After two months of the coal miners strike, and well before the Ludlow massacre, those in Washington D.C. watching the southern Colorado situation, knew it was of national importance. Colorado was to be the battleground between industrial companies and labor. These serious matters took Colorado’s two senators to a long conference at the White House with President Woodrow Wilson. Then the President instructed his Secretary of Labor, W.H. Wilson, to get the facts. That same November 1913 day the Colorado Supreme Court made it official about paying the National Guard troops dealing with the strike: State Auditor Rhoady Kenehan must sign certificates of indebtedness for the Colorado National Guard’s expenses in the strike zone. There was another act of violence in southern Colorado. To understand this, it may help to understand the role of detectives during the strike. Private detective agencies were used during labor strikes as spies and informers, according to the book The Great Coalfield War. There were some 275 such agencies, but Baldwin-Felts were experienced in coal strikes recently in West Virginia. It was this company hired by the coal companies to work in Southern Colorado and they were deputized by the county sheriffs. For example, Huerfano County’s sheriff, Jeff Farr, recruited 326 applicants for deputy. Among them were Baldwin-Felts agents Walter Belk and Albert Felts. Miners hated no one more than the Pinkerton detectives and the Baldwin-Felts detective agents Striking miners identified detectives George Belcher and Walter Belk, chief of the detectives, as marked men because they had shot down Gerald Lippiatt, an union organizer, August 16, 1913, on a Trinidad street. Belcher was shot through the leg during the exchange of gunfire. So on the evening of Nov. 20 Louis Zancanelli, an Italian striker formerly of Walsenburg but now of the Trinidad area, walked up behind Belcher on the busy Trinidad street corner of Commercial and Main, and fired a shot into Belcher’s head. Miners knew Belcher wore steel plates under his clothes for body protection. Zancanelli could well have been paid to carry out this assassination. Immediately National Guardsmen were stationed at every corner and in front of hotels. Others patrolled the streets. Zancanelli walked away into the crowd but was caught. His first trial ended in a hung jury. The second trial brought a sentence of life imprisonment at hard labor. In April 1917, the Colorado Supreme Court freed Zancanelli. “Altogether,” wrote George McGovern in The Great Coalfield War, “408 striking miners had been charged with felonies, principally murder. Most never got to court. There were four convictions, all overturned because of irregularities during trial.” With the loss of workers due to the strike, coal production was down. The ripple effect meant that the Colorado and Southern Railway laid off seven full train crews (35 men), and reduced the number of office workers. Information from the Nov. 19, 20, 21 and 22, 1913, Trinidad News-Chronicle, and The Great Coalfield War by George S. McGovern and Leonard F. Guttridge.
by Conor Orr LA VETA — Picture the scene. You’re in an old dusty one-horse town and the atmosphere is charged. Two men face off