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LUDLOW- The most dangerous woman in America: a pesky mosquito 

Like a pesky mosquito, Mother Jones would flit into and out of the strike zone a hundred years ago enjoying “stinging” the coal companies. Mary Harris Jones, known as Mother Jones for her efforts to help her boys, the nation’s coal miners, was a white-haired woman of about 76 (she said she was 81) when she urged on the strikers in 1913-14. First, her rousing speech in September at the District 15 convention in Trinidad, set fire to the miners and they voted to go on strike. “Why, for God’s sake, strike – strike until you win,” she told the two thousand who heard her there and in Cameron and in Walsenburg. She almost always had translators with her so non-English speakers could hear and believe in her message. The miners did not think of her as a pesky mosquito – she was the miner’s angel. Well experienced as a union organizer by 1913, she already had been crisscrossing the United States to help many downtrodden workers in the textile, railroad, and brewery industries. And she continued to crisscross the nation to raise money for the striking coal miners and to testify to conditions in the coal fields. She lobbied Congress for an investigation and marched on the Capitol in Denver. She knew how to put on a performance, not just speak in her strong voice. At the start of the southern Colorado strike she hired a band and organized 1,500 children for a protest parade in Trinidad. So pesky was she, that Gen. John Chase of the Colorado National Guard ordered a ban on her in the strike zones. But she came anyway to Trinidad Jan. 4, 1914, and was sent back to Denver. She came again – this time she was arrested in Walsenburg before she got to Trinidad. Mother Jones was turned over to Sheriff Jeff Farr who jailed her in a room in the basement of the Huerfano County courthouse – the room just east of the south entrance. The two had met before – in 1903 when Mother Jones appeared before the miners in the 1903 strike. Some 150 miners followed her from Walsenburg to Pictou, where she spoke. Sheriff Farr and deputies followed to prevent violence. As she left the Pictou crowd, the Pictou drum corps led her procession. “I was put in the cellar under the courthouse,” she wrote in her autobiography. “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. ‘If I were out of this dungeon,’ thought I, ‘I would be fighting the human sewer rats anyway!'” Never one to mince words, she was often vulgar and profane in her speech, but this just seemed to endear her to her “boys.” Grandmotherly in appearance, she wore black to her shoe tops, pinned her black hat on her white hair, and marched her short plump body wherever she could attract a crowd. At the beginning of the strike, she urged on 3,000 supporters on the plains outside Walsenburg, the Denver Express newspaper reporter wrote, swaying the men, women and children to laughter and to tears, to softness and to hard readiness for a great struggle. “You men, you great, strong men, have been enslaved for years. You have allowed a few men to boss you, to starve you, to abuse your women and your little children, to deny you education and to make peons of you, lower and less free than the negroes were before the civil war. “What is the matter with you? Are you afraid?” Gen. Chase was so fed up with her, he had her arrested and placed incommunicado in Mt. San Rafael Hospital in Trinidad for nine weeks. She was released only because the authorities were to answer to the state supreme court for her illegal detention. Her unfair imprisonment actually helped workers rally to her side. The photo is of Mother Jones leading a parade of striking miners’ children in Trinidad. One sign says, “A bunch of Mother Jones’ children.” Another says, “We want freedom, not corporation peelings.” Photo courtesy of the Colorado Historical Society in the Tirey Local History Center. Information is from the book “Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America,” by Elliott J. Gorn and “The Autobiography of Mother Jones.”