Colorado Labor Wars
After Colorado's gold rush and silver boom exhausted easily accessible surface deposits, hard rock miners congregated primarily where precious metal mining was lucrative, in Colorado's mountainous areas. The mining camps spawned numerous mountain communities such as Central City, Leadville, Telluride, Idaho Springs, and the Cripple Creek District.
The early history of coal mining in Colorado included periodic confrontations between miners and mine operators. There were periodic incidents of bloodshed, including the Ludlow Massacre during a 1914 strike, and the Columbine Massacre during a strike in 1927. The 1927 strike resulted in one company recognizing the United Mine Workers, specifically to shut out the more radical Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) which had called the strike.
The hard rock miners who mined Colorado's gold, silver, and other precious metals had unionized four decades earlier.
There were numerous productive mines in and around the Cripple Creek District in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. The Cripple Creek District was heavily working class. Many of the mine owners lived in Colorado Springs, on the plain to the east. Mine ore was refined in outlying areas around Colorado Springs, such as Colorado City.
Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek were in El Paso County. The miners of the Cripple Creek District resented domination of the county by the mine owners. In 1899, they succeeded in separating the mining areas from El Paso county by establishing Teller County.
In May 1893, forty delegates representing fifteen unions in South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado met in Butte, Montana to form the Western Federation of Miners. The delegates were motivated to form a larger federation because of the recent disastrous strike in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. In that 1892 struggle, military forces locked up 600 miners without hearings or formal charges as a response to violence.
In January 1894, mine owners tried to lengthen the workday for Cripple Creek miners from eight to ten hours without raising pay. This action provoked a strike by the miners. In response, mine owners brought in strike breakers. The miners intimidated the strike breakers, so the mine owners raised a private army of an estimated 1,200 armed men. The gunmen were deputized by El Paso County Sheriff F. M. Bowers, who the companies called upon to break the strike. The miners were also armed, and were prepared for a confrontation.
Colorado Governor Davis Waite went to Cripple Creek, evaluated the situation, and agreed to present the miners' case to the mine owners. After discussion in Denver, mine owners agreed to forego the longer workday in what was called the "Waite agreement."
However, the 1,200 gunmen were no longer under the sheriff's control, and were causing considerable disruption. Citizens of Cripple Creek were subjected to abuse, "many of whom, for no offence at all, were clubbed and kicked, dragged from the sidewalks, and forced to march between the lines of deputies."
Governor Waite called out the state militia to protect the coal miners and citizens of the district from the gunmen. After the threat of martial law, the mine owners agreed to disband their private army. The Waite agreement on miners' hours and wages subsequently went into effect, and lasted nearly a decade.
Downtown Cripple Creek was destroyed by fires in 1896. Carpenters and other construction workers rushed to the area to rebuild the city, and unions arose to organize them. The carpenter's union and other unions owed their leverage to the Western Federation of Miners. The strike victory in 1894 provided the clout which empowered unionism throughout the district, enabling the WFM to build labor organizations at the district, state, and regional levels. Under the leadership of Ed Boyce, Cripple Creek unions also helped to organize, and provided leadership for the Western Labor Union, a federation formed in response to the conservative American Federation of Labor (AFL) which had federated the craft unions in the east. In 1899, the WFM wrote industrial unionism, its response to the AFL's craft philosophy, into its charter. A significant conflict developed between the two union philosophies. The WFM unions accused the AFL of creating a labor aristocracy that divided workers and subverted class unity.
By 1900, Bill Haywood had joined the leadership of the WFM, and in 1902 Haywood and Charles Moyer took the reins of the organization as secretary treasurer and president, respectively. In 1899 a union newspaper, the Victor and Cripple Creek Daily Press began publication. The unions of the district were doing well, and they demonstrated political power by electing union members to public office, and successfully running a campaign to divorce the district from Colorado Springs and El Paso County, where the mine owners resided. Teller County was to be a union county where the eight-hour law was enforced, and workers were paid union scale. Unions used social pressure, boycotts, and strikes to ensure that union goals were enforced. The unions felt sufficiently powerful that they could simply announce wages and hours, and any businesses that failed to comply were boycotted. Non-union products were eliminated from saloons and grocery stores.
