Llano Cooperative Colony, Louisiana

Black and white photo of crowd of people standing in front of railroad depot and across tracks

Southern Exposure

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 1 No. 3/4, "No More Moanin'." Find more from that issue here.

I didn't leave Illinois because I was a coward. I’ve never been where I couldn't ply my trade as an electrician. This cooperative idea took me over and I said, “The heck with it. Why stay up here in so much uncertainity. I could go down there and whatever house they got, I would take it. They’ll furnish me a house, they’ll furnish me the elctricity, they’ll furnish the ice and so on, and they’ll furnish money to buy groceries as much as they can.’’ What we wanted to get at the store, if they got it, we could get it. I didn’t have no money to buy anything when we got here, and we didn’t use any in the colony after we got there. 

I’ve known all my life that the capitalist system, as Karl Marx made the remark, that it contains the seeds of its own destruction. It would be the one to destroy itself.

Chester Peecher, former colonist


For a small percentage you could buy stuff cheaper at the colony than you could anywhere else, out of their store. Then people like myself began to like their way of life, and way of work. There’s nothing wrong with it although I didn’t live there. It wasn’t a-doing anybody any harm, so why discourage them.

In other words, if your back itched, I’d scratch it, and if mine itched, you’d scratch it. you’ve got the general picture. That’s exactly what the whole picture of what the colony was. Usually it’s not human nature just to go a-running over people, you know.

I had in mind living there. I’d think, as a boy, if my daddy was to die, and no way for me to make a living, I could move in there. I’d have to work, but I’m used to that anyhow. Yeh, I’ve thought about it. It’s occurred to me. Sure has.

Henry Killian, Vernon Parish farmer


The Llano Cooperative Colony is a community of demonstration and experimentation where American workers are engaged in creating new ideals and reducing them to a practical working basis, where the most complete form of cooperation is being organized to function without friction, and where theory is discarded as soon as it is found impractical .... Llano Colony without a church is also without a saloon, bootlegger, immoral section, jail, or peace officer. 

E. S. Wooster, colony leader in The Nation, 1923


A socialist town in Louisiana? Neither I nor anyone I knew had ever heard of it. Could it be true that “by far the largest of the colonies inspired by the dream of cooperative commonwealth,” “the most successful American attempt at secular communitarianism,” a town once having 600 people surrounded by 20,000 acres, containing factories, presses, sawmills, etc., existed for 22 years (1917-1939) in the piney woods of Louisiana and no one even knows about it?

I first learned of Llano Colony when I stumbled upon an article entitled “Llano: An Experiment in Communism” in an old 1920’s publication, The Libertarian, from Greenville, South Carolina. I had picked up the magazine for a nickel at a flea market in Houston, where I lived at the time. After doing more reading at the library, my appetite was whetted and I decided to drive from Houston into Louisiana in hopes of finding either physical traces or some people’s memories which would help me gain some sense of what the old colony had been like.

I found both. Not only were there a number of old buildings (one with “Llano Co-op Colony Warehouse” barely visible on the front), but I was able to talk to four people still living in the area who once lived in the colony. From these people, and from others in the village of Newllano (population about 300) and the nearby town of Leesville, a picture of the colony emerged. Information from six people now living in or near the village of Newllano, Louisiana, was invaluable in reconstructing a picture of Llano Colony. These individuals, all quoted in the article, are:

Chester and Mrs. Peecher: She works in their home; he is an electrician. They came to Llano from Illinois in 1930 and were there when it closed.

Blair Pickett: Son of the long-time leader of Llano Colony, George Pickett. Retired from the Army, presently night-watchman at a paper mill.

Albert Kapotsy: A plumber by trade, came to the U.S. from Hungary and to Llano about 1920. From that time until now, he has been a critic of George Pickett.

Bill Brough: Came to Llano from Massachusetts with his family about 1930 at age ten. Lived there when the colony folded.

Henry Killian: Farmer, reared near the colony in Vernon Parish. Never a colony member, but a frequent visitor.

The roots of Llano Colony reach back in time and to another state, for the colony was first begun by leading socialists and labor leaders in California in 1914. It grew out of an awareness of the inhumanity and oppression of the developing industrial economic system and from frustration with trying to get any change through the use of elections and the political system in general. In California, as in the rest of the country, the time just before and after the turn of the century saw a great growth of industrial capitalism. Monopolies began to spread their power over the nation and big capitalists began to amass huge family fortunes. The number of industrial workers increased from 1,310,000 in 1860 to 4,713,000 in 1900. Cities grew, with shanty towns, mill towns, and slums, as people moved to urban centers in order to get work. Labor was cheap and with workers unorganized, bad conditions went unchallenged, such as children working 14 hours a day for pennies, and immigrants in the sweat shops and miners in the mines never seeing the light of day.

Though the injustices of the economic system were clear, there was still a general optimistic belief in the possibility of the perfection of people and society either through radical change or a gradual evolutionary process. Critiques and protests began to arise from the people as urban and agrarian radicals as well as religionists from every background leveled their fire at the oppressive system. This optimism was being expressed through such diverse modes as revivalism, US expansionism, belief in Anglo-Saxon supremacy, social gospel preaching about the coming of God’s Kingdom, and confidence that the capitalist system would soon collapse to be replaced by an economic and political system run by the workers.

It was in this setting that working people first began to organize on a large scale. They realized that the only way to deal with the absolute control of the owners was in exercising their own collective power as the actual producers of the nation’s wealth. The struggle was a difficult one at best and was often dangerous, even fatal to many. Owners of mines and mills teamed with their counterparts in government to suppress this threat to their absolute control. A government report in 1914 showed that 80 percent of the country’s wealth was controlled by 2 percent of the people and they wanted it to continue that way. New anti-union laws were made; other laws were either bent or forgotten, whichever was most convenient, and militia, police, and courts were used in an effort to smash the organizing drives.

Working people began dreaming of and struggling for a new economic system, a way of work where the labor of many was not exploited for the profits of a few; where production was controlled by the producers; where the products were made mainly for people, not profit; and where all that wealth controlled by the owners could be more equalized so that the people who actually produced the wealth did not have to live in shacks and worry about feeding hungry children. It was many of these people who began to look toward socialism as an answer to the dilemma. They began to join together with other workers, with professionals, farmers and university people to try to work for a socialist, worker-run government and economy.

Because of the growing numbers of socialists, they began to run candidates for office in an attempt to change the system gradually by election. One such candidate was Job Harriman, who was the principle figure in the founding of Llano Colony. Harriman was a lawyer and though at first a Democrat, by 1890 he had become a socialist. He joined a Nationalist Club in the early 1890’s, one of 158 such groups which were working to achieve Edward Bellamy’s vision (in his popular novel Looking Backward) of a fully nationalized cooperative state. With a group of these Nationalists he formed a local branch of the Socialist Labor Party in San Francisco about 1893. He became a leader of the party there and in 1898 was the socialist candidate for governor of the state, though he received only 5,143 of 287,064 votes cast. He then became the party’s state organizer.

A debate developed in the party between people who wanted to focus on continued activity through the political system and others who felt that they should concentrate on founding socialist colonies which would develop into an economic base. Harriman was able to straddle the fence in the debate. He joined with a New York socialist, Morris Hillquit, in a revolt against what they considered to be the authoritarian national leadership of Daniel DeLeon, and Harriman was then put up as the presidential candidate of the Socialist Laborites. Due to negotiations for merger forming the Socialist Party, however, he was dropped to the vice-presidential candidacy in deference to Eugene Debs, the new Socialist Party’s presidential candidate.

After the campaign of 1900, Harriman went to Los Angeles and continued his legal profession. He became involved in the labor movement and began to advocate such requirements for membership in the Socialist Party as previous enrollment in a labor union. During the Metal Workers’ strike in 1910 on the Pacific Coast, the socialists of Los Angeles gave aid to labor, and Harriman considered such cooperation as an excellent economic base for socialist political activity. In 1911 both labor and the city’s socialists united once again in order to support Harriman as the socialist candidate for mayor of Los Angeles.

The big issue in the campaign was the guilt or innocence of the McNamara brothers who had been charged with the bombing of the Los Angeles Times building that killed twenty persons. These two men were leaders of the AFL Ironworkers and they found socialist and labor leaders around the country, Harriman among them, flocking to their support. Clarence Darrow accepted the defense and Harriman, who was already working on the case, continued to help the well-known lawyer. Unfortunately, though Harriman had a better-than-even chance to win the election, five days before the polling the McNamara brothers changed their plea to guilty and Harriman’s campaign was seriously damaged. He received 51,243 votes of 136,915, but he never again was a political nominee.

His defeat convinced him that the best way to further the spread of socialism was through practical economic activity and not through politics. And, even though the concept had been repudiated by the large majority of American socialists, he began to make plans for a new colony based on cooperation and the equality of wages and ownership. Harriman wrote in 1924 about his reasons for working to found the colony in the introduction to Communities of the Past and Present by E.S. Wooster. He said that he had accepted fully the economic theories of Karl Marx concerning economic determinism and the materialistic and mechanistic theory of life. He had hopes, therefore, that by providing for equality in ownership, wages and social opportunities for all members, “in a comparatively short time” all people would react in harmony with that environment. He wrote: It became apparent to me that a people would never abandon their means of livelihood, good or bad, capitalist or otherwise, until other methods were developed which would promise advantages at least as good as those by which they were living.

Another socialist writing years later in the 1933 Llano newspaper spelled out clearly the interests of those who worked to build Llano colony and others like it:

What hope can there be to change this system and save it through political means, as many well-meaning socialists believe they can do? The roots of society are economic not political. We must, therefore, create an economic change before we can hope to produce a political change. This economic change should consist in the shifting of the fulcrum of social activity from a competitive to a cooperative pivot. This means the formation of cooperative units everywhere, each exchanging its products with the others. The network of the new social fabric will thus be gradually woven, until finally a new garment will be ready to cover the back of advancing humanity after the old and torn one of capitalism has been discarded. Llano gives us a working model of a New Cooperative Society, a model which may be actualized on a universal scale.1

Finally, Harriman and some socialist friends bought 9,000 acres of land in Antelope Valley, approximately 45 miles north of Los Angeles. They founded the Llano del Rio Company {chartered in Nevada), organizing the colony as a corporation. They began to sell stock in the fall of 1913, with plans to issue one million shares at one dollar each, and set a membership requirement of two thousand shares which entitled the colonist the use of colony facilities. Llano Colony was officially opened on May 1 (May Day), 1914 with only a handful of colonists. Working people began to be attracted to the promise of a place where their labor wouldn’t merely be used for profit-making, but where they would really be productive in building a new society. By 1917 the colony reached its maximum population of 1000.

Llano began as a concrete experiment in the use of socialist principles in forming a society at a time when there was not yet one socialist country. It was still three and one-half years before the Russian October Revolution, an experiment which colonists felt was the dawn of a new day. Slogans and phrases used by the colony in advertising itself to workers and socialists of the time describe their intent. “Production for use instead of profit” was most popular. Others were: “Things socially used and socially needed must be socially owned;” “All men are brothers regardless of race, creed, or color;” “Interdependence instead of independence;” and, “Land monopoly, equipment monopoly, and money monopoly are all anti-social and they are wrecking civilization.”

