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Strikers, Ludlow Tent Colony, 1914.


The early 1900s were a time of great social upheaval in our country. During the years leading up to the Ludlow Massacre, miners all around the country looking to make a better life for themselves and their families set up picket lines, organized massive parades and rallies, and even took up arms. Some died.

It's always worth considering why history like this was never taught in school before. Could it be that the powers that be would rather keep this kind of thing under wraps?


Here is Woody Guthrie's tribute to the good people who fought in the battles of Ludlow to help make a better tomorrow for everyone — you can just start the video and then start reading, if you wish:

Coal Country, Colorado

100 years ago, the Rocky Mountains were the source of a vast supply of coal. At its peak, it employed 16,000 people and accounted for 10% of all employed workers in the state of Colorado. It was dangerous work; in just 1913 alone, the mines claimed the lives of over 100 people. There were laws in place that were supposed to protect workers, but largely, management ignored those, which led to Colorado having double the on-the-job fatality rate of any other mining state.

It was a time of company towns, when all real estate, housing, doctors, and grocery stores were owned by the coal companies themselves, which led to the suppression of dissent as well as overinflated prices and an extreme dependence on the coal companies for everything that made life livable. In some of these, workers couldn't even leave town, and armed guards made sure they didn't. Also, if any miner or his family began to air grievances, they might find themselves evicted and run out of town.

strike, economy, money works, Union parade

Strikers, Ludlow Tent Colony, 1914.

Union Parade, Trinidad, Colorado, 1913. Images via Colorado Coal Field War Project/University of Denver Library.

The Union

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had been organizing for many years in the area, and this particular company, Colorado Fuel and Iron, was one of the biggest in the West — and was owned by the Rockefeller family, notoriously anti-union.

Put all this together, and it was a powder keg.

The Ludlow colony, 1914 massacre, Colorado Coal Field War

The Ludlow Colony before the massacre, 1914.

Photo from Youtube video.

tent colony, mining, miners

Strikers, Ludlow Tent Colony, 1914.

Photo from Youtube video.

families, National Guard, unions

Strikers, Ludlow Tent Colony, 1914.

Photo from Youtube video.

Strike!

When a strike was called in 1913, the coal company evicted all the miners from their company homes, and they moved to tent villages on leased land set up by the UMWA. Company-hired guards (aka “goons") and members of the Colorado National Guard would drive by the tent villages and randomly shoot into the tents, leading the strikers to dig holes under their tents and the wooden beams that supported them.

Why did the union call for a strike? The workers wanted:

  1. (equivalent to a 10% wage increase),
  2. Enforcement of the eight-hour work day,
  3. Payment for "dead work" that usually wasn't compensated, such as laying coal car tracks,
  4. The job known as “Weight-checkmen" to be elected by workers. This was to keep company weightmen honest so the workers got paid for their true work,
  5. The right to use any store rather than just the company store, and choose their own houses and doctors,
  6. Strict enforcement of Colorado's laws, especially mine safety laws.
calvary, Trinidad, striking women

Cavalry charge on striker women in nearby Trinidad.

Photo from Youtube video.

UMWA, Rocky Mountains, President Woodrow Wilson

Militia and private detectives or mine guards, Ludlow.

Photo from Youtube video.

The Powder Keg Explodes

The attacks from the goons continued, as did the battles between scabs (strikebreakers) and the miners. It culminated in an attack on April 20, 1914, by company goons and Colorado National Guard soldiers who kidnapped and later killed the main camp leader and some of his fellow miners, and then set the tents in the main camp ablaze with kerosene. As they were engulfed, people inside the tents tried to flee the inferno; many were shot down as they tried to escape. Some also died in the dugouts below the burning tents. In the first photograph below, two women and 11 children died in the fire directly above them. A day that started off with Orthodox Easter celebrations for the families became known as the Ludlow Massacre.

Woody Guthrie, child labor laws, worker rights

The "Death Pit."

Photo from Youtube video.

colony, coal country, University of Denver

Rear view of ruins of tent colony.

Photo from Youtube video.

funeral procession, Louis Tikas, Greek strikers

Funeral procession for Louis Tikas, leader of Greek strikers.

Photo from Youtube video.

The 10-Day War

The miners, fresh off the murders of their friends and family members, tried to get President Woodrow Wilson to put a stop to the madness, but he deferred to the governor, who was pretty much in the pocket of the mine companies.

So the miners and those at other tent colonies quickly armed themselves, knowing that many other confrontations were coming. And they went to the mines that were being operated by scabs and forced many of them to close, sometimes setting fire to the buildings. After 10 days of pitched battle and at least 50 dead, the president finally sent in the National Guard, which promptly disarmed both sides.

Union Victory

While close to 200 people died over the course of about 18 months before and after the battles at Ludlow and the union ultimately lost the election, the Ludlow Massacre brought a congressional investigation that led to the beginnings of child-labor laws and an eight-hour workday, among other things.

But it also brought national attention to the plight of these miners and their families, and it showed the resilience and strength that union people could display when they remained united, even in the face of extreme corporate and government violence. Historian Howard Zinn called it "the culminating act of perhaps the most violent struggle between corporate power and laboring men in American history." And the primary mine owner, John D. Rockefeller Jr., received a lot of negative attention and blame for what happened here.

monuments, April 20, 1914, coal miners, revolution

The UMWA is still a solid union today, and there is a monument in Colorado to those who died in the Ludlow Massacre.

