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Two Bits for a Tragic Tale: Walter Fink’s The Ludlow Massacre

The often violent labor struggles of the early 20th century engendered deep concern at all levels of society and led to a series of governmental investigations, including the federal Commission on Industrial Relations, appointed in 1913. The commission was in the midst of taking testimony from owners, workers, and reformers in dozens of industrial communities around the country when a coal strike broke out in southern Colorado. On Easter night, 1914, three women and eleven children were killed at a mining encampment in Ludlow, Colorado.The United Mine Workers of America, the union that represented the striking Colorado miners, quickly printed and sold (for 25 cents) thousands of copies of a pamphlet (excerpted here) entitled The Ludlow Massacre by Walter Fink, director of publicity of UMWA District 15. In addition to providing a dramatic retelling of the events leading up to the tragedy, the title of the pamphlet became the commonly accepted term for the event.


It was Sunday afternoon.

The Greek members of the Ludlow tent colony were celebrating their Easter.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., had just preached the word of God to his Sunday school class in New York City.

The strikers and their families were enjoying themselves at a baseball game. They were a happy, care-free audience of twenty-one nationalities, thinking of nothing but the freedom from industrial and political slavery that they were willingly purchasing by an incessant war with the elements, with the imported assassins of John D. Rockefeller, with the corporation-owned state and county officials of Colorado.

It had been a day of joy, a day such as victory in the strike will bring them every twenty-four hours of the future.

The baseball game was almost over when down out of the hills, where these strikers had lived in hovels like hogs, had been robbed of their coal, had been deprived of their political, industrial and religious liberty, had been driven into unsafe mines to be slaughtered, came the gunmen of industry, the hired murderers of Sunday school teacher and “philanthropist” John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

There were five of these gunmen on horseback and armed with high-power rifles. They came to break up the baseball game. But they realized that even high-powered rifles and machine guns trained on the baseball diamond from the hills might not be able to combat the crowd of fans, and they started away chagrined.

Some of the strikers' wives and children laughed at these imported assassins who were too cowardly to carry out their purpose.

“Oh, that’s all right; have your fun today; we’ll have our roast tomorrow,” said one of the gunmen, and they rode away.

Little did the peaceful men, women and children realize the horrible prophecy this thug was making.

They were accustomed to the intimidation of these gunmen. They knew that these derelicts were hired to murder them, but not for a moment did they imagine that “our roast tomorrow,” as threatened by the gunmen, was to be their cremation.

They did not know that the gunmen militiamen had trained six machine guns on the Ludlow tent colony the night before. They did not know that these same murderers of the State of Colorado and John D. Rockefeller had completely surrounded the camp. They did not know that their massacre was only a question of when three bombs should be exploded at the headquarters of Major Hamrock.

April 20th dawned a typical morning for the strikers. Men were busy with their chores. Here and there throughout the tent colony could be heard the merry little song of the washboard. Children darted here and there out of the tents, happy, playful 300 tots, not knowing that before the sun had set they were to go through the most terrible holocaust in the history of industrial struggles. In the rear of Snodgrass' store men and boys were playing baseball.

Since last September these people had been taught nothing but peace. Their leaders had told them day after day that they could never hope to make the disinterested citizen understand their side of the controversy unless they strictly obeyed every law and “attended to their own business.”

Men in every walk of life who have investigated the strike or spent any time in the district have talked of the almost ultra-conservatism of the union officials. The men and women and children of the tent colonies had absorbed this feeling of obeyance to the laws. They had patiently suffered the intimidation and tortures of the gunmen and militiamen.

It was 9:55 o’clock that morning when the strikers and their wives and children were thrown into a panic of fear by the explosion of a bomb at the tent of Major Hamrock. It was the signal to the gunmen militiamen, surrounding the camp on all sides, that itwas time to start the massacre of the innocents of Ludlow and destroy the tent colony.

There were not more than forty rifles in the tent colony. The men owning these scattered to the hills in a vain effort to draw the fire of the attacking party and save their loved ones.

At 10 o’clock a second bomb was exploded. Ten seconds later the third shot was fired and the slaughter of Ludlow began.

Massacre of the Innocents.

