Highlands Ranch High School - Mr. Sedivy
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By David Sedivy
He who has the gold, makes the rules. This was most certainly the case during the
early days in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The new comers on the scene; the union organizers,
were determined to change the "accident" of prior ownership, as they saw
fit. However, a number of subtle ironies would ultimately undercut union solidarity
and force the Western Federation of Miners (W.F.M.) into self-destructive violence.
There were two separate labor strikes in the Cripple Creek District; one during late
1893 thru early 1894 and the other during 1903-04. It would be difficult to be thorough
without discussing them both. I will give a brief outline of the events during the
1893-94 strike; followed by a more in depth account of the 1903-04 strike, which
has much further reaching implications.
The Cripple Creek District’s labor troubles began in Altman, a town totally filled
with miners. Scottish-born John Calderwood, a former coal miner, established a W.F.M.
local and organized two-thirds of the mine workers in the district (a total of around
eight hundred men). His men were known as the "Bull Hill Dynamiters." Calderwood’s
demand was simple: three dollars’ pay for an eight-hour work day. The only mine owners
to sign with the W.F.M. were Stratton and Burns. The mine owners believed that with
the steady stream of near-destitute workers, the union would never be able to sustain
a strike. Their counter offer: three dollars’ pay for a nine hour work day. In February,
1894, Calderwood called five-hundred of his men out of the nine-hour a day mines.
Eight-hour a day mines continued working. In a few weeks the owners of nine-hour
mines announced plans to reopen using nonunion workers. Calderwood declared Bull
Hill and its mines were under union control. He required "visas" signed
by himself for any outsider wishing to enter. This de facto sovereign state would
continue for four months.
Union men shot up Cripple Creek’s Myers avenue saloons and parlor houses for no special
reason. They also attacked the homes of non-union workers. When two alleged spies
for the mines proprietors were caught at Altman, they were taken to a saloon and
forced to drink deeply from cuspidors. Having survived that indignity, the spies
were threatened with having useful parts of their anatomies cut off. Finally, some
union men tossed them down an eighteen foot deep mine shaft. At one point, mine owners
hired a Mrs. Harlie Miller to sleep with various strikers in order to worm information
out of them. But she was frequently too intoxicated to realize whom she had screwed,
so the idea was abandoned.
The strikers ace-in-the-hole was the strong sympathy of Davis H. Waite. Waite had
a wild, flowing white mane and beard that made him look like an Old Testament prophet
who had survived a strike by lightning. Waite favored an income tax, the eight-hour
work day, the secret ballot and the direct popular election of U.S. senators. In
1892 he became the only Populist in America to be elected governor. During 1892 he
achieved notoriety by stating in public, " It is infinitely better that blood
should flow to our horses’ bridles than our national liberties should be destroyed."
After unleashing that gem, he was known across the state as "Old Bloody Bridles
Waite." Following the Silver Crash of 1893, Waite proposed that Colorado should
buy up the surplus silver at the old price to be sent to Mexico, where cheep labor
would mint it into "Fandango Dollars". Then it could be circulated in the
state. It is not hard to see why Waite was not re-elected to a second term as governor.
Waite sent the State Militia to the district, in part, because of his friendship
with Calderwood and also a request from El Paso County Sheriff Frank Bowers. The
Militia was under the inept command of General Thomas Tarsney. Ex-policemen and firemen
from Denver hated Waite for firing them during the City Hall War. One-hundred and
twenty-five of them were hired and deputized to attack Bull Hill and embarrass Waite.
The Militia was there to play the role of spoiler; keeping the sheriffs department
raiding parties from tangling with the unionists who were entrenched in a jerry-riged
fort upon Bull Cliff. The fort was equipped with fake log cannons which were pointed
at the town of Victor below. A crude bow gun propelled beer bottles filled with dynamite
down the hill toward the hired mercenaries. Meanwhile, up at Altman, the miners loaded
a flatcar with explosives and rolled it downhill toward the deputies from Denver.
It jumped the track on a curve, exploded and killed two cows. Finally, the Denver
deputies captured five strikers. The whole event, worthy of a Gilbert and Sullivan
operetta, has been called the "Battle of Bull Hill."
Governor Waite arbitrated for the union and on June 10, 1894, an agreement was signed.
