Ludlow, CF & I, and Colorado's role in the coal warsBy Rob Carrigan, firstname.lastname@example.org
As a young "hardware man" at Taylor Hardware during late 1970s and early 1980s in southwest corner of the state at Dolores, I marveled at the reach and breadth of Colorado Fuel and Iron.
Much of what we sold in that store, and its two warehouses, had manufacturing origins in its main steel mill on the south side of Pueblo, clear on the other side of the big square state.
Fencing — 50-pound boxes of 47 varieties of nails, truck loads of bailing wire, corrugated roofing, stove pipe, regular iron pipe, smooth wire and much more — would arrive in a long, high trailer behind a long-haul truck, about every two weeks. And we would spend half a day unloading it, re-positioning material in the long track warehouse, and sometimes unavoidably ripping holes in our clothing on the exposed barbs of 80-pound rolls of wire fence.
I didn't know at the time, but CF &I was involved in much more than steel goods.
The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) by 1903, it was mainly owned and controlled by John D. Rockefeller, who, even today is widely considered the wealthiest American of all time, and the richest person in modern history. Jay Gould, and another one of America's all-time richest families, and his financial heirs, were Rockefeller's partners in the steel industry. Gould had the reputation as ruthless robber baron and was hated and reviled. Few would defend his hard-ball business tactics either then, or now.
The company came to control many plants throughout the country, with the main plant, the steel mill on the south side of Pueblo, Colorado. From 1901 to 1912, Colorado Fuel and Iron was one of the Dow Jones Industrials. The steel-market crash of 1982, eventually led to the decline of the company and in recent years, it has gone through several bankruptcies. It was acquired by Oregon Steel Mills in 1993, and changed its name to Rocky Mountain Steel Mills. In January 2007, along with the rest of Oregon Steel's holdings, was acquired by EVRAZ Group, a Russian steel corporation, for $2.3 billion.
Over the course of the previous century, however, CF&I operated coal mines throughout southern Colorado, as well as iron mines in Wyoming and Utah, limestone quarries, smaller mines for other materials going into the steel making process, and the Colorado and Wyoming Railway. In Redstone, Colorado, hundreds of coking ovens converted coal into coke, which was used in various national manufacturing entities across the country.
The Mcnally, Cameron, Robinson and Walsen Mines located in the area of Walsenburg, Colorado, were just a few of the mines owned by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. The Colorado Supply company store was also owned and operated by CF&I. They also gained operational responsibilities at many furnaces throughout the country, including E.G. Brooke in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania.
In addition to wealth and financial power, the company had also attracted its fair share of controversy and ill will over time. Especially with organized labor. Colorado became "Ground Zero" for industrial warfare in the early 1900s with violent strikes the gold fields of Cripple Creak and Telluride, pushing into the Coal regions of both the southern, and northern parts of the state.
By 1913, all hell was breaking.
"When the southern miners voted their strike, they listed their demands the recognition of their union, a ten percent increase in wages, stricter enforcement of the Colorado eight-hour law, health and safety regulations, and the right to select their own living quarters, eating houses and doctors," said a "A Colorado History" by Carl Ubbelohde, Maxine Benson, and Duane A. Smith.
Which seem fair enough, but:
"John Lawson assumed leadership of the Colorado units of the United Mine Workers. He was aided during the strike by the best talents among the union's national organizers, including the spectacular Marry Harris Jones, the miner's "Mother Jones" — an eighty-two-year-old Socialist."
Colorado Fuel and Iron, acting as spokesman for the group of mine owners, attempted to open their properties with non-union labor; the miners bent every effort to keep the strike breakers out of the coal fields. The owners hurried appeals the statehouse; the governor sent the militia to the region. As the striking miners withdrew from the underground works, they formed ten colonies near the mines where their families were sustained by union funds.
Mary G. Harris was born in Cork, Ireland, the daughter of Roman Catholic tenant farmers Richard Harris and Ellen (née Cotter) Harris. Mary Harris and her family were victims of the Great Famine, as were many other Irish families. This famine drove more than a million families, including the Harrises, to emigrate to North America when Mary was ten years old.