Harriman purchased the Western Comrade in 1914 and used it to spread the message of the cooperative commonwealth. Its editor, Franklin Wolfe, was among the group of radicals (including W.A. Engle, chairman of the Central Labor Council of Los Angeles, and Frank P. McMahon, former official of the Brick Layers Union) which provided the colony with leadership. 

The colony achieved success with its agricultural efforts and at one time had two thousand acres in cultivation. By 1917 there was an impressive number of small industries, several warehouses, and a hotel. Slowly canvas homes were replaced by more substantial adobe ones. Yet, there were always organizational problems, constant bickering over physical inconveniences, and difficulty in getting the agricultural products to market. In addition, it was difficult for the colony to pay the four dollar daily wage promised the colonists; Llano was criticized by many socialists for its corporate organization, its wage system, and its middle-class orientation. To top it all, the colonists had extreme problems getting water into their land, which had only ten inches or so annual rainfall. Because of these and other problems, Harriman began to look elsewhere for a new site for Llano Colony.

In October, 1917, the two hundred most dedicated colonists moved to the old lumber town of Stables, Louisiana, two miles south of Leesville in Vernon Parish, and renamed the town “Newllano.” The twenty thousand acres of land there had been cut-over by the Gulf Lumber Company before being sold to the colony for $125,000. The community grew steadily and in January, 1918, there were three hundred colonists, including a group of 25 socialist families from Texas. But hard times soon came, the Texas families went back to Texas taking a share of the property including most of the farm implements, and the colony was left with only the most dedicated fifteen families by the fall of 1918. Times were so hard and the people were so determined, that the big wooden plows were pulled by the men while women and boys did the plowing.

During the period from 1918 to 1924, a time of hardship followed by gradual growth, there were constant efforts to develop a method for directing the workings of the colony. At the same time there were struggles between individuals for leadership. The outcome of these struggles, which established one strong figure as the director and decision-maker of the colony, has been interpreted both as the reason for the success of the colony and as the cause for its eventual failure.

According to Ernest Wooster, manager of the colony in Louisiana for a time while Harriman was president, there was a General Assembly for a while.

It met twice a month. On the face of it, this seemed to be a genuine democracy. In practice it soon degenerated into a cruel mass dictatorship, without conscience or even a high degree of intelligence as a group. ... It was a sinister organization that became a veritable Frankenstein, an irresponsible, fickle body ideally constituted for the purpose of scheming politicians, hired spies, volunteer trouble makers, and too voluble, though well-intentioned visionaries. It permitted the widest range of free speech, which omitted nothing of a personal nature and spared none. It was a prolific legislative body, but lacked respect for its own laws.2

After this and other experiments, “an industrial government composed of heads of departments began meeting in the interest of efficiency and order.” It was a temporary measure, but at least enabled the colony to function while problems of decision making and leadership were ironed out.

Gradually, there began to develop two factions which vied for the leadership of the colony. One group coalesced around Job Harriman whose health was rapidly failing him. This included Ernest S. Wooster, Dr. William Zeuch, founder of Commonwealth College, and Frank and Kate Richards O’Hare, publisher of the American Vanguard (see below). The other was led by George T. Pickett, a man who had gradually gained influence as Harriman’s health waned and as the colony met with hardship. In June of 1924, a special election was held on important colony matters which decided two to one in favor of Pickett’s position. Members of the other faction withdrew, taking about one third of the membership and the same proportion of moveable property. The total value of this property loss, which also included a deed to some land on Cuba’s Isle of Pines, was about $100,000.

Pickett emerged as the leader of the colony. A. James MacDonald, a man who became a strong opponent to Pickett, once wrote:

A number of members had confidence enough in him and his business judgement, and were strongly enough imbued with the cooperative ideal and the desire to work it out in practice, to lend their money to the colony and thus enable it to continue. . . .

I had been in the Louisiana colony nearly two years before I first learned the circumstances and conditions under which Mr. Pickett accepted the management. He demanded that he be given absolute authority in all matters pertaining to the colony’s activities; not only the management of the corporation as such and the general business policies, but the management of the farming and industrial parts, and even educational and social matters. As an exaggerated industrial democracy had been tried for a while in California, and it had been found that it resulted in dissension and consequently in inefficiency, the board of directors gave Mr. Pickett the authority he asked for. While the board of directors continued to function, it was simply carrying out Mr. Pickett’s ideas and wishes.3

MacDonald’s account apparently is accurate. George Pickett’s son, Blair, a retired army man who is now a night watchman at a paper company, was not yet born, but now has clear impressions from his father of his power at the time.

George was an organizer and he told me several times that he believed in a dictatorship, but a benevolent dictatorship. I can see the need for it today. Have you ever been to a PTA meeting? I  have never seen anything so confusing in my life. Because this group wanted to do this, and this group wanted to do that, and this group wanted to do the other. Well, what happened? They don’t get anything done because they were too busy fighting amongst themselves to get anything done. All right, to me, this is the idea of why George took dictatorial powers. Because you get a set plan and you follow it, no deviation, no arguments or anything. Do a job and get it done.

They had these meetings all the time. I think they called it a “psychological” meeting. They used to have them in the cafeteria part of the hotel every week or two. I remember going to some, but of course I didn’t know what the heck was going on. But they took votes on this issue and that issue, whatever it happened to be. But I think George just kept them informed of what was going on, see. And to me all the confusion is over with if you have somebody that’s directing things.

George was born in Iowa in 1875. He used to tell me the reason he was so short—he was only about 5' 5” or so—his growth was stunted by the trip by covered wagon in 1880 out to Oregon and Washington. Small as he was, he was a semi-professional football and baseball player. Also, he could play every instrument but the violin that he had ever tried.

