When strikes occur, emotions can get out of control. Sometimes, tensions get so high that they hit the breaking point, and people die. The year was 1914. The date was April 20th. The place was Ludlow, Colorado, and things were about to get out of control. The strike began the previous September, when about 11,000 miners in southern Colorado went on strike against the powerful Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation. They were protesting low pay, dangerous working conditions, and the company’s autocratic dominance over the workers’ lives. The company was owned by the Rockefeller family and Standard Oil. They responded to the strike by immediately evicting the miners and their families from company-owned housing, which were basically shacks. The United Mine Workers stepped in to help. The miners moved with their families to canvas tent colonies scattered around the nearby hills and the strike continued.
The company had depended on the evictions to end the strike, but when that failed, they hired private detectives to attack the tent colonies with rifles and Gatling guns. The miners fought back and several were killed. The company began to realize that the strikers were determined so Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation contacted the governor of Colorado, who authorized the use of the National Guard, provided they agree to pay their wages. The strikers mistakenly thought that the governor has sent the National Guard to protect them, but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. The National Guard was under orders to stop the strike…no matter what the cost might be. The National Guard attacked the strikers on April 20, 1914. Two companies of guardsmen attacked the largest tent colony of strikers near the town of Ludlow, home to about 1,000 men, women, and children. The attack began in the morning with a barrage of bullets fired into the tents. The miners shot back with pistols and rifles.
A strike leader was killed while trying to negotiate a truce, and the strikers, fearing that the attacks might intensify. They tried to placed the women and children in pits they had dug beneath the tents. At sunset, the guardsman moved down from the hills and set the tent colony on fire with torches, shooting at the families as they fled into the hills. It wasn’t until the next morning that they discovered the true carnage of their attack. A telephone linesman discovered a pit under one of the tents filled with the burned remains of 11 children and 2 women. The Ludlow Massacre outraged many Americans, nevertheless, the tragedy did little to help the Colorado miners and their families. Federal troops were sent to assure the end of the strike, and the strike failed to achieve any significant improvement in their wages and working conditions. Sixty-six men, women, and children died during the strike, but not a single militiaman or private detective was charged with any crime. Sometimes, the worst injustice comes from the very people who are supposed to protect us.