Tag Archives: Ludlow Massacre

Mother Jones and the children of Ludlow

Mary Harris Jones and the children of miners 1914
APRIL 20 MARKS THE 95TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE LUDLOW MASSACRE.
From her 1925 autobiography, Mother Jones wrote about the UMWA strike in Ludlow Colorado, over the harsh winter of 1914.

From Chapter 21:

No one listened. No one cared. The tickers in the offices of 26 Broadway sounded louder than the sobs of women and children. Men in the steam heated luxury of Broadway offices could not feel the stinging cold of Colorado hill-sides where families lived in tents.

Then came Ludlow and the nation heard. Little children roasted alive make a front page story. Dying by inches of starvation and exposure does not.

On the 19th of April, 1914, machine guns, used on the strikers in the Paint Creek strike, were placed in position above the tent colony of Ludlow. Major Pat Hamrock and Lieutenant K. E. Linderfelt were in charge of the militia, the majority of whom were, company gun-men sworn in as soldiers.

Early in the morning soldiers approached the colony with a demand from headquarters that Louis Tikas, leader of the Greeks, surrender two Italians. Tikas demanded a warrant for their arrest. They had none. Tikas refused to surrender them. The soldiers returned to quarters. A signal bomb was fired. Then another. Immediately the machine guns began spraying the flimsy tent colony, the only home the wretched families of the miners had, riddling it with bullets. Like iron rain, bullets’ upon men, women and children.

The women and children fled to the hills. Others tarried. The men defended their home with their guns. All day long the firing continued. Men fell dead, their faces to the ground. Women dropped. The little Snyder boy was shot through the head, trying to save his kitten. A child carrying water to his dying mother was killed.

By five o’clock in the afternoon, the miners had no more food, nor water, nor ammunition. They had to retreat with their wives and little ones into the hills. Louis Tikas was riddled with shots while he tried to lead women and children to safety. They perished with him.

Night came. A raw wind blew down the canyons where men, women and children shivered and wept. Then a blaze lighted the sky. The soldiers, drunk with blood and with the liquor they had looted from the saloon, set fire to the tents of Ludlow with oil-soaked torches. The tents, all the poor furnishings, the clothes and bedding of the miners’ families burned. Coils of barbed wire were stuffed into the well, the miners’ only water supply.

After it was over, the wretched people crept back to bury their dead. In a dugout under a burned tent, the charred bodies of eleven little children and two women were found-unrecognizable. Everything lay in ruins. The wires of bed springs writhed on the ground as if they, too, had tried to flee the horror. Oil and fire and guns had robbed men and women and children of their homes and slaughtered tiny babies and defenseless women. Done by order of Lieutenant Linderfelt, a savage, brutal executor of the will of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. The strikers issued a general call to arms: Every able bodied man must shoulder a gun to protect himself and his family from assassins, from arson and plunder. From jungle days to our own so-named civilization, this is a man’s inherent right. To a man they armed, through-out the whole strike district. Ludlow went on burning in their hearts.

Everybody got busy. A delegation from Ludlow went to see President Wilson. Among them was Mrs. Petrucci whose three tiny babies were crisped to death in the black hole of Ludlow. She had something to say to her President.

Immediately he sent the United States cavalry to quell the gunmen. He studied the situation, and drew up proposals for a three-year truce, binding miner and operator. The operators scornfully refused.

A mass meeting was called in Denver. Lindsay spoke. He demanded that the operators be made to respect the laws of Colorado. That something be done immediately. The Denver Real Estate Exchange appointed a committee to spit on Judge Lindsey for his espousal of the cause of the miners.

Rockefeller got busy. Writers were hired to write pamphlets which were sent broadcast to every editor in the country, bulletins. In these leaflets, it was shown how perfectly happy was the life of the miner until the agitators came; how joyous he was with the company’s saloon,. the company’s pigstys for homes, the cornpany’s teachers and preachers and coroners. How the miners hated the state law of an eight-hour working day, begging to be allowed to work ten, twelve. How they hated the state law that they should have their own check weigh-man to see that they were not cheated at the tipple.

And all the while the mothers of the children who died in Ludlow were mourning their dead.