Well, first he went to barbering up in Washington. Much later he bought two pieces of property in Kansas. He made a sort of a killing on the property, see, and he says he got to thinking about it at one time and he said if everybody did this to everybody else, it would be a hell of a world to live in.

Well, I guess he got interested in non-profit dealings and things like that. So he sold insurance in California and I think that’s where he got mixed up with Job Harriman. And he used to travel all over for the colony. I guess he was a sort of agent for them when the colony was in California. He showed me a picture one time of their automobile. They called it the Green Bug. It was an old Ford. Well, then they moved to Louisiana. Then when Job Harriman left he just took over as president.

Dad kept contact with socialists around the country, but he always used to tell me, he said, “Well, I’m not a socialist, I’m just a radical.” Yeah, he didn’t claim to be a socialist. He was always a labor union man. I mean he was for the union. To him the labor union was for the working man to see that he wasn’t tromped on by management. Of course, I disagreed with him on a great many things. But I think he was a great man myself. Sort of an ideal to live up to. Of course, I don’t think that I will ever reach the stature that he reached, but I’m not worried about it. I guess I'm too much of an individualist to worry about it. I can make it on my own if I have to.

The colony finally began to build slowly. By 1920 there were 165 colonists. A brick kiln and sawmill were begun in 1920 and the weekly newspaper, The Llano Colonist, began again in 1921, after having shut down during the hard times. It was the principal medium for spreading the word about the colony and was read in every major country. The paper used different phrases with the masthead, such as “The Voice of the Self-Employed,” and “A Weekly Messenger from the Llano Cooperative Colony and Exponent of Integral Cooperation.” One was a bit different: ". . .And in the dim chaos of a restless and joyless life, like a glittering, cheerful star. Like a guiding flame of the future there shimmered a simple word. Deep as the heart: Comrades!”

In the ’20’s, most of the colonists were at least mild socialists. A straw vote in 1928 showed colonists overwhelmingly behind Norman Thomas for President. With the depression, however, there was an influx of people interested in the colony for economic survival and the political radicalism was diluted. In 1932 a straw vote showed Thomas with 55 votes, Roosevelt with 13, and Hoover with 3, but by 1935 both Roosevelt (79) and Huey Long (38) had more votes than Thomas (28). Another reason for the decline in those considering themselves socialist was that the colony carried on little socialist education and began to emphasize cooperation as the idea and de-emphasized socialism. Even though the colony began to dilute its socialist orientation, there was a Workers’ Study Club organized as late as 1933 to discuss Marxism and Soviet socialism. In addition, a conscientious objectors’ union, with 115 members, organized at the colony in 1928, and the Llano press was a center for publication of pacifist literature.

The press was a valuable tool for the community. By the mid-twenties they began taking in job work for people in the area and then began to publish a local parish weekly, soon to be the leading newspaper in Vernon Parish.

A Vernon Parish farmer, Harry Killian, never lived in the colony, but he was always impressed with what they built there. “If you were just coming to live, and wanted to join, and you was willing to work for a living, you could just join in. You see they built after they came to Newllano; they built hotels, rooming houses, dwelling houses, ice plant, sawmill, funeral home, peanut butter factory, canning factory. They had stores, they had their own doctors, and Mr. Pickett told me that the highest funeral they ever had cost $7.50.”

Bill Brough came with his father from Massachusetts in 1930 at age 10. He lived there until the colony folded in 1939 and he still lives in the town of Newllano. He says that they didn’t have to use money because all the colony industries and farms furnished what was needed.

See, we even had our own berries. We had our timber industry. We had a sawmill. We had our own laundry, our bakery, our canning factory, a peanut butter factory. We had our own broom factory, plumbing shop, electrical shop, machine shop, sheet metal shop.

A lot of those industries did work for outsiders and they was either compensated in money or in goods. Let’s say you're an outsider, what we called outsiders. You didn’t have to live but a half a mile out of here to be an outsider. Let’s say you raise corn and you don’t have no way to grind it. You’d bring it in to the grist mill in the colony. Now say somebody had some timber out here and they wanted the land cleared up. Well, we’d go out there, cut it, and haul it in, for a fair percentage of it. We’d saw it. They’d get lumber sawed and planed and we’d get lumber sawed and planed. No money exchanged hands. How could you lose?

In the front of that building with the faded lettering on it was the grist mill and in the back of it was the canning factory, the peanut butter factory, the bakery and all combined in that one building. Well, that was the industrial complex across the highway. Right back to the left here a little bit was the old ice plant. It sat there for years and it was tore down. And this old two-story brown building that you see across there, that was the hotel building. People lived there, but they used it. They had a sewing room at the back of it. They’d send their laundry to be washed, send it to the mending room, mended, back, if necessary, to be ironed. I worked at the laundry when I was just a little shaver. I run every machine in it. We had a washing machine, an extractor that dried the clothes out. And I would carry the clothes out and the women would hang them up. And in rainy and bad weather we usually used the dry kiln which we used to dry the wheat crates in.

We had a diesel engine and a steam engine. And we had boilers in behind that and when the sawmill was running we hauled in slabs and used the sawdust to fire the boilers. I’ve done more than a man’s work when I was a child. Me and another boy, Bill Brown, were about 15. We had to be over there at five or six o’clock in the morning to fire that thing. We’d eat and come back and stoke them up at 7:00, getting close to a hundred pounds of steam, we’d blow the whistle and open the main valve.

It wasn’t no problem, really, to us because we had a shower deal, a homemade shower right there next to it. So we always come back and took a shower anyway, or a steam bath. We could take a shower bath. Yes sir.