Mary was a teenager when her family emigrated to Canada. In Canada (and later in the United States), the Harris family were victims of discrimination due to their immigrant status as well as their Catholic faith. Harris, who eventually became "Mother Jones," and a socialist endured much hardship in life span. As an Irish-born American schoolteacher and dressmaker who became a prominent organized labor representative, community organizer, and activist. She helped coordinate major strikes and co-founded the Industrial Workers of the World.
Jones worked as a teacher and dressmaker, but after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever in 1867 and her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, she became an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union.
From 1897, she was known as Mother Jones. In 1902, she was called "the most dangerous woman in America" for her success in organizing mine workers and their families against the mine owners. In 1903, to protest the lax enforcement of the child labor laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a children's march from Philadelphia to the home of President Theodore Roosevelt in New York.
By early January, 1914, Mother Jones had been arrested in Colorado. As the New York Times reported:
"Mother" Jones, strike leader, who was deported from the Southern Colorado coal fields Jan. 4 by the militia, returned to Trinidad this morning from Denver. As soon as her presence was learned by the military authorities she was arrested and taken to the San Rafael Hospital, where she was held a prisoner and was permitted to see no visitors.
She left the train at the outskirt of Trinidad and later appeared at a local hotel. She was arrested by a detail of State troops, hurried out of the hotel, placed in an automobile, and whirled through the streets with a cavalry escort galloping at full speed in front and behind the machine.
Several hundred coal mine strikers lined the streets and cheered wildly while "Mother" Jones waved her hand in response.
DENVER, Jan. 12-Gov. Ammons tonight issued a statement in which he assumed full responsibility for the arrest of "Mother" Jones by the military and declared that she would be held until such time as she saw fit to give her promise to leave the strike zones of the State."
In the meantime, pressure built up in the Colorado coal fields and violence seemed inevitable. Miners and soldiers scuffled through until spring.
"The climax came on April 20, at Ludlow Station, 18 miles north of Trinidad. When miners and militia tangled, the soldiers began to drive the miners from their tent colony which housed some 900 miners, women and children. Five miners and one militaman were killed, but even worse, fire burned through the colony and it was later discovered that two women and 11 children had been burned to death, or suffocated, in what the United Mine Workers immediately labeled the 'Ludlow Massacre.'"
A ten-day war of burnings, dynamitings, and murders engulfed the southern coal fields.
Governor Elias Ammons decided it was beyond the states resources, and asked for help from President Woodrow Wilson. United States troops were in place in the coal fields by the end of April. With federal troops keeping an uneasy peace, negotiations proceeded and the strike was over by December. Strikes settled for less than they had been asking, being refused bargaining rights for the union and withdrawing from the fields unorganized, but the owners promised better hours, higher pay and protected conditions.
Colorado Fuel and Iron established a "company union" which purported to give a vehicle for voicing worker's grievances.
"The 'Rockefeller Plan' in time demonstrated the flaws that the trade union men had always objected to with company unions. It proved in many ways a weak friend to the laboring man," according to "A Colorado History."
The publicity generated by Mother Jones's arrests, and by the massacres and violence, did, however, lead to a change in American public opinion that tarnished the images of Rockefeller and his colleagues. Further investigation revealed that Rockefeller had detailed knowledge of the events and violence in Colorado, and even knew about the formation of the special troops used to perform the Ludlow massacre. Rockefeller put his company through a massive public relations cleansing in order to improve his image. This public relations campaign largely involved tarnishing the images of union leaders such as Mother Jones, but Rockefeller did agree to an "Industrial Representation Plan" which instituted a policy of a closed-shop union. Emphasizing his empathy for the workers, Rockefeller visited the mines and celebrated with the mine families. These actions gave him good press, and gave him control over a company union that had all the publicity and credibility of a real union. The UMW opposed the plan, but it had no power to resist.
In effect, Rockefeller, became his own "hardware man" for CF&I, and the company prospered for nearly 70 more years, until long after he had left this world.
1. Coffins in front the Catholic Church in Trinadad, after the deaths at Ludlow.
2. Colorado National Guard in the coal fields.
3. Ludlow funeral procession.
4. John D. Rockefeller, in 1885.
5. Mary Harris Jones.
6. Womens' March in Trinidad, protesting Mother Jones' arrest in Colorado.