Joe Hill's Story
"We'll Scrape Gold Off the Streets!"
Paul and Joel Haggland were a drop in the sea of European immigration making its way to the United States in the early years of the twentieth century. Arriving at Ellis Island with virtually nothing in their pockets, the young men soon discovered that stories of easy wealth in a new country had been greatly exaggerated. Despite having a passable command of the English language from lessons in his hometown Y.M.C.A. in Sweden, Joel Haggland was forced to clean bar spittoons in the roughest sections of New York for only pennies a day.
Soon after his arrival, Joel Haggland abandoned the teeming slums of New York City and hit the road. He and his brother split up and went separate ways into the heartland of America. Very little is known, and virtually nothing is verifiable, about the next eight years of Joel's life. In 1905 he sent a Christmas card to a relative in Sweden bearing a Cleveland, Ohio postmark. In 1906 he sent a lengthy, journalistic letter to his hometown newspaper in Sweden describing the devastation in San Francisco, California in the aftermath of that city's calamitous earthquake. He may have worked on board merchant ships steaming between Hawaii and the West Coast. He may have worked as a longshoreman, or a miner, or a logger, or a fruit picker. . .or all of them in different settings throughout the West.
Somewhere in these years of drifting from job-to-job, Joel Haggland apparently ran into trouble and decided he had to vanish--at least in name. Years later, friends in the labor movement would say he had to disappear because of his determined advocacy of worker rights in different locations, and the angry response of powerful companies. Still others maintain that Joel turned frequently to petty crime during these years to support his vagrant lifestyle, and he had to assume a different identity to keep one step ahead of the law. In either case, at a point between 1906 and 1910 the name Joel Emmanuel Haggland disappeared, to be replaced by the moniker Joseph Hillstrom.