Ludlow and the Colorado Coalfield War

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow, Colorado by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow, Colorado by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

The abandoned town of Ludlow, Colorado, was once a flourishing railroad and coal-mining town made famous by the nearby Ludlow Massacre in 1914.

Ludlow, located about 12 miles north of Trinidad, began sometime in the 1890s, and a post office was established in 1896. Early on, Bressan’s Stagecoach line ran past the Bear Canon Coal mine, daily from the nearby coal-mining towns of Berwind, Tobasco, Hastings, Delagua, and Tollerburg to Ludlow and Trinidad.

In 1904 the Colorado and Southeastern Railway built its tracks through the area and established a station at Ludlow. At about this same time, the Ludlow Mine was started by the Huerfano Coal Company. The town soon included the railroad depot, a general store and post office, a saloon, a livery and feed store, two meat markets, a physician, and two grocery stores. Ludlow first appeared in the Colorado State Business Directory in 1911 when about 50 people lived in the town.

Though the number of residents doesn’t appear to have supported so many businesses, the town undoubtedly provided goods and services to the many nearby coal mining camps in the Ludlow Valley. These included Hastings, Delagua, Gulnare, Berwind, Tabasco, Aguilar, and others.

Although small amounts of coal were produced in the area for locals as early as the 1860s, significant development of the industry did not occur until the arrival of railroads. The Denver & Rio Grande Railway reached the Trinidad area in 1876 and played a dominant role in developing coal mines in the vicinity. Colorado’s southern coalfield in Las Animas and Huerfano Counties became the state’s most productive coal area by 1884.

Colorado Fuel & Iron Company Plant in Pueblo, Colorado

Colorado Fuel & Iron Company Plant in Pueblo, Colorado

The Colorado Coal & Iron Company established the company town of Berwind, 3.1 miles southwest of Ludlow, in 1888 and erected an integrated iron and steel mill in Pueblo. In 1892, the Colorado Coal & Iron Company merged with its principal competitor, the Colorado Fuel Company forming the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (C.F.&I.). The new company became the largest coal and coke firm in the West.

In 1901, the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company established the company town of Tabasco, just 2.7 miles southwest of Ludlow. In 1903, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and George Jay Gould assumed control of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company. Gould initially had more significant influence in the company but reduced his involvement after four years. Rockefeller took control of the company in 1907 and transferred his interest to his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The mines were managed from offices in New York.

In 1906, the Engineering and Mining Journal estimated that 10% of Colorado’s population depended on C.F.&I. for their livelihood.

C.F.&I., along with the Victor-American Fuel Company, wielded formidable political clout in early 20th-century Colorado, and their control over the politics and livelihoods of the residents of Las Animas and Huerfano Counties was nearly total.

Berwind, Colorado Coal Mine

Berwind, Colorado Coal Mine

In 1913, C.F.&I. operated mines at Engle, Sopris No. 2, Berwind, Starkville, Tabasco, Primero, Tercio, Frederick, and Morley in Las Animas County and the Walsen, Robinson Nos. 1 and 2, New Rouse, Pictou, Herzon, Cameron, Ideal, Lester, and McNally mines in Huerfano County, in addition to mines in other parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico.

During these busy coal-mining days, European, Mexican, and Japanese immigrants dominated the mining workforce in Colorado. By 1902, the coal workers represented 32 nationalities and spoke 27 languages. In 1915, Anglo-Americans formed only 13% of the workforce. During these times, the workers were often stereotyped and described by one CF&I official as “foreigners who do not intend to make America their home, and who live like rats to save money.” Operators distributed multiple ethnic and racial groups in each mining camp, believing it increased workers’ dependence on the employer and prevented union organizing. Company housing within camps was often segregated, based on ethnicity and race, in terms of location and quality. Further, mining companies often mixed immigrants of different nationalities in their work environments, which discouraged communication that might lead to organization.

Las Animas County, Colorado Coal Miners

Las Animas County, Colorado Coal Miners

In the company-owned coal camps, owners created worker housing near the mines, and mine managers virtually controlled the lives of their employees. Single men resided in boarding houses while families lived in small cottages. The coal companies provided education, medical care, recreation, religious, and social programs. Schools were erected, the company selected teachers, and books and newspapers were made available. Churches were built and staffed by the company, as well as infirmaries and physicians. Cultural and recreational opportunities included weekly dances and motion pictures, fraternal organizations and ethnic lodges, and sporting events such as baseball games. Company towns were guarded by company-appointed camp marshals tasked with ensuring sanitary conditions, guarding the entrance gates, maintaining curfews, inspecting the upkeep of miners’ houses, and acting as truant officers. These “officers” often cracked down on anyone critical of the mine owners or the conditions in the town. If miners wanted to consume alcohol, they could only do it at company saloons. The doctors and priests of the communities were company employees.