The two most impressive buildings in the colony were a large eighty-foot square concrete drying shed which was converted into three lower sections—a theatre, a cabinet shop, and a drying kiln—and the ice plant which not only served the colony families daily but also delivered to nearby Leesville and surrounding areas. There were street lights, some board sidewalks, and dirt streets. The houses were very plain, but each had electricity and water. There was a library building containing 5,000 volumes including the breadth of literary classics as well as radical literature. Further west from the village could be found Kid Kolony, Pickett’s favorite project, which was built for the education of the children.

Henry Killian, the nearby farmer, says: “Their school program was one of the finest programs that I ever knew of. One bunch would work in the morning, and another bunch would go to school. And then in the afternoon, this bunch that went to school in the morning would work, and the bunch that worked in the morning would go to school. Every scholar that they turned out knew how to do something, how to put them to use. They had a trade when they turned them loose. Mr. Pickett told me that a fellow came over and checked into their system. The fellow was from Russia and he carried it back and put it to use. He said that’s where Russia got their school system, from that colony. Now I don’t know if that’s a fact, but that’s what he told me.

Blair Pickett tells that all the children went to Kid Kolony for the day, thus taking some burden off the mothers who themselves had jobs.

It was a day-care center, long before its day. The things they are trying for today, they already had it in the colony and it was destroyed.

Blair also remembers being told about the Russians visiting:

Dad told me one time that during the early '30’s, I guess it was, that some Russians came over and they came to the colony and they studied the educational system they had there and they took it back with them. I don’t know what the Russian educational system is but they were supposedly modeling their education system after the one they had at the colony.

Documented verification of this would, of course, be a very valuable addition to the history of Llano colony.

Kid Kolony helped somewhat to allow women more free time, but according to one colonist, Albert Kapotsy, now age 90:

Women had a double burden in the colony. Now, they could take clothes to the community laundry, the food was fixed for everybody in the hotel and a woman could have all the family’s sewing done in the sewing room. But, they had eight-hour jobs, same as men, and then they had to come home to housework. They had it a little rough, but still had a lot of free time.

According to a 1923 article in the American Vanguard by Kate Richards O’Hare, the tension between men and women was one of the main problems in the colony, partially because of the extra work load of women and also because colony affairs were run by men, though women did as much work for the colony as a whole.

One of the aspects of colony life which was directed by the women was the preparation and serving of food. Bill Brough points out:

Here, this old building that is just about torn down was a hotel. Everybody went there to eat. They had a big dining room downstairs. Now, if they wanted to, people with families could carry their food home to eat. They had containers and would go through the line. If they had six people in the family, they allowed them so much bread, so much of whatever they had, to carry home.

Mrs. Peecher worked there and in the sewing room, another responsibility of the women.

We had a commissary where you could go to get your clothes which were very few because a lot of clothes were donated from places outside. There would be big boxes of clothes come in, and then of course we made all of the overalls and things that the men wore, and shirts. And sometimes people would send in materials and we'd make dresses for the women. But, if you come in here with no money, you didn’t have no money, you just depended on what you could through the colony, that’s all.

Reading through literature from and about the colony and talking with ex-colonists, a person gets the impression that the people were proud of the work they did there. They worked hard and though Newllano never was a showcase of splendor and the streets never were even paved, much less with gold, they knew they were doing something very new, and for a while succeeded. Perhaps people were proud of their labor there because they lived and worked at the colony out of choice, not because they were forced to be there. They were working for something they believed in and their labor belonged to them and to the colony, not to the boss or to an owner of a factory. It was only when they began to feel that it was mainly Pickett’s colony, not theirs, that resentment was felt.

Colony life was not all work, however, for there was time for discussion groups, for the theatre, and, most important of all, for the dances on Saturday night. “We had a roof garden on top of one of the buildings, and there we had a dance floor. It was one of the best in Louisiana at one time, solid oak,” told Chester Peecher as he plucked around on the fiddle he used to saw every weekend.

On a Saturday night we would have a couple of hundred people. We had round dances and square dances and had an orchestra down there that must have had twelve or fifteen people in it, maybe more than that. Even after the colony broke up we had dances at our place and at other places, like Bill Brough’s. You’d roll back the rug if you had one, and sometimes you didn’t have one.

Says Bill Brough:

It was something to see and people came from all over to it. We did the Paul Jones and the waltz and what have you. And we had some pretty girls back in those days and we could really dance; we hugged them up tight. Mr. Pickett, he was a little sawed-off rascal, he would come up and stick a broom sideways between us. We were supposed to stay that far apart, but we wouldn’t.

One of the important aspects of the colony was the way it related to people in the surrounding area. The colony offered the services for outsiders of sawing and dressing lumber, canning meat, and making peanut butter for a fair share of the goods. Also, they delivered ice and published the parish paper as well as having the popular Saturday night dances for all people of the area. Farmers, working people, and poor people could see clearly what the colony people were doing and even today most Vernon Parish people speak fondly, even proudly, of the colony that was in their midst for twenty-two years. They should also be proud of themselves, for radicals elsewhere were suppressed and imprisoned at the same time the colony was growing. The common people of Vernon Parish knew colony people were radicals, some Communists and Socialists, but unlike elsewhere, they did not let these labels blind them. They could see that the colonists were hard working people, a lot like themselves in that way, but working hard for a dream. Mr. Killian saw it clearly:

Well, yeah, I would go around amongst them. You see, I was always kinda like you; I called it more or less curious. You know, a lot was a-going on and really, you see, I was raised up poor, and really I thought it was a good thing. In other words, if people happened to run out of a home, that would be an ideal place. One time the sheriff told Mr. Pickett that “if everybody conducted themselves as you people do, we wouldn’t have any use for a sheriff.”

But, the upper class of Leesville never was proud of the colony, and always sought to destroy it. They were eventually successful. Talking of those kind of people, Mr. Killian continued:

Some people wanted to destroy it. But there’s a certain percent of the people that wants to grab everything they can get. They’ll get a little hold, they’ll keep a-pulling until they pull you in. For a profit big enough, there’s people that will destroy almost anything. But it wasn’t the people in general all over the country here that wanted to destroy the colony.