Image by Mark Walker/Wikimedia Commons.

This article was written by Brandon Weber and originally appeared on 08.14.14


On May 13, 1862, Robert Smalls donned a straw hat, hoisted a Confederate flag over a warship, and piloted himself to freedom.

Yeah, seriously.

At 22, Robert Smalls was working in servitude for the Confederacy. Desperate for deliverance, the young man planned an extraordinary and daring escape, and when an opportunity presented itself, he risked life and limb to free himself and 16 others.


This is the story of Smalls, and 10 reasons he's still the stuff of legends over 150 years later.

A drawing of Robert Smalls. Image via Harper's Weekly/Wikimedia Commons.

1. He planned the escape for more than a year.

Born a slave in Beaufort, South Carolina, Smalls was brought to Charleston at 12 to be rented out for work. There, he met his wife, Hannah, who was a slave for a local family. While the family allowed Robert, Hannah, and their children to live together, the agreement wasn't binding. Robert wanted to purchase his family outright but didn't have the $800 the deal required.

Running was their best option. He was a skilled sailor, so an escape on the water was Smalls' perfect plan. He told his family to wait patiently for just the right moment.

The house in Beaufort, South Carolina, where Smalls was born. Photo via Historic American Buildings Survey/Wikimedia Commons.

2. Just before dawn on May 13, 1862, Smalls took his chance.

Smalls worked on the CSS Planter, a steamer warship. The Planter was docked for the night in the Charleston Harbor. The vessel was set to go back out the next day, so it was filled with supplies and weapons. The ship's captain, Capt. C.J. Relyea, and its white crew members decided to go to shore for the night, leaving Smalls and a few other slaves behind.

This was his window of opportunity.

GIF via "Drunk History"/Comedy Central.

3. But first, he had to make a pit stop.

To avoid suspicion, Smalls put on Relyea's hat and ordered the crew to raise the Confederate flag. The boat made a quick stop at a nearby wharf to pick up his family along with a few other women and children seeking their freedom.

Image via PBS/YouTube.

4. Not everyone could pull off piloting the large vessel, but this wasn't Smalls' first rodeo ... er, boat show.

Smalls had worked on the Planter for years and had the skills of a captain, but his skin color had kept him from earning the title. Instead, he was the boat's wheelman but spent hours each day watching Relyea at work, time that would prove especially useful.

Image via PBS/YouTube.

5. Piloting the ship wasn't the only challenge; Smalls and the crew had to pass four Confederate check points.

Sweating yet?

Wearing Relyea's hat and jacket, Smalls strolled along the ship's deck, mimicking the captain's gait. And from watching in the past, he knew just the signals he'd have to give to pass each fort.


GIF via "Drunk History"/Comedy Central.

6. The fourth checkpoint, Fort Sumter, was the grandaddy of checkpoints. And that grandaddy had guns. Lots and lots of guns.

The other slaves on board told Smalls not to get so close; after all, the sun was coming up. But pivoting, even a little, would surely arouse suspicion. Smalls held fast and gave the signal.

A few seconds later, the Confederate soldiers at the fort signaled back: They were free to pass.

GIF via PBS/YouTube.

7. Though he made it past Fort Sumter, Smalls wasn't out of danger.

After all, he was still in a Confederate ship quickly headed toward Union waters.


GIF via "Ghost."

With help from his wife, Smalls raised a white bed sheet for a flag. Luckily, Union soldiers spotted it in time and boarded the ship.

He saluted and delivered the Planter (and its cache of Confederate weapons) to the Union troops.

Smalls and his 16 passengers were finally free.

8. For his cunning and bravery, Congress passed a bill authorizing the Navy to pay for the CSS Planter and awarded Smalls some much-needed funds.

Smalls received $1,500 for the ship and supplies and was able to start life as a free man and a hero.

Image via PBS/YouTube.

9. Smalls went on to help enlist thousands of black soldiers for the Union.

Thanks to his newfound celebrity, Smalls met with Abraham Lincoln to encourage the president to allow black soldiers to enlist for the Union and recruited 5,000 men for the effort. He also served, piloting the Planter during several intense military actions, and became one of the highest-paid black soldiers of the Civil War era.

One of the many black soldiers who fought for the Union, thanks to Smalls' efforts. Image via Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library/Wikimedia Commons.

10. After the war, he went on to serve in the South Carolina state legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.

His was a life full of service and fierce loyalty to the country that liberated him. Smalls was also a champion for the civil rights of African-Americans.

"My race needs no special defense for the past history of them and this country," he once said. "It proves them to be equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life."

Smalls years after his daring escape. Image via Library of Congress.

Smalls did many amazing things in the battle of life.

For his final act, he lived well into his 70s and died in the home where he was born a slave, which he'd purchased from his former owner.

The Robert Smalls House became a National Historic Landmark in 1974.

The Robert Smalls House in Beaufort, South Carolina. Photo by Elisa.Rolle/Wikimedia Commons.

Want more? See an animated reenactment of Smalls' daring escape.

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(Note: If the accents sound a bit odd to you, it's because they're in Alberta, Canada.)