Company stores offered groceries and a wide range of consumer items, but many workers complained that prices at the company store were higher than those in Trinidad and Walsenburg. Although Colorado outlawed payment in scrip, tokens of paper “money” which were only redeemable for goods at company stores and businesses in 1899, the law was ignored by many coal operators. Further, the mine operators often extended lines of credit to the miners and their families, which easily became overextended, forcing the miner to have no choice but work whatever hours and shifts the mine owners demanded.

Wages were determined by the tonnage of coal produced, while “dead work” such as repairing damaged roofs and timbers, clearing passages, and other maintenance chores were often unpaid, causing workers to neglect safety precautions to earn more.

Company towns did bring tangible improvements to the lives of many miners and their families, including larger houses, better medical care, and broader access to education. But, these benefits came with a price – control over all aspects of workers’ lives. Further, many companies exploited their employees and took heavy-handed measures to prevent them from organizing.

After the Primero, Colorado Mine Explosion

After the Primero, Colorado Mine Explosion

Making matters worse, statistics indicate that Colorado coal mines were among the most dangerous in the nation. From 1884 to 1912, more than 1,708 men died in the state’s coal mines, a rate twice the national average. In 1910, explosions at CF&I’s Primero and Starkville mines killed 75 and 56 men, respectively, and 79 miners died in a blast at a Victor-American Fuel Company operation at Delagua.

Colorado and the rest of the coal-producing West paid a terrible price in blood to bring coal out of the depths of the earth.” – James Whiteside, Historian.

The workers and their families had little recourse for the dangerous conditions in the mines, and coroners’ juries almost exclusively sided with the mine operators. For example, in 1904-1914, the juries picked by the Sheriff of Huerfano County, Jeff Farr, found the coal operators to blame in only one case out of 95.

In the meantime, The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had been founded in Ohio and, in 1890, began large-scale efforts to organize coal miners in the Rocky Mountains. In 1894, CF&I faced its first strike when workers walked out for four months seeking improvements such as recognition of the union as the bargaining agent for coal workers in Colorado and New Mexico, adjustment of the system of weighing coal, the accuracy of checkweighmen, semimonthly payment of wages in money, abolition of scrip, and strict enforcement of state laws relating to underground safety. These actions and demands would continue to be a part of miners’ protests throughout the next two decades leading to the Ludlow Massacre.

More strikes would occur during the first decade of the 20th century, which provided area miners with some concessions from the mining companies. However, the companies refused to recognize the union.

In 1910, to prevent a strike, CF&I agreed to increase wages, abolish scrip, pay its workers on a semimonthly basis, and adopt an eight-hour workday. However, the company still refused to recognize the union as a method of resolving miners’ grievances.

In August 1913, UMWA officials arrived in Trinidad, Colorado, believing that only through acceptance of the union could workers gain improved working conditions and enforcement of existing state laws. In early September, labor activist Mary “Mother” Jones, described as a “militant crusader for the rights of the laboring man” and “an idolized leader of the United Mine Workers of America,” arrived from West Virginia to assist with preparing the miners for a potential walkout.

Colorado Coal Miners

Colorado Coal Miners

The union scheduled a convention of miner representatives in Trinidad on September 15, 1913, with many of the same issues of the previous UMWA walkouts, including recognition of the union as the miners’ bargaining representative; a 10 percent increase in wages on tonnage rates; payment for “dead work” such as timbering in abandoned workings, cleaning passages, and track laying; the right of miners to elect their checkweighmen; semimonthly paydays; the right to make purchases at any store, live in any house, and visit any doctor of their choosing; enforcement of existing Colorado mining laws; and an end to the system of mine guards. September 23 was selected as the date miners would walk off their jobs, and the union had already stockpiled necessary provisions for the strike.

However, CF&I President Jesse F. Welborn refused to meet with the union miners and said that any dispute “would be a strike to the finish.” In the end, both sides vowed to hold to their position over the long term, resulting in an industrial dispute that would be one of the most violent and emotional in American labor history.

Strikers at the Ludlow, Colorado Tent Colony

Strikers at the Ludlow, Colorado Tent Colony

About 9,000 miners walked off the job, protesting low pay and abysmal working conditions in the coalfields of Colorado. The striking miners were then evicted from the homes in the CF&I company-owned towns. However, the union had predicted this and established several tent colonies in the area, the largest of which, housing about 1,200 strikers, was located about ½ mile north of the railroad town of Ludlow. The Ludlow Tent Colony consisted of tents built on wood platforms and furnished with cast iron stoves. The colony was equipped with a telephone line to facilitate communication.