While working people and farmers benefitted from the colony, the Leesville upper class had nothing to gain. The colony was a threat to them economically as working people and farmers turned to the colony for services and goods. The colony ice plant even eventually caused the Leesville plant to shut down. During the life of the colony and afterward, the upper class used the courts as their tool for harassment. Blair Pickett tells that colony people had trouble with the Leesville group which took them into court several times.

They had this old guy in the colony from Chicago, originally from Germany, by the name of Dad Gleeser. He was editor of the Llano Colonist. Well, they hauled the colony up there for being a free-love colony. So the prosecuting attorney asked Dad Gleeser, “Do you believe in free love?” And Gleeser said, “Yes.” But he said, “Let me clarify this. How much did you have to pay for your wife?” That stopped the judge cold right there.

The reputation of the colony spread not only around Vernon Parish, but further. By word of mouth, by Pickett’s travels, and by glowing reports in the Llano Colonist, word of the colony reached across the US and even to other countries. A lot of people liked what they heard, though reports were exaggerated at times, and a lot of them decided to come down to Louisiana and give it a try. What were these people like? Who was a good example of the “typical colonist’’? It would be difficult to say, and a few examples will show the diversity of people who came.

There was Cuno, the colony philosopher who had met Marx and Engels and who walked around the colony in a white robe. He gave talks using Bertrand Russell as a text and felt that love was the powerful, positive force in the universe. Ester Allen was the colony nurse and had a devotion to the colony that was nun-like. There was Harry Weatherwax, a former Communist Party organizer who, when he was married, asked for a divorce coupon at the same time he bought his license and wrote “red” for his color. And, there was Ivy Young, an accomplished artist, who came from England to the colony. He did a bust of Pickett while there.

George D. Coleman published a booklet at the colony about his particular specialty entitled “Making Fertilizer at Home.” He had travelled the world and had observed fertilizing techniques everywhere he went, then devised his own method. Ole Synoground was Swedish and a socialist. He was a worker “like a big mule” and devoted to the colony. Chester and Mrs. Peecher, now living in Leesville, are still strong socialists. They came from Illinois to the colony and he remembers that when a small boy, his father took him to hear Gene Debs campaigning for President from the back of a train painted a bright red (the “Red Special”). There were a few Jewish people who came to the colony, but no blacks. According to Mr. Peecher, the colony people knew and discussed that exclusion of blacks was in direct contradiction to what the colony stood for. Yet, they all feared that the colony would be attacked and destroyed if blacks were included.

Albert Kapotsy, who now lives in Leesville,came to the colony in the early twenties.

I came out from Hungary, I ran away from the army. I didn’t want to serve under military rule. I came here as a red card Party member, had a red card from the old country. As soon as I arrived, some fellows took me from Ellis Island to a place on Fourth Street in New York that was the headquarters for the socialists. From there, I wrote for their magazine which in English would mean "The People’s Voice.” I grew up with Marxism. In Budapest I had gone to school with a boy whose father was a very great agitator. The people had the guts to demand from the government and if the government didn’t come across, they’d organize a big parade. The whole population developed a socialist understanding by being educated to it. They were just more advanced to see the point.

I was the first organizer that called meetings together in New Haven, Connecticut. The Socialist Party was very active then. It was very active. The workers felt kind of an obligation to get a move on. 

I had a little argument with the people there and then I saw this advertising about the colony building their own community. I said, “That’s the place where I’m gonna go,” and I came down with my five children to join the colony. I didn’t stay there long because Pickett ruled with an iron fist. He made me sit down in the meeting when I tried to put in my two cents worth. I felt that I had been in too responsible of a position in the movement for him to make me sit down. So, I soon moved to Leesville and went back and forth whenever they would have a meeting.

Kapotsy was a plumber and began to ply his trade in Leesville. He still carries a great deal of bitterness toward Pickett but believes in the colony ideals. One important part of his life is his close tie to his native Hungary. In the summer of 1972 he visited there and made an arrangement with state libraries for them to receive the mounds of colony and leftist literature he has collected through the decades. He and his wife spoke Hungarian to one another as we ate together in their kitchen.

Probably the colony participants who were then and later the best known nationally were William Edward Zeuch and Kate Richards O’Hare. O’Hare had been a lecturer, an executive with the IWW, and had published the Ripsaw along with her husband Frank. The two O’Hares had been closely connected in their work with the militant labor and socialist leader, Eugene Debs. At the colony she published the American Vanguard, producing fifteen monthly issues while there. Later, after leaving Llano, she was convicted under the sedition law and served fourteen months in the Missouri State Penitentiary. In 1927 she led a children’s crusade to Washington on behalf of amnesty for all political prisoners.

Zeuch had served in World War I, afterward helped establish cooperative stores in Illinois and later taught at the University of Illinois. He and the O’Hares had a vision of creating a new type of school, described by one of the former teachers there as being “aimed to recruit and train leaders for unconventional roles in a new and radically different society—one in which workers would have power and would need responsible leadership.” He writes about Commonwealth College in a new book, Educational Commune, by Charlotte and Raymond Koch.

The colony deeded forty acres to the school in return for free tuition for the colonists. Students, then, were to have schooling for half a day and work in the colony for the other half. It was begun on April 2, 1923, with three trustees, Kate O’Hare, A. James MacDonald, and William E. Zeuch.

Covington Hall, who had a volume of poetry [Rhymes of a Rebel) published by the colony press, was one of the college’s elders. He is quoted in Educational Commune, “Dr. Zeuch and General Manager Pickett were strong personalities, with fixed ideas as to how the New World should be blue-printed. . . . The lovefeast of Founders’ Day was hardly over before the struggle to control the community began. It lasted for over a year. Then the two conflicting groups, unable to agree, agreed to disagree.”

