Ruins of the Ludlow Colony in the aftermath of the massacre.
|Date||April 20, 1914|
|Methods||Strikes, Protest, Demonstrations|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The Ludlow Massacre was an attack by the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel & Iron Company camp guards on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914. Some two dozen people, including miners' wives and children, were killed. The chief owner of the mine, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was widely criticized for the incident.
The massacre, the culmination of a bloody widespread strike against Colorado coal mines, resulted in the violent deaths of between 19 and 26 people; reported death tolls vary but include two women and eleven children, asphyxiated and burned to death under a single tent. The deaths occurred after a daylong fight between militia and camp guards against striking workers. Ludlow was the deadliest single incident in the southern Colorado Coal Strike, which lasted from September 1913 through December 1914. The strike was organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) against coal mining companies in Colorado. The three largest companies involved were the Rockefeller family-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I), the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company (RMF), and the Victor-American Fuel Company (VAF).
In retaliation for Ludlow, the miners armed themselves and attacked dozens of mines over the next ten days, destroying property and engaging in several skirmishes with the Colorado National Guard along a 40-mile front from Trinidad to Walsenburg. The entire strike would cost between 69 and 199 lives. Thomas G. Andrews described it as the "deadliest strike in the history of the United States".
The Ludlow Massacre was a watershed moment in American labor relations. Historian Howard Zinn described the Ludlow Massacre as "the culminating act of perhaps the most violent struggle between corporate power and laboring men in American history". Congress responded to public outcry by directing the House Committee on Mines and Mining to investigate the incident. Its report, published in 1915, was influential in promoting child labor laws and an eight-hour work day.
The Ludlow site, 18 miles northwest of Trinidad, Colorado, is now a ghost town. The massacre site is owned by the UMWA, which erected a granite monument in memory of the miners and their families who died that day. The Ludlow Tent Colony Site was designated a National Historic Landmark on January 16, 2009, and dedicated on June 28, 2009. Modern archeological investigation largely supports the strikers' reports of the event.
Areas of the Rocky Mountains have veins of coal close to the surface of the land, providing significant and relatively accessible reserves. In 1867, these coal deposits caught the attention of William Jackson Palmer, then leading a survey team planning the route of the Kansas Pacific Railway. The rapid expansion of rail transport in the United States made coal a highly valued commodity, and it was rapidly commercialized.
At its peak in 1910, the coal mining industry of Colorado employed 15,864 people, accounting for 10 percent of those employed in the state. Colorado's coal industry was dominated by a handful of operators. The largest, Colorado Fuel and Iron, was the largest coal operator in the west, as well as one of the nation's most powerful corporations, at one point employing 7,050 individuals and controlling 71,837 acres (290.71 km2) of coal land. CF&I was purchased by John D. Rockefeller in 1902, and nine years later he turned his controlling interest in the company to his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who managed the company from his offices at 26 Broadway in New York.
Mining was dangerous and difficult work. Colliers in Colorado were at constant risk for explosion, suffocation, and collapsing mine walls. In 1912, the death rate in Colorado's mines was 7.055 per 1,000 employees, compared to a national rate of 3.15. In 1914, the United States House Committee on Mines and Mining reported that "Colorado has good mining laws and such that ought to afford protection to the miners as to safety in the mine if they were enforced, yet in this State the percentage of fatalities is larger than any other, showing there is undoubtedly something wrong in reference to the management of its coal mines." Miners were generally paid according to tonnage of coal produced, while so-called "dead work", such as shoring up unstable roofs, was often unpaid. According to historian Thomas G. Andrews, the tonnage system drove many poor and ambitious colliers to gamble with their lives by neglecting precautions and taking on risk, with consequences that were often fatal. Between 1884 and 1912, mining accidents claimed the lives of more than 1,700 Coloradans. In 1913 alone, "104 men would die in Colorado’s mines, and 6 in the mine workings on the surface, in accidents that widowed 51 and left 108 children fatherless."
Colliers had little opportunity to air their grievances. Many colliers resided in company towns, in which all land, real estate, and amenities were owned by the mine operator, and which were expressly designed to inculcate loyalty and squelch dissent. Welfare Capitalists believed that anger and unrest among the workers could be placated by raising colliers' standard of living, while subsuming it under company management. Company towns indeed brought tangible improvements to the lives of many colliers and their families, including larger houses, better medical care, and broader access to education. However, ownership of the towns provided companies considerable control over all aspects of workers' lives, and this power was not always used to augment public welfare. Historian Philip S. Foner has described company towns as "feudal domain[s], with the company acting as lord and master. ... The 'law' consisted of the company rules. Curfews were imposed. Company guards - brutal thugs armed with machine guns and rifles loaded with soft-point bullets - would not admit any 'suspicious' stranger into the camp and would not permit any miner to leave." Furthermore, miners who raised the ire of the company were liable to find themselves and their families summarily evicted from their homes.
