*** Content Warning: This story contains references to violent deaths, including those of of women and children. These events are historic facts and detailed descriptions have been omitted. ***
Cover Photo courtesy of Dr. Fawn-Amber Montoya, Ludlow Centennial Commemoration.
(Photos without attribution are in the Public Domain.)
“In Freedom’s Name,” a noble claim
For their untimely end
When shelter became sepulcher
And Death, a welcome friend
– Dana O. Crandell
The short verse above may seem morbid and contradictory. It was inspired by the sculpture above, and its focus is on only thirteen of the lives lost that day. In my mind, there’s a tragic irony in the reference to freedom in their case, since death was what eventually freed them from a real-life horror.
The missing item in this photo is what the sculpted miner’s downcast eyes are gazing on. Near the foot of the monument, there’s a rectangular cellar, now protected by a metal lid.
The massacre that the Ludlow Memorial is dedicated to was only one of several confrontations during the Colorado Coalfield War. The battles occurred between striking coal miners and the proxies of the aristocracy behind Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) Corporation. Between September of 1913 and December of 1914, at least 50 lives were lost in these incidents. Half of those lives were lost at Ludlow, and over half of those were women and children in the pit where the monument now stands.
Hopefully, you’re asking, “How does that happen?” There’s some speculative argument in the answer to that, or at least to the question of whether it qualifies as accidental. The facts are hard enough to face, regardless of the intent.
Events unfolded at Ludlow over a long period of time. Shortly after the strike was called by United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in September, striking miners were evicted from their homes in several company towns. The Union countered this by leasing the company lands and raising tent colonies. The Ludlow Colony was the largest, with approximately 200 tents covering 40 acres. The miners and their families in these tent cities were under constant harassment by agents hired by the company and several deaths occurred. As attacks continued at random throughout the various colonies, miners dug pits under the tents to provide shelter for their families.
There are various accounts of how the confrontations between the miners and company proxies escalated, but the execution of two union organizers by company guards at Ludlow has been documented. The State Militia, which apparently was mostly comprised of loyal company employees in that area, was called in to convince the now-armed miners to stand down. When that failed, The Colorado National Guard was called in and along with other armed soldiers, set up a machine gun on a hill near the tent city.
On April 20th, a day-long battle began at Ludlow Tent Colony as miners and Guardsmen fired on each other. In the evening, the tents began to burn, reportedly ignited by soldiers on horseback carrying kerosene-dipped brooms. Several accounts state that those who ran from the tents met a hail of bullets from the machine gun.
The following morning, workers combing through the burned-out camp would discover the bodies of eleven children and two women in what’s now known as the “Death Pit” at the memorial site. When the flaming tent collapsed on top of the shelter, its occupants suffocated and burned. I’ll skip the detailed descriptions. Given how they died, I can only imagine that the freedom these victims found was in the arms of Death.
Sadly, although the Ludlow Massacre was a turning point, it was far from the end of the undeclared war. Over the next 10 days, the fighting would move north. Strikebreakers were killed by strikers. There were more skirmishes with the National Guard. Mines would be set alight. Company houses were bombed. The fighting would continue until Federal troops were sent in to disarm both sides. The strike itself would continue until December, when UMWA finally called it off due to lack of funds. None of the demands of the workers were met. CF&I owner John D. Rockefeller would provide compromises later, to help repair the damage caused to his image.
The Labor Movement in our country was a bloody affair. Before its end, it would cost far too many lives on many fronts. Unfortunately, neither side was innocent. At Ludlow, innocents paid the ultimate price.
Ironically, the monument, erected in 1918, was severely vandalized in 2003. The heads of the miner and the mother, along with her arm, were cut away, removed and stolen. The persons responsible were never caught and the heads were never recovered, despite a $5,000 reward offer. The missing pieces were recreated and attached, and the new monument was finally unveiled in 2005. The site was named a National Historic Landmark in 2009.
I’d like to encourage all those who read this to take advantage of any opportunity to visit this memorial. It’s about 14.5 miles north of Trinidad, Colorado, and a great photo opportunity. My own photos of the site have somehow disappeared, so I contacted the Ludlow Centennial Commemoration to ask if they could provide one. Dr. Fawn-Amber Montoya graciously agreed and I’d like to ask my readers to visit their Facebook page to find out more and support their efforts.
As always, thanks for reading!