Colorado Coalfield War

Southern Colorado Coalfield War
Part of the Coal Wars

Colorado National Guard soldiers during the Ludlow Massacre in 1914.
DateSeptember 23, 1913 - December 1914
LocationColorado, United States
Colorado National Guard
Colorado Fuel and Iron
Colorado Coal miners
Casualties and losses
69 - 199

The Colorado Coalfield War was a major labor uprising in Colorado between 1913 and 1914. Technically, this war is the Southern Colorado Coalfield War, as there were major Northern Colorado Coal strikes in 1912.[1] It culminated in the Ludlow Strike, which ended as a massacre when the Colorado National Guard attacked a tent city occupied by about 1,200 striking coal miners and their families. In retaliation, the miners armed themselves and attacked dozens of mines over the next ten days, destroying property and engaging in several skirmishes with the National Guard along a forty-mile (64 km) front from Trinidad to Walsenburg. Between sixty-nine and one-hundred-ninety-nine people died during the strike. It was described as the "deadliest strike in the history of the United States".[2][3]


The Coal Field Strikes of 1913-1914 began when the United Mine Workers of America organized the southern coal field workers. The workers put forward demands to Colorado Fuel and Iron, which were not met.[4] These demands mainly asked for Colorado Fuel and Iron to simply follow the regulations on mining and for an eight-hour work day.[5] The legal and political systems of the area were controlled by the mine owners, so using the established government was not an option for the miners. By September 23 the strike was in full swing and the ten thousand miners and their families had been evicted from company housing and moved into union supplied tents.[6]

Colorado Fuel and Iron's treatment of its workers had degraded since its sale to John D. Rockefeller Jr. The company already had a history of buying political figures, but Lamont Montgomery Bowers, who was hired to “untangle the mess” caused additional issues. He cut the Sociological Department and embraced the idea of a hands off approach to employee management. This caused rampant dishonesty in middle management, to the detriment of the mine workers [7]

Violence Early in the Strike

Before the Colorado National Guard was called onto the scene in September 1913 there was violence between strikers and the Sheriffs of the area. Most Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs were affiliated with Colorado Fuel and Iron and acted as the initial force against the strikers. Their numbers were bolstered as the strike began with immediate recruiting of new sheriffs, including Karl Linderfelt.

As was common in mine strikes of the time, the company also brought in strikebreakers and Baldwin-Felts detectives. These detectives were experienced in West Virginia strikes in which they were violent. For example, they had in their possession an armored car with a machine gun (“The Death Special") and conducted random beatings and murders.

Events Before the Ludlow Massacre

The largest of the strike colonies was Ludlow. It had around 200 tents with 1,200 miners. The escalating situation caused the governor to call in the Colorado National Guard by October 1913, but after six months all but two companies were withdrawn for financial reasons. However, during this six-month period, guardsmen were allowed to leave if their primary livelihood was threatened and many of the guardsmen were “new recruits” or mine guards in National Guard uniforms.[8] Due to the influence of the Colorado National Guard and Greek Union leaders, such as Louis Tikas (in the case of Ludlow Colony), the strike had become relatively peaceful for the time being. This was likely an active effort on the part of the United Mine Workers of America in order to keep the strikers in public favor.

On March 10, 1914 the body of a strikebreaker was found at the Forbes tent colony. In retaliation, the Colorado National Guard destroyed the colony and burned it to the ground while most inhabitants were away. On the morning of April 20, gunfire broke out in Ludlow beginning the massacre.[9]

Violence After the Ludlow Massacre

The news of the massacre got out to other tent colonies, which began an all-out war for ten days. This is the period that is generally referred to as the "Colorado Coalfield War." At this point the union made an official call to arms instead of their previous policy of suppressing violence on the part of the strikers. This caused widespread violence across the Southern Colorado Coalfield area, unlike the small pockets of violence that occurred in canyons in the early days of the strike. Only after federal troop intervention to disarm both sides did the war end. The strike continued until the union ran out of funds in December 1914.


  1. Papanikolas, Zeese. Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1982. bib., illus., index, 331 p.
  5. “Strike Near an End is Well-Founded Report Emanating from Denver.” The Chronicle [Trinidad, CO] 24 Nov. 1913: 5. Print.
  6. Martelle, Scott. Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West. New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 2007. bib., illus., index, 266 p.
  7. Martelle, Scott. Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West. New Brunswick, New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 2007. bib., illus., index, 266 p.
  9. Friar, Victor M. “C.-N. Man Tells Own Story of Ludlow Battle—Was Eye Witness.” The Chronicle [Trinidad, CO] 21 April. 1914: 1, 3. Print.

Further reading

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