William Spry was born in Windsor, England in 1864. His father, Philip Spy, a tailor, and his mother, Sarah Townsend, were converted to Mormonism and in 1875 the family emigrated to America.
Spry worked as a rancher and on the railroad before becoming a tax collector. A member of the Republican Party, Spry, represented Tooele in the state legislature (1903-05) and served as U.S. marshall for Utah in 1906.
In 1908 Spry was elected as governor of Utah. While in power he created a state road commission and authorized the construction of the National Guard armory and the State Capitol building.
Re-elected in 1912, Spry passed a measure that gave husbands and women living together, joint and equal custidy of their children. Spry also developed a reputation for being hostile to the emerging trade union movement and was reported as saying that he intended to "stop street speaking" and to clear the state of this "lawless elements, whether they be corrupt businessmen, IWW agitators, or whatever name they call themselves"
In 1914 Spry had the problem of dealing with the case of Joe Hill who had been found guilty of the murder of J. B. Morrison, a former policeman. An active member of the Industrial Workers of the World, many believed that Hill was being punished for his political beliefs. argued that Hill had been framed as a warning to others considering trade union activity.
Bill Haywood and the IWW launched a campaign to halt the execution. Elizabeth Flynn visited Hill in prison and was a leading figure in the attempts to force a retrial. In July, 1915, 30,000 members of Australian IWW sent a resolution calling on Governor William Spry to free Hill. Similar resolutions were passed at trade union meetings in Britain and other European countries. Woodrow Wilson also contacted Spry and asked for a retrial. This was refused and Hill was executed by firing-squad on 19th November, 1915.
Spry also upset a lot of people by vetoing a prohibition bill in 1915. The following year the Republican Party decided not to nominate him as their candidate for governor.
William Spry who failed in his attempt to be elected to Congress in 1918, served as commissioner in the United States General Land Office until his death from a stroke in 1929.
(1) Just before his execution, Joe Hill wrote an article about his case for the socialist journal, Appeal to Reason (15th August, 1915)
In spite of all the hideous pictures and all the bad things and printed about me, I had only been arrested once before in my life, and that was in Sal Pedro, California. At the time of the stevedores' and dock workers' strike. I was secretary of the strike committee, and I suppose I was a little too active to suit the chief of that burg, so he arrested me and gave me thirty days in the city jail for vagrancy and there you have the full extent of my "criminal record".
The main and only fact worth considering, however, is this: I never killed Morrison and do not know a thing about it. He was, as the records plainly show, killed by some enemy for the sake of revenge, and I have not been in the city long enough to make an enemy.
Shortly before my arrest I came down from Park City; where I was working in the mines. Owing to the prominence of Mr Morrison, there had to be a "goat" and the undersigned being, as they thought, a friendless tramp, a Swede, and worst of all, an I.W.W, had no right to live anyway, and was therefore duly selected to be "the goat".
I have always worked hard for a living and paid for everything i got, and in my spare time I spend by painting pictures, writing songs and composing music.
Now, if the people of the state of Utah want to shoot me without giving me half a chance to state my side of the case, bring on your firing squads - I am ready for you. I have lived like an artist and I shall die like an artist.
(2) Joe Hill, My Last Will (November, 1915)
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 a 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.
(3) In 1925 Alfred Hayes wrote a poem about the death of Joe Hill. In 1950 Earl Robinson turned it into a song, I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night.
I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night
Alive as you and me.
Says I, "But Joe, you're ten years dead."
"I never died," says he.
"Joe Hill ain't dead," he says to me.
"Joe Hill ain't never died,
Where workingmen are out on strike
Joe Hill is at their side!"