by Carolyn Newman
SOUTHERN COLORADO COALFIELDS — The day came – Sept. 23, 1913 – a cold rainy day, when the coal miners had to move out of their homes. The strike vote had been unanimous and now all strikers were evicted from houses owned by the coal companies.
Not only did it rain for four days while families piled belongings and furniture in wagons to haul away from the coal camps to the tents, but sleety snow began. Families in wet clothes slept at night on wet mattresses.
Not just adults suffered – 9,316 children – yes, 9,316 children were affected in southern Colorado by the strike.
At first there was not much violence between the strikers and mine guards. In Huerfano County, the first violence was when women and children waylaid John Hale, a railroad track layer who did not go out on strike. The women caught him at the Rio Grande switch yards near the Walsen mine. They knocked him down and rolled him in the mud. Then a large woman sat astride him and hammered him over the head with a bucket. Hales’ cries for help brought the mine guard and the women and children fled. Hale had a broken nose and bruises.
Perhaps Mother Jones, that militant union speaker, had fired up the women because the Sunday before, on Sept. 21, she spoke to the strikers at the Walsenburg city park.
Later Arthur Miller was on his way to work at the Walsen mine. Miller had been injured in a mine accident some time before, and used a cane, but the mine operator had kept him on as a weigh boss. Twenty pickets took no pity on him and beat him for going to work. Every night and morning some 50 to 60 striking miners gathered at the end of Seventh Street near the Walsen mine to harass anyone going to work. So five families whose men wanted to work, moved inside the wire enclosure of the Walsen mine.
Some citizens were beginning to appeal to Gov. Elias Ammons to send state troops to keep the peace. He did not see the necessity, saying the local law enforcement could handle it.
Then the home of a non-union man, Charles Lapresto (possibly LoPresto), was dynamited Sept. 28 while he, his wife and four children were inside asleep. No one was injured but the rear part of the house was wrecked.
Violence was worse in the Trinidad area: a mine camp marshal, Bob Lee, 38, at Segundo was shot and killed. Witnesses said a Greek, Tom Larius, shot Lee with a single barreled shotgun. CF&I coal company offered a $500 reward and Las Animas county offered a $500 reward to find Larius.
More tents began to arrive; there had not been enough to house all strikers. A union ledger shows Gorden (possibly Gordon mine) received ten tents 10×12, ten tents 14×16 and two tents 12×14. The Red Cross authorities came in to check the sanitation in the tent colonies, or concentration camps as the newspapers called them. The largest one in Walsenburg, on Fifth Street, had wood floors and was boarded part way up. A system of ditches were dug around the camp and the water drained off into irrigation ditches.
Other tent colonies were at Aguilar, Rugby, Ludlow, Sopris, Piedmont, Segundo, Tercio, Grey Creek, Starkville and Bowen.
One independent mine in Huerfano County signed on with the union demands – the Reliance mine six miles west of La Veta. The operators, the MacDowell Brothers, also lowered the price they charged miners for the black powder they used from $2.45 a keg to $2 a keg. Fuses came down from 75 cents to 50 cents.
Other operators said the average pay per day for a miner was $3.16 to $4.97 – of course this was when a miner was working. In one month some men would work only one day and some 26 days.
This series of articles will emphasize week by week the Huerfano County strike events and not the entire Southern Colorado coalfield war story. The photo is from the Pueblo Library District archives and is labeled “Ludlow.” There is some doubt it is Ludlow however. Information for this article is from the Trinidad Chronicle News of Sept. 25, 1913, the Pueblo Chieftain of Sept. 24, 26, 27 and 28, 1913. Huerfano County newspapers carried no details of the strike at this time. The figures for the children affected and the union ledger for the tents are in the El Pueblo display “Children of Ludlow”.