None will know the agonies of that day.

From surrounding hills poured a criss-cross rain of bullets from machine guns and high-powered rifles.

Tents were riddled with bullets until they looked like so many fishing nets.

Using the machine guns like garden hose, the gunmen cut down everything that rose in their path of death as they swerved from one end of the colony to the other and back again.

Women, driven almost insane, ran like frightened hares into caves dug for their safety, their babes clutching frantically at their breasts, their older children tearing at their skirts, while around them fell the explosive bullets of the gunmen—militiamen.

Quarter was given none by these assassins. They had been hired at $3 to $7 a day to do this dastardly work of exterminating the strikers, and they were determined to do it well.

Into caves, cellars, wells, deserted buildings and across the open prairie fled frantic mothers and children.

One well near the tent colony was packed with a hysterical, seething mass that might at any minute be slaughtered.

Out of one of these safety retreats ran little Frankie Snyder, 11 years old, to get a drink of water for his mother and little sisters, who had become ill from fright. He was shot through the head and killed instantly.

Throughout the day Louis Tikas, leader of the Greeks, braved the hail of explosive bullets, going here and there through the tents, rescuing women and children and taking them to places of safety.

Tikas finally saw that it was impossible to save all of the women and children unless the firing stopped. He called Major Hamrock, saloonkeeper in charge of Colorado’s uniformed murderers, and arranged for a meeting.

Tikas a Murdered Hero.

Tikas never returned from that conference.

He was taken prisoner. Some of the gunmen wanted to hang this refined, law-abiding Greek. But before they could carry out their purpose, Linderfelt, more bloodthirsty, hit Tikas on the head, crushing his skull and killing him instantly. Linderfelt has admitted that he hit Tikas, breaking the stock of his gun on the Greek’s head.

While the Greek lay on the ground dead, another cut-throat kicked him in the face. And then, to cover up this terrible murder, they shot him in the back, giving out the story that he was killed when he tried to escape. One of the bullets exploded in his stomach, the jacket lodging under the skin and the bullet tearing its way through his abdomen.

James Fyler, secretary of the Ludlow union, was another striker who was murdered while a prisoner of the Hamrock-Linderfelt “militiamen.”

Fyler was one of the real heroes of that day. With his life in danger every minute, he remained at the telephone, giving the world the only news of the horror. He was shot with an explosive bullet, which blew out the front of his face. When his body was found, $300 which he had in his pocket that morning was missing.

Another of the heroes was Charles Costa. When the gunmen militia started their murderous assault, he, with others in the tent colony who had guns, ran to the hills to do all he could to save the women and children and their homes.

Costa was one of the five men of Ludlow colony to pay the penalty of death for fighting for his constitutional rights, thus defying the rule of anarchy established by Governor Ammons, Adjutant General John Chase and others of the operators' tools who hold office in Colorado.

Costa was shot through the head. As he lay there, in view of his tented home where women and children were being murdered and cremated, dying, he said to his comrades, sing “Union Forever.”

Dies Singing Song.

They crowded around him, the bullets stirring up the dirt about their feet like a windstorm. Costa joined in the refrain—

"We’ve whipped them in the North, boys,

We’ll whip them in the South,


And Charles Costa was dead. But the smile on his lips showed that he was willing to go.

Had his comrades known what was happening down in the tent colony, they would have given that smile a two-fold meaning. They would have said that he was smiling, too, because of the anticipation of meeting his wife and three little children in Heaven, where Rockefeller’s millions do not rule, where it does not mean death to fight for those things which belong to you.

For, while Costa was breathing his last, his wife and three little children were lying dead in the “Black Hole,” their bodies burned almost beyond recognition by the oil-fed fire started by Rockefeller’s murderers.

Without food, without water, amid a shower of bullets that pierced their places of shelter, the women and children of Ludlow spent that day.

Among them were mothers with babes at their breasts, women who were to become mothers that day and the next and the next.

The militia knew there were no men in these retreats. They knew there were no arms there to return their fusillade of bullets. They knew that in those places there were only women and children, but they were the wives and daughters of “those d—- red necks.” In the eyes of the gunmen militia that removed all questions of sex. It was sufficient reason to slaughter them if they could.

