Posted on Mar 23, 2022
Club member Martin Nelson, a retired geologist and amateur historian, gave us a presentation on the “Ludlow Massacre: Turning Point in US Labor Relations” for our March 23 meeting in person at the Lincoln Center.  In starting a talk about a labor strike and the management response to that strike, Martin pointed out that he had worked as a staff geologist at a mine at Park City where, during a strike there, he had been essentially a staff scab crossing the picket lines and that some of his relationships with the workers never recovered. 
Martin started by locating Ludlow near I-25 between Trinidad and Walsenburg.  There is a plaque commemorating the massacre near I-25 and a granite monument (created and maintained by the United Mine Workers of America union) at the actual site some seven miles by dirt road west of I-25. 
The 1914 massacre, which was the ultimate response of management and the State of Colorado to a strike at the Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) Berwind Mine (partly owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr), resulted in the death (assassination) and cremation of some 20 striking miners and families with children (various sources give slightly different numbers as well as slightly differing accounts of the types of weapons brought to the fight). 
Working in mines in Colorado was both poorly paid and dangerous.  Martin referenced Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song “16 Tons” – “another day older and deeper in debt”.  Situations were sufficiently bad that, in 1913, the United Mine Workers of America union (UMW) started organizing workers across Colorado.  They were relatively successful in northern Colorado but not in southern Colorado.  The friction came to a head at the CF&I Berwind mine (somewhat south of the site of the actual massacre) although Martin pointed out that the mine had some of the best facilities in the state for housing miners.  Many of the striking miners had come to Colorado, especially from Eastern Europe, some 10 years before to break a previous strike. 
At the start of the strike, CF&I evicted the striking miners from their company-owned homes.  UMW set up a camp at Ludlow for the strikers including tent-covered holes in the ground maybe 5’ deep for housing.  There were periodic shootings and other intimidation from the start.  The governor of Colorado sent in the state militia on the side of the owners.  Finally, at 10:00 AM on April 10, 1914, there was a coordinated attack on the camp using heavy machine guns and rifles (ironically at the same time that Rockefeller was teaching Sunday School back east).  Although the miners had some shelter from the holes in which they were living, they were out-gunned and out-manned.  At 7:00 PM, the militia burned the camp, incinerating some of the victims in their homes, and perhaps doing some looting. 
The event received world-wide press coverage.  President Woodrow Wilson sent in the army to restore peace.  The UMW got many new recruits.  Some 400 of the striking miners were tried.  Of the militia members, 12 were court martialed but all were exonerated.  Eventually the UMW and mine workers in general benefitted.  The socialist press made an effort to capitalize on the horror of the event.  The author Upton Sinclair made a strong indictment of John D. Rockefeller Jr; Woodie Guthrie wrote a negative song about Rockefeller.  In response to the popular reaction to the publicity, Rockefeller started what may have been the first organized public relations campaign.  George McGovern, ultimately Senator and Presidential nominee, wrote his PhD dissertation on the Ludlow Massacre. 
As a company, CF&I had some 50 units around the United States.  It was vertically integrated, meaning that it controlled everything from mining the necessary materials for making steel to sending the finished steel products out the door for sale.  The mine at Berwind had a 5’-thick bed of coal in essentially horizontal strata so it was easily mineable over a long distance in Berwind Canyon.  It operated until 1925 and ultimately produced some 10 million tons of coal.  One of the plants that it fed was the CF&I steel mill in Pueblo, CO, which is still working (under a different company) today. 
Did any legislation result from the massacre?  Martin did not have any examples but figured that there were probably some. 
Was there any specific data on the cause(s) of the strike?  Martin did not have any specific data on miner income or specific working conditions but did comment that miners talked about getting “rocked up”, meaning that they were too injured by rock fall to continue to work. 
Was there any actual authorization to start the shooting? There was apparently a militia major present, but it is unclear if he ordered the firing.  There were apparently some five machine guns present but only one may have actually fired. 
Were any of the strikers re-hired?  That was unclear, but some may have been hired at other mines around the state. 
Clarification of deaths resulting:  one web site says that one individual on the management or government side was killed, that five miners were killed, and that the rest of the casualties were family members, at least partly incinerated in the fire.