by Carolyn Newman
HUERFANO — Choices for Huerfano County miners 100 years ago had to be made soon. The annual convention of the State Federation of Labor was meeting in Trinidad and the vote on a mining strike was coming up.
Would the choice be to strike?
Striking miners and their families would have to move out of the mine company-owned houses and move into tents. Who knew how long a strike would last? The 1903 and 1910 strikes were not successful. A strike meant $3 a week in union benefits plus $1 for the wife and 50 cents for each child. Could the family live on that?
Meanwhile the coal mine operators/owners did not know what to expect either. Disgruntled miners didn’t tell the bosses they belonged to the union – it had to be kept secret or they would lose their jobs. The coal companies had an anti-union policy; the companies deceived themselves about how many men would actually strike.
Just to be sure whatever happened, 50 additional gunmen were hired for CF&I property. CF&I also asked Huerfano Sheriff Jeff Farr to send deputies to guard CF&I property – with CF&I providing the guns and paying the Huerfano deputies $3.50 a day. Sheriff Farr confessed he seldom considered the background of the men he deputized; as far as he knew some might be murderers. And some were.
“There will be no violence if our union can prevent it,” said Frank Hayes, the union’s vice president. But in the months ahead, no one could prevent violence when the two sides believed so strongly in their rights.
Already one union organizer, Gerald Lippiatt, had been shot in Trinidad. As miners remembered their friends killed by fall of rock in unsafe mines, the bad air leading to explosions, the bribes required for a better job, the high prices at the company store, the short weights for the coal they dug – they knew they had to do something.
What would happen at the convention would determine the fates of not only the men but also wives and children.
But not a word appeared in the Walsenburg World newspapers about the upcoming convention or conditions in the mines. Probably because that same Sheriff Farr was co-owner of the paper and in business with one of the CF&I officials.
Note: A commemoration of this United Mine Workers 1913 strike vote and the resulting Ludlow Massacre will be held at the Ludlow site (exit 27 on I-25) at 11 am Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013.
Information from Killing for Coal, by Thomas G. Andrews and The Great Coalfield War by George S. McGovern and Leonard F. Guttridge. The photo is from the Bessemer Historical Society collection in the Huerfano County Historical Society.