Follow the Fire in the
Hole script and accompanying images to journey back
in time to the Southern Colorado Coal Field War and the haunting Ludlow "massacre";
The coal fields of southern
Colorado offered some of the most dangerous mining conditions in the nation.
Cave-ins and explosions were twice the national average. Bad or non-existent
sewer systems allowed typhoid to rage through the mining towns.
"The company towns were
owned lock stock and barrel by the companies. And the towns themselves were
kind of symbol to the miners to the fact that they did not own their lives."
By 1910, seventy percent
of the workforce in these mines was immigrant labor. Many had been brought
in as strikebreakers. . .few spoke English. For ten years the United Mine
Workers had been trying to organize the coal miners of Southern Colorado—
only to run into ethnic barriers. By 1910 the U.M.W. was able to recruit a
few immigrants. One was a Greek miner named Louis Tikas. Tikas moved from
camp to camp, organizing miners -- convincing them they had to be ready to
"The injustices and brutalities
heaped upon the miners are such that I found the spirit manifested among my
countrymen working there to be that of war."
In September of 1913,
the United Mine Workers sent a letter to the coal mine owners, inviting them
to sit down with the union to improve working conditions. One copy found its
way to the desk of Lamont Bowers, manager of the sprawling Colorado Fuel and
Iron Coal Mines. C.F.I., as it was known, was the most influential mining
operation in the region. . .and was owned by John D. Rockefeller, junior.
By 1910 Rockefeller had taken over management of his family's empire. When
Lamont Bowers and C.F.I. spoke, people in Colorado listened. And Bowers had
no patience for a union.
"Our men are well paid,
well housed and every precaution known taken to prevent disaster. So far as
we can learn, they are satisfied and contented. But the constant dogging of
their heels by agitators has a mighty influence over the ignorant foreigners."
The mines refused to
meet with the unions. The refusal caught the attention and fueled the rage
of gray-haired Mary Jones. With an appearance that prompted her friends to
call her "Mother," Jones had become one of the most unlikely, yet fiery and
outspoken leaders of the American labor movement. In her eighties, Mother
Jones brought a packed house in Trinidad, Colorado's West theatre to its feet:
"Rise up and strike.
. .strike until the last one of you drop into your graves. We are going to
stand together and never surrender. Boys, always remember you ain't got a
damn thing if you aint got a union!"
When the union called
a strike, the mine companies tossed the miners and their families out of company
housing. The union set up tent colonies. Positioned near the mine canyons
and alongside rail lines, they held a vantage point. All the better to confront
and chase off the hundreds of strikebreakers the company was expected to hire.
The largest tent colony held twelve-hundred men, women and children near the
rail town of Ludlow.
"Our suffering with the
extreme cold and hunger had brought us all together. The mine guards had lumped
us together as being ‘you damn foreigners.' But we ‘damn foreigners' became
as one nationality. No one thought of anybody being different in color or
national origin. We had become a family of world citizens.
The striking miners started
to stockpile rifles. The mine companies hired scores of new guards. . .and
even brought in an armored car that miners dubbed "the death special." Mine
guards and striking workers were soon trading shots.
Concerned that the area
would explode in open warfare, the Colorado National Guard dispatched Lieutenant
Karl Linderfelt to assess the situation. It proved to be a turning point.
Linderfelt signed on to take command of a force of mine guards. Linderfelt
urged confrontation with the strikers. But the mine owners' strategy was to
pressure Colorado's governor Elias Ammons to call out the National Guard.
Behind the scenes, Lamont Bowers orchestrated the financial deal.
"You will be interested
to know that we have been able to secure the cooperation of all the bankers
of the city, who have had conferences with out little cowboy governor, agreeing
to back the state and lend it all the funds necessary to maintain the militia
and afford ample protection."
Outwardly aloof in New
York, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. actually demonstrated an awareness of developments
in Colorado. He backed his mine operators in rejecting ammons call for a peace
conference, and called for troops to keep his mines open.
John D. Rockefeller,
"The action of our officers
in refusing to meet the strike leaders meets with our approval, and we shall
support them to the end. The governor of Colorado has only to protect the
lives of bona fide miners to bring the strike to a speedy termination."
In late October of 1913,
a band of armed strikers attacked a trainload of deputies near Ludlow. Faced
with escalating violence, Governor Ammons called out the National Guard. The
striking miners thought it would end the violence.
"The Guard had originally
been welcomed to Ludlow. They met it with their little camp band. But they
soon changed their tune."
The National Guard fell
in with the mine company's private armed force. Deputies and guardsmen attempted
to round-up union leaders, and women and children took up the job of confronting
"Many of these women
were from Southern Europe, from Eastern Europe, and they'd been used to falling
in their husbands footsteps. And suddenly, they were going to meetings, their
opinions were worth something. . .When the men were in jail the women could
take over picket duty. And they became tremendously important."
A strange and uneasy
calm settled over Southern Colorado as the state struggled with one of the
worst winters in years. The United Mine Workers strike fund was virtually
empty. . .and maintaining the National Guard had cost Colorado nearly seven-hundred-thousand
dollars in loans from banks controlled by the mines. By spring, governor ammons
had started removing troops. . .but they were replaced by private mine guards
who were sworn in to the National Guard, and paid by C.F.&I.