Some people began making their way out of the mining camps on September 21, when wagons, trains, and interurban cars in Trinidad were loaded with miners’ families. The Rocky Mountain News reported that thousands of coal miners laid down their tools the following day, and it predicted almost every coal mine in the state would be idle within two days.

Ludlow, Colorado Tent Families

Ludlow, Colorado Tent Families

Mary Thomas, one of the refugees, reached Ludlow on September 22, before most strikers arrived. She found carpenters “working feverishly in the rain” to get things ready for the massive influx of people expected and described the scene the next day as “a beautiful new city of white tents.” On September 23, the mass exodus of miners began, with most of the strikers at Ludlow coming from the CF&I operated properties at Berwind and Tabasco in Berwind Canyon and the Victor-American Fuel Company towns at Hastings and Del Agua.

Pelting rain and snow accompanied the strikers to the tent colony and Don MacGregor, a reporter for the pro-union Denver Express and the only journalist on the scene, described the scene as an “exodus of woe, of a people leaving known fears for new terrors, a hopeless people seeking new hope, a people born to suffering going forth to certain new suffering.”

With all of their personal belongings, the miners and their families arrived throughout the day, most of them “soaked to the skin.” In the beginning, there were not enough tents, and hundreds of single men without families camped out in the storm during the first night, while others found shelter in the homes of union sympathizers in nearby Ludlow. Piles of furniture were scattered across the prairie. After five days, Ludlow was described as a “white colony of a thousand souls” housed in 200 tents.

Ludlow Tent Colony before the fire, Lewis Dold, 1914

Ludlow Tent Colony before the fire, Lewis Dold, 1914

The UMWA paid the strikers a stipend of three dollars per week for each miner, one dollar for each woman, and fifty cents for each child. The union also provided tents, coal, food, and clothing and bought supplies from independent merchants and nearby ranchers. The union later reported it sent between thirty and forty thousand dollars each week to the strike zone.

With little to do during long hours of free time, the strikers volunteered their services to keep the camp functioning, including providing first aid, removing trash, guarding the site, and keeping the public areas of the colony clean. A baseball field was established where games were played in good weather, and a large “circus-like” tent was utilized for mass gatherings and entertainment such as concerts, dances, meetings, and church services.

Both sides of the dispute prepared to use arms to defend their interests. The coal operators employed an estimated 300 armed guards to protect their mine properties, and guards escorted new and non-striking employees between the railroad stations and the mines. Some of the guards were hired through the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency of New York and West Virginia, which specialized in working on the side of management during strikes. Many of the guards were also were sworn in as deputy sheriffs.

Baldwin-Felts Detectives

Baldwin-Felts Detectives

The violence began before the tent colonies were even established. On August 16, union organizer Gerald Lippiatti died in a gunfight with a Baldwin-Felts operative and a company guard, who union miners subsequently killed. On September 24, the CF&I camp marshal at the Segundo coke ovens was killed while attempting to make an arrest.

After the tent colonies were established, the mine operators initiated a campaign of harassment against the strikers, which took the form of high-powered searchlights playing over the colonies at night. Albert C. Felts designed a vehicle miners christened “the Death Special,” an automobile shipped from Denver modified with sides of steel plates fabricated at the CF&I mill in Pueblo. At the top of the car was a specially-designed compartment held two machine guns that periodically sprayed selected colonies with machine-gun fire. As a result, the colonists dug pits beneath their tens to shelter from gunfire.

Mother Jones

Mother Jones

On the morning of October 7, Union leader John Lawson and Mother Jones rallied strikers at the Ludlow colony. In the afternoon, company guards near the site exchanged gunfire with miners. The following day, hundreds of shots rang out during a three-hour battle that resulted in injuries to one guard and two Greek strikers. A miner working as a cowboy at a local ranch died in the crossfire. During the same incident, bullets entered houses of employees of the Colorado & Southern and shattered windows of the railroad depot. John Lawson, who was present during the conflict, disarmed many of the angry miners and tried to pacify the women and children, who were “running about the tent colony screaming frantically” during the fight.

Afterward, the local sheriff called the Colorado National Guard in Trinidad, requesting as many troops as possible to come to Ludlow and be sworn in as deputies. However, the conflict had ceased by the time the troops arrived, and the Guardsmen found no reason to stay. John Lawson then traveled to Denver to meet with Governor Elias Ammons to convince him that the newly-hired company guards would escalate the violence and encouraged him to prohibit hiring such men in other parts of the state.

On October 11, reports from the strike zone indicated that three shots were directed at the tent colony at Sopris, and a journalist reported: “The feeling here against the guards still grows, and more serious trouble is anticipated.”

"Death Special" at Ludlow, Colorado

“Death Special” at Ludlow, Colorado

Six days later, on October 17, strikers and deputy sheriffs exchanged gunfire at the Forbes Tent Colony south of Ludlow. At this time, the deputized Baldwin-Felts employees tested their Death Special on the tents. One striker died, a mine guard received wounds, and bullets hit a boy and girl. On October 24, 1913, mounted mine guards fired upon a group of strikers and their families who were heckling men heading to work at the Walsen Mine, resulting in the deaths of three protesters.

As word of these incidents spread through the other tent camps, fear increased, and the miners at Ludlow vowed that no guards would be allowed near enough to their campsite to use the Death Special. Ludlow strikers believed that company guards planned to “wipe them out,” and subsequently, a mine guard was killed near the Ludlow colony. Strikers and guards then exchanged shots for several days. Finally, one of the guards sent a telegram to Adjutant General John Chase, the commander of the Colorado National Guard.

In the meantime, strikers began to attack the mines at Berwind and Tabasco, firing into company houses and using dynamite bombs to destroy mine facilities. One guard died, and two children and four strikers were wounded. As a result, CF&I ordered the removal of women and children from the communities it owned in the area.

National Guard at the Ludlow, Colorado Strike

National Guard at the Ludlow, Colorado Strike

On October 28, 1913, Governor Ammons responded by sending National Guard troops to the strike zone, assuring the union leaders and the mine owners that the troops would remain impartial and focus on protecting property. The soldiers established an encampment across the railroad tracks southwest of the Ludlow Tent Colony.

In one of their first actions, troops attempted to confiscate all of the arms and ammunition from the strikers and the mine employees. In addition, coal company representatives were told to discharge their guards. However, the people at the Ludlow colony withheld the majority of their weapons. But, for several months afterward, no strike-related deaths occurred.

When the troops first arrived, Ludlow colonists were initially friendly. Still, over time, the cooperation turned gradually to mistrust as Adjutant General John Chase imposed a form of military rule in the area, making arrests and undertaking frequent inspections at the camps. The atmosphere worsened in November when the governor allowed soldiers to begin protecting imported strikebreakers. By the early part of 1914, coal production was sufficient to meet the company’s requirements, and there was no general closure of mines in the area.

Mother Jones and 600 miners marching to the State Capitol at Denver, Colorado, to present their grievances to Governor Ammons regarding sending militia to the Southern Coal Fields. The Ludlow battle flag was carried at the head of the column.

Mother Jones and 600 miners marched to the State Capitol at Denver, Colorado, to present their grievances to Governor Ammons regarding sending militia to the Southern Coal Fields.

State and federal officials attempted to bring both sides of the dispute into an agreement throughout the strike. Still, the coal companies spurned this effort, believing it provided a form of union recognition. More meetings followed where most of the union demands were met, but the coal companies again rejected the union’s right to address ongoing grievances.

During this time, Mother Jones visited Ludlow to rally miners several times. State and local authorities believed she incited unrest, so much so that Colorado Governor Ammons threatened to have her jailed or deported to keep things under control. She departed Trinidad on JaJanuary 41914, stating, “They can’t keep me from my boys.” General Chase ordered his men to arrest and detain her if she returned, which happened a week later. She was then detained at Trinidad’s San Rafael Hospital, where she was held incommunicado for nine weeks, gaining nationwide publicity.

In the meantime, the miners’ wives organized a march through Trinidad to protest her incarceration on JaJanuary 211914. Adjutant General Chase, who directed the soldiers to charge the women, fell off his horse during the action, and the peaceful demonstration became known as “the Mother Jones Riot.”

National attention again turned to Colorado in February 1914, when a subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Mines and Mining inspected the strike district, talking to miners, union leaders, coal company officials, and members of the National Guard. Five congressmen also visited several areas where violence had occurred.

When the body of a non-union worker was found on the train tracks near Forbes in early March 1914, an investigation led to the tent colony, where several men were arrested. On March 10, mounted members of the National Guard took down and removed the tents occupied by the men at Forbes and ordered all the strikers to leave the camp within 48 hours and take their possessions with them.

Armed mining strikers in Trinidad, Colorado

Armed mining strikers in Trinidad, Colorado

Union officials immediately protested the Guard’s actions and issued an advisory to striking miners in the coal district to arm themselves to protect their lives and property. The union also urged the tent colonists to resist any attempt by company employees or the National Guard to remove them from the sites leased by the union.