Mining companies acted on a concern about miners stealing high grade ore by hiring Pinkerton guards. In one case three hundred miners walked out to protest the policy, the company negotiated, and the Pinkerton guards were replaced by guards nominated by the union. The new agreement stipulated that miners suspected of theft would be searched by a fellow miner in the presence of a watchman. To insure a cooperative work force, mine managers and superintendents found it useful to urge all miners to join the union.
Outside the Cripple Creek District, however, things were not going so well for the unionizing effort. A difficult strike lost in Leadville caused the WFM to revisit its philosophy and tactics. In 1899 there was another disastrous confrontation at Coeur d'Alene. Surveying the situation, with hundreds of union miners locked up by the militia in vermin-infested bullpens for a year or more, Bill Haywood concluded that the companies and their supporters in government were conducting class warfare against the working class.
At their 1901 convention the WFM miners agreed to the proclamation that a "complete revolution of social and economic conditions" was "the only salvation of the working classes." WFM leaders openly called for the abolition of the wage system. By the spring of 1903 the WFM was the most militant labor organization in the country. This was a considerable change from the WFM's founding Preamble, which envisioned a future of arbitration and conciliation with employers, and an eventual end to the need for strikes.
Colorado's employers observed the WFM's annual conventions with trepidation, believing that the union's proclamations established it as a revolutionary presence, and that it was an organization with growing power. That the electoral ballot was intended as one of the WFM's primary methods of accomplishing a change in the system seemed not to matter to the employers and their supporters.
The WFM argued that working long hours underground, or breathing the fumes of a smelter, were hazardous to workers' health, and that the eight hour day should become state law for mine and mill workers. Republicans opposed the law, and sought an opinion from the Colorado Supreme Court. The Court advised that such a law would be unconstitutional.
Then a similar law was passed in Utah, and it withstood a U.S. Supreme Court challenge. Legislators friendly to the WFM adopted the precise language from the Utah law and introduced it into the legislature. Ignoring the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Colorado Supreme Court again asserted that the law was unconstitutional. It would take an amendment to the Colorado Constitution to satisfy the Colorado high court.
The WFM sought adoption via an amendment to the Colorado Constitution. Because the issue had been contentious for nearly a decade, the Republican, Democratic, and Populist parties all endorsed the amendment, and all three parties put the eight hour law in their platforms. The Colorado State Legislature passed the amendment, differing from the approved Utah law only through the addition of a penalty clause, and it was submitted to voters.
On November 4, 1902, Colorado voters passed the amendment 72,980 to 26,266, an approval rate of greater than 72 percent.
The new law, with the force of a state constitutional amendment, had only to go back to the state legislature in the 1903 session for final implementation. Under pressure from mining companies, the Colorado state government ignored the results of the referendum, and allowed the amendment to die. Governor Peabody, elected with pro-business support, had the opportunity to rescue the amendment, but opted not to do so. Writer Ray Stannard Baker declared,
Rarely has there been in this country a more brazen, conscienceless defeat of the will of the people.
When miners in Idaho Springs and Telluride decided that striking for the eight-hour day was the only way to win on the issue, they were rounded up at gunpoint by vigilante groups and expelled from their communities. Warrants were issued for the arrest of the law-breaking vigilantes, but they were not acted upon. To the miners of the WFM, the deck appeared increasingly stacked against them.
In May 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt would write that,
...the Governor of Colorado... [fell] into a grave error... in 1903 and 1904... The failure to insist that the legislature should obey the will of the people and pass the eight hour law, and if it did not do so to keep it in session every day of the whole time for which it was elected, was in my judgment unpardonable.
Republican James Peabody ran a campaign for governor of Colorado pledging to restore a conservative government which would be responsive to business and industry. He nonetheless expressed warm sentiments toward unionism while campaigning in the Cripple Creek District. Labor organizations were not persuaded and opposed his candidacy, but the Republicans gained control of the state government when the Democrats and Populists split the progressive ticket.
Peabody saw the Western Federation of Miners as a threat to his own class interests, to private property, to democratic institutions, and to the nation itself. He promised in his inaugural address to make Colorado safe for investments, if necessary using all the power of the state to accomplish his aims.
