Archaeology of the Coalfield Strike

The fire set by the Colorado National Guard completely destroyed the Ludlow Tent Colony on April 20, 1914.  Striking miners had dug cellars underneath the tents for storage, warmth, and protection against gunfire. During the fire, the wooden floors under the tents collapsed, dumping household contents into the cellars below. After the fire, the cellars became trash pits for returning strikers and the Red Cross workers that cleaned up the fire debris.

Beginning in 1997, the Colorado Coalfield War Project conducted seven years of archaeological excavations at the Ludlow Tent Colony Site.  This project included one summer of excavations at the coal company town of Berwind for a comparison of the lifestyles of the miners and their families before and after the strike.  Artifacts recovered from the cellars - remnants of furniture, household utensils, dishes, clothing, children's toys, medicine bottles, canned foods, and personal items like jewelry and religious medallions - provide insights into the daily lives of striking miners and their families.  Information gathered from these types of historical excavations provides a perspective often left out of mainstream history texts and media, and sheds light on the daily struggle of American laborers.

Archaeologists attempt to gain information about people and the lives they led from the material left behind. Archaeological investigations are incredibly systematic and thorough. Records are kept on each object and the location where it was found. Each object displayed in this exhibit was studied, catalogued, and used in conjunction with historical and oral history sources to create a more complete picture of life in the Colorado Coalfield War of 1913-1914.

Object Images

Glass artifacts provide archaeologists with a range of information. Maker’s marks stamped into bottles, the way glass is molded, and decorations in the glass give archaeologists clues to the origins and contents of glass artifacts.


This bottle was found on the surface of the site. Can you guess where it came from and what it contained?

Beer Bottle

This bottle once held beer.

Hamlin’s Wizard Oil Bottle

Recovered from a privy at Ludlow, this bottle contained hair oil.

Bottle Seals

These are shoulder seals from bottles.One seal is embossed “Fratelli Branca, Milano” and the other “Zara, Romano Vidhov.” Fratelli Branca Distillerie is an Italian company, based in Milan, Italy that specializes in liqueurs. The other has not been identified.

Medicine Bottle

This bottle is thought to have once contained medicine.



Decorative Glass Shards

Amethyst glass, or “soliarized glass“ has been tinted purple by chemicals used in its manufacture that react when exposed to sunlight. Since the chemicals used to make this type of glass were only used up until World War I, we know that any glass tinted this color was manufactured before 1914 or 1915.

Ceramic analysis reveals the types and quality of good miners were buying, reflecting household tastes, cultural background, and economic standing. Immigrants establishing themselves in a new country and culture often used consumer items, like ceramics, to advertise their old and new identities.

Whiskey Bottle

This appears to have been a popular brand of whiskey. Archaeologists found fragments of this Scottish-themed brand in several places in the Ludlow Tent Colony as well as at the nearby company coal town of Berwind.

Dinner Plate

Archaeologists found this plate in fragments then reconstructed it for research.

Figurine Fragment

This ceramic foot was once part of figurine or doll.

Reconstructed Jug

This jug reads C.O. Stanley Bo. Co, 309 Commercial Street, Trinidad, Colo. Artifacts that are marked with the place of origin provide archaeologists with information about where people purchased goods.  

Jug Fragment

This jug reads Simgm Sanders & Co. Trinidad, Co.



Many metal items survived the fire at Ludlow. Personal and household metal items provide insight into strikers’ religious and civic affiliations as well as consumer patterns. For example, oral histories collected by archaeologists and historians tell us that drinking coffee was an important social ritual both in the tent colonies and in the coal company towns.

Bed Springs

The union provided beds and metal stoves to the strikers. These springs are all that is left of one of the beds.

Coffee Pot

Archaeologists found many coffee pots and fragments of coffee pots indicating the importance of coffee as both a social ritual and as a beverage.

Wash Basin

Archaeologists found this wash basin in Feature 73, a tent cellar, at the Ludlow Tent Colony Site.



Archaeology Images

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