The union had won the three dollars pay for an eight-hour work day.
The unionists’ hatred for General Tarsney was confirmed later that month. He was
seized in Colorado Springs and taken out of town, where tar and feathers were applied
all over his body. Tarsney was abandoned beside the northbound railroad tracks and
told to walk to (HUH?)
After the strike, non-union miners were driven from town and the deputy sheriffs
were arrested by the union. For self-protection, mining company officials brought
in outsiders, financing much of the county’s law enforcement activities themselves.
Mine owner Eben Smith later recalled in a note to another employer that, "During
the late war in Cripple Creek, you and I brought 100 rifles and ten thousand rounds
of ammunition..." Pinkerton detectives were also brought in by company men.
Nursing his wounds at the end of the troubles, Smith confided to a friend, "The
only consolation we have is the hope to elect a decent man as our next governor..."
Pressured by Governor Waite to accept the unions demands, Cripple Creek mine owners
began to prepare for the next conflict.
The real beginning of the great strike of 1903-04 had nothing to do with the mines
of Cripple Creek at all. This labor war cost the state of Colorado many lives and
millions of dollars not to mention embarrassment at a national level. The strike
of 1903-04 started in the ore-reducing mills in Colorado City, forty miles from Cripple
Creek. These three mills were operated mostly by non-union men. In 1902, the W.F.M
started organizing the men and by 1903 the union thought it was strong enough to
make demands for higher wages and shorter hours.
What tremendous egos the W.F.M. leadership must have had when you consider that they
only had a little over one-half of the men in Colorado City as union members. Men
were assaulted, threats were made and the governor ordered in the troops. The W.F.M.
mill strike in Colorado City was failing miserably. As a counter move the federation
went to Cripple Creek and served notice upon the mine owners who were shipping ore
to Colorado City that the mills were ""unfair"" and that such
shipments must be discontinued. Those mines were shut down, their men refusing to
In the beginning, only those mines shipping to the "unfair" mill; the Standard,
were affected. When that measure failed, only those mines shipping ore to Colorado
City were closed. But in August the call came to close, not only the mines shipping
ore to the "unfair mill", but those shipping to "fair mills",
as well as those treating their own ore. In fact the whole industry was paralyzed.
This was a wholesale walkout, not a strike.
You will hear from the W.F.M. that the sole reason for the Cripple Creek strike of
1903-04 was for three dollars of pay for an eight-hour work day. This cannot be true
because as I outlined earlier, this issue was already settled in the strike of 1893-94.
My view is that the the strike was socialism vs the free market system. The W.F.M.
wanted to gain control of the legislature and government of the state through political
action. They were in support of the doctrine of socialism. A bit paranoid, you think?
An interview with William Haywood, secretary-treasurer of the W.F.M., conducted by
Walter Wellman who was a reporter with the Chicago Record-Herald, will illustrate
my point. The following interview took place just after the end of the 1904 labor
"Why do you think the state administration and the mine owners wanted to destroy
your organization?" "They wanted to wipe us out because we had two settled
purposes in view, namely: First- to secure an eight-hour law and higher wages; second-
to obtain possession of the government through political action." "Then
you desire to to make yourselves masters of of the legislature and the executive
government of the states which you have strength?" "Certainly. That is
one of the main chief aims of our organization. We desire to obtain control of the
government that we may improve the condition of the working people generally."
William "Big Bill" Haywood was a 6’3", Soviet Russian immigrant. Haywood
apparently had developed Marxist convictions early on in 1902. As executive secretary
of the W.F.M., he was headquartered in Denver. He started upending the Federations
democratic structure so that he could run things from the top without ratification
by the members. This enabled Haywood to call for the strike at the Standard mine
in Colorado City in August 1903, and the subsequent strike in the Cripple Creek District.
The mine owners in Cripple Creek were ready this time. Anti-union forces had prevailed
in the election of Governor J. H. Peabody in 1902. Peabody was a conservative Republican.
Peabody, unlike Waite, sided with the mine owners, as well as the financiers who
backed the owners. Governor Peabody said, "The Western Federation of Miners
produced more trouble and expense than all other causes combined, including the Indian
Wars." He also stated, "We made war on the W.F.M. because it first made
war on our society!"
The war in the Cripple Creek District was on! For almost a year the conflict continued.