Meanwhile, a national employers' movement aimed directly at the power of unions was gaining strength. In his 1972 book Colorado's War On Militant Unionism, George Suggs, Jr. reported,
At the time of Peabody's inauguration, there were only a few employers' associations in the nation which were working effectively against union labor. The groups, linked only by their consuming hostility toward organized labor, were located principally in Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin. There they fought the unions to a standstill in open shop campaigns that emphasized the employer's right to manage his business without interference from labor. These organizations were not content with destroying militant unionism, and, in the words of two historians, ambitiously tried to erase the "organized labor pattern from the consciousness of the average American citizen" by the adroit use of propaganda which placed "organized labor on a moral defensive." They skillfully cloaked their public releases in the rhetoric of American individualism, and they convincingly portrayed union members and leaders as tyrants who oppressed the community and victimized the employer. Their propaganda proved successful in rallying local communities to support crusades against specific unions. Perceptive employers, watching those effective experiments in union control, decided that organized labor could be checked if they organized and marshalled public opinion behind their cause. What was obviously needed was a nationwide anti-union effort, one which would both curtail labor's growth and reduce its power in the economy.
In 1903, David M. Parry delivered a speech at the annual convention of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) that was a diatribe against organized labor. He argued that unions' goals would result in "despotism, tyranny, and slavery." Parry advocated the establishment of a great national anti-union federation under the control of the NAM, and the NAM responded by initiating such an effort.
Among those present at the Chicago conference was President James C. Craig of the Citizens' Alliance of Denver. Within three weeks after its creation on April 9, the Citizens' Alliance of Denver had enrolled nearly 3,000 individual and corporate members, and had a war chest of nearly $20,000. Both the NAM and the Citizens' Alliance of Denver believed in the principle of an employer's absolute control over the management of business. Craig led the fight against union labor throughout Colorado. The organization had a "clandestine character," and all the inner workings of the organization were enshrouded "in deep secrecy," raising the possibility that "the group might take extralegal action against all organized labor." The alliance stepped into the middle of labor disputes, and one of their early accomplishments was preventing amicable settlements between companies and their unions. Other employers' alliances in Colorado followed the constitutional formula of the Citizens' Alliance of Denver.
When the WFM's drive for the eight-hour day, supported by a majority vote of Colorado citizens, was thwarted, first by the judiciary and then by the state government, anger and frustration provoked walkouts by several WFM locals. It was the combination of corporate power, municipal power in the form of police protection, and leadership and coordination by the alliance that thwarted those strikes for the eight-hour day. In Idaho Springs, where strikebreakers worked in the mine, an explosion destroyed the powerhouse. One union miner had been mortally injured, and authorities therefore concluded that the union was responsible. A citizens' alliance type organization called the Citizens' Protective League stepped in and,
...for all practical purposes, displaced local authorities. This was the first takeover of civil government by an employers' association which occurred during the Peabody administration. The league was responsible for what happened to the union members who were swept up in the dragnet following the blast.
[O]fficials of the league decided that the most effective way to stop the thrust for an eight-hour day was to drive union leaders from the district. However, despite their control of the community, the league hesitated to use this drastic measure without public endorsement. On the night of July 29, after a day of angry threats to dynamite the jail and its [union] prisoners, nearly 500 citizens, including the majority of the town's businessmen, convened at the call of the league to plan a course of action. City officials openly participated in the proceedings. Prominent residents like Lafayette Hanchette, president of the First National Bank, whipped up the emotions of the crowd with inflammatory speeches which condemned the WFM, blamed its local officials for the powerhouse episode, and demanded that the men arrested and jailed for the crime be driven out of town. Moderates who counseled against mob action and urged that the guilt of the prisoners be determined by due process were ignored.
After expelling twenty-three union men from the community, the League took action to prevent any response by the union. They:
"directed law enforcement, held secret strategy sessions, ordered the arrest and interrogation of suspects whom they held incommunicado, watched incoming trains, and warned union sympathizers to leave town."
Although this was a "brazen, illegal exercise of power," Governor Peabody chose to ignore it. District Judge Frank W. Owens recognized the illegality of the expulsions, and issued an injunction against the League to prevent interference with the return of the union miners. Eight WFM members returned to Idaho Springs, were arrested and tried for the powerhouse explosion, and were acquitted. Owens then issued bench warrants for 129 of the Citizens' Protective League vigilantes who were charged with "rioting and making threats and assaults." The district attorney had cooperated with the League, and declined to prosecute the warrants.
