A narrative exploration of one of the most violent labor showdowns in American history, in which more than 75 people were killed over seven months. The book touches on such legendary figures as John D. Rockefeller (Jr. and Sr.) and Mother Jones as it explores the guerrilla war the erupted amid the collapse of political structures and that took the intervention of the U.S. Army to bring to an end
Scott gives an overview of the book:
Hot summer winds whisk across the Colorado prairie with a distracting persistence, kicking up small dust devils and swirls of debris that whisper eastward over Interstate 25 and on into the vast flatness of the Great Plains. A freeway sign at Exit 27 says this spot is the town of Ludlow, but there’s no town here, just a chain-link fence with an unlocked gate surrounding a white-walled meeting hall, a gazebo with picnic tables, and a monument that looks like an oversized Victorian grave marker. A half-dozen isolated ranchettes, some with metal-bar horse corrals, dot the sweeping countryside, giving the place a forgotten feel, like a Grange Hall amid farms gone fallow. A rusty railroad runs north and south like a seam stitching the prairie to the Sangre de Cristo—Blood of Christ—Mountains. In one direction lies Colorado Springs and, farther north, Denver; the opposite direction takes you to Trinidad and on across the old Santa Fe Trail into New Mexico. On the west side of the tracks a washboard road curls into a canyon leading to the ghost towns of Hastings and Delagua. A little to the south another dirt road trails into another canyon to more ghost towns—Berwind and Tabasco, reduced now to tan clusters of crumbling stones along a gurgling creek, the only sound save for the occasional chirp of a bird or the rustle of dry leaves and grasses. Coal once was king here, but emptiness now reigns, and it doesn’t take much of a romantic flight to hear the footfalls of the dead.
Less than a century ago this quiet and mostly empty stretch of southern Colorado was the scene of great strife, and great agony. More than seventy-five people died, most of them shot to death in the first eight months of a coal strike that lasted fifteen months and that the miners lost. The United States had endured violent labor battles before, and there have been many since. None, though, reached the level of pitched warfare that erupted here in Colorado’s southern coalfields, where East Coast money and power collided with immigrant poverty and need. The nadir came on a sunny Monday morning in April 1914, when a detachment from the Colorado National Guard engaged in a ten-hour gun battle with union men at Ludlow, where a tent colony housing some eleven hundred strikers and their families had been erected. Seven men and a boy were killed in the shooting, at least three of the men—all striking coal miners, one a leader—apparently executed in cold blood by Colorado National Guardsmen who had taken them captive. As the sun set, the militia moved into the camp itself and an inferno lit up the darkening sky, reducing most of the makeshift village to ashes. It wasn’t until the next morning that the bodies of two mothers and eleven children were discovered where they had taken shelter in a dirt bunker beneath one of the tents. The raging fire had sucked the oxygen from the air below, suffocating the families as they hid from the gun battle.
The deaths of the women and children quickly became known as the Ludlow Massacre, and the backlash was vicious and bloody. Over the next ten days striking miners and their supporters poured out their rage in attacks across the coalfields in “an armed and open rebellion against the authority of the state as represented by the militia. This rebellion constituted perhaps one of the nearest approaches to civil war and revolution ever known in this country in connection with an industrial conflict.” And it was a guerrilla war that stretched along more than two hundred miles of the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies. Union men—mostly Greek and Italian immigrants—swept in from the hillsides and burned mine works to the ground before disappearing. Guards and strikebreakers were killed. At one point several dozen mine officials, guards, scabs, and their families were holed up in a mine shaft, the entry partially sealed by dynamite blasts, with rampaging miners ready to kill if they came out. It took the U.S. Army to bring the bloodshed to an end.
A freelance journalist and critic (former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times), Scott Martelle is the author of Detroit: A Biography, published in April 2012 by Chicago Review Press.
. He also is the author of The Fear Within: Spies, Commies...
If Martelle's book, "Blood Passion," refuses to give a free pass to the Ludlow strikers, it is by no means a shill for management. The company hired hundreds of unsavory men who baited the strikers,...