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A Mexican View on Ludlow and the Desecration

Original version, in Spanish is at:

Published in La Cronica de Hoy, 30 June, 2003

by Raúl Trejo Delarbre
Professor of Sociology
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico

Ludlow, 1914

This morning, like every last Sunday of June—and each year for the past 89 years—there will be a ceremony in Ludlow, Colorado. It will commemorate the massacre that occurred in April of 1914 when a number of miners and their families, among them some Mexicans, were murdered in a tent colony where they lived during a strike for better working conditions.

This time the ceremony in Ludlow will be different. Besides the remembrance of the strike, considered among the most important in the history of trade unionism in the United States, the homage to the martyrs of 1914 will be tinged with an additional dose of transgression and discomfort. Several weeks ago the monument built in Ludlow to honor those victims was attacked by vandals who beheaded its two main figures—a miner and a woman holding a child.

The destruction of the Ludlow statues can be understood as part of the climate of intolerance and xenophobia that has permeated significant sectors of American society. The killing that put an end to the strike in Ludlow has always been recognized not only as an example of aggression against union rights but also as an example of the solidarity of workers of different national origins fighting together for the same demands.

Rockefeller and Cananea.

Ludlow is 3 hours south of Denver and some 20 kilometers north of Trinidad, in the state of Colorado. The strike of the coal miners that took place there nine decades ago against the company Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I) is recalled for valiant workers and the cruelty of those who repressed them.

CF&I, property of John D. Rockefeller, paid the miners less than a dollar and seventy cents a day. They were required to spend their earnings in the company store. The company also controlled the political and social life in the region by operating schools, libraries, religious services and security forces for employees of that new york magnate that accumulated his fortune through the exploitation of petroleum. Conditions were so bad that almost 10 thousand industrious southern miners of Colorado decided to support the strike called by the United Mine Workers of America in September of 1913. Many of these industrial workers were Greeks, Italians, Slavs and Mexicans.

In contrast to the compulsory hegemony exercised by the interests and the institutions of Rockefeller, the strikers insisted on a different life in that region of Colorado. The miners demanded recognition of their union and the right to appoint union representatives without interference from the company, a salary increase of 10%, the 8 hour day, right to buy in the stores of their preference, the right to rent their own dwellings, and access to doctors of their choice. Also they demanded an end to the company's right to employ private guards. These demand were not different from demands that were made by various groups of industrial miners in Mexico during that period.

Just a few years before, in 1906, very similar conditions occurred during the strike by the miners of Cananea, in Sonora, Mexico. Two hundred American Rangers participated in putting down the Cananea strike. That was one of many similarities between the union fights in Mexico and the United States in that period.

Subterranean refuge.

The mobilization of the miners of Ludlow caused Rockefeller concern; he did not want this example of rebellion to extend to other of his businesses. At the insistance of the powerful Colorado Fuel and Iron the governor of Colorado, Elias Ammons, sent the National Guard to assure that the mines would continue functioning. The strikers and their families set up a camp in the nearby hills and there they maintained their protest.

The militia, supported by hired gunmen and strike breakers from a detective agency in Virginia, endeavored daily to cause problems for the miners and their families. Frequently they fired shots into the tent colonies, and at night they trained powerful searchlights on the camps. The miners, surrounded by their aggressors, resisted those conditions for seven months. Seeking protection from frequent gunshots, they dug refuges under several of the tents. They believed that their wives and children would thus be protected from stray bullets. The morning of April 20, 1914 the bullets to stopped being sporadic. Members of the militia of Colorado, guards of the Company and gunmen of the detective agency shot at the camp with machine guns and rifles. The tents of the miners were set afire. To insure the strike would be broken, kerosene was used so that the fire might spread quickly.

Bullets killed three strikers outright.

But it was not the shots but fear of the gunfire that caused the greater number of victims. A dozen women and children—there are several versions about the exact number—died from suffocation and fire in one of the subterranean hideouts. Three strikers, among them Louis Tikas, one of the leaders of the strike, were apprehended and later murdered by members of the Guard. Another version, that mentions further on, indicated that Tikas fell dead when he tried to help several families escape from the tents in flames.

Story of Mother Jones.

The cruelty of that episode and the suffering of the miners were described later by Mary Harris, known as Mother Jones, one of the most important persons of the American social movements in that period. In 1914 Jones, who had been dedicated to promoting the union organization among the industrial miners, was 77 years old and visited Ludlow after the killing. In her autobiography, published in 1925, she wrote this about April 20:
" Early in the morning soldiers approached the colony with a demand from headquarters that Louis Tikas, leader of the Greeks, surrender two Italians. Tikas demanded a warrant for their arrest. They had none. Tikas refused to surrender them. The soldiers returned to quarters. A signal bomb was fired. Then another. Immediately the machine guns began spraying the flimsy tent colony, the only home the wretched families of the miners had, riddling it with bullets. Like iron rain, bullets' upon men, women and children.
" The women and children fled to the hills. Others tarried. The men defended their home with their guns. All day long the firing continued. Men fell dead, their faces to the ground. Women dropped. The little Snyder boy was shot through the head, trying to save his kitten. A child carrying water to his dying mother was killed.
" By five o'clock in the afternoon, the miners had no more food, nor water, nor ammunition. They had to retreat with their wives and little ones into the hills. Louis Tikas was riddled with shots while he tried to lead women and children to safety. They perished with him.
" Night came. A raw wind blew down the canyons where men, women and children shivered and wept. Then a blaze lighted the sky. The soldiers, drunk with blood and with the liquor they had looted from the saloon, set fire to the tents of Ludlow with oil-soaked torches. The tents, all the poor furnishings, the clothes and bedding of the miners' families burned. Coils of barbed wire were stuffed into the well, the miners' only water supply.
" After it was over, the wretched people crept back to bury their dead. In a dugout under a burned tent, the charred bodies of eleven little children and two women were found-unrecognizable. Everything lay in ruins. The wires of bed springs writhed on the ground as if they, too, had tried to flee the horror. Oil and fire and guns had robbed men and women and children of their homes and slaughtered tiny babies and defenseless women. Done by order of Lieutenant Linderfelt, a savage, brutal executor of the will of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company."