A Colorado coal mining family

Mother Jones: You Don’t Need a Vote

Mary Harris Jones portrait from her 1925 autobiographyAfter the 1914 Ludlow Massacre and the later capitulation of the UMWA union, Mother Jones, by now 85 years old, toured the US to spread the word about what happened. She wrote in her autobiography, about a meeting in Kansas City: “I told the great audience that packed the hall that when their coal glowed red in their fires, it was the blood of the workers, of men who went down into black holes to dig it, of women who suffered and endured, of little children who had but a brief childhood. ‘You are being warmed and made comfortable with human blood’ I said. … ‘The miners lost,’ I told them, because they had only the constitution. The other side had bayonets. In the end, bayonets always win.'”

From The Autobiography of Mother Jones, Chapter 22:
YOU DON’T NEED A VOTE TO RAISE HELL.

Five hundred women got up a dinner and asked me to speak. Most of the women were crazy about women suffrage. They thought that Kingdom-come would follow the enfranchisement of women.

“You must stand for free speech in the streets,” I told them.

“How can we,” piped a woman, “when we haven’t a vote?”

“I have never had a vote,” said I, “and I have raised hell all over this country! You don’t need a vote to raise hell! You need convictions and a voice!”

Some one meowed, “You’re an anti!”

“I am not an anti to anything which will bring freedom to my class,” said I. “But I am going to be honest with you sincere women who are working for votes for women. The women of Colorado have had the vote for two generations and the working men and women are in slavery. The state is in slavery, vassal to the Colorado Iron and Fuel Company and its subsidiary interests. A man who was present at a meeting of mine owners told me that when the trouble started in the mines, one operator proposed that women be disfranchised because here and there some woman had raised her voice in behalf of the miners. Another operator jumped to his feet and shouted, ‘For God’s sake! What are you talking about! If it had not been for the women’s vote the miners would have beaten us long ago!'”

Some of the women gasped with horror. One or two left the room. I told the women I did not believe in women’s rights nor in men’s rights but in human rights. “No matter what your fight,” I said, “don’t be ladylike! God Almighty made women and the Rockefeller gang of thieves made the ladies. I have just fought through sixteen months of bitter warfare in Colorado. I have been up against armed mercenaries but this old woman, without a vote, and with nothing but a hatpin has scared them.

“Organized labor should organize its women along industrial lines. Politics is only the servant of industry. The plutocrats have organized their women. They keep them busy with suffrage and prohibition and charity.”

What became of Ludlow DEATH SPECIAL

Early urban assault vehicle used to suppress miner strikes at Ludlow and Forbes camps in Colorado
One of the weapons deployed against the striking miners of Ludlow, was an early armored car nicknamed the “Death Special.” Its steel plated sides emboldened mine guards to run their mounted machine gun through the union camps. What became of the intimidating machine? Does it sit in a prairie museum, or was its metal armor recycled? Recycled, definitely.

The Death Special was improvised by the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency who were the hired strike-breakers, and built at CF&I’s own steel works to use against its striking employees. At Ludlow the steel-plated vehicle was driven alongside and through the tent colony, its searchlight used to harass the sleeping strikers. Its guns took shots at the tents which left haphazard victims killed or maimed.

World Wars One and Two produced many armored vehicle designs, but the Baldwin-Felts model was unique for being a civilian model. You can recognize its lines in the modern urban assault vehicles which metropolitan police departments have determined to arm themselves, in the war against what, meth-lab pill-boxes?

No, these armored police cars are deployed against public protest, in the name of riot-control. By their paint jobs, neither camouflage nor emergency neon, they are obviously intended to intimidate. If the Baldwin-Felts and Pinkertons are going to reinvent themselves as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, why not also their weapons of choice?

Virginia State Troopers protect Crystal City from antiwar protesters
This one was used to mark the line over which the A.NS.W.E.R. marchers were not to cross, when they marched against the Pentagon and its weapons suppliers in Washington DC.

Aurora City Police deploy urban assault vehicle against peaceful demonstration
This vehicle was bought by the Aurora Police Department, out of the $50 million allocated to Denver for security for the 2008 DNC. Notice on its intimidating black sides, it says “Emergency Rescue.”

Deployed downtown Denver at the 2008 DNC
Here it is aimed at you.