Refugees peering from their caves, wondering whether this hail of lead would never cease, were paralyzed with fear about 7 o’clock that evening when they saw a militiaman crawl up to a tent on the outskirts of the tent colony and set it afire with a blazing torch.

Slaughtered Babes Cremated.

Like a cyclone, the flames swept over the tented homes, feeding on the oil of Rockefeller which saturated them and seemingly gloating over the feast provided by the women and children whom they burned and roasted and clasped between their jaws of death until they were an inanimate mass of crisp flesh and bones.

Here and there the fire refused to spread and up would spring another assassin with a torch to set it afire.

In small, ill-ventilated caves, in wells, in deserted farm houses, on the open prairie, the women and children of Ludlow spent that night, mourning the loss of fathers, brothers, husbands, of new-born babes, who had come into the world that day only to be murdered and cremated by the Colorado assassins, and all around them fell the bullets of the uniformed murderers.

Nothing so wanton has ever been known as the terrible thirst for blood of these assassins. They knew that these women and children had no food, no water. But they continued their firing with the seeming purpose of driving the famished mothers and tots into the open for food and water that they might also shoot them down.

Probably the most heinous feature of this massacre was the refusal of the militia officers to allow doctors or Red Cross nurses to minister to the wounded.

Physicians who went there under flags of truce soon after the slaughter began, were driven back by bullets.

Flags of the Red Cross Society were shot into shreds with the same utter disregard as the American flag.

Shot at American Flag.

It is not generally known, but it is a matter of fact that the Stars and Stripes—the flag of our nation—was fired upon when Linderfelt the Butcher and his hell-hounds turned loose their machine guns and rifles upon the unprotected tented city of Ludlow, wiping it out of existence and killing men, women and children—mostly the latter.

The unionists had three American flags flying to the breeze on that bloody Monday.

But this made no difference to the gunmen who were wearing the state’s uniforms.

Their deadly weapons tore the Stars and Stripes from their masts, just as if they had been so many rags.

They were burned when the torch was applied to the canvas homes.

It is a matter of general knowledge that the men under Chase, when they were sent into the field, never raised the American flag until they were in Ludlow several months.

Tuesday morning several undertakers went from Trinidad to the scene of the catastrophe, but were driven back by explosive bullets.

Railroad men and passengers appealed frantically to state officials to do something for the men, women and children who were lying along the railroad tracks dead and wounded.

For two days the bodies of Tikas and Fyler lay exposed. But no appeal would force the state officers to take care of the dead and wounded.

The fact that none of the bodies reported by railroad men could be found Wednesday, as well as the testimony of Mrs. Pearl Jolly, sometimes called the “heroine of Ludlow,” explains this action.

Mrs. Jolly, with other women and children, escaped to a farm house late Monday afternoon. The next day, when the gunmen were looting the ruins of the tent colony, she says she saw them gathering bodies and placing them in a huge pile.

Dead Burned in Oil.

When they completed their search, she says they poured oil on them and then burned the bodies. There are more than fifty women and children missing and it is believed that all traces of their murder were obliterated by the militia on the huge funeral pyre.

Mrs. Jolly during the battle went here and there through the tent colony, rescuing women and children and aiding the sick and wounded. Although she wore a Red Cross insignia on her arm, the uniformed gunmen tried to kill her, one bullet tearing off the heel of her shoe.

John R. Lawson, National Board member of the mine workers, went to Ludlow Monday and Tuesday to save the women and children, and the militia riddled his flag of truce and drove him back.

William Snyder was coming from the tent colony Tuesday morning with his family, the body of his dead son on one arm and his baby daughter in the other, when he was discovered by some of the gunmen. One of the gunmen pointed a gun at him and said, “—you, I have a notion to kill you, too.”

Dave Stuart, a young boy, spent Monday and Monday night in the cellar of the Snodgrass store. When he went to the depot to go to Trinidad, he was lined up with other boys, from ten to twelve years of age, and told that the gunmen militia were going to use them for target practice.

Ludlow that morning presented a deep contrast to the day before.

Where for seven months 1,200 strikers had lived in peace, had subsisted on as little as possible, and had been happy in the realization that the dawn of a new day was at hand, now stood the charred ruins of their homes.