From August 10, 1903 to August 1, 1904, the situation went from bad to worse. It
started out with petty crime, beating of men, intimidation of women, threats to assassinate.
Then it grew into actual assassinations, murder, boycotts, persecutions, and bombings.
This was followed by martial law enforced by the state militia, the absolute rule
of a military dictator, imprisonment, the exile of guilty as well as innocent men
by force, and the crushing of organized labor, then at last, came peace.
In response to the imposed strike by the W.F.M. the mine owners banded together and
formed the Mine Owners Association. On August 12, 1903 the mine owners formed a committee
to act on all matters pertaining to the strike. On August 14, 1903 the Mine Owners
Association published a statement:
"... Wages and hours of labor have been satisfactory and according to union
standards, and general labor conditions have been all that could be wished... Notwithstanding
all this, the heads of the W.F.M. have seen fit to compel the cessation of all labor
in the district, not because of any grievance of their own against the Cripple Creek
operators, but for reasons beyond our control. The fact that there are no grievances
to adjust and no unsatisfactory conditions to remedy, leave the mine operators but
one alternative... As fast as men can be secured, our mining operations will be resumed...
preference being given to former employees, and all men applying for work will be
protected to the last degree."
The El Paso mine was the first to reopen with non-union help, on August 20. The first
order of the new workers was to build a fence around the property. The mine owners
hired armed guards to patrol the property. The El Paso mine was open for business
on September 2, 1903. That night Mr. Dennison’s (a union man) house was destroyed
by fire. While his house was on fire the El Paso guards stood by and cheered. On
September 21, a plot by union strikers was brought to light, to blow up the El Paso
Mine. Things were heating up in the district.
The owners attempted to put non-union men back to work. Unionist attacked them with
fists and clubs and finally guns. 250 men were imported as strikebreakers, but the
union captured 100 of them and shipped them out of the country. The sheriff was asked
for protection but he swore in only a handful of deputies, two or three to each mine,
against 4000 strikers. The sheriff was himself a member of the W.F.M., and had been
elected by the votes of union men. A non-union man was taken from his home by five
masked men, badly beaten, and finally shot in the back. The sheriff did nothing!
Fearful that this incident would begin a campaign of terror, the mine owners demanded
that County Sheriff H. M. Robertson appoint additional deputies, whom the mine owners
would select and pay. They also asked him to petition Governor Peabody for troops,
certifying that he could not control conditions in Teller County. Robertson met the
first demand but rejected the second. In a telegram of September 2 to the governor
they blamed the W.F.M. for the troubles in the district. They described Robertson
as "incapable of handling the situation" and asked for troops to preserve
order, protect property, and prevent a "reign of terror." F. D. French,
Mayor of Victor, supported the petition with several followup telegrams which demanded
that troops be sent immediately to restrain an armed body of men who are threatening
lives and property.
Despite his strong inclination to honor the request, Peabody hesitated. On September
3, the Governor appointed General Case, Attorney General Miller, and Lieutenant McClelland
of the National Guard to investigate conditions in the Cripple Creek District. They
arrived in Victor and conferred with leading businessmen and mine owners. These included
Mayor French and former Mayor Franklin, who feared they would be assassinated. All
the witnesses agreed that troops were necessary. Around midnight the investigators
went to Cripple Creek where they heard the views of Sheriff Robertson, Mayor Shockey,
businessmen and mine owners. Robertson, who admitted being an inactive member of
the W.F.M. was the only witness to oppose military intervention. He claimed that
he could control the district, unless mining was resumed with strikebreakers.
The governors investigators failed to interview union supporters. With the exception
of Robertson and Shockey, all the witnesses were members of the Mine Owners Association.
Having gone through the motions of an investigation in the middle of the night, the
investigators left for Denver at 4 am. Upon reaching Colorado Springs, they wired
the governor that after a "careful inquiry among representative citizens and
property owners," they had concluded that a "reign of terror" prevailed
in the district which threatened lives and property. The situation was critical and
required prompt action by the state.
On September 4, 1903 Peabody ordered troops into the district. At the end of September,
nearly 1,000 uniformed men were guarding the principle mines, and patrolling public
roads. A number of factors prompted Peabody's intervention. He concluded that the
leadership of militant unions was lawless and their methods and goals were un-American.