Frustrated by working conditions which they felt were unsafe and unjust, colliers increasingly turned to unionism. Nationwide, organized mines boasted 40 percent fewer fatalities than nonunion mines. Colorado miners had repeatedly attempted to unionize since the state's first strike in 1883. The Western Federation of Miners organized primarily hard rock miners in the gold and silver camps during the 1890s. Beginning in 1900, the UMWA began organizing coal miners in the western states, including southern Colorado. The UMWA decided to focus on the CF&I because of the company's harsh management tactics under the conservative and distant Rockefellers and other investors. To break or prevent strikes, the coal companies hired strike breakers, mainly from Mexico and southern and eastern Europe. CF&I's management mixed immigrants of different nationalities in the mines, a practice which discouraged communication that might lead to organization.
Despite attempts to suppress union activity, secret organizing by the UMWA continued in the years leading up to 1913. Eventually, the union presented a list of seven demands on behalf of the miners:
- 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 houses and doctors
- Strict enforcement of Colorado's laws (such as mine safety rules, abolition of scrip), and an end to the company guard system
The major coal companies rejected the demands and in September 1913, the UMWA called a strike. Those who went on strike were promptly evicted from their company homes, and they moved to tent villages prepared by the UMWA. The tents were built on wood platforms and furnished with cast iron stoves on land leased by the union in preparation for a strike.
When leasing the sites, the union had strategically selected tent locations near the mouths of canyons that led to the coal camps, for the purpose of blocking the strikebreakers' traffic. Confrontations between striking miners and working miners, referred to as "scabs" by the union, sometimes resulted in deaths. The company hired the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency to protect the new workers and harass the strikers.
Baldwin–Felts had a reputation for aggressive strike breaking. Agents shone searchlights on the tent villages at night and fired bullets into the tents at random, occasionally killing and maiming people. They used an improvised armored car, mounted with a machine gun the union called the "Death Special" to patrol the camp's perimeters. The steel-covered car was built in the CF&I plant in Pueblo, Colorado from the chassis of a large touring sedan. Frequent sniper attacks on the tent colonies drove the miners to dig pits beneath the tents where they and their families could be better protected.
As strike-related violence mounted, Colorado governor Elias M. Ammons called in the Colorado National Guard on October 28. At first, the Guard's appearance calmed the situation, but the sympathies of Guard leaders lay with company management. Guard Adjutant-General John Chase, who had served during the violent Cripple Creek strike 10 years earlier, imposed a harsh regime. On March 10, 1914, the body of a replacement worker was found on the railroad tracks near Forbes, Colorado. The National Guard said that the man had been murdered by the strikers. In retaliation, Chase ordered the Forbes tent colony destroyed. The attack was launched while the inhabitants were attending a funeral of infants who had died a few days earlier. The attack was witnessed by photographer Lou Dold, whose images of the destruction appear often in accounts of the strike.
The strikers persevered until the spring of 1914. By then, according to historian Anthony DeStefanis, the National Guard had largely broken the strike by helping the mine operators bring in non-union workers. The state had also run out money to maintain the Guard, and Governor Ammons decided to recall them. The governor and the mining companies, fearing a breakdown in order, left one company of National Guardsmen in southern Colorado and formed a new company called "Troop A," which consisted largely of CF&I mine camp guards and mine guards hired by Baldwin-Felts in National Guard uniforms.
|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|
On the morning of April 20, the day after the Orthodox Easter was celebrated in the tent colony, three Guardsmen appeared at the camp ordering the release of a man they claimed was being held against his will. This request prompted the camp leader, Louis Tikas, to meet with a local militia commander at the train station in Ludlow village, a half mile (0.8 km) from the colony. While this meeting was progressing, two companies of militia installed a machine gun on a ridge near the camp and took a position along a rail route about half a mile south of Ludlow. Anticipating trouble, Tikas ran back to the camp. The miners set out to flank the militia positions and a gunfight soon broke out.
