William Wallis Erwin was born in the town of Erwin, New York. Known as the "Tall Pine," Erwin was a lawyer and contemporary of Clarence Darrow. He moved to St. Paul in 1870, living there for more than 30 years. A fiery orator, Erwin joined Darrow in defending Eugene V. Debs and other leaders of the American Railway Union put on trial for their role in leading the 1894 Pullman strike. The St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly raised money to send Erwin to Homestead, Pennsylvania, where he became chief counsel for the Homestead strikers. "One thing is necessary to preserve common and equal rights," Erwin said, "and that is that every man fall in line and belong to a trades union."