Registrar, Frontier Historical Society and Museum
A simple circular announced the protest. The circular invited all, and especially Carbondale residents, to an Indignation Meeting held Monday, May 20, 1906, to decide the “Japanese Question.”
The “Japanese Question” could be broken down into the issue of employer and worker rights. Did a farmer have the right to hire foreign labor to work his fields rather than hire local laborers for the jobs?
In May 1906, 10 Japanese laborers were sent to work the sugar beet fields owned by the Harris brothers, Charles and William, of Carbondale. The two men each took five of the laborers to work their fields. Unfortunately for both the Japanese and the Harris brothers, a disgruntled local family working for William Harris touched off the labor issue.
The previous year, a Grand Junction sugar factory had placed the local family on William Harris’ ranch to work the fields. Harris was required to pay the family’s expenses as per his contract with the factory. However, the terms of the sugar factory’s contract changed in 1906, and the family found these terms unacceptable.
Violence erupted. William Harris was publicly confronted by the men of the family. A fight began where William was struck. Charles Harris attempted to break up the fight, but was hit with a brick. Accusations then flew about the family being replaced by Japanese labor. The accusations quickly made their way into the community, where workers formed a protest against the hiring of foreign labor.
Worker and farmer divided. The farmers sided with the Japanese, claiming they had “the right to hire any kind of help they need.” The working men demanded Japanese removal.
Sheriff Zimmerman mediated between the opposing sides. Finally, the working men realized the issue stemmed not from the Japanese, but from the internal issues with the contracting family. The Indignation Meeting was canceled. William Harris, though, moved the Japanese to his fields in Eagle County.
Six years later, in October 1912, 50 Japanese laborers worked Carbondale’s potato fields. No protests were held.
“Frontier Diary” is provided to the Post Independent by the Frontier Historical Society and Museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
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