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Ludlow- Fighting off sewer rats with a beer bottle; or not?

 WALSENBURG — The matron at the Huerfano County jail in Walsenburg one hundred years ago had definite opinions about her prisoner Mother Jones and about the strikers. Just to keep track of events, the matron, Mrs. M.D. Miller, even went to the top of the county jail (now the Walsenburg Mining Museum) with a field glass to watch the movements of the strikers. Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones, the Miners’ Angel, had just as strong opinions about where she was locked up. Mother Jones was a prisoner to keep her away from the coal miners during the tragic 1913-14 strike. She had the skills to really stir up the strikers and to keep up their morale. In her autobiography, Mother Jones described her confinement: “I was put in the cellar under the courthouse. It was a cold, terrible place, without heat, damp and dark. I slept in my clothes by day, and at night I fought great sewer rats with a beer bottle … For twenty-six days I was held a military prisoner in that black hole … The hours dragged underground. Day was perpetual twilight and night was deep night. I watched people’s feet from my cellar window … One morning when my hard bread and sloppy coffee were brought to me, Colonel Berdiker (actually Colonel Verdeckberg of the Colorado National Guard) said to me, ‘Mother, don’t eat that stuff!’ After that he sent my breakfast to me – good plain food.” The story the jail matron told the Pueblo Chieftain interviewer was somewhat different. “I was matron at the jail when Mary Jones was held a prisoner there and I want to say that there was not a prisoner in the jail that was treated as good as she was. She had every convenience that could be given her, including toilet and bath, and when the strikers objected to her bedding, we allowed them to bring in bedding of their own. An army blanket was spread on the floor for a rug and she was given two rocking chairs, a table and a dresser. I have never seen even a mouse in the room in which she was. Anyway everyone knows that there are no rats in this state.” “Her meals were sent in to her every day and I attended to the preparation of them myself and I know that they were first class. When the reports were sent out that she was staying in a dungeon and that there were rats and mice and vermin in the cell, Mary Jones told me herself that she was perfectly satisfied and that she did not have a kick coming. If there was vermin in the room in which she stayed, she must have carried it in with her, and if the five or six towels a day which I furnished her with would not take it off, God pity her.” Mother Jones was released after 26 days. The photo shows miners in more modern times using battery-operated lamps on their helmets. But conditions were similar to Mother Jones’ times: notice the low ceiling forcing the men to work stooped and the wedges in the props holding up the roof. Fall of roof was a leading cause of death of the nearly 500 men in Huerfano County mines. Photo courtesy of Huerfano County Historical Society, Dr. Harvey Phelps collection. Information is from the Pueblo Chieftain of May 11, 1914, and The Autobiography of Mother Jones by Mary Harris Jones.