It was on this day in 1914 that the Ludlow Massacre occurred in Ludlow, Colorado, after the National Guard opened fire on a group of striking coal miners. The miners worked for Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation, which was owned by the Rockefeller family. The strike had begun in September of 1913. Eight thousand miners were protesting low pay, terrible working conditions, corrupt management, and towns that were completely controlled by the mining company. Some of the strikers’ demands for safety and legal protections were actually required by Colorado law, but were ignored by the company.
When the miners began striking, they were evicted from their homes, so they set up tents in makeshift camps. The Rockefellers hired an ad hoc local militia to patrol and raid the camps, and violent confrontations sprang up between the militia and the miners. In November, the company asked the Colorado governor to call in the National Guard, and he agreed. The Rockefellers paid the National Guard’s wages.
On April 20th, the militia fired at some of the strikers with machine guns. The miners fired back, and a daylong gunfight broke out. That evening, the National Guard set fire to the camp. Thirteen residents were shot and killed trying to escape. People dug pits in the ground to escape the shooting, and a group of 11 children and two women were burned to death in one of the pits. Dozens of people died in the days of rioting that followed.
Wallace Stegner called it “one of the bleakest and blackest episodes of American labor history.”
In an open letter to John D. Rockefeller Jr., Upton Sinclair wrote: “I intend to indict you for murder before the people of this country. The charges will be pressed, and I think the verdict will be ‘Guilty.’“