Jerry Kopel

Labor Day

Sept. 3, 2007

By Jerry Kopel


September 3, 2007 was the 120th year that Colorado has celebrated Labor Day, since the legislature made the first Monday in September an official state holiday in 1887.

When I think of Labor Day, I don't think of a corrupt union leader or a corrupt corporation chief executive officer. My thoughts are about my deceased friend, Barron Beshoar, who lived through the Ludlow Massacre and the insurrection that followed. Barron was not a coal miner. He was the seven-year-old son of Dr. Ben Beshoar, who was physician to the United Mine Workers (UMW) and treated the wounded after the massacre.

Barron did not become a doctor. He was a journalist who wrote the definitive book about the massacre and insurrection entitled "Out Of The Depths", published in 1942. Barron worked for Time-Life in New York and Los Angeles and returned to Denver in 1957 as Denver bureau chief. He died in 1987 at age 80.

Let me confess my labor sympathy. I was shop steward for the American Newspaper Guild (ANG) while employed at the Rocky Mountain News. No dues money was deleted from the reporters' paycheck (and still may not be). I had to pry the money each month out of their tight fists. In gratitude, I was awarded an ANG lapel pin.

Now the story: In 1913-14, the UMW sought to be recognized as the union for the miners. Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I), a Rockefeller subsidiary, refused their demands.

The main strike began in September, 1913, north of Trinidad at Ludlow Station serving CF&I. Strikebreakers were imported. Strikers and their families were thrown out of company towns. So they moved into tents at Ludlow.

Colorado Gov. Elias Ammons (D) ordered the Colorado National Guard into southern Colorado in October, 1913. In April, 1914 the militia surrounded the tent city with machine guns. Strikers and their families dug holes under their tents to hide in. Shooting began April 20, 1914. The militia set fire to the tents.

Afterwards, from the hole under where one tent had stood, the charred bodies of two women and eleven children were recovered. Miners and militia men also died.

About a thousand miners then began what could be termed a state of insurrection. Along a 40 mile front, the miners attacked coal camps and drove militia and mine guards out. Casualties in Ludlow and elsewhere included fifty dead.

President Woodrow Wilson (D) sent the regular army to restore order. The UMW did not win the strike and withdrew from Colorado.

But because of what happened, the Colorado legislature (majority Republican House and Senate) established the first Industrial Commission as of August 1, 1915 administering the new Workmen's Compensation Act, the Industrial Relations Act, and the State Compensation Insurance Fund.

Not every laborer was covered. You had to have a minimum of four employees. No farm labor or domestic help or interstate commerce carrier workers were covered. But the miners were covered. Colorado was possibly the second state to enact a workmen's compensation law.

Barron Beshoarr never hid his feelings about the strike. He recalls:

"I had recollections of cavalrymen, with gleaming sabers herding the people along Main and Commercial streets in Trinidad, of militiamen searching our house for guns and dumping the contents of bureau drawers on the floor while my mother watched them with loathing and contempt, of miners with red handkerchiefs around their necks and rifles in their hands who hailed my father with jovial but foreign sounding cries that sounded like "Hello Doc Beeshoo."

Barron began his book with a forward stating:

"The 1913 strike was not purely a Colorado matter as the state was merely the testing ground for two divergent principles of life. On the one hand, firmly entrenched and in full power and strength, were those who held to the theory that all benefits properly trickle down from above, and on the other were those who devotedly maintained the democratic proposition that men and women who toil with their backs and hands are entitled to share in the fruits of their productive labor."

Beshoar ended his forward with these words:

"And lastly, the author would like to say that his work was undertaken, not to rub salt in old wounds, but in the hope it may contribute something towards a better understanding of unionism, of its motivation and its aspirations.

"There are lessons to be learned from the strife of the past, and there are warnings, too. In this day and in this time, when American institutions are under deadly assault from without, management and labor must realize they have common goals and common interests and that without the one, the other can not survive."

Denver City Auditor Dennis Gallagher recently explained the book's title to me. "Out of The Depths" came from Psalm 130 of the bible King James Version.

"De profundis. Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD.

"Lord, hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications."

Gallagher said it was "a favorite of miners because this was the prayer for and probably of those trapped in mines."


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