The Ludlow Massacre
A well-known nickname for our state is, “Colorful Colorado”. It can be seen on all the highway signs when crossing the border into Colorado welcoming visitors. This nickname is derived from the state’s magnificent scenery of mountains, rivers, and plains. While the state may be colorful in its scenery, it has also had a colorful history. Mining operations, Plutonium warhead plants, and other unique spikes on our states timeline set us aside from any other state. This unique history is not the sort of history you would find in your high school text book. My goal for this series of articles is to touch on the bizarre and obscure history that our state has to offer welcome to Creepy Colorado. This month we examine the Ludlow Massacre, the deadliest labor strike in U.S. history.
In 1913 a list of demands was given by the United Mine Workers Union of America to the three largest coal mining companies in Colorado. These companies were the Rockefeller family-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I), the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company (RMF), and the Victor-American Fuel Company (VAF). The demands requested fair pay and safer working conditions and were as follows.
- Recognition of the union as bargaining agent
- Compensation for digging coal at a ton-rate based on 2,000 pounds (Previous ton-rates were of long-tons of 2,200 pounds)
- Enforcement of the eight-hour work day law
- Payment for “dead work” (laying track, timbering, handling impurities, etc.)
- Weight-checkmen elected by the workers (to keep company weightmen honest)
- The right to use any store, and choose their boarding housesand doctors
- Strict enforcement of Colorado’s laws (such as mine safety rules, abolition of scrip), and an end to the company guard system
The three major companies rejected the demands and In September 1913 the Colorado coal miners went on strike. At this time workers were compensated for their work through denominations which were available to be spent at the company general store for food rations and other necessities as well as on company housing. With the strike underway the workers were immediately evicted from their homes and unable to purchase food through their former employers. With winter coming soon and now being homeless the union prepared tent villages furnished with cast iron stoves.
Locations of the tent villages were carefully selected near mouths of canyons that led to coal camps in an attempt to block working miners from performing their daily task. Skirmishes between striking miners and working miners soon developed often times resulting in death. With slowed production and death of several of their workers, companies hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to protect the new workers and harass the strikers. Baldwin-Felts soon gained an aggressive reputation when it came to breaking strikes. Agents would shine searchlights in the tent villages at night firing bullets into tents at random killing and maiming strikers. In an effort to further instill fear in the strikers the Agents created an improvised armored car mounted with a machine gun which would patrol camps perimeters. The steel-covered car soon earned the nickname the “Death Special” by the union strikers.
Tent colonies soon faced constant attack and so the miners dug pits under their tents so that their families could be better protected. As the violence began to grow and the situation turned more volatile the governor of Colorado, Elias M. Ammons called in the National Guard. On October 28 the National Guard arrived and began to monitor the group of strikers. Several months go by and the situation appears to be calming down when on March 10, 1914 the body of a replacement worker for the mines is discovered. National Guard General John Chase believes the man to be murdered by strikers and orders the tent colony to be destroyed in an attempt to disperse strikers. After several attempts to destroy the colony the National Guard pulls out due to lack of state funds to maintain the guard.
Fearing a breakdown in order the mining companies and governor make a last ditch effort banning together the Baldwin-Felts Guards as well as mining camp guards supplied with National Guard uniforms and equipment and launch an attack on the camp. On April 20th the day after Easter was celebrated in the colony Louis Tikas, Camp Leader set out to meet peacefully with the local militia. While in their meeting local militia installed a machine gun on a nearby ridge and planned their assault on the encampment. Tikas escaped in time and ran back to camp warning the others of the impending attack. Gunfire soon broke out and the fight raged for the entire day, by 7 pm the entire camp was in flames. The fires trapped several families within their pits beneath their tents where they burned to death. In addition to the fire victims, Louis Tikas and the other men who were shot to death or executed, three company guards and one militiaman were killed in the day’s fighting.
|1. John Bartolotti, 45|
|2. Charlie Costa, 31|
|3. Fedelina Costa, 27|
|4. Lucy Costa, 4|
|5. Onofrio Costa, 6|
|6. James Fyler, 43|
|7. Cloriva Pedregon, 4|
|8. Rodgerlo Pedregon, 6|
|9. Frank Petrucci, 4 mo.|
|10. Joe Petrucci, 4|
|11. Lucy Petrucci, 2|
|12. Frank Rubino, 23|
|13. William Snyder Jr., 11|
|14. Louis Tikas, 30|
|15. George Ullman, 56|
|16. Elvira Valdez, 3 mo.|
|17. Eulala Valdez, 8|
|18. Mary Valdez, 7|
|19. Patria Valdez, 37|
When the news of the Ludlow massacre reached the leaders of the organized labor group a call of arms was issued urging union members to acquire “all arms and ammunition legally available”. This resulted in a large scale guerrilla war lasting ten days. Strikers attacked and destroyed mines across the state while battling the onslaught of the militia. At least fifty strikers, including those at Ludlow, were killed in ten days. The fighting ended only when US President Woodrow Wilson sent in Federal troops. The troops, who reported directly to Washington, DC, disarmed both sides, displacing and often arresting the militia in the process. This conflict, now called the Colorado Coalfield War, produced a death toll of approximately 75 people. While in the end the miners did not receive compliance with their demands their valiant efforts paved the way for future worker’s rights.
The Ludlow site, is located 18 miles northwest of Trinidad Colorado and is now a ghost town, vacant of any inhabitants. Located on the site of the massacre now stands a large granite monument in memory of the miners and their families which died that day. In the shadow of the monument lies a large pit which once served as a shelter beneath the tent village. This pit is the very pit which engulfed in flames took the lives of several of the striker’s families. Visitors can descend into the dark hole in the ground and are met by a deafening silence and uneasy feeling. The dark history of the Ludlow Massacre and loss of innocent lives make this location one of the top haunted locations in the state of Colorado.