On This Day In 1914, The Unthinkable Happened In Colorado

It was a quiet, somewhat uneventful day on April 20, 1914. The families of striking coal miners were making do in their temporary homes (a village of tents provided to the miners by the United Mine Workers of America) when complete chaos and bloodshed ensued.

Since 1910, the hardworking Colorado coal miners had been debating whether or not to go on strike. On the one hand, the pay was decent for the times; but on the other, conditions were far from ideal, with Colorado’s mines being considered some of the most dangerous in the country (with death rates well above the national average). In September 1913, fed up with the owner (John D. Rockefeller, Jr.) and mining company’s unwillingness to meet their demands, the workers went on strike, resulting in what would become a dark time in the state of Colorado.

During the following months, the mining company called upon notorious Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, who were known for their less-than-traditional ways of breaking strikes (like shooting at random tents during the night and harassing families with their self-proclaimed “Death Special”; a steel covered car with a machine gun mounted to the top). These acts, of course, only made the strikers more angry, causing them to violently retaliate. Things went from bad to worse, however, when then-Colorado governor Elias M. Ammons called in the Colorado National Guard, who sided with company management instead of remaining neutral.

Finally, on the morning of April 20, 1914, during negotiations between the camp leader and three Colorado guardsman (who claimed they were checking in on the report of a man being held against his will), two companies of militia set up machine guns near the edge of the camp, with the intention of ending the strike one way or another. Gunfire soon erupted, lasting the entire day. By that evening, more than 19 were killed, including four women and 11 children who were hiding in their tents during the rampage. The camp had been destroyed, burned to the ground and looted by both company militia and non-union coal miners.

The coming days lead to what would be known as the Colorado Coalfield War, in which mining union members attacked the guards at other Colorado camps and set fire to company buildings. After ten days and a death toll of over fifty, President Woodrow Wilson sent in Federal Troops, who were able to disarm both parties and arrest several militia members.

Today, when you visit the former Ludlow Tent Colony Site, you will find this stunning stone monument, which was erected by the United Mine Workers of America in 1918 as a way to honor the victims of that senseless day.