Zeuch wrote before he died in 1968, “The students from without the colony could not adjust to the limited and frugal fare provided at the colony dining room. There was a serious division within the colony of which those representing the college had not known. . .. Dissidents in the colony were looking to the college to help them in their struggle against what they called the dishonest and inefficient management.”

A recollection of Mrs. Viola Gilbert, still living near Mena, Arkansas, close to the eventual site of Commonwealth, tells of part of the conflict. “After a while many of the colony group were not pleased with their agreement to give maintenance to Commonwealth students for a half day’s labor, claiming that it cost more to train a student than their services were worth. . . . We received settlements in lumber, farm machinery, shingles, horses, mules, cattle, and shop equipment,” and left.5

According to Kapotsy, some colonists criticized Pickett for the arrangement with the Commonwealth people and with O’Hare for use of the press. “The colonists had to work on the outside, in the garden, and in the shop and in the woods and in the fields. There was a misunderstanding on their part about the value of the work in the office.”

The result was that Zeuch, the O’Hares, about 50 Commonwealth people, the American Vanguard and the College all withdrew from Llano, along with their share of materials. By January, 1925, they all had left and they later formed a new Commonwealth College near Mena, Arkansas, which lasted until 1940. Job Harriman, in ill health and living in California, returned for part of the conflict, and withdrew with the Arkansas group. He died in California in 1925.

During the Depression many people were attracted to the colony and the population rose to 600. According to Mr. Peecher, “You were supposed to buy stock to join, but you could just bring in your worldly goods and turn them in. And that was part of your membership. You would work off the rest. You didn’t have to have any money. Because they’d take in guys right off the highway down there and they wouldn’t have a penny. And they’d take them in and they’d stay there until they got filled up real good and take off.”

In one way or another, Llano was related to almost every other cooperative effort in the first part of the Twentieth Century. The pacifist Doukhobors of British Columbia sent regular letters to the Colonist; the paper described at length the Amana colony in Iowa; Sherwood Eddy of the Delta Cooperative Plantation in Mississippi contributed long articles about the colony there; and the unsuccessful Jewish colony at Sunrise, Michigan, issued regular reports to Llano, its mother colony. Some colonists split off to form another cooperative at State Line, Mississippi; a young man attended the organic school of the single-tax colony at Fairhope, Alabama; a leading English colonist came to Llano from Sir Ebenezer Howard’s Welwyn Garden City; and some older colonists had come to Llano from other communal experiences in the Tennessee Ruskin colony or the early commonwealths in Washington State.

Discontent with Pickett’s leadership began to swell as time passed. He spoke proudly that Llano Colony was self-supporting, but its finances were always shaky and there were always debts. Many felt that Pickett should have spent more time helping place the colony on a self-supporting basis instead of travelling the country trying to raise support. A. James MacDonald, a strong critic of Pickett, mailed out a fourteen-page attack on Pickett in 1927. In it he wrote that many colonists “would rather see the colony discontinued than to see more and more people brought there through Pickett’s misrepresentations and caused to lose money that many of them could ill afford to lose.”

“The idea was right. The colony proved that the idea was right. It’s the individual leaders, they put themselves forward too much. They are theones that killed the colony,” says Kapotsy. “Pickett had a wonderful gut. Where a lot of people wouldn’t dare to step, he would go. But he was not a builder, he was not an engineer, he was a propagandist.”

According to Mrs. Peecher, “He tried to expand. He bought the rice ranch down here in Elton [Louisiana]. Then he goes out to [Gila,] New Mexico and tried to buy or does buy another place. Well, they weren’t making enough here in this colony to take care of the people here without all this expansion, you see. If he had stayed here and took care of this one until he got it going and then go out and buy another one, then okay, but he didn’t do that.” Pickett also attempted to expand with another branch at Premont, Texas, had a dream of some sort for Cuba’s Isle of Pines, and talked of a working people’s resort on Estero Island off the coast of Florida. Money sunk into these efforts which never succeeded only compounded the debt problems. These ventures, combined with the loss of a great deal of money in the drilling of three dry oil wells at Newllano, left the colony in an increasingly precarious situation.

Finally in 1935, Mr. Peecher remembers, “Pickett got up there one night and said that unless there was something done and done soon, this colony wasn’t going to last much longer. It wasn’t going to be able to stand. And he was very sincere.”

This sparked what was called by colony people “The Revolution.” It was mainly younger colonists aligned against Pickett and the old colonists, some of whom had been figurehead leaders on the colony board for years. Peecher continues, “We got to talking, you know, and said, ‘Well, if Pickett says this place is going to bust up, that we’re going to go to the dogs, why, then it’s about time we started something.’ Then we got to talking around here about just taking the bull by the horns and put Pickett out. He was on a speaking tour when we had an election down there and we elected Gene Carl as general manager. We thought it was our duty after what he said up there. He didn’t offer no remedy.”

The colony was fragmented then and began to break apart. The new leadership turned out to be too weak to pull it together. There was some shooting exchanged between the factions, and the colony school was discontinued. Pickett tried to challenge the takeover in the courts, based on the fact that it was not legal according to the corporation’s charter. But his efforts were in vain, for though he had legal grounds, the local courts were glad for the opportunity to play a role in destroying the colony. Finally, the rebel leadership put the colony into receivership in 1938 in hopes of clearing up the debts. The Leesville power structure seized the opportunity and sold the entire colony supposedly in order to settle debts. For all the colony lands, the factories, machinery, and the entire town, the receiver obtained $60,000. The entire ice plant went for $400, and one man, a Mr. Kildare, bought the whole town of Newllano for a few hundred dollars and later became its mayor. The action was almost without doubt illegal, but the local power structure reacted like scavengers, and expediency shoved legality to the rear. “It seems to me it was the big fish swallowing the little one,” says Killian.

Pickett and other colonists continued for decades to attempt a court challenge, but the odds were overwhelming. No Louisiana lawyer would touch the case. Today, there is still a board of directors of Llano Colony and they still hope to challenge in the courts for land that was taken illegally by the court. Vernon Parish courthouse records now show that only forty acres remain in Llano’s name of the thousands that were once there.

After the collapse of the colony, most colony people dispersed throughout the country. Pickett and a few others stayed in Vernon Parish, he to continue with a relentless struggle for the colony until his death in 1959. For a while he worked for an economic plan called the Townsend National Recovery Plan, all the while living in near poverty in a very simple house near the old colony. In the 40’s he began to print a small leaflet entitled, of course, “The Llano Colonist,” in order to build support for the court cases.

“GET THIS STRAIGHT,” he wrote, “Llano Colony was the only group of people in the whole WESTERN HEMISPHERE that was daring enough to try and learn the basic laws that govern a better system of COOPERATIVE ECONOMICS. We people of LLANO COLONY, compared to many other communities of a like size, were MORE PEACEABLE, MORE INDUSTRIOUS, MORE ATTENTIVE TO OUR OWN BUSINESS, LESS MEDDLESOME WITH OTHER PEOPLE’S AFFAIRS, MORE KINDLY DISPOSED TOWARD OUR NEIGHBORS, than many others, and WE WERE, ON THE AVERAGE, BETTER CITIZENS IN EVERY WAY. Our greatest fault was, WE WERE TOO KINDHEARTED. We could not believe that people who were neighbors could be induced to participate in CRIMINAL and MALICIOUS acts toward us. We have been cruelly wronged. WE ARE MAD. THERE ARE A LOT OF US.”

Pickett remains the center of discussion pro and con of those who lived in the colony. Without his strong, charismatic, single-handed leadership, there is a good possibility that the colony would have collapsed long before it did. Yet, it was the weakness of that “dictatorial” leadership, combined with the hostile outside forces which led eventually to the collapse. The centralization of power in Pickett’s hands was always in direct contradiction to the principles of socialist cooperation on which the colony was founded.

“Would you do it again now, Ms. Peecher, after what you went through there?”

"No, if I had to go through what I did the first time I wouldn’t. Not with just one guy telling you what you could do and what you couldn't do. I think if things were run properly I’d go back into another colony. It would have to be run with the people being the heart of it, you know.” 


Let’s demand a year of Jubilee to make all people free,

Money slavery abolish for all eternity

The Golden Rule be practice of all humanity,

For Llano's marching on.

—verse of old colony song



1. Dr. Walter Siegmeister, “The Downfall of Capitalism and the Birth of the New Cooperative System,” The Llano Colonist, April 1, 1933.

2. Ernest S. Wooster, The Nation, October 10, 1923.

3. A. James McDonald, in a letter dated April 18, 1927, and sent out as a mass mailing, outlining his opposition to Pickett.

4. In Educational Commune, by Charlotte and Raymond Koch.



Brown, Bob. Can We Cooperate. Pleasant Plains, Staten Island, N.Y., 1940.

Clifton, A. R. “History of the Communistic Colony Llano del Rio,” Annual Publications. Historical Society of Southern California. Vol. 11, 1918, pp. 80-90.

Clifton, A. R. “A Study of Llano del Rio Company Master Thesis, Univ. of Southern California, 1918.

Conkin, Paul K. Two Paths to Utopia. Lincoln, Neb.: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1964. Best source on the colony’s history.

Hanover, Fred. “Llano Cooperative Colony: An American Rural Community Experiment.” Masters thesis, Tulane University, 1936. Very good.

Harriman, Job. "Making Dreams Come True.” Western Comrade. Vol 1, May, 1913, pp. 54-56.

Harriman, Job. “The Gateway to Freedom.” Western Comrade. Vol. 2, June, 1914, pp. 6-9, 24-25.

Hine, Robert V. California’s Utopian Colonies. San Marino, Calif.: The Huntington Library, 1953. Contains good chapter on Llano in California.

Hoffman, Abe. “A Look At Llano.” California Historical Society Quarterly. Vol. 40, No. 3, September,

1961, pp. 215-36.

McDonald, A. James. The Llano Co-operative Colony. San Antonio: Carleton Printing Co., 1950.

Newllano Colony owned and published the Western Comrade beginning in 1914; name changed to Internationalist when moved to La., and soon ceased publication. From 1921 to 1937, published Llano Colonist. A booklet, “Detailed Information about the Llano Cooperative Colony,” was published by Newllano in 1932 and is available in the Columbia University library.

The National Ripsaw became American Vanguard when moved to Newllano by Frank and Kate Richards O’Hare.

Quint, Howard H. The Forging of American Socialism. Columbia, S.C.: Univ. of S.C. Press, 1953. See chapter 9 on the general socialist communitarian movement.

Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, 73rd Congress, 1st Session, Hearings on S. 1142, The United Communities, for the 1933 testimony of Pickett. Williams, Thomas W. “A Short History of the Socialist Movement in California.” Los Angeles Citizen. September 1, 1911. On Harriman and associates.

Wooster, E. S. Communities of the Past and Present. Newllano, 1924.

Wooster, E. S. Assorted articles in The Nation, October 10, 1923, pp. 378-380; and in Sunset, July, 1924, pp. 21ff., and August, 1924, pp. 21ff., and September, 1924, pp. 30ff.

Young, Sid. The Crisis in Llano Colony. Los Angeles, 1936. A pro-Pickett account.