by Carolyn Newman
HUERFANO — An estimated 1,000 shots were fired at one mining camp one September day. It was just the first week of the 1913-14 coal miners strike that started Sept. 23 and had followed two days of quiet.
Some 18 to 20 strikers erected a two-foot high stone barricade along the ridge of a low range of hills east and north of the Oakdale mine west of La Veta. Some bullets, steel-jacketed, hit the Japanese boarding house at Oakview (the camp’s name), eight went trough the guard quarters, one through the company office, two in the guards’ night house, three in the stable, three in the hay barn and several in occupied homes. One even penetrated a mattress under a sleeping man. The range was 500 yards and shots came from five or six different points. Residents took refuge in the company store, in cellars, caves or ran to the hills. First shots were fired at 6:25 am but then 12 mine guards at 7 am charged the hill and the attackers fled. The guards pursued the shooters to the foot of Baldy mountain but could not follow any farther.
Surprisingly no one was seriously injured.
Intense feeling among the striking miners against Oakdale arose because one-half of the men continued to work in spite of the strike. Union men had even been boarding the train going to the mine and threatening miners on board.
Although Gov. Elias Ammons said he would leave it to local law enforcement to handle any strike disturbances, Huerfano County Sheriff Jeff Farr said it was difficult to secure deputies as they were afraid to serve.
A second violent act occurred in the Primrose camp, south of Walsenburg near the Las Animas-Huerfano County line. Some 400 lbs of blasting powder, stored in a small powder house, was set off Oct. 4, smashing nearly every window in the camp. Because the explosion partly wrecked the substation of the electric company, the camp was left in the dark.
The reason to blast the powder house was a mystery, according to a mine official. “The mine has made no attempt to get out coal since the strike went into effect, and has never expressed an intention of importing scabs.”
The blast was started by a stick of dynamite under one corner of the building and that set off 15 kegs of powder plus a case and a half of giant powder.
The store and saloon were the most damaged. The two buildings were owned by the Pinon Supply Co; prinicipal stockholders were the Dick Brothers of Walsenburg.
About 60 mines in southern Colorado were involved in the strike (20 CF&I, 15 Victor-American Fuel Co., 11 by Rocky Mountain Fuel Company. These mines had some 8,000 to 9,000 miners.
Information is from the Pueblo Chieftain of Sept. 29, 30 and Oct. 4 and the Trinidad News Chronicle of Sept. 17.
This article is the third in a series detailing Huerfano County involvement in the 1913-14 coalfield war – a war which led to the Ludlow Massacre. Historians say this strike had more impact on Colorado history than any other event in the state’s history. Eventually the impact was felt in labor relations nation-wide and even internationally.