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Quite the World, Isn't It?

On a dark anniversary, and a spur to collective memory

Happy Ludlow Massacre day! What, you didn’t know? Well, you’re not alone, but with luck that will be changing.

Today, April 20, is the 99th anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre, which of course means next year is the centennial. I’m pleased to see the state of Colorado has created a commission to oversee plans to commemorate the event, and I wish them luck and a big budget. And with my friend Jonathan Rees, a Colorado State Pueblo history professor, on board, I’m confident they’ll get the history right. Which is more than I can say for my colleagues in journalism: Nearly every story about Ludlow seems to contain an error or two. I guess that’s understandable, though, given how much misinformation is floating around out there.

Readers of my Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West know that the story of Ludlow involves much more than that single day. Between August 1913 and May 1914 at least 75 people were killed in what became running guerrilla warfare between striking coal miners and the Colorado National Guard, by then little more than a public-private military operation focused on keeping the coal mines operating. The strike, organized by the United Mine Workers of America, involved a dozen or so coal operators, though the biggest by far was the Colorado Fuel & Iron Co., which was owned by the Rockefellers. The Ludlow Massacre itself centered on a strikers' tent colony, pictured on the book cover. After a day-long gun battle, Guardsmen torched the tent village and inadvertently killed 11 children and two mothers, who were hiding in a pit hidden below a wooden tent floor.

The massacre gave rise to a convulsion of retaliatory violence, and at its peak striking coal miners held military control of most of the Front Range from New Mexico north nearly to Denver. They didn’t lay down their arms until President Wilson sent in the United States Army as a peacekeeping force, dislodging the National Guard from the zone. And it need be noted that when the National Guard held the upper hand, there was no talk of federal intervention. Only as the miners were winning were the feds spurred to act, another instance of the federal government looking out for the interests of corporations over people.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Colorado comes up with to commemorate – and draw fresh attention to – this riveting moment in American history. And I hope to play a role in some of the events. I’ll keep you posted here and on Facebook.
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