Where the day before 300 children had romped and played and had been happy now lay the distorted, roasted bodies of some of them and their mothers.

Louis Tikas, than whom there was none among the strikers more beloved, lay battered and dead along the railroad track, while the day before he had been visiting each tent, adding cheer to the men and their wives, trudging along with three or four children hanging to him, each one of them wanting him to come and help play their own particular game.

There lay the ruins of the Ludlow tent colony, the largest in the history of the world, and none of them knew or ever will know how many of its family of 1,200 paid the penalty of fighting for their constitutional rights in corporation-ridden Colorado.

Trinidad men who want to repair the telephone lines, cut by the murderers that the outside world might not know of their work of carnage, told one of the many pitiful stories of the massacre.

Tuesday they started toward Ludlow to repair the wires. They were going along the road when they saw a little girl lying at the side of the roadway.

She was lying there with the side of her head badly burned. In one hand she clasped a doll while the other arm was held across her eyes.

Just as the linemen were about to pick up the little sufferer, one of the brutal, murdering gunmen of Linderfelt’s command stepped up to the lineman and told him to leave the little girl where she was.

None know what became of the little tot. It is believed that she contributed to the blaze on the funeral pyre erected to John D. Rockefeller Jr., Sunday school teacher and philanthropist.

Thirty women and children who escaped to the Powell ranch were held prisoners there until Tuesday night. They had nothing to eat or drink and appealed frantically to Trinidad for relief. Appeals were sent to Major Hamrock “to have mercy, for God’s sake.” Acting Governor Fitzgarrald, who vies with Ammons for the honor of being the real spineless executive of Colorado, finally ordered Saloonkeeper Hamrock to release the women.

Relief automobiles started from Trinidad at about the same time several wagons left Aguilar to their assistance. When the wagon approached the house Mrs. Pearl Jolly, wearing a Red Cross insignia on her arm, went to meet it. She was shot in the arm made prominent by the Red Cross band. The women, however, made their escape after a forty-eight-hour siege.

Mrs. M. H. Thomas was another of the women who was shot at by the murderers. She, with other women and children, escaped to a nearby ranch, where most of them were forced to sleep in filthy stable stalls to evade the exploding bullets from machine guns and high powered rifles. When they ran for shelter Mrs. Thomas was so close to death that a bullet clipped out a part of her hair, and around the feet of her two little children played the machine gun bullets.

A freight train that came down the track about noon Tuesday enabled this party of refugees to escape. Knowing that the train would be between the gunmen and her people, Mrs. Thomas ran to the well and told others to try to make their escape. The entire party got away, but it was only because of poor marksmanship on the part of the gunmen, who riddled the air about them with hundreds of bullets.

Realizing that they had been betrayed by the state of Colorado and that they could hope to secure no protection from its militia, union men sent out an official call to arms, asking workers of the state and country to arm themselves and be ready to march at any minute.

The Call to Arms.

The official call was as follows:

Denver, Colo., April 22, 1914.

Organize the men in your community in companies of volunteers to protect the workers of Colorado against the murder and cremation of men, women and children by armed assassins in the employ of coal corporations, serving under the guise of state militiamen.

Gather together for defensive purposes all arms and ammunition legally available. Send name of leader of your company and actual number of men enlisted at once by wire, phone or mail, to W. T. Hickey, Secretary of State Federation of Labor.

Hold all companies subject to order.

People having arms to spare for these defensive measure are requested to furnish same to local companies, and, where no company exists, send them to the State Federation of Labor.

The state is furnishing us no protection and we must protect ourselves, our wives and children, from these murderous assassins. We seek no quarrel with the state and we expect to break no law; we intend to exercise our ]awful right as citizens, to defend our homes and our constitutional rights.





W. T. HICKEY, Secy. State Fed. of Lab.




ERNEST MILLS, Secy.-Treas. W.F. of M.

Source: Walter H. Fink, The Ludlow Massacre (1914), 7–21. Reprinted in Leon Stein and Philip Taft, eds., Massacre at Ludlow: Four Reports (New York: Arno Press, 1971).