In late 1902, the Western Federation of Miners boasted seventeen thousand members in one hundred locals. Bill Haywood, its powerful secretary treasurer and second in the chain of command, had adopted much of the industrial unionism philosophy of his mentor, former WFM leader Ed Boyce. Boyce had gone toe to toe with Samuel Gompers, head of the conservative AFL, over the question of union philosophy. Boyce and Haywood took to heart a lesson from the phenomenal success of the 1894 Pullman Strike when the American Railway Union (ARU) voted to join in solidarity, and also from the U.S. government's subsequent crushing of that strike with U.S. marshals and the United States army. From an industrial unionist point of view, that strike offered the opportunity for victory when members of the ARU selflessly voted support, yet was lost when leaders of the AFL failed to heed the call for a general strike in Chicago to defend the railway workers.
Where craft unionists of the AFL variety might have drawn the lesson that it was better for union workers to fight for members of their own craft, Haywood adopted the philosophy that labor needed more, not less, industrial unionism. To Haywood, a miner's union such as the WFM organizing other workers in the industry simply made good sense. A logical extension of that philosophy, then, was that all workers in an industrial union ought to be willing to stand up for the rights of other workers. When it came to those who milled the ore, Haywood believed he had the necessary weapon to force the mill owners to negotiate: the solidarity of the workers in the mines that fed the mills.
In August 1902, the WFM organized the mill workers of Colorado City, who refined the ore brought down from the Cripple Creek District. The mill operators hired Pinkerton detective A.H. Crane to infiltrate and spy upon the local union. Crane became "rather influential" in the union, and forty-two union men were fired. It was "practically admitted" that the dismissals were simply for joining the union. Charles MacNeill, vice-president and general manager of the United States Reduction and Refining Company (USRRC), refused to negotiate with the union, declining even to accept a document with the union's list of demands. The demands were moderate, requesting the rehiring of the union workers, the right to organize, and a small minimum wage increase. Thwarted in their efforts to negotiate, the mill workers went on strike on February 14 to protest the dismissals. When other mills also declined to accept the union's terms, they were struck as well.
Throughout the strike there was close cooperation between the mill operators and El Paso County law enforcement personnel. General Manager MacNeill received an appointment as deputy sheriff, and for a time the USRRC paid the salaries of additional deputies protecting its properties. Limited production continued with non-union workers, and strike-breakers were hired with the understanding that their jobs were permanent. Tensions mounted on the picket line, and the sheriff appointed more than seventy men for strike duty. But MacNeill was demanding 250 guards for the USRRC properties alone. W.R. Gilbert, sheriff of El Paso County, requested troops from the governor. He alleged to the governor that a state of riot existed in Colorado City. Yet it wasn't true; Benjamin Rastall, who wrote a Ph.D. thesis on the strike in 1905, declared that there was "no apparent necessity for the presence of troops... Colorado City was quiet... No destruction of property had occurred, and 65 deputies would seem an ample number." Gilbert later testified during an investigation that the troops were necessary not to suppress existng violence, but to prevent it. The investigation revealed enormous pressure on the sheriff from the refining companies to secure state troops.
National Guard troops were deployed and more than three hundred soldiers escorted non-union employees to and from work. The Colorado City mayor, the chief of police, and the city attorney complained to the governor, stating in a letter that "there is no disturbance here of any kind." At least 600 citizens of Colorado City opposed the deployment by signing petitions or sending wires to the governor stating, for example, that "a few occasional brawls" did not justify military occupation. But the soldiers dispersed union pickets. They searched union member's homes and they put the union hall under surveillance. They backed up their activities with two gatling guns.
Meanwhile, Governor Peabody took other actions which demonstrated that his support for Colorado's employers, and his disinclination to protect the civil rights of union members, were not aberrations. He worked in close association with Craig to form an employer-based citizens' alliance for his home town of Canon City, which the governor later joined. He appointed an anti-union mine manager and former sheriff's deputy from the Cripple Creek District, Sherman Bell, to the office of adjutant general, essentially insuring collusion between the mine operators and the Colorado National Guard. Bell was described as "an arrogant megalomaniac who thought that all labor problems were susceptible to a military solution."