Riot police facing off the RNC demonstrations
St. Paul at the RNC.

DPD armored emergency rescue unit at night
Denver.

Ludlow Massacre or unhappy incident?

Ludlow Tent Colony 1914
COLORADO COLLEGE- CC is holding a symposium on the 1914 Ludlow Massacre. Actually, it’s only called the Ludlow Symposium. True to Colorado Springs form, several among the audience want to call it an “incidence,” instead of a “massacre.” One of the participants, author Scott Martelle, is willing to oblige, explaining that if the militia hadn’t known that women and children were taking shelter beneath the tents which they were putting to the torch, then the soldiers were guilty only of criminally negligent homicide.

(*Note 4/12/09: this article has been revised in light of helpful comments offered by symposium participants. Also: Differences of opinion aside, I am remiss if I do not praise the scholars who were very generous with their time and encyclopedic memories to enrich this symposium.
1. CC’s own Professor David Mason authored an evocative narrative of lives caught up in the 1914 events, written in verse, entitled Ludlow.
2. Journalist Scott Thomas researched the most recent definitive account to date, the 2007 Blood Passion: the Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West.
3. Thomas Andrews, Associate Professor at CU Denver, enlarged the context in 2008 with his award winning Killing For Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War.
4. Zeese Papanikolas represented his authorative Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre, written in 1984.)

Does it matter what it’s called, or with what certainty? The symposium is filled with public school system educators looking for an angle with which to approach Ludlow with their kids. One of them expresses her doubt about teaching about Mother Jones, having just heard from the panelists a probably too-nuanced assessment of the labor hero’s tactics. The political climate of our age can’t find any purchase with moral nuance.

I’m stuck thinking that in recording social history, scholars cannot avoid writing the victor’s narrative. In particular as regards the history of labor, because neither academics nor even middle class hobbyists in the symposium’s audience can look at the events from the perspective of the working class.

Even the scholar’s objectivity is middle class. The opinion was expressed by the panel that the Ludlow aftermath was one of the few occasions when the story was spun to the benefit of labor interests. But this does not account for why authors and educators find themselves having to resurrect the tale of Ludlow these many years later. When it occurred, Americans may have swallowed the hyperbole, but since that time they’ve internalized its internment, effaced by a corporate culture so as to have disappeared from even our school textbooks.

I think this may have been something of the question posed by symposium organizer Jaime Stevensen to the panel, when she asked how the authors insulated themselves from the fictions woven into their own perspectives of history. She didn’t get any takers.

The very concept that history adds up to only so much trivial pursuit, is inherently a view from the ivory tower. BLOOD PASSION by Scott Martelle Do the Ludlow scholars not recognize that common people today face the same foes as did the miners of Ludlow? With the added impediment of a corporate PR system erasing its malevolent deeds. Have not American unions been maligned to the point of extinction? Yet at the same time, capitalists have thoroughly reprised their Machiavellian ways. History can be a tool, not only for statecraft, but for the common American to protect his hard-fought democratic gains.

The United Mine Workers of America having successfully spun the deaths of the striking miner families as a “massacre” may have made an unmerited impact on the public’s sympathies, but likewise, deciding to call Ludlow “not a massacre” will be falsely charged as well. Is there a valuable lesson in unlearning that unbridled corporate greed can be unthinkably inhumane?

OUT OF THE DEPTHS by Barron BeshoarHistorians can fancy themselves objective to ambivalence, but is that a luxury their readers and in particular the schoolchildren can afford? As we witness today the gloves coming off of the globalisation taskmasters?

How I prefer the emotional truth of earlier chroniclers like Barron Beshoar, author of OUT OF THE DEPTHS, a 1942 account of Ludlow, whose preface included this gem:

“If the mine guards and detectives, the mercenaries who served as the Gestapo and the coal districts appear to be scoundrels who sold themselves and their fellowmen for a few corporation dollars, the author will consider them adequately presented.”

KILLING FOR COAL by Thomas AndrewsAt Colorado College the consensus of contemporary historical synthesis, embodied by CU Denver’s Thomas Andrews‘ excellent book KILLING FOR COAL, seems to conclude about Ludlow, “we may never know exactly what happened.” This may reflect the Factual Truth, but it does so at the expense of unrecorded oral accounts, by depreciating their traditional path to us through of folklore.

