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Columbine Mine Massacre
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Columbine Mine Massacre

The Columbine Mine Massacre occurred in 1927 when striking coal miners in Colorado were attacked with machine guns. The strike was called by the Industrial Workers of the World.

It was a chill November morning in Serene, Colorado, home of the Columbine mine that was nestled peacefully on a rolling Colorado hillside. The strike was five weeks old and strikers had been conducting morning rallies at Serene for two weeks, for the Columbine was one of the few major coal mines to remain in operation. Five hundred miners, some accompanied by their wives and children, arrived at the north gate just before dawn. They carried three American flags. At the direction of Josephine Roche, daughter of the recently deceased owner of Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, the picketers had been served coffee and donuts on previous mornings. This morning men with guns would serve up something different.

On November 21, 1927 the miners were surprised to see a detachment of state police dressed in civilian clothes but armed with automatic pistols, rifles, riot guns and tear gas grenades. The rangers were backed up by rifle-toting mine guards stationed on the mine dump. Head of the rangers Louis Scherf shouted to the strikers, "Who are your leaders?" "We're all leaders!" came the reply. Scherf announced the strikers would not be allowed into the town, and for a few moments they hesitated outside the fence. There was discussion, with many of the strikers asserting their right to proceed. One of the state police taunted, "If you want to come in here, come ahead, but we'll carry you out."

Popular strike leader Adam Bell stepped forward and asked that the gate be unlocked. As he put his hand on the gate one of the rangers struck him with a club. A sixteen-year-old boy stood nearby holding one of the flags. The banner was snatched from him, and in the tug-of-war that followed the flagpole broke over the fence. The miners rushed toward the gate, and suddenly the air was filled with tear gas launched by the police. A tear gas grenade hit Mrs. Kubic in the back as she tried to get away. Some of the rangers hurled rocks and clubs and the miners threw them back. The miners in the front of the group scaled the gate, led by Adam Bell's call of "Come on!" Bell was pulled down by three policemen. Viciously clubbed on the head, he fell unconscious to the ground. A battle raged over his prostrate form, the miners shielding him from the rangers. Mrs. Elizabeth Beranek, mother of 16 children and one of the flag-bearers, tried to protect him by thrusting her flag in front of his attackers. The police turned on her, bruising her severely (police admitted to using clubs in the skirmish. In Scherf's words, "We knocked them down as fast as they came over the gate"). Rangers seized Mrs. Beranek's flag too. A striker belted one ranger in the face, breaking his nose. A pocket-knife-wielding miner cut another on the hand while other strikers pelted the rangers with rocks. Blood gushed from a cut above one ranger's eye when a rock found its mark. The police retreated.

Emboldened, the strikers forced their way through the wooden gate, shattering the padlock. Jerry Davis held his flag high as hundreds of angry miners surged through the entrance. Others scaled the fence east of the gate. The police formed two lines at the water tank a hundred and twenty yards inside the fence. Louis Scherf fired two .45 caliber rounds over the heads of the strikers. His men responded with deadly fire directly into the crowd. In the early dawn light the miners scattered under a hail of lead. Twelve remained on the ground, some writhing in agony while others lay still.

Three machine guns had been installed at the mine and miners later claimed their ranks were decimated by a withering crossfire from the mine tipple-- a structure where coal was loaded onto railroad cars-- and from a gun on a truck near the water tank. John Eastenes, 34, of Lafayette, married and father of six children, died instantly. Nick Spanudakhis, 34, Lafayette, lived only a few minutes. Frank Kovich of Erie, Rene Jacques, 26, of Louisville and 21 year old Jerry Davis died hours later in the hospital. The American flag Davis carried was riddled with seventeen bullet holes and stained with blood. Mike Vidovich of Erie, 35, died a week later of his injuries.

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