I came across this story by accident and while checking it out found very few people alive in the US today who know anything about it. I assume that even fewer people outside of the US ever knew about it in the first place. It also serves my purpose while writing a series on the “Stepping Stones” which tries to explain How, When and Why the Anti-Democracy movement was created and still exists and thrives today. Its all too easy to blame it on the same old “class war”. The people that are waging it are quite specific, they have names, and one or two in particular have had more impact than all the rest put together.

This follows on from the first stepping stone published 2 weeks ago which looked at the US steel industry, but this time its about the US coal and mining industry also facing challenges, both before and after World War 1. Unlike the steel men who secured overtime payment for their work, the Miners were already working 24/7 long before the War started so any overtime was out of the question. Mining coal was a dirty and dangerous occupation and men were killed, injured or became ill on a regular basis.  Coal was in high demand due to the war and Coal mines had sprung up all over the place, many were concentrated in the State of Colorado.

Around the beginning of the 20th century Colorado’s immigrant population had exploded, multiplying 20 times between 1870 and 1910. These immigrants were white and displaced the native population almost completely. The miners were largely American born descendants of British origin plus newly landed folk from all over the world who had to live and work in harsh and dangerous conditions. Early deaths or disablements from accidents and illnesses made for a very short life expectancy, with mines caving in, gas poisoning and the use of primitive explosives often going wrong. If they survived the day’s work they had to go home to squalid conditions, almost as dangerous in terms of sanitation and cleanliness as the mines that had just walked home from.

In 1910, at a town called Starkville in the very south of Colorado, an explosion killed 56 men. A Mining Department inspector was sent to investigate. He was startled to see, not just how the miners and their families had died, but how they had managed to live so long. He wrote:

“The residences or houses and living quarters of the miners smack of the direst poverty. Practically all of the residences are huddled in the shadow of the coal washers and the smoke of the coke ovens making the surroundings smutty with coal dust and coke smoke. Not all of the houses are equipped with water, and practically none have sewerage; they depend for their water upon hydrants on the streets. The people reflect their surroundings; slatternly dressed women and unkempt children throng the dirty streets and alleys of the camp. One is forced to the conclusion that these people must be very poorly paid, else they would not be content to live in this fashion.”

There we have it, in that last line, the kernel of the class struggle. The people get paid garbage wages by greed-fuelled mine owners and are forced not only to work in extreme danger and hardship, but to live in abject misery and give their wages back to the mine-owners in terms of rent and owners shop profits for the privilege.

Nobody CHOOSES to live in poverty and filth, they are forced into that situation. They are characterised as “slatternly dressed women and unkempt children” even by a person who seems to be sympathetic to their cause, he is after all, there to investigate 56 bodies of the hard-working fathers and sons of those women and kids.

Once such community was at a place called Ludlow, in Colorado where 11,000 Miners worked for the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation owned by the Rockefeller family, one of the biggest mining corporations in Colorado.

The Miners had many grievances against low pay, dangerous conditions, and the feudal domination of every aspect of their lives in the shantytowns they lived in. These townships were completely controlled, and often owned, by the mining companies they worked for. { The C.F.I. accommodations were rented out on the basis of  20 persons per room}.

Every aspect of the miners lives was controlled 24/7 by the agents of the company who called themselves the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency but were in fact just a bunch of armed thugs hired by the Rockefellers to keep the lid on the mining community.

Unions had arrived in the mining areas soon after the men themselves but the Detectives harried them, beat them up and sometimes even “Disappeared “ them.

In 1913, after prolonged negotiations broke down between the owners and the men, the failure to reach settlement brought the men out on strike that September.

Many on strike, were evicted from their ‘20 to a room’ housing and took to living in tents with their families.

It was well known that the only way to earn concessions from the Rockefellers was to wait till their profits fell. On this occasion though The Rockefellers were not prepared to let that happen and “The Detectives” were sent into the tented community to terrorise the strikers, shooting through the tents at random.

They had a vehicle they named the “Death Special” with a Gatlin Gun mounted on it, so the families resorted to digging foxholes under their tents to avoid the frequent hail of bullets. In this way they managed to survive largely intact until the 19th of April 1914 when an Easter celebration was put on for their Greek members and families.

By this time, and under the pretext of the Detectives “Coming under Fire” during the winter, the Colorado National Guard had been called in, and the day after the celebration, the Guardsmen moved into camp looking for a “suspected criminal”.

A shot was fired, and still nobody knows who fired it, but a gun battle between the armed striking miners at Ludlow and the Colorado National Guard broke out that lasted for 10 hours.

