Ludlow- A tragedy that never should have happened

CAMERON — It was a tragedy that never should have happened – one miner dead and one soldier in the guard house. It took place in Cameron, just southwest of Walsenburg. During the coal field war of 1913-14, the Cameron mine continued to operate with non-union men. The union men on strike and their families were in a tent colony. To keep the peace, the Colorado National Guard had placed a detachment at Cameron. Pvt. Charley Obley was posted Jan. 11, 1914 at the No. 6 sentry box just across the road from the mine office and the new store. (This was rather near where The Stairs to Nowhere remain today from the YMCA clubhouse.) It was almost dusk when John Jereme came staggering by. Miner Joe Polaski saw Jereme twice after dinner and testified later that Jereme “was very drunk” and still had whiskey and beer with him. Polaski himself was on the way to the store to get a can of tobacco. Pvt. Obley asked Polaski if he had a pass – yes, he had. Obley told Polaski that his friend was drunk. Polaski walked about 25 yards down the road to see if Jereme could walk home. Jereme was lying on the bank by the side of the road, face down, in the snow and ice. “I struck a match,” Polaski testified, “and looked into his face. Obley came down and asked who it was.” Obley tried to wake the drunk but could not. Obley, with his rifle in his left hand, turned Jereme over on his back with his right hand and used the rifle to jab him in the stomach. “John, better get up and go home.” Jereme stirred enough to answer, “I be good” and “I am going home.” He reached up and grabbed the rifle by the barrel. The rifle went off – shooting Jereme in the mid-section, the bullet passing through the body and lodging in the ground. Polaski ran to the mine office for help, but he was so excited no one could understand him. Obley came and asked for a doctor. Polaski took out the stretcher and helped the soldiers bring Jereme into the office back room. He died there about 15 minutes later. Herbert Toogood, a civilian working as a mine clerk in the office, called Dr. A. L. Trout and also Charles A. Kaiser, mine superintendent. Kaiser also had seen John Jereme drunk and had told him to end his spree so he could work tomorrow. Soldiers took Pvt. Obley to the guard house. Four days later a military court martial was held for Obley. Lt. Charles J. Pierce, in command of the National Guard detachment at Cameron, testified that the sentries had instructions to always keep their guns loaded. No one seemed to know how the rifle would fire in that situation with Jereme, but this particular rifle was new to Obley. Major P.P. Lester, medical officer and resident of Walsenburg, did the post-mortem at Furphy Undertaking rooms, Walsenburg. The fatal shot had cut an aorta, leading to hemorrhaging and a quick death. Obley, 23, had been a ranch hand near Fort Collins, but earlier had served in the U.S. Army for three years. He had been in the National Guard for two months. The military court found Obley not guilty of murder and not guilty on all other charges. Information is from the court martial record in the Stephen H. Hart Library, History Colorado, Denver. The photo is of the Cameron bandstand (left) and the YMCA (today only The Steps to Nowhere remain.) Photo courtesy of the Bessemer Historical Society and the Steelworks Museum.