SE Colorado, Part 5 - The Ludlow Massacre
Official call to go on strike, September 17, 1913 -
"All mine workers are hereby notified that a strike of all the coal mine and coke oven workers in Colorado will begin on Tuesday, September 23, 1913. We are striking for better wages, improved conditions, and union recognition. We are sure to win."
When unrest over dangerous and unfair working and living conditions finally came to a head in the Berwind Coal Camp in SE Colorado, the miners decided to strike. The strike was organized by the United Mine Workers, and began in September, 1913. Of course, the miners were immediatley evicted from their Company homes, and they headed in procession 8 miles to the nearby town of Ludlow, outside of which the United Mine Workers Union had set up a tent colony that housed about 1200 miners and their families from the Berwind and Del Agua mines.
The tent colony of Ludlow, 1913
For seven months, the miners were victimized by the coal bosses, often brutally. The miners had dug pits under their tents to protect themselves, and their wives and children, from sporadic machine gun fire from the strike breakers, and the militia that the miners were told had come to help them. The militia was called in by the Governor at the request of the mine owners.
At 55 cents a ton, the miners earned 1.68 per day, paid in scrip, redeemable only at the Company Store, and worked under the harshest and most dangerous conditions. See The Ghost Town Coal Camp of Berwind for more information on the miner's working conditions. They lived in, and paid rent for, Company owned homes, had to purchase their supplies at the Company owned store at inflated prices, and their children went to Company owned schools.
April 19, 1914 was the Greek Orthodox Easter celebration in the tent camp. The next morning, April 20th, around 9 AM, the camp was rocked by an explosion, and machine gun fire errupted all around them. The miners fought back, and the battle lasted the entire day, while the women and children hid in the tents.
In the afternoon, a train stopped on the tracks between the miners and the militia, interrupting the gunfire, and the engineer purposely sat there long enough for many of the women and children to escape into the hills.
At dusk, the militia entered the camp, and set fire to the tents.
A pit had been dug where two women and eleven children were hiding - they suffocated inside from the smoke of the fire. Eighteen people were killed that day, and the Ludlow Massacre is remembered as one of the most brutal attacks on labor in the history of North America.
Sealed pit where the women and children died.
This memorial was dedicated to the miners in 1918 by the United Mine Workers of America, and still sits at the site today, next to the pit where the women and children died. A plaque with their names reminds us who they were - the youngest, a little girl, was only 3 months old.
While the events of the massacre shocked the nation, it was sometime before reforms that really made a difference in the lives of the miners and their families were actually initiated. Although the miners expected to win the strike, they did not, and went back to the mines to await reforms that were slow in coming.
The two photos below were taken of metal plaques at the memorial, and I apologise for the reflections.
Below is the Ludlow tent colony before the fire. Note the wash hanging on lines in the foreground.