Buried UnsungAnother author made pains to debunk the lyrics “Sixteen tons, and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt,” a cultural indictment of the “company store,” which was one of the grievances of the Ludlow strikers. He postulated that modern readers could be prone to let folklore color a predisposition against the company store. Perhaps a company store was in fact a convenience, derided because it was an arbitrary restriction against which human nature bucked. Trying to be helpful, another panelist suggested: “Imagine if the company store was 7-11, and you were told you could only shop there.” I believe both of these gentlemen are overlooking the much grosser complaint which the miners were protesting, that of insurmountable debt, systematically forced on them by their employers. That’s a phenomena on the rise today, if maybe not among college professors. Around the world, indentured servitude has never abated.

In our ivory tower we can debate which side, the union or the militia, fired the first shots on April 20. Who was at fault, seemed to be what that question would decide. At least panelist Anne Hyde had the presence of mind to lay some of the responsibility on the mine owners, who weren’t there of course, but whose stubborn greed played a not unsubstantial part in what the other panelists were attributing to “macho intransigence.”

That expression was in vogue to describe Cowboy presidencies. What an effete put down of militant activism. Are we to blame the striking miners for holding firm to their demands?

Thank goodness someone in the audience brought up recent efforts to deny the Sand Creek Massacre, which two panelists quickly weighed in to say “that was a real massacre,” discrediting Ludlow, obviously, and failing to grasp her point that indeed some Colorado Springs locals are rewriting Sand Creek as a battle, and not a massacre.

Another isolationist luxury has become to judge every action as it compares to a nonviolent ideal. It was noted that UMWA union leader John Lawson always recused himself from violent tactics. During the symposium’s opening reception, someone performed a song dedicated to the Ludlow martyr Louis Tikas, which lauded him for choosing to fight with words not guns, as if guns would discredit him.

I’ll play devil’s advocate and suggest that the miners fired the first shots. They saw Louis Tikas bludgeoned in the back of the head and then executed as he lay on the ground unconscious, they saw the National Guard move a machine gun into position above their tent city, and they probably began to fire at the soldiers lest a rain of bullets descend on miners’ wives and children before they had a chance to flee the camp.

The miners were asking that their union be recognized, that the Colorado eight hour work day be enforced, that the scales which determined their pay be verified, that their full hours be compensated, etc. The mine owners clung to their profits, and ordered the miners’ tent city, their only shelter and all their worldly possessions burned to the ground. Women and children were hiding in underground pits dug to escape the sniper fire which the mine guards sporadically aimed at the tents. The guards drove an armored car around the perimeter of the union camp, at all hours, for that purpose.

Ultimately this climate erupted into the violent clash on April 20, 1914, in which the miners battled with the far better equipped soldiers. The casualties were 25 to 1. I call that a massacre.

ADDENDUM: Photographs from visit to the Ludlow Memorial.
Site of Ludlow Massacre, photographed 2009
LUDLOW MEMORIAL, COLORADO- Day three of the Colorado College Ludlow Symposium featured a bus ride to the site of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, then on to Trinidad to the grave of Union leader Louis Tikas. A reporter for Colorado Public Radio interviewed the symposium panelists at the U.M.W.A. memorial grounds.

April 2009 Visit to Ludlow site
David Mason is interviewed by a freelance reporter for Colorado Public Radio.

April 2009 Visit to Ludlow site
Scott Martelle and Thomas Andrews are interviewed above the fatal cellar.

April 2009 Visit to Ludlow site

April 2009 Visit to Ludlow site

TRINIDAD, COLORADO- Masonic Cemetary.
April 2009 Visit to Louis Tikas grave site

April 2009 Visit to Louis Tikas grave site
Zeese Papanikolas spoke about his protagonist’s gravestone and its reference to Tikas as a “Patriot.”

April 2009 Visit to Louis Tikas grave site

April 2009 Visit to Louis Tikas grave site

Some Colorado labor history

Labor day. It commemorates the likes of Samuel Gompers, Big Bob Haywood and Mother Jones and their efforts to unite working class peoples. They met great resistance from gullible populations of consumers and business owners who weren’t going to give anything unless they were forced.

