Durst Ranch Riot

During the 20th century California was a major producer of hops, that natural ingredient so essential to brewing beer. Before hop-picking machinery was invented in 1909 the mature, 18-foot-tall vines were harvested by hand during a six week period in the late summer, drawing hundreds of seasonal workers because it paid nearly double that of any other type of unskilled agricultural labor. One of the hop ranches, owned by the Durst family, sprawled over 642 acres in Wheatland, and by their own estimate it was the largest individual hop yard in the world in the early 1900s. During harvest time the Durst brothers allowed pickers to camp on their land without charge, and also provided sanitation facilities and food concessions. In August 1913, an unusually large number of people showed up at the non-mechanized Durst Ranch, primarily the result of an economic down turn just starting in California, when soup kitchens and emergency shelters were becoming commonplace throughout the state. By their own admission, the Dursts were caught unprepared with adequate numbers of toilets and garbage disposal units, water, and camping space, for 2,800 multi-ethnic job applicants. A threatened mass protest over these issues, and the pay rate the Dursts were offering—a protest allegedly instigated by a number of Industrial Workers of the World representatives—incited mob anger. An ill-considered gunshot, fired to quiet the mob, resulted in twenty more shots—killing four men, including two pickers. Days after the incident a sufficient number of workers returned to complete the harvest, but the Wheatland Hops Riot remains a notorious example of labor relations gone wrong.


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