Southern Colorado's once abundant coal mining camps were made of active communities scattered about the slopes of the many foothills which make up much of the state's terrain. These coal mining camps included Cokedale, Sutfield, Forbes, Majestic, Black Hills, Ludlow, Tabasco, Berwind, Tollerburg, and Morley. The ruins of some of these camps still remain today. The camps, served as the primary vertebrae of southern Colorado's economic backbone. The photo here shows the switch backs of Majestic Mine.
The history of the region's coal mining goes back to the last quarter of the 1800s, but most camps, especially those found in Las Animas County, gained fame (or infamy) during the 1913-14 coal mining strike. The strike stood out for many reasons. It allowed for heavy human casualties and property damage, caused concerns for government officials at all levels, and allowed for violation of the dignity of law and order within Las Animas County. Pictured at right, the entry sign to Ludlow Memorial.
The first decade of the 1900s witnessed thousands of European and Asiatic immigrants coming into southern Colorado. The coming of these immigrants radically changed the work force, and played a major role in the 1913-14 strike. At about the time the immigrants began arriving, the United Mine Workers union was involved in an effort to unionize the western states miners. Labor leaders began voicing dissatisfaction with how coal companies were handling the immigrant influx. and initiated a concerted effort to unionize this new work force. Union officials soon learned, however, that coal companies would provide stubborn opposition to unionizing efforts. Unionizing efforts were severely hampered because of language barriers existing among immigrant miners. Adding to these problems, miners remained cautious, for in many instances, those who chose to support union movements found themselves being dismissed from their jobs. United Mine Workers' union officials eventually broke down most barriers associated with the miners, but continued to face opposition from coal company officials.
The union called for coal companies to assure better and safer working conditions, reasonable working hours and pay, and company compliance with existing state mining laws. Officials with the companies on the other hand, claimed it would not be in their interest to negotiate such concerns with union representatives, claiming they did not recognize the UMW as an official negotiating body. On September 15, 1913, Colorado coal miners, through their delegates attending a special union convention at Trinidad, Colorado, voted to strike. On September 23, 1913, Colorado's coal miners went on strike. Those working the mines within Huerfano and Las Animas counties left the camps and relocated their families into tent colonies located on leased land near the camps. The largest colony, housing more than 1000 people, was located at Ludlow, Colorado about 12 miles northwest of Trinidad. Pictured here is an example of the diverse heritage of the miners who worked in the mines of the Ludlow area.
The strike brought an aura of tension, which led to numerous clashes between strikers and employees of coal companies such as Colorado Fuel and Iron Co., Rocky Mountain Fuel Co., and Victor American (fuel) Co. These clashes resulted in destroyed property, injuries and even deaths. Eventually, Colorado governor Elias Ammons, dispatched the Colorado State Militia into Huerfano and Las Animas counties expecting to subdue the clashes. Though Ammons intended the militia to act as a peacekeeping body, his good intentions were not to be, as the militias' presence led to even more confrontations. Ammons eventually found it necessary to recall most of the militias. He left only one small company (Company B), assigned to patrol the Ludlow area, where numerous striker-company employee clashes had occurred. In mid-April of 1914, during the time Ammons recalled the main body of troops, local coal companies joined together to create another militia unit, this know as Company A. Since Company A gained official recognition, and almost immediately was sworn in by official militia personnel. Many of the men found within the ranks of Company A were from Ludlow area camps. Pictured are two miners with their lunch buckets.
On April 20, 1914, while the militia officer in charge of Company B and the leader of the Ludlow colony were meeting to discuss a particular matter. A number of Company B troopers- as instructed by superiors- located themselves atop Water Tank Hill, just south of Ludlow. Many colonists spotted the militiamen, and being quite concerned, armed themselves and moved to key points where they could closely watch activities atop the small hill. Other colonists feared something was awry and scurried about for cover. Suddenly the sound of riffle fire echoed through the nearby hills. Neither the militia nor the colonists knew who fired these shots. Despite this, an exchange of gunfire began, as both confused colonists and militiamen believed they were coming under attack. This photo is of one of the ruins of Majestic mine, location of tent colony.
