LUDLOW- Heavy snow brings hardship, quells violence

SO. COLO. COAL FIELDS —Snow began falling in late November and early December 100 years ago, putting a damper on violent strike activity. It meant hardship for nearly everyone, especially those strikers, women and children living in tent colonies, and the Colorado National Guard men also living in tents. The few cars in southern Colorado were either open top or else had poor fitting tops so they filled with snow. Strikers and militia spent hours shoveling paths between tents, and this is when the pits dug under strikers’ tents came into use for food storage to prevent freezing. The militia’s quartermaster for Camp Walsenburg had a contract for someone to haul wood and coal for the camp’s stoves. By Nov. 28, that hauling stopped because of the heavy snow. The quartermaster had the militia wagons haul fuel, but that also stopped because of the snow. A purchase was made from the Trinchara estate at La Veta Pass for 28 and one-third cords delivered by train. Train deliveries were handy because the soldiers’ camp was along the railroad tracks in Walsenburg. When that fuel ran out, coal was purchased from Colorado Fuel and Iron company at Walsen, which was hauled by the militia’s teams until even that had to quit because the roads got too bad. Next coal was bought by a railroad car, which was placed on the tracks adjoining the camp. Coal and wood purchases for six months totaled $1,268.81. CF&I also provided eight mules, three wagons and harnesses. These items were returned the next April. Many officers walled and floored their tents at their own expense. Solid ends were placed in the tents for the hospital and the headquarter tents. In an earlier Ludlow article it was noted that during the harshest weather the militia had only three blankets for each two men. The question is – how did that work? The strikers in their tents suffered even more. Most tents had doors, or screen doors, rather than just flaps. Those doors helped to support the canvas tops when the snow piled up, but when the weight got too much the men cleared it off. Women had their men bring in their old linoleums to cover the cracks in the floorboards. Trains from the north stopped running. One railroad cut north of Walsenburg was filled to the top, making 25 feet of snow to be removed before service could be opened. By Dec. 8 the thermometer registered below zero. In the Huerfano County jail (now the Walsenburg Mining Museum) one prisoner, a striking Italian miner named Michele Guerriero, later said he and others slept on the cement floor of an unheated cell. All the windows were broken, he thought on purpose, to make them suffer. It was Nov. 26, 1913, that the frustrated Governor Elias Ammons tried bringing the two sides together to talk it out. The miners chose one miner from Las Animas County, one from Fremont County and one from Huerfano County – and they could not be union officials. All three had gone on strike Sept. 23, 1913, when the strike order was issued. From Huerfano County Archibald – Archie – Allison was the representative. He had been working at the Walsen/Robinson mines just west of Walsenburg, CF&I mines. Allison was 57 by this time, an experienced coal miner after immigrating from Scotland in 1903. His daughter Hilda described him as “outspoken” in an 1980 interview. She also recalled sitting in the backyard at her Walsenburg home as a youngster watching the McNally camp burn, including the boarding house, during the strike. She blamed the striking miners for the fire. Representing the coal mine operators were President J.C. Osgood of the Victor-American Fuel Company, President J.F. Welborn of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, and Vice President David W. Brown of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company. The governor would be present for the discussions, but not the Secretary of Labor William Wilson, in Denver to assist in settling the strike. Osgood, known as a union buster, spoke on and on against the union, saying it hurt the miners more than it helped them. But the miners, practical men with much mine experience, spoke for 12 hours about reforming working conditions underground. One asked Osgood if he had a blueprint of one of the mines. Osgood couldn’t see a reason to have one. The miner explained the mine was going the wrong way. These miners had pride in their work, and pointed out the bad record of accidents and disasters. Mine managers would not take the steps toward safety. And the three complained about the “dead” work, such as placing props to hold up the roof, and not being paid for it. They mentioned the bribes it took in some mines for a good place, and spoke of being cheated by the weighman. They insisted a union was the only way to solve the problems; unions could educate new immigrants and could give protection to those with grievances. When the conference ended with Allison insisting on the recognition of the union, he was told he would never get it. Information from the quartermaster’s report in the Denver Public Library, from an oral history in the Center for Oral and Public History, California State University, Fullerton as related in the book Blood Passion, The Denver Times newspaper of Nov. 25, 1913; Those Damn Foreigners by Mary Thomas O’Neal, Nov. 26, 1913, issue of the Trinidad Chronicle-News; Dec. 8, 1913, issue of the Pueblo Chieftain, and the book Killing for Coal, by Thomas Andrews. Photo shows how props necessary to support a mine roof were hauled to the mine.