by Carolyn Newman
SOUTHERN COLORADO — It was the second week of the coal miners’ strike, and living conditions in the tent colonies had improved somewhat.
At Ludlow, the largest of the tent camps from Walsenburg to Trinidad, the strikers prepared for a long winter of idleness. The camp’s five hundred families had installed a bowling alley, a dance pavilion had been arranged, and the moving picture tent had been equipped like a theatre. There was a dance every Saturday night, and musical entertainment, including a ministrel troop of English-speaking strikers. Recreation grounds for the children and reading rooms for the men had been added.
But it was here at Ludlow that troubles seemed to originate, well before the massacre to come in six months.
Oct. 7, 1913, more than 200 strikers and a small force of mine camp guards fought for three hours. Three men, a guard and two strikers, were wounded. Buildings within the town of Ludlow, not the tents, were struck by bullets and a window of the railroad depot was shattered by a bullet, missing the night telegraph operator. More than 800 shots were exchanged.
From behind the heavy steel frame of a railroad bridge, from behind and under and between freight cars, the strikers kept up a constant fire on the guards on the hillsides half a mile away. Darkness ended the battle.
Two versions were told on how it all started. Some said a stray bullet from a high-powered gun hit a tent with men, women and children inside, which precipitated the fight.
Others said it was the strikers firing on two automobiles, one carrying a searchlight, passing through Ludlow that was the cause of the fight.
Most felt the fiery speeches of Mother Jones, the union speaker, had caused the fight as she was more then usually violent in her language that day speaking to the miners.
Governor Elias Ammons listened for four hours to pleas by the coal mine operators to send the state militia to the strike zone.
“They were good talkers,” said Ammons, “and they kept after me for a long time, but they did not get the promise of any militia.”
The soldiers wouldn’t go in due to the fact that this Ludlow battle was the second of the week. Two days earlier, Oct. 9, Mack Powell, a cowboy, was killed on horseback near Ludlow during firing between strikers and mine guards. Shots were fired from a hillside. Powell left a wife and children. A coroner’s jury’s verdict was that shots were fired by persons unknown.
The annual financial report of the CF&I coal company did nothing to keep the situation calm. The surplus for the year was $1,727,192 on gross earnings of $24,315,888.
And then there was the event at the Denver and Rio Grande railroad bridge near the Pryor mine south of Walsenburg. A dynamite blast tore away one pillar and the bridge was set on fire. The flames were extinguished and the bridge continued in use.
Ludlow strikers made no secret that they were now purchasing large quantities of ammunition. More than $400 worth of firearms and ammunition was purchased on one day.
A hardware dealer had a standing order for a dozen rifles a day. The strikers were arming themselves, they said, for self-defense.
As tension increased at Ludlow, it was policed by 50 union guards on duty in four-hour shifts.
Sheriff J.S. Grisham of Las Animas County, of which Ludlow is a part, petitioned Gov. Ammons to send the National Guard because “armed pickets from the strikers’ tents have engaged in firing on persons traveling the public road through and in the vicinity of the town of Ludlow.”
The governor did not send troops.
Information from the Trinidad Chronicle-News of Sept 22, Oct. 8, Oct. 9, Oct. 13, 1913, and the Pueblo Chieftain of Oct. 1, 1913.