In his opinion, the strike of the W.F.M. in the Cripple Creek District was unjust
and reflected neither the wishes nor the needs of the miners. Consequently, he felt
compelled to use the power of the state in protecting lives and property, while upholding
the right of every man to work unmolested. As far as he was concerned, union membership
neither endowed the working man with special privileges nor made him less amenable
to the law than his non-union counterpart.
It soon became clear that the civil authorities and large numbers of people in the
district did not favor the governors intervention. The county commissioners condemned
the action. Sheriff Roberts said publicly, "Peabody has exceeded his authority
in sending troops." As one would expect, the mine owners, and other employers’
associations, like the Denver Alliance, came to Peabody’s defence. Anticipating large
scale violence when mining resumed with non-union labor, these groups approved of
Peabody’s decision to prevent it. But, lets be honest, a peaceful reopening was not
the only thing the mine owners had in mind. They had concluded that permanent peace
in the district was impossible as long as the W.F.M. maintained a foothold there.
In a statement on September 8, the mine owners declared war upon the W.F.M.
"... we pledge to continue to fight against the W.F.M. until its pernicious
influence has been swept from the district... anyone wanting employment in the mines
will have to quit the union."
The mine owners had claimed that the many men who quit work at the order of the federation
did so unwillingly, and obeyed through fear and not through sympathy. It seemed that
they were correct; within two months fully 2500 men were at work in about half the
mines. Less than 200 of them were imported strikebreakers.
During September, October, and November there were many assaults, beatings and attempted
murders, efforts to wreck trains and electric cars, accompanied by threats of assassinations
and intimidation of wives and families of non-union men through midnight visitations
and warnings. On November 11, an attempt was made to wreck a train carrying a large
number of non-union workers. Three nights later an attempt was made to roll another
train down a 300 foot embankment. Mr. McKinney was caught in the act, but was later
acquitted by a jury selected by union sheriff Robertson.
Worse crimes were yet to come. Enter B. F. Horsley, alias Harry Orchard, a union
radical with a fondness for explosives. Orchard worked in the Independence mine in
Victor. He called high-grading... "something good for the pockets." Haywood,
offered Orchard $500 if Orchard would blow up the Vindicator mine at Victor; where
non-union men were working. But Harry must not have done very well in grade school
because he did not count correctly and mistook the 6th level for the 7th. The 7th
level was where the men were working. On November, 21, two supervisors, McCormack
and Beck, descended the the shaft; at the 6th level they opened the door and hit
trip wires which blew them to bits.
The public opinion in the district was that of anger. Anger over the murders but
also over the verdict of the coroners jury; they "were unable to determine the
exact cause of the explosion." The jury was composed of union men and union
sympathizers; which convinced people that the W.F.M was indirectly responsible and
that it was attempting to escape public condemnation through a negative verdict.
As a result of this Governor Peabody declared military rule in the Cripple Creek
District. Before this the militia was there to keep order. Now, it assumed absolute
control of the government and superceded the civil authorities. General Bell was
put in command. Bell began disarming union members, arrested many union men, and
also banned street meetings. McKinney, who wrecked two trains confessed that he had
acted on orders from W.F.M. officers. Public opinion was now against the union.
More and more mines were running without union labor. The strike was still on but
the union looked stymied. On February 2, 1904, Martial Law was over and the militia
was withdrawn. However, the violence would not end here. The militia would again
return to Cripple Creek.
The two events that really brought down the wrath of Governor Peabody on the union
were the severe beating of a justice of the peace from Anaconda and Harry Orchard’s
dynamiting of the railroad depot at the Independence station. On June 5, with another
miner named Steve Adams, Orchard planted two boxes of dynamite under the depots loading
platform. They would be detonated by acid vials when a wire was pulled. At 2:15 A.M.
the Florence & Cripple Creek train was carrying the night shift from the Findley
mine. As the train pulled into the Independence station; Orchard pulled the wire
too early, missing the train but wiping out the station. Body parts rained down as
the explosion illuminated the night. Thirteen men were killed instantly, twenty others
were badly injured. One body was found 150 feet away. A gruesome sight on all accounts.
Bloodhounds were brought in to track the killers, but Adams and Orchard had soaked
their shoes in turpentine and scattered pepper in their tracks. The terrorists got
away. Orchard made his way to Denver to get paid and then headed for Wyoming.