The militia were badly outnumbered by the colonists, but had certain advantages, including a choice location and a machine gun. The spray from the gun drove armed strikers back toward the tents, and provided excellent coverage for guardsmen advancing toward the tents. Meanwhile, Company A reinforcements arrived with another machine gun offer support to Company B. The colonists now faced two automatic weapons and about 150 guardsmen. Machine gun and rifle fire forced women and children colonists to take refuge in storage cellars beneath the tents. This offered some protection but advancing guardsmen eventually forced the cellar's occupants to abandon the underground shelters and to move on east o the colony site to Black Hills for protection. By late afternoon, it was clear that the militia would overrun the colony site and everyone would have to abandon the site and join those who had already fled to the Black Hills. Meanwhile, a deserted tent burst into flames and within a short time, more tents began to burn. At the same time, the militiamen overran and took command of the colony site.
By early morning, April 21, 1914, the colony site- once covered by hundreds
of tents- revealed nothing more than charred rubble remains of the tents. The brief but terrible battle left
many haunting memories. The bodies of two women and 11 children- victims
of asphyxiation- were found huddled within a cellar. Five strikers, 2 other
youngsters, and at least 4 men associated with the militia joined them in
death. Though the Ludlow battle ended on the night of April 20, 1914, the
woeful spirit of war carried on for days after. Battles that took place
at various coal camps claimed many more lives. In late April, federal troops
moved into southern Colorado-- almost immediately restoring peace. The strike,
however, continued through early December, finally coming to an end without
resolution. Despite the heavy loss of lives and property, the long and deadly
strike wasn't totally in vain. The effects of the strike, and equally the
effect of what occurred at Ludlow, encouraged state and federal lawmakers
to pass legislation, that in the long run, would allow working men and women
deserved dignity and respect. From all of this, a remote southern Colorado
prairie at Ludlow will always be deeply etched in the annals of coal mining
A memorial is located at Ludlow and the map above shows the mining communities involved in the infamous tragedy.
The yearly Ludlow Massacre commemoration is held in late June at the memorial. There are guest speakers, food and music. Contact the United Mine Workers of America, Local 9856, in Trinidad for more information.
The event has been held every year since 1918 when the memorial was built. We do this so people wont forget how they struggled for better wages and safety and living conditions, Romero said president of UMWA, Local 9856.
IF YOU GO
Visiting Ludlow is a doable day trip. Heres how, and what to look for.
Take I-25 south to exit 27, about 125 miles from Colorado Springs. Follow 44.0 Road west about a half mile to the Ludlow Monument. The United Mine Workers of America have erected story boards with the history and photos of the tent city and massacre aftermath.
Aside from the monument, it is best to stay on the roads. Dont wander around the mines because ground cave-ins are possible.
Next to the monument are a cellar door and stairs that lead down into the death pit where 11 children and two women died when fire broke out in the tent city during a battle with Colorado militia. Mike Livoda, a union organizer, is buried at the monument. There are restroom facilities here, and some picnic tables. Outside the gate there is a box that contains guest books to sign.
Directly southwest of the monument at the intersection of 44.0 Road and 61.5 Road is the location where Louis Tikas, a Greek mining leader, approached the soldiers to call a truce to protect the women and children. He was clubbed over the head by militia leader Lt. Karl Linderfelt, and then he and James Fyler, a union paymaster, were shot in the back. The militia said they were escaping. Their bodies lay by the train tracks for three days.
Take 44.0 Road across the railroad tracks westward about a mile or two to the coke ovens. The two dozen ovens were used to make coal briquettes to be used at the Colorado Fuel and Iron steel company in Pueblo.
Across the road from the coke ovens is a monument to another mining tragedy, the Hastings Mine explosion that killed 121 miners.
Retrace your route back toward the monument. At the railroad tracks, turn south and follow 61.5 Road, which goes past some stone building ruins that included the old Ludlow Depot. This area is fenced with barbed wire and has no tresspassing signs. Near the buildings is the knoll where the militia had a machine gun post and fired on the miners tent camp.
A few blocks past those buildings, turn right (west) on 40.2 Road, which meanders through a canyon where you can see coal slag, more building ruins, and stone foundations.
If you have time for more travel, Trinidad 12 miles away
has a historical museum and other galleries and musuems. Trinidad was where
Mother Jones and miners wives marched to show support of the miners,
and were attacked by soldiers on horseback. There is a Coal Miners Monument
in the National Historic District of El Corazon de Trinidad. Luis Tikas is buried in the Trinidad Masonic Cemetery, in the
Knights of Pythias section.
The Trinidad and Las Animas Chamber of Commerce has a brochure available by calling 1-719-846-9285.