Ludlow; the Battle of Walsenburg

WALSENBURG — For three miles along the hogback on the north edge of Walsenburg, the strikers battled the Colorado National Guard. The battle went on for more than two days. It was just a week after the Ludlow massacre, and the Huerfano County miners felt they had had enough of the militia and enough of the corrupt county law enforcement which supported the coal companies. Perhaps in the back of the miners’ minds, they knew the federal troops might be arriving. This would be the last outburst aimed at the coal companies and their mine guards. The Battle of Walsenburg took place from the Town Lakes (now part of Lathrop State Park) at the west end of the hogback, to the east end on Capitol Hill near the Walsenburg- Pueblo road. The militia, what was left of the Colorado National Guard, was deployed along the hogback also with militia at the two ends and mine guards in the middle. The strikers apparently had the upper part of the ridge. The 75 mine guards took positions on a hill behind the Walsen power plant (still standing today).

They had cannon with a three-inch bore made in a mine machine shop; all night they shot off missiles, likely ball bearings. The shooting was so intense that the town was terrified. Sheriff Jeff Farr was holed up in the courthouse, but could watch some of the action from the windows on the upper floor. Interestingly, the strikers, very loosely organized, were commanded by a former Denver newspaper reporter who had been covering the strike. Don MacGregor, a reporter for the Denver Express, a pro-union paper, took command. However, because of the loose organization and the fact that miners were spread out over so much territory, it was difficult to get word to the miners when a truce was arranged. Some 12 men lay dead by Wednesday evening, April 29, 1914. The most prominent death was that of Walsenburg doctor Major P.P. Lester, a member of the National Guard hospital corp. Lester had entered the state militia several years earlier when Troop A of the guard was located in Walsenburg. Lester was in the field taking care of Lt. Scott’s neck wound when shot, even though the major was wearing a Red Cross armband. He died quickly. The weather was bad, the militia retreated and left the doctor’s body behind. Strikers remained on top of the hogback. The truce took effect that afternoon. During the truce Col. Edward Verdeckberg sent soldiers, accompanied by a striker, to recover the doctor’s body. The coroner later said Lester had been shot twice after his death plus his personal items had been stolen from the body. It was never proved who shot Dr. Lester. During the previous week, on April 21, the day after the Ludlow massacre, the United States army had attacked Vera Cruz, Mexico. The American newspapers for weeks had been featuring the Mexican crisis on the front pages rather the Colorado strike. But the Ludlow massacre changed that. Although the federal government had been reluctant to send federal troops to Southern Colorado, by Thursday, April 30, a troop train arrived with the first 70 federal troops. Miners melted away from the hogback. The militia left for Ludlow. Two days later the remaining National Guard left. The violence was over, but 54 had died in the previous ten days, including the Ludlow victims. Soon some 1,590 U.S. army enlisted men and 61 officers would be in Colorado. But the strike continued for another seven months. Photo is of the area behind the Walsen power plant. The concrete water tank for the Walsen mining camp, center of the hogback fighting, is still on the hill. Information is from the Walsenburg Independent newspaper of May 2, 1914, from the books Out of the Depths by Barron Beshoar, Blood Passion by Scott Martelle, and The Great Coalfield War by George McGovern and Leonard Guttridge.