Child labor laws, five day work weeks, eight hour days, overtime pay, work breaks, retirement, benefits, sick days, vacation days, we owe all these to the might of collective bargaining.

Today’s labor organizers are seen more as standing in the way of productivity. We think of union workers as lazy and greedy, corrupt and undeserving. How is it the labor unions have fallen so low in our sentiments? Probably because businesses have public relations budgets which advance the corporate view, and labor unions, well, do not.

Was this always so? Actually, yes.

The Gold Miner’s Strike, 1894
Colorado Springs citizens themselves figured prominently in an early and notorious labor conflict: the Cripple Creek Miner’s Strike of 1894. Miners united by the Western Federation of Miners were fighting for the three dollar, eight hour day. This was a high wage at the time, but the gold mining business was a veritable bonanza and mine owners were building huge homes on Wood Avenue, “Millionaire’s row.”

Up on the mountain the miners seized and shut down the mines. From their exclusive hang out, the El Paso Club, the mine owners complained about the evils of socialism and the populist leanings of the governor.

When underhanded attempts to dislodge the strikers failed, the mine owners, with the assistance of the Gazette, convinced the population of Colorado Springs to rise up in arms against the miners, lest the miners descend from the mountain and attack them. Twelve hundred men were deputized and led on a march to defeat the seven hundred miners. Luckily the 1,200-strong Colorado Springs volunteer posse was outwitted and the miners achieved their demands.

The struggle was long and bitter and makes an amusing story now. We can be happy that the miners prevailed but let us not today be mistaken about which side most of Colorado Springs was on.

Breaking the union, 1904
By 1904, miners had lost the eight hour day. The Mine Owner’s Association issued work permits only to miners who would renounce their union memberships. As the owners shipped in scab labor to substitute for the union holdouts, the conflict grew bloody. The state militia was called in to close the Victor Record, a newspaper sympathetic to the W. F. M. The union was silenced.

On June 6, 1904, a lunatic fighting on the side of the miners, but for motives of his own, blew up a train platform, killing 21 nonunion workers. Though it was not then established who had done it, the W. F. M. was immediately blamed and routed. 225 union miners, a number of whom had families in Cripple Creek, were boarded unto trains and deported from Teller County.

One group was sent to the Kansas border, marched across, and abandoned. The other was dropped off in a desolate part of New Mexico. All were threatened with dire consequences should they return. The mine owners responsible have names which any Colorado Springs resident can recognize today: Carlton, MacNeill, Penrose, and Tutt.

The Ludlow Massacre, 1914
Who hasn’t heard of the “Ludlow Massacre?” The Ludlow Massacre put Colorado on the map. Do you know what for?

In 1913, the coal miners of Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation in Trinidad were protesting against poor wages, unsafe conditions, and struggling with debt in towns owned entirely by their employer. Naturally when the workers went on strike they were immediately evicted from their shacks.

With help from the United Mine Workers Union the striking workers were able to set up tents in the nearby hills and continue their protest. The Rockefellers hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to snipe at them and fire into their camps with Gatling guns. The National Guard was brought in to further harass the striking workers, the justification given to the public being the interrupted supply of coal.

When the miners were able to keep up their strike through the harsh winter that year, the Rockefellers had the Governor of Colorado order an all out attack. The National Guard encircled the largest of the tent settlements at Ludlow, inhabited by approximately one thousand men, women and children, and commenced firing.

Thirteen people were killed in the shoot out before the soldiers set fire to the tents and forced the families to flee. After the fire, someone discovered eleven burned corpses, most of them children. They’d been hiding in a shelter dug to escape the incessant gunfire.

News of the “Ludlow Massacre” spread fast. Working class people came from the surrounding areas to avenge the massacre. Mine shafts were exploded, mine guards were shot, anarchy reigned in the hills, and this time President Wilson sent in the Federal troops.

In the end, 66 people were killed. Not a single mine operator or soldier was indicted of a crime. The press announced the attack on the union stronghold and the burning of the sheltered children to have been “a tactical blunder.”

Should such accounts be taught in our schools? The next time we’re told that a union’s demands are unreasonable, let’s remember to look who’s doing the telling.

(This article is reprinted from CRANK MAGAZINE, vol I, number 7)