In Denver, Governor Ammons stated he had not ordered the tents to be taken down, and he assured the union that no effort would be made to deport strikers. However, on MaMarch 27the National Guard prevented a group of union members from rebuilding eleven tents at the Forbes site. The Ludlow colonists expanded the cellars under their tents and prepared for the colony’s defense upon hearing this.

As the state troops’ occupation of the strike zone dragged on into its sixth month, many professional members of the National Guard asked permission to leave the strike zone and return to their jobs, schools, and families in the Denver area. Because the military presence had effectively stopped the killing in the area and expenses were mounting, Governor Ammons began to gradually withdraw the troops replacing them with previous camp guards and mine employees. By April, this prompted George P. West to  report to the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations: “the Colorado National Guard no longer offered even a pretense of fairness or impartiality, and its units in the field had degenerated into a force of professional gunmen and adventurers who were economically dependent on and subservient to the will of the coal operators.” By mid-April 1914, only a small contingent consisting of less than 50 soldiers remained in the strike zone, most stationed in the Ludlow area.

Ludlow Massacre

Ludlow, Colorado Railroad Station

Ludlow, Colorado Railroad Station

On Sunday, April 13, 1914, it was a temperate spring day at Ludlow. Much of the camp enjoyed a celebration of the Greek Orthodox Easter, which included a community dinner, musical entertainment, and a baseball game. At one point, a small group of Guardsmen entered the field and exchanged verbal taunts with the relaxing strikers, with one soldier threatening the colonists a “roast” from the National Guardsmen. Later, these words seemed to the strikers to be evidence of a planned attack.

On the next day, April 20, a woman arrived by train at the Ludlow depot and told a National Guard officer that she wanted to see her husband at the Ludlow Colony. Two Guardsmen were dispatched to the camp and were told by Louis Tikas, who was in charge of the colony in John Lawson’s absence, that there was no such person in the tent colony. The soldiers accused him of lying and threatened to return in greater numbers to search the camp.

The soldiers returned to the depot and reported the events to their commander, Major Patrick J. Hamrock, who telephoned Louis Tikas requesting a meeting to discuss the matter. However, when Tikas refused his request, Hamrock responded by ordering a detachment of troops to take up a position and undertake drills on Water Tank Hill, a strategic elevation located about ¾ of a mile south of the tent colony.

Ludlow Massacre Map

Ludlow Massacre Map

Back in the tent camp, a group of strikers agitated by the soldiers’ visit congregated around Tikas and argued in favor of armed resistance to any further attempt by Guardsmen to enter and search the colony. After calming the miners, Tikas decided to meet Major Hamrock at the Ludlow depot.

Noticing men moving about the tent camp, Major Hamrock ordered a machine gun to be taken to Water Tank Hill. As Tikas and Hamrock discussed the situation at the depot, the first National Guard troops arrived on the hill. Three women, who had been at the depot and saw the troops occupying the position, returned to the tent colony and informed the striking miners of this development.

Viewing the National Guard maneuvers as a threat, some 35-50 armed Greek strikers began moving from the tent colony to a position in the Colorado & Southeastern Railroad cut a few hundred yards to the southeast. Other groups started moving northwest toward Del Agua Arroyo and the Colorado & Southern Railway bridge.

Louis Tikas, Greek Union Leader and striker

Louis Tikas, Greek Union Leader and striker

Observing the strikers’ actions, Louis Tikas ran from Ludlow depot toward the camp, waving a white handkerchief in an attempt to get the men to return to the colony, but events were already out of hand.

Major Hamrock, who viewed the movements of the armed strikers as ominous, directed his troops to take battle positions on Water Tank Hill. He then ordered the detonation of two dynamite bombs to signal other troops in the area of imminent combat. The strikers interpreted the explosions as an attack, and a general exchange of gunfire between the National Guard and the strikers ensued.

It was never determined which side fired the first shots, but the long-wearing months-long standoff and the atmosphere of mutual distrust made the conflict almost inevitable. Both sides were convinced that the other was guilty of precipitating the gunfire. The National Guard troops, along with mine guards and other mine employees, numbered a force of about 177 men who were armed with Springfield rifles and at least two machine guns. While more numerous, the strikers were more lightly armed. As the bullets blazed overhead, many women and children hid in pits beneath their tents. Some fled for the safety of the arroyo north of the camp and others to homes and ranches in the area known to be owned by union sympathizers.