The fighting raged for the entire day. The militia was reinforced by non-uniformed mine guards later in the afternoon. At dusk, a passing freight train stopped on the tracks in front of the Guards' machine gun placements, allowing many of the miners and their families to escape to an outcrop of hills to the east called the "Black Hills." By 7:00 p.m., the camp was in flames, and the militia descended on it and began to search and loot the camp. Louis Tikas had remained in the camp the entire day and was still there when the fire started. Tikas and two other men were captured by the militia. Tikas and Lt. Karl Linderfelt, commander of one of two Guard companies, had confronted each other several times in the previous months. While two militiamen held Tikas, Linderfelt broke a rifle butt over his head. Tikas and the other two captured miners were later found shot dead. Tikas had been shot in the back. Their bodies lay along the Colorado and Southern Railway tracks for three days in full view of passing trains. The militia officers refused to allow them to be moved until a local of a railway union demanded the bodies be taken away for burial.
During the battle, four women and eleven children had been hiding in a pit beneath one tent, where they were trapped when the tent above them was set on fire. Two of the women and all of the children suffocated. These deaths became a rallying cry for the UMWA, who called the incident the "Ludlow Massacre."
In addition to the fire victims, Louis Tikas and the other men who were shot to death, three company guards and one militiaman were killed in the day's fighting.
In response to the Ludlow massacre, the leaders of organized labor in Colorado issued a call to arms, urging union members to acquire "all the arms and ammunition legally available," and a large-scale guerrilla war ensued, lasting ten days. In Trinidad, Colorado, UMWA officials openly distributed arms and ammunition to strikers at union headquarters. 700 to 1,000 strikers "attacked mine after mine, driving off or killing the guards and setting fire to the buildings." At least fifty people, including those at Ludlow, were killed in ten days of fighting against mine guards and hundreds of militia reinforcements rushed back into the strike zone. 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.
The conflict, called the Colorado Coalfield War, produced a death toll of approximately 75 people.
The UMWA finally ran out of money, and called off the strike on December 10, 1914.
In the end, the strikers failed to obtain their demands, the union did not obtain recognition, and many striking workers were replaced by new workers. Over 400 strikers were arrested, 332 of whom were indicted for murder. Only one man, John R. Lawson, leader of the strike, was convicted of murder, and that verdict was eventually overturned by the Colorado Supreme Court. Twenty-two National Guardsmen, including 10 officers, were court martialed. All were acquitted, except Lt. Linderfelt, who was found guilty of assault for his attack on Louis Tikas. However, he was given only a light reprimand.
Rev. Cook pastored the local church in Trinidad, Colorado. He was one of the few pastors in Trinidad who tried to provide Christian burials to the deceased victims of the Ludlow Massacre.
Although the UMWA failed to win recognition by the company, the strike had a lasting impact both on conditions at the Colorado mines and on labor relations nationally. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. engaged labor relations expert and future Canadian Prime Minister W. L. Mackenzie King to help him develop reforms for the mines and towns, which included paved roads and recreational facilities, as well as worker representation on committees dealing with working conditions, safety, health, and recreation. There was to be no discrimination against workers who had belonged to unions, and the establishment of a company union. The Rockefeller plan was accepted by the miners in a vote. Rockefeller also brought in pioneer public relations guru Ivy Lee, who warned that the Rockefellers were losing public support and developed a strategy that Junior followed to repair it. It was necessary for Junior to overcome his shyness, go personally to Colorado to meet with the miners and their families, inspect the conditions of the homes and the factories, attend social events, and especially to listen closely to the grievances. This was novel advice, and attracted widespread media attention, which opened the way to resolve the conflict, and present a more humanized versions of the Rockefellers.
Over time, Ludlow has assumed "a striking centrality in the interpretation of the nation’s history developed by several of the most important left-leaning thinkers of the twentieth century." Historian Howard Zinn wrote his master's thesis and several book chapters on Ludlow. Former Senator and Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern wrote his doctoral dissertation on the subject, later published in book form as The Great Coalfield War.
A United States Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR), headed by labor lawyer Frank Walsh, conducted hearings in Washington, collecting information and taking testimony from all the principals, including John D. Rockefeller, Sr., who testified that, even after knowing that guards in his pay had committed atrocities against the strikers, he "would have taken no action" to prevent his hirelings from attacking them. The commission's report suggested many reforms sought by the unions, and provided support for bills establishing a national eight-hour work day and a ban on child labor.
The UMWA eventually bought the site of the Ludlow tent colony in 1916. Two years later, they erected the Ludlow Monument to commemorate those who had died during the strike. The monument was damaged in May 2003 by unknown vandals. The repaired monument was unveiled on June 5, 2005, with slightly altered faces on the statues. On January 16, 2009, the Ludlow Tent Colony Site was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The citation describes the Ludlow Massacre as "a pivotal event in American history" and notes that its site is the first of its kind to be investigated by archeologists.
