by Carolyn Newman
Gov. Elias Ammons took the plunge – at 1:30 am Oct. 28, 1913, he ordered the National Guard to southern Colorado to preserve the peace and to maintain the laws of Colorado. The coal miners strike was entering the second month of what was to become a 15-month strike.
Ammons’ orders to Brig. Gen. John Chase, the Adjutant General of the Colorado National Guard, was to preserve peace and maintain order because the civil authorities “are wholly unable to cope with the situation…”
Statistics about the strike during this first month showed 18 battles, 32 killed, 41 injured, 11 bridges and buildings wrecked by dynamite, 6 assaults, approximately $50,000 in property destroyed, and some $3,500,000 loss in wages. These totals would have come from Huerfano and Las Animas counties.
Even though Ammons had been pondering the sending of troops for some weeks, the Guard was not well prepared.
The quartermaster, upon the withdrawal of the troops May 1, 1914, wrote of his difficulties during the previous six months. In the winter they were always short of blankets – with only three blankets for each two men. And 50 men were never issued one shirt. Others had only one, hard to get it laundered. Each man did have an overcoat, but only 183 pairs of overshoes, just enough for the sentries.
In fact, sentries were so cold, that some men at Walsenburg, while doing sentry duty, appropriated 90 feet of corrugated galvanized iron flume pipe to use for fires at sentry posts. Because the fire destroyed the galvanizing, which made the pipes worthless, the Baxter hardware asked to be reimbursed. The quartermaster referred the matter to the commanding officer. Major J.B. Goodman Jr. was the quartermaster for the camp at Walsenburg.
“The service was most hard on clothing and equipment. Shoes wore out rapidly because of the weather. We were provided with only 835 pairs…so men had to buy shoes from merchants at their own expense. We opened a shoe repair shop and repaired over 200 pairs. Cost $90.49. Uniforms became rags and unserviceable but we had not others. Men had to buy overalls to cover their nakedness. The quartermaster was able to get 200 pairs of breeches but 50 pairs were cotton khaki, others olive drab woolen, some of which were too small to be of use.”
Obtaining enough wood or coal was a continuing problem, partly because that winter’s heavy snows prevented teams from hauling in the wood. The quartermaster did buy “a car of 28 and 1/3 cords from the Trinchera estate at La Veta Pass for $1.75 a cord. On Nov. 19 the coal contract with J.M. Murray of Walsenburg was cancelled and coal was purchased from Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, Walsen, which was hauled by our teams until roads got too bad. Coal was then purchased by the (railroad) car, which was placed on the tracks adjoining the camp. This change in contract was a saving of 50 per cent to the state. Coal and wood for about six months – $268.81.”
Even though the Guard, also known as the militia, was ill-prepared, various events convinced the governor to send in the troops. By this time, machine guns, and steel-bodied automobiles, had been put to use by the mine guards at the mine property. And the coal companies had imported gunmen from the West Virginia coal strike.
The strikers and their families living in tent colonies were not idle. In Trinidad, some 4,000 men, women and children from the tents marched down the street behind a band, with the women and children leading the way. They sang union songs. The procession was arranged by Mother Jones, the union leader who wanted to impress the important visitor, Gov. Ammons, who was there to assess the violence for himself. He admitted, “I have received as many as 20 different versions of the same incident.”
Some 300 strikers from the Ludlow tent colony even carefully planned and carried out an attack on a train carrying 56 deputies and 36 members of the National Guard Oct. 27. They were able to derail the train.
The photo shows a few of the National Guard tents in Walsenburg, from the Dick Collection in the Walsenburg Mining Museum, Huerfano County Historical Society Collection. Note the cone-shaped tents, which shed water and snow better than other tents.
Information is from General Chase’s scrapbook in the Denver Public Library; the book The Great Coalfield War; from the Oct. 21, 22 and 31, 1913, Trinidad Chronicle News, and from the Oct. 28, 1913 Pueblo Chieftain.