When the 14-hour battle was over, 21 people, including Union organizer Louis Tikas and two other union leaders, one member of the National Guard, one miner’s eleven-year-old son, two strikers, and one young man passing through the area were dead. But, the deaths that most shocked the national conscience were those of two women and eleven children who were asphyxiated and burned during the fire while seeking shelter in a tent cellar. For the rest of the miners and families, the tent colony was a smoking ruin, rendering the survivors homeless and without possessions. The tragedy quickly became known as “the Ludlow Massacre.”

Remains to the Ludlow Massacre by Lewis Dold

Remains to the Ludlow Massacre by Lewis Dold

The next morning, the sun shined bright on the scene of the battle where metal objects, such as cast iron stoves and stovepipes, bed frames, and washtubs stood out in the otherwise flat plain of blackened debris.

Ludlow Massacre Magazine Article

Ludlow Massacre Magazine Article

Yet, this tragedy didn’t end the war. For the next ten days fighting continued in the area as outraged men crowded the union office in Trinidad demanding arms “to work vengeance upon the militia, whom they hold responsible for the destruction of their homes and the death of their women and children.” In Denver, the State Federation of Labor issued a call for their men to organize, arm, and send help to the strikers.

Enraged miners dispensed with words and took direct action against the operators, attacking and damaging mines and associated facilities and fighting with company guards and state troops over a 40-mile front from Trinidad to Walsenburg. In what became known as the “Ten Days War,” the full-fledged rebellion included attacking mining camps and anti-union establishments, looting stores, shooting at mine guards and troops, and holding mine employees hostage.

As a result, Colorado Lieutenant Governor Stephen R. Fitzgerald, acting while Elias Ammons was away, ordered the entire Colorado National Guard to the strike zone on April 23 in an attempt to end the crisis. However, before the troop train left Denver, the 82 men of Company C mutinied and refused to depart, proclaiming that they “would not engage in the shooting of women and children.”

Adjutant General Chase then assumed personal charge of the entire strike district, instructing his men not to fire on miners unless they were attacked. Troop E, which consisted of 47 recruits, mostly former coal company employees, was relieved of duty.

In the meantime, a big tent colony was established in the San Rafael Heights area of Trinidad to house the homeless people from Ludlow, the union provided food and bedding for refugees, and the Trinidad Trades Assembly Hall was converted into a dormitory and hospital since many of the homeless survivors suffered from burns and other injuries.

Louis Tikas Funeral in Trinidad, Colorado

Louis Tikas Funeral in Trinidad, Colorado

On the evening of April 21, coffins carrying the men killed by gunfire at Ludlow began arriving by wagon at Trinidad. The next day, a group of citizens carrying a Red Cross flag went to the tent colony site to inspect the ruins and retrieve bodies. Among them was Trinidad photographer Lewis R. Dold. As members of the National Guard looked on, Dold documented the scene with photographs, including the “death cellar,” where 15 people had hidden for safety. Only two women survived, climbing out in a dazed state, leaving behind their dead children. The dead were carried out in wagons, and on April 24, 1,500 people attended a service for the victims of the fire that included wagons carrying flower-laden caskets from the church to the cemetery.

The Rocky Mountain News published an editorial entitled “Massacre of the Innocents,” condemning the events in southern Colorado and questioning why the federal government had not become involved:

“The details of the massacre are horrible. Mexico offers no barbarity so base as that of the murder of defenseless women and children by the mine guards in soldier’s clothing.”

Ludlow, Massacre Newspaper Article

Ludlow, Massacre Newspaper Article

The Oakland Tribune reported on the battle and deaths of those killed by guns, noting:

“The Ludlow Tent Colony Site presented a scene of death and desolation today.”

A New York Times headline read:

“Women and Children Roasted in Pits of Tent Colony as Flames Destroy It.”

The newspaper judged,

“The Ludlow camp is a mass of charred debris, and buried beneath it is a story of horror unparalleled in the history of industrial warfare.”

Afterward, both sides disputed how the fire that destroyed the Ludlow Tent Colony began. The New York Times described the scene as the tents blazed:

“Some [women], braver than the rest, ran into the open and dashed aimlessly among the two hundred tents, which by that time, had become so many torches which swirled their fire and sparks and lighted the scene with ghastly brilliancy.”

National Guard at Ludlow, Colorado

National Guard at Ludlow, Colorado

However, a military investigatory commission later concluded that after the fire started, the troops spread the blaze: “Beyond a doubt, it was seen to intentionally that the fire should destroy the whole of the colony.” The National Guard’s investigative panel starkly concluded that the force “had ceased to be an army and had become a mob.”