In Washington, a congressional
committee questioned Rockefeller on whether it made sense to cause death and
spend more than a million dollars rather than accept unions in his mining
John D. Rockefeller,
"Our interest in labor
is so profound and we believe so sincerely that the interest demands that
the camps shall be open camps, that we expect to stand by the officers at
"And you will do that
if it costs all your property and kills all your employees?"
"It is a great principle."
Less than two weeks later,
it was Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday for the people of the Ludlow tent colony.
It turned into a day-long celebration for the twelve-hundred men, women and
children. . .poles, Mexicans and Italians joining with the Greeks to celebrate
the holiday. Baseball games featured the colony's women, and dinner was fashioned
around lambs stolen from a local flock.
The next morning. . .Monday,
April 20th, 1914. . .there was a confrontation at the colony's front gate
as troops searched for a man. Miners grabbed their guns. In response. The
National Guard rallied troops, posting machine guns on nearby Water Tower
Hill. Union organizer Louis Tikas had been talking with national guard officers.
. .trying to ease the confrontation. Somehow, warnings turned to threats.
. .and threats turned to gunfire from both sides.
"The shooting started
at the tent colony, and at us. The children were screaming in fright, and
we women were panic stricken and stunned."
The battle swayed back
and forth, with the National Guard advancing and firing into the camp. . .and
then the miners flanking the troops and driving them back. A 19-year old guardsman
was gunned down at close range. His body then brutally beaten.
Many of the women and
children fled the tent colony. . .away from the direction of the national
guard. But some of the families were pinned down by machine gun fire. . .huddling
in pits and cellars they had dug in the dirt floors of their tent. Eleven-year
old Frank Snyder tried to get water for his five brothers and sisters. He
was gunned down by a bullet to the head. Louis Tikas ran through gunfire throughout
the day, leading families out of the tents and to safety.
The striking miners started
to run out of ammunition. . .and drifted into the nearby hills to regroup.
After nearly twelve hours, the gunfire stopped. . .and the National Guard
advanced into the tent colony of Ludlow. Italian union organizer Charlie Costa
was shot dead. . .a single bullet to the head. A fire broke out and started
to sweep through the colony. . .several families were still in their tents,
afraid to move in the chaos. Karl Linderfelt led his force of armed men on
a howling charge into the camp. . .where Louis Tikas was still trying to get
"He is captured and turned
over to Karl Linderfelt, Lieutenant Linderfelt, who breaks the stock of his
rifle across Louie's head. And then turns him and two other union men who'd
been captured over to three of the militia men. And the militia men really
knew what they had to do. They told these three men to run, and then they
shot them in the back."
The next morning, union
men were able to enter what had been the Ludlow colony. Amid the ashes they
found the bodies of two union men. . .and finally, Louis Tikas. It was then
that the most sickening discovery was made.
In the center of Camp
Alcarita Pedregone and Mary Petrucci were found wandering aimlessly. They
had been trapped in a pit with other women and children when the tent colony
started to burn. Petrucci and Pedregone had lived. . .but two mothers and
eleven children had suffocated, including the wife and children of Charlie
Costa. The entire Costa family was now dead. Alcarita Pedregone's two children
were dead. Mary Petrucci's three children were dead, including the baby who
died in her arms. Word spread. . .and the striking miners became enraged at
the death of women and children.
"Immediately after Ludlow
the miners of Southern Colorado, they went wild. They went on a rampage of
destruction, of dynamiting of burning. They literally held Southern Colorado
for ten days. And finally federal troops were sent to the strike zone. And
that effectively ended the miners resistence, and that ended the strike. The
strike was lost, it was over."
Nearly 100 had died in
Colorado's Coal Field war. . .with the union dead outnumbering mine company
dead nearly three-to-one.
"The blood of women and
children, burned and shot like rats, cries aloud from the ground. The great
state of Colorado has failed them. It has betrayed them. Her militia, which
should have been impartial protectors of the peace, have acted as murderous
Stung by criticism for
his tough anti-union stance, John D. Rockefeller, Jr.attempted to make amends.
Colorado Fuel & Iron worked at better hygiene in mine camps. . .and even formed
what they called a company union.
"A kind of shell of benevolence
under which it was the same old story. Company unions, of course, had no power.
Power was still paternalistically in the hands of the mine owners."
Rockefeller and C.F.&
I. mine operator Lamont Bowers could, in fact, claim victory – if they dared
-- in the wake of what became known as the Ludlow Massacre. The United Mine
Workers Union was broke, and conceded the strike. C.F.& I. never had to recognize
a union that wasn't of their own making. But there was a public revulsion
to the images of the dead. . .and Ludlow would cast a shadow longer than the
Colorado Coal Fields.
"Why, there wasn't a
happier woman anywhere than I was. I used to sing around my work and playing
with my babies. Well, I don't sing anymore. I'm twenty-four years old, and
I suppose I'll live a long time, but I don't see how I can ever be happy again.
I can't have my babies back. But, perhaps when everybody knows about them,
something will be done to make the world a better place for all babies."