The same day as the Independence explosion, a mass meeting was held in a vacant lot
in Victor. Secretary Hamilin of the Mine Owners Association was addressing the crowd
when shots were fired from the union headquarters across the street. Two non-union
men were killed, a few were wounded. Then, a company of local militia surrounded
Union Hall and volleys were exchanged between the two sides. It didn’t take long
for the union members to hang out a white flag of truce.
"There probably would have been lynchings on the spot but for a touch of the
ridiculous. After they had surrendered the union men marched out of the hall, their
faces white, their hands held high above their heads, and some of them begging not
to be shot. They presented such a comical spectacle that the anger of the crowd turned
for the moment to laughters and jeers." Sheriff Robertson was met on Victor
avenue, at noon, by a committee who requested him to go to the headquarters of the
Citizens Alliance where he was met by a group of men who demanded his resignation.
Robertson refused to surrender his authority. He was advised in strong language that
unless he consented to resign without further delay he would soon be dangling at
the end of a rope. "You will have to show me the rope boys."From behind
his back one of the spokesmen produced a rope, with a noose already tied. "We
mean business sheriff."With that Robertson signed the resignation that had previously
been prepared for him. A few minutes later the Board of County Commissioners appointed
Ed Bell Sheriff, pro term.
On June 7, Peabody responded by declaring martial law, with General Sherman Bell
in command. The troops were stationed at known "hot spots" around the district.
Infantry, cavalry, and artillery troops were quartered at Goldfield. General Bell
defiled the courts, and threatened to jail judges. The pro-union newspaper, The Victor
Record, was closed down, and editor George Hyner, was arrested. The newspaper office
was vandalized with sledge hammers and put out of business. Bell shut down transportation
routes, both roads and railroads were barricaded. Union stores and meeting places
were destroyed and a mass hanging was suggested by citizens. Only cool heads and
the militia presence kept vigilantes from stringing up union bodies on the power
poles of the district.
Instead of mass lynchings by the "Local Uplift Society," mass arrests of
known union members and sympathizers took place. Bull pens, with armed guards were
established to contain the "trouble makers." By the end of July, Bell’s
commission had questioned 1569 men. Of these it was recommended that 238 be banished.
Military personnel carried out the expulsions, shipping the prisoners by train to
Denver, and points close to the Kansas and New Mexico state lines. It was also recommended
that charges be filed against forty-two persons and that 1289 be released.
I will let General Bell speak for himself:
"... So we arrested the worst men in camp; gave them a fair hearing; picked
the sheep out from the goats, loaded the latter into a special train, put aboard
guards, canned beef, hardtack, buckets for drinking water; ran ‘em down to within
two miles of the Kansas line; unloaded ‘em and marched ‘em to the state line. We
gave each man a can of beef, a dozen hard tack, and a half a can of beans. They disappeared
over the prairie. And that was the end of the Western Federation of Miners and the
reign of terror in Cripple Creek. If I had to do it again, I’d do it just the same
way, only I’d do it a damned sight quicker."
Tacked up on a telephone pole within a stones throw of the ruined station at Independence
read as follows:
"Hence take notice, that on and after Sept. 16, 1901, anyone working in and
around the mines, mills or power plants of the Cripple Creek District who cannot
show a card of membership in good standing of some local union of the Western Federation
of Miners will be considered a "scab" and an enemy to us, himself and the
community at large and will be treated as such. By the order of the Cripple Creek
executive board of the W.F.M.... John Curry President."
The blood splattered railway station near by stood as evidence of what was meant
by "will be treated as such."
By midsummer of 1904, it was all over; the strike had ended. All the mines were open
and operating with non-union employees. As a result, 33 men were dead, martial law
was imposed and the Western Federation of Miners would never recover in Colorado.
You cannot know history without studying the people who have shaped it. At the word
of Haywood, more than 3500 men quit work literally without cause, other than to shut
down the Standard mill forty miles away. At the Standard mill the only issue, apart
from the desire of political power and union recognition, was whether forty-five
men should be employed at $2.00 a day, or at $2.25 a day. As incredible as it may
seem, this was the cause of the great 1903-04 labor war in the Cripple Creek District.
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