A number of Mexican dead.

Perhaps more moving than the intense prose of Mother Jones was the pointed description that The Rocky Mountain News, a newspaper from that region offered, April 23, 1914 in a report where read: "Among the dead were the family of Charles Costa, union organizer at Aguilar, and the family of Mrs. Chavez, a Mexican woman, comprising herself, two girls of 4 and 6 years old, a baby 6 months old, and a nephew, 9.
The family of Costa comprised himself, his wife and two children, Lucy, 4, and Orafrio, 6.
Under the mass of charred bedding at the bottom of the safety pit, from which all of the bodies were recovered, were also those of two children of Mrs. Marcellino Pedrigon—Clardillo, 4, and Rogerio 6, and the three Petrucci children, Lucy, 3; Joe, 4, and Frank, 6 months.
The children were clasped in each other's arms, and over them lay the bodies of the two women, both badly charred. Both of the women were to be mothers soon."

Bloody confrontation.

The miners that witnessed the murder of their relatives and companions tried to take revenge. For 10 days groups of armed miners set fire to several mines and attacked camps of strike breakers. Some authors indicate that in the neighboring state of Wyoming, 5 thousand armed miners were prepared to go to Colorado to avenge the murder of the women and the children of Ludlow. The intervention of the Army, ordered directly by president Woodrow Wilson, prevented that escalation of violence. Decades later the former senator George McGovern, who in 1972 wrote a book about the massacre in Ludlow, would say that the episode was "the bloodiest confrontation in the history of American trade unionism".

"Worse than Huerta and Villa".

The amazement over the cruelty of the events in Ludlow has been evident ever since. The Rocky Mountain News, in an editorial entitled "The killing of the innocent" published April 22, 1914, compared the aggression against the miners with the brutality that already in those years distinguished the Mexican Revolution: "The details of the massacre are horrible. Mexico offers no barbarity so base as that of the murder of defenceless women and children by the mine guards in soldiers' clothing. Like whitened sepulchres we boast of American civilization with this infamous thing at our very doors. Huerta murdered Madero, but even Huerta did not shoot an innocent little boy seeking water for his mother who lay ill. Villa is a barbarian, but in his maddest excess Villa has not turned machine guns on imprisoned women and children.. Where is the outlaw so far beyond the pale of humankind as to burn the tent over the heads of nursing mothers and helpless little babies?
" Out of this infamy one thing stands clear. Machine guns did the murder. The machine guns were in the hands of mine guards, most of whom were also members of the state militia. It was private war, with the wealth of the richest man in the world behind the mine guards."

Intolerance yesterday and today.

In 1917 the United Mine Workers of America bought 40 acres of land where the Ludlow camp had been. The UMWA built a monument that recalls the strike and the killing of 1914. It is inscribed, "in memory of the men, women and children who lost their lives in freedom's cause in Ludlow, Colorado, April 20, 1914. Erected by the United Mine Workers of America". At the foot of the monument are the granite figures of a miner and of a mother with a child and, on the other side, a plate with the names of 18 victims: "Louis Tikas, 30 years; James Fyler, 43; John Bartolotti, 45; Charlie Costa, 31; Fedelina Costa, 27; Onafrio Costa, 6; Lucy Costa, 4; Frank Rubino, 23; Patria Valdez, 37; Eulala Valdez, 8; Mary Valdez, 7; Elvira Valdez, 3 months; Joe Petrucci,1/2; Lucy Petrucci, 2 1/2; Frank Petrucci, 6 months; William Snyder Jr., 11; Rodgerlo Pedregone, 6 and Cloriva Pedregone, 4". (The names do not always correspond to the ones from other sources of the period, perhaps because in some cases they used the paternal or maternal surname of the victims).

The monument's partial destruction last May 7 has caused anxiety and indignation. In addition to the massacre 89 years ago, which included the death of several Mexicans, the vandalism against the memorial to that sacrifice should cause worry also in Mexico.

These are not easy times for the exercise of liberties in the United States. The aggression against the monument that immortalizes the workers of various countries and their murdered relatives who fought for union rights, is part of the intolerance that affects too many migrants in the United States today. It is important that the workers of Ludlow also be remembered in the Mexican unions as a stand against intolerance, and in demand of workers' rights; such an opportunity will present itself in 2004, on the 90th anniversary of the massacre.

(Dr. Trejo Delarbre also expressed his appreciation for the suggestions of Doctor John Womack for the elaboration of this text. Almost all the information that appears here was obtained in various places on the Internet, among many others "Rebel Graphics" by Richard Myers: ; the autobiography of Mother Jones at and the collection of photographs "Colorado Coal Field War Project" .)

Translation assistance from: Tina Braxton, Dr. Trejo Delarbre, Wendee Mitran




A Mexican view on Ludlow and the Desecration



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