DENVER — The college boys came marching home from the Ludlow tent colony during the 1913-14 coal miners strike. Thirty-three colleges were represented in this company. The infantry from Huerfano County was first to be sent home for this drawing down of forces and then from Las Animas and Fremont counties. The cavalry remained. Seventy-two members of Company K of the First Infantry of the Colorado National Guard returned to Denver March 12, 1913. Thirty-three men who were released from duty earlier were to join the 72 that afternoon for inspection and review. After arriving on a Colorado and Southern train and having breakfast, the men prepared for the afternoon inspection. The Denver Times newspaper reporter enthused that every member of the company “shows the ruddy health that comes from months of outdoor life.” Even the mascot, Danny, with his wagging tail, was in good health. The young captain of Company K was proud that when the militia played the Ludlow strikers in football and baseball, the soldiers won. The worst trouble, he
said, was with the December snow when they ran short of water. The men had to dig out the railroad tracks a mile and a half to reach Hastings for water. In spite of the young captain’s rosy picture of relations between the strikers and militia, most observers realized hostility was building. The militia at its strongest had 1,100 men in the field, and in parts of the strike zone had arrested strikers and union leaders without charges. Also, under orders to disarm both the strikers and the company gunmen, the National Guard had treated the two sides unevenly – often allowing coal company men to keep their arms. Here is a clue why the National Guard (militia) men became less neutral throughout the five months they were in the strike zone. The soldiers felt more akin to company officials than to what they considered ignorant, uneducated foreigners who could not even speak English. These soldiers and others were brought home for several reasons; one was the state’s lack of money to supply or pay them. The coal companies had begun to step in to assist in providing supplies and even in paying the soldiers. Again, another reason why the soldiers were edging to the coal companies’ side in the strike. Every group has bad apples and some militia soldiers had taken advantage of striker prisoners’ ignorance of customs. In Pryor, soldiers took great delight telling Andrew Colnar to dig his own grave- really a latrine two and a half feet wide and 6 feet long. The frightened striker believed the grave story and prepared to die one whole day and night. And to make things worse, as the trained militia soldiers left for home during the five months, coal company employees replaced them – and certainly they were not neutral in the troubles. By the end of March, just about 250 militia were left in the field, and these men were afraid of being overwhelmed by the superior numbers of strikers. It would only take a spark to start an explosive battle. The photo is of the Walsenburg militia facing the courthouse. Undated, this photo may or may not have been taken during the 1913-14 strike. Note the word Neelley on the hardware store in the background. Neelley was supplying strikers with firearms and ammunition. Later he was elected sheriff to replace Jeff Farr. The Masonic hall is next to the hardware store. The small house is the Levy house, one of the earliest in Walsenburg, but now gone. Photo courtesy of the Pueblo library, the August and Mima Chatin collection. Information is from The Denver Times of March 13, 1914; Killing for Coal by Thomas G. Andrews, and Blood Passion by Scott Martelle.