On April 24, a truce was declared, and the following day a conference was held between mining representatives and the coal companies, which resulted in the extension of the truce. However, miners fighting in the hills could not be informed of the truce and acted according to the motto, “Remember Ludlow!” In response, CF&I rehired guards, equipped them and its workers with rifles to protect its facilities and employees, and posted notices at all the company’s mines, announcing that “the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company will have absolutely nothing to do with the union mineworkers.”

A slain miner at the Forbes Mine south of Ludlow, Colorado, Bain News Service, 1914

A slain miner at the Forbes Mine south of Ludlow, Colorado, Bain News Service, 1914

As the fighting continued, protests were held in Denver to demand that the governor request federal troops immediately. In Trinidad, several hundred heavily armed Greeks arrived ready to assist their countrymen. Strikers attacked the Forbes Mine south of Ludlow, killing ten men and setting fires to buildings. Although the exact number of casualties during the “Ten Days War” is unclear, one account found 28 dead and 41 wounded. The whole affair, commonly referred to as the Colorado Coalfield War, was the deadliest strike in the history of the United States.

Finally, President Woodrow Wilson sent in federal troops. When some 1,600 soldiers arrived in Trinidad on May 1, they disarmed all civilians, including deputy sheriffs. All mines closed by the strike when it began were ordered to remain closed, and the U.S. military permitted the Ludlow Tent Colony to be re-established so its residents could return.

In its 1914 Annual Report, the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company observed, “Without question the women and children who lost their lives in this affray were smothered in a covered cave, through the foolish, if not criminal, an act of their men who put them there and sealed the cover with dirt.” The company also denied it controlled the state troops during the conflict and claimed it hired additional guards to protect its property and workers.

After the Ludlow tragedy, more attempts were made to end the strike. Still, almost all of the operating companies in Colorado refused to settle, citing the miners’ threats and damages resulting from the conflict and contended the union was responsible for the disorder and bloodshed. By the end of the year, the United Mine Workers of America was out of money and called off the strike on DeDecember 101914, and its leaders left southern Colorado in defeat.

Subsequently, more than 400 indictments were brought against union leaders and strikers for crimes such as murder, property destruction, and conspiracy to restrict trade. Only one strike leader – John Lawson – was brought to trial. He was arrested and convicted of murder for killing a deputy sheriff shot during a confrontation between miners and guards at the Ludlow colony in 1913. However, on appeal, his conviction was overturned. Most of the other charges against the strikers were dismissed, and decisions in the four cases brought to trial and convicted were also overturned.

Colorado National Guard at the townsite of Ludlow, Colorado

Colorado National Guard at the townsite of Ludlow, Colorado

Twenty-two National Guardsmen, including ten officers, were court-martialed. All were acquitted, except Lieutenant Linderfelt, who was found guilty of assault for his attack on Louis Tikas. However, he received only a light reprimand.

In January 1915, 288 people lived at the Ludlow Tent Colony, which had been re-established just northeast of the previous site. Financially drained, the UMWA ended benefits to strikers in February 1915. Lacking jobs and other forms of financial support, as well as places to live, some miners stayed at the Ludlow Tent Colony Site for another two-and-a-half years.

The period following the strike was a difficult one in the coalfields, with widespread unemployment among miners, several mine closures, and associated business downturns. In 1915, CF&I reported that it rehired three-fourths of its former employees in southern Colorado. Then-Governor George A. Carlson established the Colorado Committee on Unemployment and Relief in March 1915 to put men with families to work. The committee contacted the Rockefeller Foundation, which contributed $100,000 toward its efforts. Men were put to work on road-building projects throughout the state.

President Wilson assembled the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR) to study situations of industrial unrest and make recommendations. After holding extensive hearings that brought national attention to the Colorado situation, the CIR concluded the coal mine operators were responsible for the conditions that led to the 1913-14 strike and the resulting violence. The strike was described as “a revolt by whole communities against arbitrary, economic, political, and social domination by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and the smaller coal mining companies that followed its lead.” Further, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was cited as the leader in determining and implementing the operators’ strike policies and was accused of approving measures to coerce the state government, as well as disregarding President Wilson’s wishes.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

As a result, CF&I and the Rockefellers faced the brunt of public criticism for the conditions that led to the strike and the violence at Ludlow. Rockefeller then hired Ivy Ledbetter Lee, a public relations specialist, who advised Rockefeller, Jr., that a comprehensive plan to provide miners with a system for redressing grievances should be a priority. Under Lee’s guidance, the younger Rockefeller publicized his efforts to improve relations between management and labor. Rockefeller, Jr. was determined to avoid the violence of 1913-14 in future industrial confrontations but was not ready to recognize the UMWA as the workers’ representative. He did, however, begin to shape a new labor-management plan that included employee representation in management, safe working conditions, wage scales, and other issues.