For secretary of Colorado's state military board, Peabody appointed John Q. MacDonald, who happened to be manager of the Union smelter at Florence, part of the USRRC, the company that was in the middle of a Western Federation of Miners strike.
But Peabody wasn't finished with his provocative appointments. He was entitled by law to appoint two aides-de-camp, and these two men, Spencer Penrose and Charles M. MacNeill, were respectively treasurer, and vice-president/general manager of the USRRC. Peabody described MacNeill and Penrose as his two "Colorado Springs Colonels," referring to the community most favored by wealthy mine and mill owners.
The enemies of the Western Federation of Miners not only possessed the desire, they now controlled a military force capable of crushing the union, and all they needed was the excuse.
For ten years the WFM had succeeded repeatedly with short demonstration strikes, significant displays of solidarity, and negotiated settlements. The union believed that the mill workers' strike would be no different. In the past, many would-be adversaries had cooperated with the WFM because of their militant strength. But the alignment of power changed dramatically with a business-friendly governor, and employer representatives of a "struck" company in key positions in the Colorado National Guard.
The executive board of the WFM asked all mines to stop shipments of ore to the offending mills. This time the Cripple Creek Mine Owners' Association refused. Their refusal coincided roughly with a request sent to the governor for troops in Colorado City, site of some of the mills. The governor spoke to representatives of the union, but he simultaneously sought information about obtaining "an allotment of Krag guns," because "a serious strike was imminent."
Over the protests of local authorities, Governor Peabody would eventually send the Colorado National Guard to Telluride, the southern coal fields, Colorado City, and the Cripple Creek District.
However, the mill owners were not yet united. Officials at the Portland and Telluride mills in Colorado City accepted the union's terms, and their mills became unionized.
In the years prior to the Peabody administration, employers had sometimes disagreed with each other as much as with the union. Some operators held both mine and mill properties, others were concerned with what seemed to be exorbitant milling fees. Some owners controlled railroad interests, an additional complicating factor. One owner, Winfield Scott Stratton, was a working class miner who struck it rich. He identified with working people and always treated his employees better than did the other owners. He might have exerted a moderating influence on other mine owners, but he died in September 1902, shortly before Peabody came to power.
Faced with the possibility of a strike of all the WFM-organized mines to support the union effort at the mills, even MacNeill, the USRRC vice-president, general manager, deputy sheriff, and "Colorado Springs Colonel," eventually talked with the union, at Peabody's invitation. In light of subsequent events, Rastall wrote that it was "greatly to be regretted that Manager MacNeill insisted on taking such an uncompromising attitude... The union was acting in a conciliatory spirit, and had shown its willingness to come more than half way." No agreement was forthcoming. But then the WFM called some temporary strikes, and mines that fed MacNeill's mills stopped ore shipments. MacNeill agreed to meet with a committee of mill workers, but not with the union, and they came to a verbal agreement. Or so they thought.
MacNeill hired back most of the strikers, but they were offered different, less satisfactory jobs than they'd held before. MacNeill had promised to rehire all but fourteen union members, yet forty-two WFM members were not rehired. Some union men refused the proffered jobs because they had once belonged to other union men who were not re-hired. The union felt that MacNeill had acted, at least partly, in bad faith. The differences in pay and working conditions between the mills that had settled, and those that only partially implemented an agreement, became an issue. Then the Telluride mill threatened to cut wages. There seemed to be no easy solution to a chaotic situation. The WFM leadership called a strike in all mines that shipped ore to Colorado City, and more than three thousand five hundred miners in the Cripple Creek District walked out to support the mill workers. The die had been cast.
Even as the strike spread from the mills in Colorado City to the mines in the Cripple Creek District, it still seemed possible – at least to some of the WFM leaders, WFM President Moyer included – that the union could still enlist some mine owners to pressure mill operators to settle the strike. However, although individual owners remained divided, the Cripple Creek Mine Owners' Association pre-empted any such consideration, declaring that none of the WFM's issues were local to the Cripple Creek District. Indeed, that argument by the CCMOA resonated with many of the union miners, who had given up their right to vote on strikes individually in their convention, and may have privately had second thoughts.
