominated those waterways. To fight this shipping monopoly, farmer clubs were organized. These soon evolved into Granges. The Washington Grange was organized on September 10, 1889: two months before the Washington Territory became a state.

Carey B. Kegley served as state Master (President) from 1905 to 1917. An ardent progressive, he made enemies of conservative Washington State politicians; a group he derided as the ?Fish, Sawdust and Whiskey Gang.? Kegley also aggravated the leadership of the conservative National Grange.

Master Kegley died in office. As Overseer, (Vice President) William Morley Bouck became acting state leader of the 15,000 member organization.

Bouck was a God-fearing Sedro-Wooley farmer, a crusading Populist, Bull Moose Progressive, an early and avid supporter of the socialist Nonpartisan League and also a member of the Western Federation of Miners .

The conservative establishment, long wary of Kegley, took advantage of Boucks? ascent to try and discredit the Grange. This being wartime, there were claims that the new Master was a Pro-German, Bolsheviki.

In 1918, at the their state convention in Walla Walla, the Grange was literally run out of town!

The local press and commercial groups were concerned with Boucks? association with the Nonpartisan League. Prior to the convention, the Employers Association of Eastern Washington sent a representative who warned private businesses of the threat from League sponsored Co-Op efforts.

The Grange delegates arrived in Walla Walla to a chilly reception. The convention was at a rented high school. In his address to the delegates, Bouck demanded the government continue wartime control of railroads as a preclude to public ownership of transportation and energy. Regarding World War I, he lamented over the ?sons left in Europe? He also railed against graft and urged cooperative buying and selling.

The local press seized on the comments of his speech. The Walla Walla Bulletin branded Bouck as an unpatriotic, radical Wobbly. But many Grangers had sons fighting in WWI and had bought war bonds. They were even collecting money for the local Red Cross at the convention. A janitor working for the school interrupted their meeting by saying there was a rule against taking collections in the building. Indignant, the Grangers filed out of the school singing patriotic songs while filling a hat outside with donations. (Snubbing the locals, they sent the collection of $115 to the national Red Cross.)

The convention carried on over the next couple of days with delegates electing Bouck to a new term as master. After the eulogy for Kegley, Ray McKaig of the Nonpartisan League made an address regarding their radical transformation of North Dakota. Reacting to these two events, the Bulletin roundly denounced the state Grange as disloyal and un-American. The school board abruptly told the Grange they had to leave the building. Again, members left the school singing ?My County Tis of Thee.? There was a local vigilante mob looking to tar and feather McKaig and Bouck. The two slipped away.

Touring the state, Bouck continued to speak out against war profiteering.

Later that month, at the Bow Grange, he called on increasing taxes on the wealthy to finance the war effort. He opposed mortgaging the war through the sale of Liberty Bonds and worried about a war debt that could exceed $100 billion. In the course of the speech, he invoked the term ?rich man?s war? many times.

There were groans and loud talking at the back of the room. While driving to Burlington, all four of Bouck?s tires went flat. It was obviously sabotage. It?s speculated the mischief-makers also testified to a secret grand jury in Seattle about Bouck?s remarks.

In August, Bouck was arrested and indicted for violating the recently passed Espionage Act. The Justice Department appointed Clarence L. Reames as special assistant for all war-related cases. This US Attorney from Portland was picked because of his experience with the ?wild eyed theorists? of Western Washington.

The state and national Grange rallied behind Bouck. They paid his $5000 bail and covered legal expenses. Urban labor also came to his aid.

However, some in the Justice Department grew uneasy with Reames zealous prosecution of Bouck. Special US Attorney John Lord O?Brian along with former US Attorney and Congressman William E. Humphrey expressed reservations to Reames. They complained to US Attorney General Thomas Gregory. Also, the investigation revealed some witness accounts stating nothing unpatriotic about the Bow address, and, that Bouck sometimes wore Red Cross and Liberty Bond pins on his lapel. Some claimed seeing Bouck and his wife buying Liberty Bonds and War Saving-Stamps.

With O?Brian?s persistence and the end of the war itself, Reames dropped the case.

In 1920 Bouck helped start the Washington Farmer-Labor party. He ran for US Congress, losing the election but garnering 40% of the vote in his district. Washington voters elected three Farmer-Labor candidates to the state legislature that year.

At the State Grange convention in Colville in 1921, Master Bouck gave his most radical Masters Address ever. He continued his denunciations of militarism, ?Let?s organize against this terror of capitalism.? He urged to not pay taxes in protest of military spending. He advocated for increased public ownership and called for ?cutting out forever profit competition.?

These strong statements hardly went unnoticed. Bouck previously was made to apologize to the national Grange for ?bringing in partisanship.? This speech was the last straw and he was suspended from the State Grange by the national organization. He shortly quit the organization. As a result state membership fell from 21,000 to 15,000. 62 Grange halls closed.

Undaunted, Bouck started the Western Progressive Grange. The state and national Grange successfully sued to protect their name. The new organization became the Western Progressive Farmers. His organization was an unabashed mix of anti-capitalism and Christian evangelicalism. They?d meet in labor halls or held outdoor revivals. A favorite song to sing at these events was the cheeky The Bolshevik Farmers They Call Us: sung to the tune of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean;

The Bolshevik farmers they call us,

The Bolshevik farmers may be,

The Bolshevik farmers they call us,

Yet nary a little care we.

The Western Progressive Farmers eventually fizzled out. William Morley Bouck died in 1945.

With a new Master, the Grange continued as a force in Washington. Under the leadership of the mild-mannered Albert Goss it achieved a major Kegley / Bouck goal. In 1930, the 23,000 member organization was instrumental in passing an Initiative creating Washington?s fine Public Utility District system. The Grange, along with the majority of voters, had effectively socialized electricity and water service in much of Washington State.

Resources for this article:

Washington Grangers Celebrate A Century. Gus Norwood 1989

Farmer Labor Insurgency in Washington State. Carlos A. Schwantes Pacific Northwest Quarterly January 1985

The Ordeal of W.M. Bouck, 1919-1919: Limits to the Federal Suppresion of Agrarian Dissidents. Carlos A. Schwantes Agricultural History July 1985

Making the World Unsafe For Democracy: Vigilantes, Grangers and the Walla Walla ?Outrage? of June 1918. Carlos A. Schwantes Montana The Magazine of Western History January 1981

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