Today is the 100th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre in the coal mining region of Colorado. In the fall of 1913, 11,000 miners went on strike, protesting dangerous work conditions and low pay. Evicted from company housing, they set up a tent city for months. The mining company, CF&I, responded by patrolling with an armored car with a mounted machine gun, shooting at the strikers occasionally. There was violence on both sides, with company officials and strikebreakers also fired upon. The National Guard was called in, to the relief of the strikers. But instead of providing protection from violence, the Guard was used to escort scabs into the mines and confiscate striker’s firearms. Matters came to a head on April 20, 1914.
No one knows who fired the first shot. Some soldiers would later testify that the strikers’ bullets were already whizzing at them when an officer set off the three explosive charges that had been prepared as a signal for battle. Others would recall hearing the explosions before any shots. Witnesses on both sides remember a lone figure, Louis Tikas, waving a white handkerchief and running frantically back to the tents, trying to head off disaster.
It was already too late. The militia opened fire on the men in the railroad cut. Linderfelt arrived, and the machine gun was installed on a slight rise overlooking the colony. As the day wore on, shots issued from the tents, and the militia returned fire. Officers would later testify that they’d seen women fleeing earlier and didn’t know there were any noncombatants left in the colony, but it seems hard to believe that the soldiers weren’t aware that the flimsy tents contained scores of the defenseless and unarmed.
As troops tried to close in on the shooters in the railroad cut, Private Alfred Martin was shot in the neck — the first and only militia fatality of the day. A passerby, trying to negotiate the road between the colony and the militia, was killed instantly. Eleven-year-old Frank Snyder, who’d left the protection of a cellar during a lull in the shooting, caught a bullet in the head as he sat in his family’s tent.
That night, the tent city burned, and two women and eleven children were found dead of suffocation in a cellar. In response, the miners went on a ten-day rampage, dynamiting mine facilities and shooting. Six strikers and 24 mine employees were killed during this period before President Wilson sent in federal troops. Somewhere between 69 and 199 people were killed over the course of the strike.