History of the Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913-1914

In the early 1900’s century, the Colorado Rocky Mountains were home to a large number of coal mines and coal mining communities. These mines and mining camps were scattered along the range in predominantly rural environments isolated from the industrial centers that were the primary purchasers of this valuable commodity. The conditions in Colorado coal mines were very unsafe and the wages for the workers were extremely low in comparison with the dangers faced on a daily basis.

The union, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), took interest in the conditions of Colorado coal miners and in September 1913 met to discuss a strike against the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I). The strikers’ demands included:

 (1) Recognition of the UMWA as the miners’ representative

(2) A 10 percent increase in the tonnage rate for miners and raises in the day wage scale    

(3) An eight-hour day for all classes of labor in and around the coal mines and at the coke ovens

(4) Pay for all dead work

(5) The election of check weighmen in all mines, without interference by company officials

(6) The right to trade in any store and the right to choose their own boarding place and doctor

(7) The enforcement of the Colorado mining laws and the abolition of the notorious and criminal guard system.

When the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) refused to concede to these demands, the United Mine Workers of America called the strike on September 23, 1913.

After the declaration of the strike, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company evicted striking miners and their families from company owned towns, such as the coal company town Berwind.  The strikers were forced to leave their company homes and move into tent colonies set up by the UMWA.  The UMWA established a total of eight tent colonies along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains on land leased for this purpose.  The Ludlow Tent Colony, the largest of the tent colonies, hosted 1,200 people and was the most noted in terms of the violence of the strike.               

The strikers and their families established schools, churches, and a variety of other services in the tent colonies to meet the needs of daily life while they awaited the resolution of the strike.  Violent conflicts between the strikers and the Colorado National Guard were frequent, causing the tension between these two entities to escalate.  Almost eight months after the UMWA and the strikers established the Ludlow Tent Colony, the Ludlow Massacre occurred on April 20, 1913. 

After a day filled with gunfire, exchanged between the striking miners and the Colorado National Guard, the colony was set on fire leaving dead twenty five people. The strikers and the UMWA rebuilt the Ludlow Tent Colony, and the strike continued until the UMWA called it off in December 1914 due to lack of funds. The Ludlow Massacre brought national attention to the conditions of the coal miners, as well as set the stage for future archaeological investigations of the remains of the people living there. 

For a timeline of the events of the Colorado Coalfield Strike, click here:

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