Monday, August 6, 2018

Ludlow Massacre Memorial Site, Ludlow, Colorado

We visited the Ludlow Massacre Memorial Site back in 2004 and decided to make another stop to see it again. The site marks the area where coal miners and their families lived in the 1900s. They went on strike demanding better wages, an eight-hour work day, a safe workplace, less company control over their lives, and the right to organize. After the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) called the strike in September 1913, the coal companies evicted thousands of miners and their families from their homes in company towns. The UMWA leased the land, provided tents, and even issued a small allowance. Ludlow was the largest tent colony, with about 200 tents made of canvas and wood and 1,200 people. The tents averaged 10 x 14 feet in size and were reinforced with interior wooden panels and wooden floors. This provided a buffer from the weather. Cellars offered additional living area, storage space and protection from occasional gunfire.

Coal Miners

Locals in front of their tents

Local Hispanic people and European immigrants provided the majority of the labor force. People spoke at least 24 distinct languages. These different groups pulled together to form a community with a common goal.

Governor Elias Ammons called out the Colorado National Guard to help keep the peace. By April 1914, membership in the local militia units consisted mostly of company employees, who sided against the miners. Just a day before the massacre the colonists enjoyed an Easter celebration. April 14, 1914 was Greek Orthodox Easter. The entire colony, along with some militiamen, commemorated the holiday with a feast, followed by dancing, singing and a baseball game. 

Baseball Game
Most of the camp slept late after their big celebration. Around 9am, an explosion triggered an exchange of gunfire between the miners and the militia. The battle lasted throughout the day. Armed miners defended their positions, while women and children hid in the tents until they could evacuate the colony. In the afternoon, a train stopped on the tracks between the militia and the miners. This interrupted the exchange of gunfire long enough for most of the women and children to escape into the surrounding hills. At dusk, the militia entered the camp and set fire to the tents. 

On April 20, 1914, hostilities came to a head, which resulted in the Ludlow Massacre. Throughout the day, the militia and miners exchanged gunfire. Lives were lost on both sides. Under suspicious circumstances, the tent colony was burned. Two women and eleven children suffocated in a cellar dug beneath their tent, known as the Death Pit. The Death Pit and the Monument serve as a memorial to those who lost their lives in the battle. While accounts differ, around 21 people died.

Red Cross Workers after the fire
The Death Pit was open in 2004, but when we visited it in 2018, there was a cover over it and when we looked in, the walls were being held up with wood and a beam. 

Death Pit
The events of the Ludlow Massacre outraged the nation and embarrassed John D. Rockefeller, Jr., the majority owner of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, the largest coal company operating in the area. This event initialed many of the labor reforms that workers now take for granted. As appeasement, Rockefeller introduced a plan that established a company sponsored union, instituted procedures to air grievances and improved the living conditions in the company towns.

Despite the tragedy, survivors remembered their time in the colony fondly. The camaraderie and sense of community gave them strength to deal with everyday trials and tribulations. There was no running water or electricity. The colonists hauled water from a well near the railroad tracks, outhouses lined the outskirts of the colony and people used chamber pots inside their tents. A small store, medical tent and jungle gym were among the few amenities available. A large tent and platform in the center of the colony served as a location for meetings and community events.

The Colorado Coalfield War Archaeological Project investigated and interpreted the Ludlow Massacre Site. They used both excavation and archival research to interpret the events, materials, and lifeways of the Ludlow Tent Colony. 


No comments:

Post a Comment