Sheriff moves machine guns and 75 guards into Huerfano County Courthouse
by Carolyn Newman
WALSENBURG — In less than one minute, two died and four were wounded on Walsenburg’s Seventh Street, a month after the beginning of the 1913-14 strike between miners and mine operators.
The Seventh Street battle took place Friday, October 24, 1913. The mine guards were on their way to the Walsen mine on the west end of Seventh Street. The battle started, according to Sheriff Jeff Farr, when the guards were passing down Seventh with a load of household goods belonging to two miners working at the Walsen mine. When non-striking families felt threatened, they would move onto the mine property for safety behind the fences.
A mob of strikers, including women and children, followed the wagon, yelling at the guards; the young boys threw rocks. A shot was reported to have been fired from the rear of a house. The guards then opened fire. (Some houses on Seventh still carry the damages.) At the same time, strikers were firing shots from trees not far away.
Cisto Circi, an Italian striker, 29, was shot with a bullet that entered his mouth and penetrated his brain. Chris Kokich, 21, shot through the neck, died. Andrew Adwin, 36, shot above the ear, died some hours later. Charles Youst was shot twice in the left foot, and one more man was shot in the left leg. H.C. Wetmore, a deputy, was struck by a bullet that tore away a part of his ear.
After the firing ceased, the guards continued on their way to the Walsen mine.
The next morning, Huerfano County Sheriff Jeff Farr had a force of 75 guards fortified in the Walsenburg courthouse with two rapid-fire machine guns rushed in from Trinidad on a Colorado and Southern night train, which brought also the Las Animas county Undersheriff Zeke Martin and 25 deputies to reinforce the Huerfano deputies.
All sides were becoming bolder. The week before, passenger trains passing through Walsenburg had been searched by striking miners for possible strikebreakers. Suspected men were compelled to leave the train and taken to union headquarters.
The midnight Rio Grande train from the north was boarded by 20 miners, and that time, seven miners on their way to the Walsen CF&I mine were taken off. These men were held at the tent colony at the head of Fifth Street. Two of the seven were sent out of town.
The 6:20 pm passenger train of the Colorado and Southern Railroad the next day was surrounded by 50 miners. They took two men to the strikers’ tent colony. Union men claimed they were using only persuasion to get the men off the trains.
Finally, with the National Guard deployed into the strike zone Oct. 28, martial law went into effect. The Guard was ordered to disarm both the strikers and the mine guards, to close all saloons, keep strikers off the property of the coal companies, and to not allow importation of strikebreakers. Helpful in keeping the peace, still these orders would be difficult to enforce in such a large strike zone – Huerfano and Las Animas counties.
Because the telephone lines had been tapped, some of the Governor’s calls were intercepted and he was given wrong answers about conditions. Miners had been answering calls meant for the coal mine operators, and coal operators were answering calls meant for strike leaders. Both sides listened in, and if someone asked for a certain person and did not get an answer, one of the tappers answered in his place.
Major players in this strike situation have revealing backgrounds. Gov. Elias Ammons had a brother-in-law, J.M. McLaughlin, who was part owner of a mine in Las Animas County. He owned only one-fourth of the mine; the other three owners lived in Denver. When 70 miners were arrested for picketing in the Trinidad district, Deputy District Attorney Ralson dismissed the charges, with the agreement of McLaughlin and the strike leaders. The Governor was disgusted that criminal charges would be dropped with the agreement the picketing would stop.
The photo is of the Colorado National Guard troops and their machine gun, which outraged the strikers, who thought that was unnecessary in a labor dispute. This Guard unit came from Fort Morgan. Guard members were not full-time soldiers, and most of the 1913-14 Guard were young and inexperienced. The sign says “Co. 1. 1st Inf. NGC. The Machine Gun Company. Fort Morgan, Colo.” Photo is from the Huerfano County Historical Society, Walsenburg Mining Museum Dick Collection.
Information is from Oct. 18, 19, 28 and 30 , 1913, issues of the Pueblo Chieftain and Oct. 25 of the Trinidad News-Chronicle.
Gary M. Vezzani was elected Walsenburg’s mayor in Tuesday’s special mayoral election/recall vote. Preliminary results announced Tuesday night show that both Nick Vigil in Ward