In the book “Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West”, author Scott Martelle writes,

Seven men and a boy were killed in the shooting, at least three of the men — all striking coal miners, one a leader — apparently executed in cold blood by Colorado National Guardsmen who had taken them captive. As the sun set, the militia moved into the camp itself and an inferno lit up the darkening sky, reducing most of the makeshift village to ashes. It wasn’t until the next morning that the bodies of two mothers and eleven children were discovered where they had taken shelter in a dirt bunker beneath one of the tents.

The raging fire had sucked the oxygen from the air below, suffocating the families as they hid.



This massacre created a rallying point for the miners, who formed their own Militias as word about the massacre spread across the whole of Colorado, especially with the news that women and children had been victims. This sparked a 10-day running battle from one town to another with the Militias seeking out Guardsmen and Detectives alike. Reports vary but the Miners claimed that they had taken “An Eye for an Eye” and avenged the deaths of the Ludlow folk, but it is likely that they accounted for up to 60 deaths among the Guards too.



Its worth noting that the Miners, by definition, were tough strong men, simply because of the work they did, what was not considered by their enemies was the international expertise these men brought to the battlefield. Many of them were seasoned soldiers involved in the Balkan wars, Italy’s North African campaigns and closer to home, the Spanish-American war. The miners swept through the Colorado Mining towns towards a final successful battle in Forbes on April 29th. Between 700 and 1000 men set out from the Ludlow tent colony housing the families of the massacre, and took control of Forbes in short order, travelling on to the little town of Trinidad looking victorious all the way. They might well have conquered the Colorado Coalfields but that was it…there was no plan after that.

Several hundred miners were arrested and charged with murder but only one was convicted and even that was overturned. In their rush to send out the guard and keep the mine owners happy, the state government had not declared martial Law, which effectively meant that the Guardsmen and Detectives were as guilty of murder as the miners…something they didn’t want made public in a hurry.

All told., 75 lives were lost, most of whom were not Miners.

Again, Martelle writes of the miners,

“They might have been victims of an oppressive political and economic system, but they did not suffer their grievances meekly, and proved to be quite deadly.” But while they were not innocent martyrs, he adds, “they were fighting for their lives and livelihoods in a tableau established by the mine operators, and against an overwhelming system of corporate feudalism in which the U.S. Constitution was trumped by greed and prejudice.”

While I researched the Starkville Mine explosion of Oct 10, 1910, there is a reference in a local newspaper that compares the Starkville event with an earlier Explosion at Primero in the January of the same year in which 77 men died.

The 2 Townships are only 20 odd miles apart geographically, but they share the same common bondage of being joined together in the ownership of their very existence to the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation run by John D Rockefeller.

Authors Note

My Grandfather went through both World Wars underground, mining coal in the British midlands. He, with many others, lived in a nearby village, in a cottage on land owned by the mine owner. The pub they drank in, the shops they bought their food from and the undertakers that buried them were owned by the mine owners too. While they also worked in filthy and very dangerous conditions, they at least didn’t have to live in tents in sub-zero temperatures in the Colorado Hills. They share the same common ground though. They also worked for pennies in danger every day while the owners made their millions in luxurious mahogany paneled boardrooms and went home to a luxurious mahogany paneled dining rooms at night to be served by their cooks and serving staff.

Fast Forward to the 21st Century, when many people who like to call themselves “middle class”, are happy watching TV programs that include those same poverty stricken ‘slatternly dressed women and unkempt children etc’ who are now said to be that way through “Making poor lifestyle choices”.

TV companies make $billions out of people watching programs like Jeremy Kyle, Benefits street, We pay Your Benefits and Wife Swap but what the audience fails to notice is that they themselves are little more than one step away from being “On Benefits” themselves. This is “Poverty Porn” from the Theatre of Cruelty as Phil Mirowski calls it in his book “Never Let a Serious Crisis go to Waste”.

This is how we have been conditioned, so that while we laugh at “People on Benefits” the billionaires take advantage of a very dubious “Pandemic” to take a few more $Billions out of circulation and stash it offshore.

https://www.kmitch.com/Huerfano/starkville.html        A sombre collection of Newspaper clippings about the Starkville Mine explosion October 8th, 1910

https://www.kmitch.com/Huerfano/primero.html        Another sombre collection of Newspaper clippings about the Primero Mine explosion January 23rd 1910. Reading the details of the deceased miners at the end of these pages is also illuminating, they become men rather than statistics.




https://www.zinnedproject.org   Zinn was the TOP historian of the US when it comes to truth…No whitewash, basic facts  HUGE Site

https://youtu.be/U6kuvBnNNUs         Video by Howard Zinn on the Ludlow Massacre

https://www.c-span.org/video/?321582-1/killing-coal        Meet Thomas Andrews, author of the book “Killing for Coal: Americas Deadliest Labour War”


Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

Another great site by the Dangerous Globe

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