Several popular songs have been written and recorded about the events at Ludlow. Among them is "Ludlow Massacre" by American folk singer Woody Guthrie, "Ludlow" by Texas country singer Jason Boland, "Ludlow" by New Albany, Indiana band Houndmouth and "The Monument (Lest We Forget)" by Irish musician Andy Irvine.
The novel King Coal by Upton Sinclair is loosely based on the origin and aftermath of the Ludlow Massacre. American writer and Colorado Poet Laureate David Mason wrote what he calls a verse-novel, Ludlow, that was inspired by this labour dispute. Composer Lori Laitman is composing an opera "Ludlow," in conjunction with Mason. The University of Colorado's New Opera Works presented Act I of the opera in June, 2012, directed by Beth Greenberg. Thomas Pynchon's 2006 novel, Against the Day, contains a chapter on the massacre.
The last survivor of the Ludlow Massacre, Mary Benich-McCleary, died of a stroke at the age of 94 on June 28, 2007. She was 18 months old when the massacre occurred. McCleary's parents and her two brothers narrowly escaped death when the conductor of the train that brought the militia to the tent colony stopped the train to shield the family and others trying to flee, but Mary had been left behind. A 16-year-old boy heard her screams, gathered her up into his coat and then ran into the woods. Mary and the boy were found several days later, still hiding. McCleary's daughter said family members didn't speak of the massacre.
On April 19, 2013, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed an executive order to create the Ludlow Centennial Commemoration Commission. The group worked to develop programming in the state such as lectures and exhibits to commemorate the Ludlow workers' struggle and raise awareness of the massacre. It worked with Colorado museums, historical societies, churches and art galleries and supplied programming in 2014.
In 1996, the 1913–1914 Colorado Coalfield War Project began under the leadership of Randall H. McGuire of Binghamton University, Dean Saitta of University of Denver and Philip Duke of Fort Lewis College, who later formed the Ludlow Collective.
Colorado National Guard General John Chase. The caption reads: ADJUTANT-GENERAL JOHN CHASE The Denver oculist in command of the National Guard. General Chase was a brigadier-general in the Cripple Creek strike, and no love is lost between him and the labor men.
Jesse F. Welborn, president of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company.
Karl Linderfelt, center. Photo caption reads: "OFFICERS OF THE COLORADO NATIONAL GUARD From left to right: Captain R. J. Linderfelt, Lieut. T. C. Linderfelt, Lieut. K. E. Linderfelt, (who faced the charge of assault upon Louis Tikas, the dead strike leader), Lieut. G.S. Lawrence and Major Patrick Hamrock. The last three were in the Ludlow battle of April 20, 1914."
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- Anti-union violence
- Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927
- Colorado Labor Wars
- Labor movement
- Labor history of the United States
- Labor unions
- Labor unions in the United States
- Ludlow Massacre (song)
- Ludlow Tent Colony Site
- Ludlow Monument
- List of massacres in the United States
- Mary Thomas O'Neal
- Murder of workers in labor disputes in the United States
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- Ludlow Massacre from the Library of Congress at Flickr Commons
- The World Socialist Web Site A four part series on the history of the massacre and its place in the history of the American working class.
- The Colorado Coal Field War Project An account of the strike and the assault by the Colorado State National Guard, published by University of Denver's Anthropology department.
- Phelps-Dodge Mine explosion, 1913. During the time of the Colorado Coalfields Strike (which included Ludlow) this mine in New Mexico exploded, killing 263 men, the 2nd deadliest mine disaster in US history. It was owned by Rockefeller-in-law M. Hartley-Dodge, owner of Remington Arms.
- Ludlow Massacre – Historical Background Background material prepared by the Colorado Bar for the 2003 Colorado Mock Trial program
- The Ludlow Massacre on libcom.org/history
- The lyrics to Woodie Guthrie's Ludlow Massacre are here  and the lyrics to Guthrie's closely related song about copper miners in Calumet, Michigan, 1913 Massacre, are here. 
- The Virtual Oral/Aural History Archive Audio of an interview with Ludlow survivor Mary Thomas O'Neal in 1974.
- Historian Howard Zinn on the ludlow Massacre
- Caleb Crain, "There Was Blood: The Ludlow Massacre Revisited," The New Yorker January 19, 2009.
- Caleb Crain, "Notebook: The Ludlow Massacre Revisited," an annotated bibliography to the preceding article
- Interview with David Hawkins, nephew of Ludlow Massacre miners' lawyer, Horace Hawkins
- Hundredth Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre, historian Jonathan Rees and author Jeff Biggers, The Real News, 2014.04.20
- The Ludlow Massacre Still Matters. The New Yorker, April 18, 2014.