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Past and Present

Past and Present: The Ludlow Massacre

Beverly & Pack
flickr Creative Commons

On April 20, 1914, the management at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, owned by the Rockefeller Family, ordered an attack on a tent colony just outside the town of Ludlow.

This decision resulted in the deaths of 20 people, including 2 women and 11 children who burned to death in tents that had been soaked in kerosene and set on fire.

What the Rocky Mountain News termed the "Ludlow Massacre" was actually a single, deadly incident in the longer southern Colorado Coal Wars that lasted from September 1913 to December 1914, and is the deadliest labor strike in American history.

Beginning in 1913, the miners at CF&I demanded the enforcement of an eight-hour workday law and recognition of the United Mine Workers Association as their bargaining agent. When CF&I rejected this platform, the workers went on strike.

In retaliation, CF&I evicted the miners’ families from their company-owned homes. With no place to live, the strikers established tent colonies outside the mines. Months of escalating violence led Colorado’s Governor to call in the National Guard. At first, the Guard calmed the situation, but when they discovered a dead replacement worker, they quickly blamed the strikers.

By April 1914, Colorado had run out of money and patience. CF&I then turned to the Baldwin Felts Detective Agency to patrol the camps in an armored car with a mounted machine gun nicknamed the “Death Special.” This decision left the miners vulnerable to sniper attacks, and eventually to the carnage on the 20th.

The Ludlow Massacre marks a turning point in American labor history. In 1915, Congress and the Rockefeller Family responded to the public outcry, resulting in new labor laws and a new company union system. These reforms remained intact until the Wagner Act of 1935 recognized workers’ rights to collective bargaining.