In September 1915, he visited Colorado to learn firsthand of the conditions in the strike district, visited miners in their homes, and questioned their wives about their satisfaction with company housing. At the end of his trip, on October 2, 1915, Rockefeller, announced CF&I would adopt a new plan that would provide workers with greater influence in determining work conditions and other issues affecting miners. The proposal, known as the Employee Representation Plan, or more popularly as the “Rockefeller Plan,” gave workers the right to bargain collectively through elected representatives and participate in annual conferences with management.

Miners would not lose their jobs for joining a union, and shopping at company stores would not be compulsory. A new benefits system was established, and committees of miners’ representatives could make recommendations regarding mine safety, health, sanitation, recreation, and education. A new corporate welfare program would improve and expand housing and other facilities in the company towns. CF&I miners strongly approved the plan. For the next 20 years, the Employee Representation Plan, a substitute for independent unions, had an enormous impact on the labor movement in the United States.

Ludlow Massacre Monument, Colorado by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018

Ludlow Massacre Monument, Colorado by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018

In April 1917, the United Mine Workers Association erected a permanent granite monument at Ludlow on a 40-acre piece of land they had purchased near the town of Ludlow. The monument commemorates “the ground where our fellow workers, their wives, and children gave up their lives in the cause of unionism.”

United Mine Workers of America dedicated the monument on Memorial Day, May 30, 1918. The afternoon ceremony was attended by approximately 3,000 miners of diverse nationalities, families, and the general public. Survivor Mary Petrucci removed an American flag covering the shaft of the stone monument. The memorial recognized the sacrifices of the women and children of Ludlow through its inclusion of a sculptural figure of a mother and child and a male figure representing the miners. For the first time in the history of the UMWA, all of the union’s executive officers assembled outside of their headquarters, traveling to Ludlow for the ceremony. Unnoticed by most of those in attendance was John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The Rocky Mountain News reported Rockefeller stood “with head uncovered in a throng of Greek, Polish and Slavic miners” as Mary Petrucci removed the flag covering the monument.

Ludlow, Colorado Townsite today, by Dave Alexander, 2018.

Ludlow, Colorado Townsite today, by Dave Alexander, 2018.

On a Sunday in June in each succeeding year following the dedication, union members and their leaders and families, as well as the general public, have gathered for a memorial ceremony in honor of those who died at Ludlow.

After the Ludlow Massacre, national recognition of working conditions in the mines turned the tables in favor of organized labor. In the following years, working conditions for the “average” American greatly improved. The eight-hour workday became industry standard, overtime was paid, and working conditions and safety measures improved across mines, mills, and factories nationwide. Wages and benefits were also improved.

It wasn’t until December 1933 that the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company signed a contract with the United Mine Workers of America, and the Rockefeller Plan was abandoned.

In the meantime, the town of Ludlow continued until the coal mines began to shut down in the 1940s. By 1950, Trinidad and Aguilar were the area’s only incorporated towns, and livestock-raising had replaced coal mining as the most important industry. At this time, the former mining towns of Rouse, Delagua, Ludlow, Berwind, and Bancarbo had become small agricultural communities, each having less than ten families. Valloroso, at the Bear Canyon No. 6 mine in Road Canyon, was the only remaining coal-mining town.

Ludlows post office closed in 1954, and at some point, the entire town was abandoned. The ghost town lies .4 miles south of the Ludlow Massacre Memorial. Several deteriorated post-1914 buildings continue to stand behind a barbed-wire fence.

The Ludlow Tent Colony Site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in January 2009. The memorial is located about 14 miles northwest of Trinidad at I-25 Exit 27, follow County Road 44 about ½ mile to the memorial.

About two miles west of the Ludlow Memorial, on County Road 44, is the old mining site of Hastings. Here, 121 men died in a mine explosion in 1917. A small monument indicates the site. There are just a few remnants of mining activity, including a few old buildings and several coke ovens.

Ludlow, Colorado School, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018.

Ludlow, Colorado School, Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018.

©Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, November 2021.

Also See:

Colorado Ghost Towns

Company Towns of America

Colorado – The Centennial State

Ghost Towns Across America

Hastings & the Worst Mining Accident

Sources:

Brown, Robert L.; Colorado Ghost Towns: Past and Present; Caxton Press, 1972
Life, Death, Iron
Ludlow Tent Colony Register of Historic Places Nomination
University of Denver
Wikipedia