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Outcome of the La Veta Massacre, part 1

LA VETA—  One hundred years ago, on Feb. 15, 1915, testimony in the trial for the La Veta murderers began, more than 15 months after the fact. The murders in question occurred on Nov. 8, 1913, just west of La Veta town limits. Both the murderers and their four victims were associated with the Oakdale mine about six miles up Middle Creek. The Oakdale was located in the town called Oakview. It had been developed into a sizeable operation in 1907, with more than 100 employees and as many as 800 occupying the camp during the productive years of the ‘teens. Oakview was heavily populated by miners involved with the United Mine Workers of America’s attempt to unionize locally. Feelings ran strong throughout the camp, and numerous incidents between union and non-union men kept residents politically aware of the situation. On September 23, 1913, union miners and sympathizers went out in a called strike ordered by UMW officials. Many of the unmarried miners, evicted from company housing, moved to a prepared tent colony in the far northwest corner of La Veta on land belonging to a former miner but current sympathizer, John Smalley. Others, some with families, moved into town to stay with relatives or friends

for the duration of the strike. The first thing these men did after the strike started was meet to formally organize the La Veta Local of UM WA. The second thing they did, on September 29, was arm themselves and shoot up Oakview camp. About 20 men “rained bullets” on a Japanese boardinghouse and several of their homes, along with some company structures. Most residents fled into the hills and no injuries were reported. The 12 mine guards on duty ran the gunmen off. The Japanese were targeted because none of their number joined the strike. This uproar was dubbed the Battle of Oakview. The mine guards were the private security force employed by the company. One of these guards was Harry Bryan, or Byrant, who had worked in the same capacity at several other mines. He was known as a bully and a sharpshooter and had actually threatened some of the strikers. Company C of the state militia, under Adjutant General John Chase, arrived in Oakview the last week of October, and demanded all firearms be turned in to them within 24 hours. Eventually they collected all the arms they could find from both sides of the situation, company employees and striking miners, and confiscated a machine gun set up in camp by the company. On Nov. 8, a scab, or non-union working miner, was brought into town from camp by Dr. Lamme to have some dental work done. His appointment concluded, the scab, William “Bill” Gamblin, or Gambling, began walking west from town. When the Oakview postal carrier came by with his wagon, Gamblin received permission to ride back to the camp. Almost immediately, a striker came up and told Gamblin to get out of the wagon. Since the striker was carrying a rifle, the mail carrier asked Gamblin to get out, so he did. He went back into town and noticed a number of union men around the UMW headquarters and the buildings around it, all on west Ryus Avenue. Gamblin eventually went to the telephone office, called the mine office and asked for a car to be sent for him. When the car arrived, four men were in it. One was Harry Bryan, and the others were also guards, Luke Terry, the driver, W.H. Whitten and R.G. Adams. Gamblin got in and the group drove west on Ryus and out of town. As they ascended the hill just outside of town that afternoon, they heard shots. The driver slumped and the open (no top) car stopped in the middle of the road. Bryan got out and ran down the hill 15 to 20 yards to begin returning fire at the men they could now see standing on the hill next to a dam. The two other, uninjured guards, Whitten and Adams, followed him. They were all shot, though Adams lived long enough to give his story to someone, perhaps the doctor or coroner. Gamblin was injured. Theirs were the only accounts given by the victims. Strikers were rounded up and some charged. Later, more were charged and some let go. The eight who went to trial in early 1915 were Charles Shepard, Frank Kroupa or Kruppa, brothers Dan, Ed and Charles Richards, Peter Rich, George Zember and Marcus Martinolich. The trial actually started about Jan. 2. However, more than 1,000 men were interviewed for jury selection in the following six weeks. Thus testimony did not start until Feb. 15. The trial had to be moved to Pueblo because of the continued strong feelings in Huerfano County. Still, it was expected to cost the county $65,000. The judge was H.P. Burke, brought from Sterling to preside. District Attorney John J. Hendricks led the prosecution and Horace N. Hawkins led the defense team of five attorneys. This first trial would focus on the death of just one of the four guards killed. The first on the stand was Huerfano County Deputy Surveyor A.A. Foote, who had prepared a large map of La Veta and the shooting site. The map was to assist in indicating distances involved and sight lines. He pointed out the murder scene was visible from as far as Ryus Avenue in town, from the concrete reservoir on Flockhart Hill, from the lower portion of the road and from the railroad yards, but that some of the terrain was obscured by trees. The next was the county coroner. He had picked up five or six empty bullet shells from the road and another 30 or so from behind the dam where he also found live cartridges. He said he’d found the ground disturbed showing where people had stood, using the dam as breastworks. Although he did not get to the scene until after dark, the dead were still laying in the road, several of them lying on top of their rifles. This concluded the first day’s testimony. The reporter covering the trial for the Pueblo Chieftain ended his article with a paragraph that included, “The prisoners are a fine appearing lot of young men, sufficiently so to catch the sympathy of the casual observer.” The next day, one San DeJohn was the subject. He had originally been one of 10 men arrested for the murders and had agreed to “turn state’s evidence”. He claimed other shooters had threatened his life if he did not shoot his rifle at the men in the car. He did not testify on this day, but a woman did. She was a farmer’s wife who watched the strikers walking by her home and then climbing the hill to the dam. Some of them, she said, were armed. That day’s sensation was the story of Gamblin. He stated the strikers were sitting on the dam in plain view of the guards in the car, and that Harry Bryan had told the driver to stop. Bryan, Gamblin swore, had then fired at the strikers, who dropped behind the dam and began firing back. Continued next week