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Ludlow: the battle went on all day

LUDLOW — Perhaps Dr. Julian Lamme of La Veta unknowingly set off the battle of Ludlow April 20, 1914. Rather early on during the standoff between the striking coal miners and the Colorado National Guard, an officer had bound together eight sticks of dynamite. There were three such bundles to be lit as a signal of danger to the guardsmen who were up and down the canyons near Ludlow. The loud sound would carry far. By this time (Lieutenant) Dr. Lamme had joined the National Guard as a medical officer. But on Monday in mid-morning, he followed an order given by a nervous officer to set off the three charges of dynamite. By the third blast, rifle shooting had already begun from both sides. No one knows which side started the shooting amid all the noisy blasts. Men had been hurrying from place to place since early in the day, preparing defensive positions and moving weapons and ammunition. The militia had moved one, and later two, machine guns into place overlooking the strikers’ tent colony. Emotions were high. Most of the National Guard men had left town; the men who were in place were untrained coal company men who put on the guard uniform. The strikers had been out of work for seven months with no end in sight for the strike and were fearful. All it took were those loud dynamite blasts for both sides to think the other side had started a battle. Historians have said that this battle on

April 20, 1914, has had more impact on Colorado history than any other event in the state’s history because of its after effects on national labor practices. Testimony later before a congressional committee gives a picture of the day’s events. Striker Frank Snyder said he was outside his tent when a bullet hit his 11-year-old son sitting in a rocking chair in the tent. As the father rushed in, more bullets came through the canvas tent walls, so the father took his son and placed him on the floor next to him as the boy died. An automobile passing by was stopped by a military officer and the driver was compelled to take a machine gun and boxes of ammunition to the top of Water Tank Hill near the tents. He heard an officer give an order to his men to “clean out the Ludlow tent colony and burn the tents.” One woman testified “The prairie was covered with human beings running in all directions like ants.” Most who have studied the situation believe the troops had seen people leaving the tents all day for refuge elsewhere. They probably had no idea that some women and children were out of sight, still in the camp in a pit under a tent. The pit was larger than the usual storage pits under the tents; this one was eight feet long, six feet deep and four a half feet wide. Eleven children and four women were crowded in for protection from bullets. Most of the others had headed for a deep and wide arroyo north of the tents. Some took shelter in a small pumphouse along the railroad tracks. About 70 went down into a wide and deep – 20’ x 20’ – well with three platforms inside joined by ladders. A phone line and a telegraph was available to the militia and surprisingly it was Mrs. Karl Linderfelt, an officer’s wife, who called Trinidad for help. But the train crew which was to bring in reinforcements was sympathetic to the miners and delayed the train. Another crew had to be called in to operate the train. The battle went on all day. Toward evening another train stopped near the tents; women and children ran alongside to place the train between them and the soldiers as they made for the arroyo. The soldiers however ordered the train to move on. The uniformed men moved into the tent colony to chase out any inhabitants remaining. While they were there, the soldiers began looting anything and everything they could find. Witnesses said they saw soldiers torching the tents. The women and children huddled in the pit had no idea that the tents would be set afire – they just wanted protection from bullets. Of course the smoke drifted downward and fresh air was cut off. They first became unconscious and then suffocated, except for the two women nearest the top and closer to better air. But they were so dazed they stumbled out of the pit with no idea where they were or where their children were. By the next morning about three-fourths of the tents had burned. The soldiers fired the remaining tents. Later the bodies were found in the pit – 11 children and two women. The nation and the world were horrified. As many as 24 died that day. But more tragedy was to come. The Ten Days war began – born out of revenge. The photo shows the pit today, now concreted. Ludlow is at Exit 27 on I-25. This Sunday, April 20, the Greek Orthodox Church will have a public ceremony at 2 pm at Ludlow in memory of the Greeks who died there one hundred years ago. Information for this article came from the Trinidad Chronicle-News of April 21, April 24, April 30, and May 1, 1914, which reported the testimony from the coroner’s jury. Also from the books Blood Passion by Scott Martelle and The Great Coalfield War by George McGovern and Leonard Guttridge and from the “Report on the Colorado Strike Investigation” of the U.S. Congress Committee on Mines and Mining 1915.