Ludlow and the Colorado Coalfield War

 

Ludlow, Colorado buildings today, by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018.

Ludlow, Colorado buildings today, by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2018.

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 appears 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 been able to support so many businesses, the town, no doubt, 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, major 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 greater 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 percent of the workforce. During these times, the workers were often stereotyped and were described by one CF&I official as “foreigners who do not intend to make America their home, and who live like rats in order 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, a practice 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 all services including education, medical care, recreation, religious, and social programs. Schools were erected and teachers were selected by the company, as well as the books and newspapers made available. Churches were built and staffed by the company, as well as infirmaries and physicians. Cultural and recreational opportunities included activities such as 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 who were 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 in order 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 the years from 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *