Publications

Contact Us

Ludlow- Anger fuels revenge

WALSENBURG — Anger fueled the revenge that spilled out of the striking miners in the Walsenburg district following the Ludlow massacre on April 20, 1914. The coal strike had gone on for seven frustrating months. It took a week for the fighting to erupt, but the Monday after the massacre, the men were ready. In fact, a call had gone out nationally the previous Wednesday for armed union men to come to Colorado. And they did come. The money came, too. In the three weeks after Ludlow, more than $80,000 was contributed to the United Mine Workers of America. That Monday, April 27, 47 miners armed with rifles and ammunition met near the La Veta union hall and then left for Walsenburg. E.L. Neelley, one of the owners of the Neelley-Caldwell Hardware store at Fifth and Main in Walsenburg, continued to bring in guns to sell. The rifles were handed out in Toltec or at union headquarters in the Oxford Hotel in Walsenburg. Plans were made to burn the McNally and Walsen mines, then dynamite the Huerfano County Courthouse. The aim was to destroy the buildings and machinery necessary for mining the coal, and they wanted to destroy the sheriff’s seat of power. Strikers hated the brutal Sheriff Jeff Farr, an ally of the CF&I Coal Company. They believed he used fraud in the elections to get elected; later; this was proved true in the courts. It wasn’t just in Huerfano County that conditions got out of control that week – all along Colorado’s Front range from north of Denver to the New Mexico state line, striking miners took fighting action. In Walsenburg, the men held out on the hogback, that ridge extending west from the “gap” where the I-25 business route enters Walsenburg from the north. Fighters like the high ground and this ridge gave the union men protection as they fired toward the Walsen and McNally mines, both south of the hogback. They also spent that day and the next clearing out strikebreakers around Toltec and Pictou on the north side of the hogback. Toltec, just outside Walsenburg, had a union hall and the men set up a roadblock there to stop and search vehicles. Miners at Pictou and Toltec were seen running and riding horses heading for the hogback after raiding the Colorado Supply store for ammunition. Needing even more guns, they entered houses and seized more weapons. Three miners even built a cannon. John Strauss, a machinist, George Conder, and a third man, built a cannon in the Toltec mine machine shop. They hauled it up the hogback, but it blew apart the first time it was used. The next day, a Tuesday, the battles intensified. McNally structures, including the tipple and shaft house, were burned. Blas Mimovitch, a McNally strike breaker, was home with a broken leg. Strikers found him, took him to the Toltec union hall and beat him. During this time, the badge identifying a union miner was changed to a white ribbon or armband. Earlier it was a red kerchief around the neck (hence the name “redneck”). In the chaos, striker Frank Angelo found a coat that fit him in a burning McNally house. In his hurry, he put the coat on but forgot to take the white badge off his own coat. Misidentified as the enemy, he was killed. Michael Lenzini, 17, was in the family grocery store at 911 West Seventh. Stories vary but one version was that he was trying to repair a barrel hit with a bullet, when a stray shot struck him and he died two days later. Nearby George Bock (or Bak), a union man, was killed by a bullet which went through a wall of his house. He left a wife and several children. Due to shots on the west end of town and others on the northwest, Walsenburg families took shelter, mostly in basements. Sheriff Farr ringed the courthouse with guards while he remained inside. In spite of the shooting, one young man, Henry Lloyd, took a girl on a motorcycle ride. He was shot and killed north of Walsenburg; the girl was injured. Wednesday the fighting continued with a Walsenburg doctor among the dead. Next week’s article will describe more of the Walsenburg battles. If you wish to see the location of the sites mentioned in this article, here are driving directions for a seven-mile route. Mileage is cumulative. Please respect private property. 0 odometer – Start at the Huerfano County Courthouse, Main Street, headed north. 0.7 – At Maple street (the street just past First Choice market), turn west (left). Notice a few houses on the north of the street (right side) that are basic four-room houses, with a four-sided roof, and a chimney up the middle of the roof. These are houses from mine camps that have been moved into town. Continue on over the cattle guard. 1.3 – After passing the football field, look to the south (left) to the McNally mine area. The mine buildings went up in flames during the fighting. No ruins are visible. Continue on the winding road over the hogback to Toltec. 2.3 – Toltec – A union hall was here in 1914. Keep heading north (ahead) onto the gravel road. 2.8 – Pictou – County road 588. A few foundations are visible. Note the dirt pile to the west (left). These are the remains of an attempt at strip mining. 3.4 – Road joins Colo. 69 paved highway. Turn south (right) to return to Walsenburg. 3.9 – Union town. On this big curve was Union town, where some miners moved when out on strike and thus were evicted from coal company houses. 5.2 – Join I-25 business route to head south (right) back to Walsenburg. 7.3 – Courthouse.