Encyclopedia  |   World Factbook  |   World Flags  |   Reference Tables  |   List of Lists     
   Academic Disciplines  |   Historical Timeline  |   Themed Timelines  |   Biographies  |   How-Tos     
Sponsor by The Tattoo Collection
Ludlow Massacre
Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Ludlow Massacre

The Ludlow Massacre of April 20, 1914 was one of the bloodiest assaults on organized labor in American history. It took place in Ludlow, Colorado (today a ghost town) northwest of Trinidad, Colorado and was the climax of an effort to suppress a strike by twelve thousand Colorado coal miners.

Labor unrest in the United States in the years preceding World War I was particularly tense in the West. When a union activist was killed in the fall of 1913, workers at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation's (CF&I) coal operations and other Colorado coal mines went on strike. The miners evacuated the coal mining camps on September 23 to protest low wages ($1.68 a day) and poor working conditions.

Contrary to state law, miners were paid in scrip, which was redeemable only at the company store, where prices were high. Miners were cheated at the scales where the coal they dug was weighed. Many mines maintained two separate systems of weights: one for the miners' transactions, and another for the coal buyers who refused to be cheated.

In Colorado mines, "dead work" was not paid. Dead work included timbering the mine for safety. The death rate of Colorado miners was approximately twice the national average.

Miners frequently complained that company mules were treated far better than their human counterparts -- mules cost money. Years after cave-ins or mine explosions, miners' anecdotes bitterly recount the first words of the coal operators when a mine collapsed: did the mules get out?

Colorado miners had attempted to unionize periodically since the first strike in 1883. First it was with the Western Federation of Miners. Later (in 1927) they would join the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1913 they were attempting to organize into the United Mine Workers of America.

The UMWA had demanded:

"...recognition of the United Mine Workers of America as the bargaining agent for workers in coal mines throughout Colorado and northern New Mexico; an effective system of checkweighmen in all mines; compensation for digging coal at a ton-rate based on 2,000 pounds; semi-monthly payment of wages in lawful money; the abolition of scrip and the truck system; an end to discrimination against union members; and strict enforcement of state laws pertaining to operators' obligations in supplying miners with timbers, rails, and other materials in underground working places."

The strike provoked a harsh response from the Rockefeller family, which controlled Colorado Fuel & Iron and effectively ruled the region. Since the companies owned the towns where the workers lived, they were able to evict strikers from their homes, leaving women and children, mostly from immigrant families, without shelter as the harsh Rocky Mountain winter approached. Helped by UMWA groups across the country, the strikers were able to organize tent cities and carried on their strike. The union selected locations near the mouths of the canyons which led to the coal camps. Their purpose was monitoring traffic to the coal camps and discouraging replacement workers from breaking the strike.

The company hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to harass strikers and union organizers. Baldwin-Felts had a reputation for aggressive strike breaking. They supplied armed guards, gunmen, spies, and agents provocateur to terrorize the miners.

CF&I built an armored car mounted with a machine gun which harassed the miners' camps with impunity. The company guards called it the "Death Special." Because of occasional sniping on the tent colonies, miners had to dig protective pits beneath the tents where their families could seek shelter.

On October 17 Baldwin-Felts agents used the Death Special to attack the Forbes tent colony. One miner was killed. A young girl was shot in the face, and a boy was hit in the legs by nine machine gun bullets.

Confrontations between striking miners and "scab" replacement workers often got out of control, resulting in additional deaths.

Despite widespread violence, the workers refused to give in and on October 28 Colorado governor Elias M. Ammons called in the National Guard. Even though the campaign of harassment increased and many of the organizers were beaten and arrested, the miners persevered and managed to survive a particularly bad winter under the most severe conditions.

It had been a brutal time for the strikers. Harassing rifle shots were randomly fired into the camps. Union organizers were kidnapped and intimidated. One brutal tactic was telling the union men that they were about to be executed and forcing them to "dig their own graves" before beating them and, finally, ordering them out of the territory.

After months of stalemate, Governor Ammons was growing concerned about the cost of keeping the National Guard in the field. He accepted an offer by the coal companies to put their men into National Guard uniforms. This would ultimately prove a serious error in judgment, as well as a disaster for the striking miners.

Under the leadership of Lieutenant Karl Linderfelt, Company B of the Colorado National Guard engaged in a campaign of intimidation. They stuffed barbed wire into the water wells of the tent colonies. They threatened miners and their families. Linderfelt told one immigrant miner that he was "Jesus Christ on horseback" and he must be obeyed.

On March 10, 1914, the body of a strike breaker was found on the railroad tracks near Forbes. The National Guard's General Chase ordered the Forbes tent colony destroyed in retaliation. Tension was growing, and the stage was set for all-out war.

The National Guard, with their ranks swelled by gun thugs and mine guards, decided to evict the tent cities that sprang up around the mines, even though the camps had been established on private property leased by the union.

Ludlow was the largest of the tent cities, located 18 miles north of Trinidad. On the morning of April 20, the Greek Easter celebrated by many Greek immigrants in the Ludlow camp, the National Guard opened fire with machine guns. They fired across the railroad tracks into the tents. Anyone who moved through the camp was targeted. The miners fired back, and the battle raged for hours.

In the afternoon a passing freight train stopped on the tracks, allowing many of the miners and their families to escape to the east to an outcrop of hills called the "Black Hills."

Louis Tikas, the camp's main union organizer went to the National Guard to arrange a truce. Lieutenant Linderfelt assaulted him with the butt of his rifle, and the soldiers fired three shots into Tikas's back as he lay on the ground.

The miners were outgunned. As night approached, the militia descended on the tent camp and set fire to it, apparently oblivious to the fact that two women and eleven children had been hiding in the pit beneath one tent and did not escape with the other strikers. When their charred bodies were found the next day, their deaths became a rallying cry for the UMWA, who called the incident the "Ludlow Massacre." In addition to the fire victims, thirteen people were shot dead during that day.

News of the event spread across the country overnight. Armed workers from the surrounding tent cities converged on the camp to fight the National Guard. Railway workers and other unions began strikes in sympathy with the coal miners, and even some National Guardsmen refused to fight against the strikers. Groups of miners dynamited coal camps. Several southern Colorado cities were taken over and occupied by the miners.

In Congress, Socialist representativerepresentative Victor Berger of Wisconsin called on all workers to get guns to defend themselves. After ten days of fighting, Governor Ammons finally called on President Woodrow Wilson to intervene. Federal troops were sent to the region and the strikers were disarmed.

In the end, the strikers failed to obtain their demands, their union did not obtain recognition, and many union workers were replaced by non-union workers. None of the National Guardsmen who attacked the strikers was ever prosecuted, though sixty-six people had died in the violence by the time the strike finally ended.

In 1918 the Ludlow Monument was erected to honor those who died during the strike. The monument was damaged in May 2003 by unknown vandals.

See also the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927 for additional information on Colorado labor struggles.