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