But the maverick owner of the Portland mine, who had come to terms with the union five months earlier over the mill workers' strike, once again broke ranks with the other mine/mill operators and came to an agreement with the WFM. Five hundred miners returned to work, offering a glimmer of hope to the WFM leadership.
The WFM wielded tremendous economic leverage in the Cripple Creek District. Unfortunately, everything depended upon the mining of gold. Merchants were concerned that the union seemed willing to hold the local economy hostage, all for the sake of mill workers who weren't even in the district. The concept of industrial unionism may have seemed obvious to union miners, but it wasn't a persuasive philosophy to their creditors. Many of the merchants announced that they would sell only for cash, cutting off credit for miners on strike. Then Craig arrived to help the merchants establish the Cripple Creek District Citizens' Alliance, with about five hundred businessmen and others joining up in the first week.
By the end of August 1903 the entire district was polarized and tense, with any chance for a settlement rapidly slipping away. Mine owners and businessmen had concluded that the central issue of the strike was who would control the district, and they were reluctant to give up any of the control that they had.
Several incidents occurred in the Cripple Creek District, some strike related, some probably not. A union member's house burned, and so did the shaft-house at the Sunset-Eclipse mine. Some individuals were beaten, possibly related to the strike. Sheriff Henry Robertson, a member of the WFM, deputized guards for the mines, their salaries provided by the mine operators. The sheriff saw no reason to request state support, insisting that he was investigating the crimes. The county commissioners and the mayor of Cripple Creek supported the sheriff. The mine owners disagreed, and so did Mayor French of nearby Victor, who happened to be manager of the C.C.C. Sampler.
Although he had been enormously pleased with support for intervention in Colorado City by wealthy employers, bankers and businessmen around the state, Governor Peabody hesitated. WFM President Charles Moyer had portrayed the Colorado City intervention as unnecessary, and certainly many had seen it that way. But the hesitation appeared to be only for appearances; Peabody appointed three individuals to an investigative team, two of whom had already recommended intervention. The union was not consulted during their investigation, and only Sheriff Robertson and Mayor Shockey were able to speak out against intervention. The commission concluded that a "reign of terror" existed in the district, and intervention was justified. The Cripple Creek Mine Owners' Association agreed to secretly finance the troops. By the end of September 1903 nearly a thousand soldiers were guarding the Cripple Creek District mines and patrolling the roads.
As in Colorado City, the civil authorities and a large number of citizens in the Cripple Creek District deplored the intervention. The county commissioners unanimously condemned it. The Victor city council claimed that Mayor French had deliberately misrepresented conditions and the wishes of his constituents when he supported intervention. Sheriff Robertson declared publicly that the governor had exceeded his authority. Mass meetings and demonstrations opposed the decision. More than two thousand signatures were collected on petitions protesting the action.
Yet the CCMOA, the Cripple Creek Citizens' Alliance, and other employers' associations supported the action. The goal of the employers' organizations was not just ending the strike, but terminating the influence of the union. The CCMOA announced plans to sweep the WFM from the district. Peabody facilitated that goal in his orders to Sherman Bell, which directed the National Guard to assume the responsibilities of the local sheriff and civil officials.
In her 1998 book All That Glitters, historian Elizabeth Jameson included an assessment of the threat of violence:
A Pinkerton detective reported that there was "no radical talk or threats of any kind that I can hear, on the part of the miners," that the soldiers and miners were becoming friendly, and that some soldiers sympathized with the strikers.
But the National Guard leaders were ready for war. A thousand Krag-Jorgensen rifles and sixty thousand rounds of ammunition were sent to the district. Jameson also wrote about the intentions of Sherman Bell, the former mine manager:
Bell was direct about his purpose: "I came to do up this damned anarchistic federation." His junior officer, Thomas McClellend, declared, "To hell with the constitution, we aren't going by the constitution." Bell justified the ensuing reign of terror as a "military necessity, which recognizes no laws, either civil or social."
Sherman Bell was able to supplement his official state salary with $3,200 annual pay from the mine owners, and he may have wanted them to know they would get their money's worth. Rastall said of Bell,
He returned to Colorado [from the Spanish-American War] to be hailed as a popular hero for a time, but soon lost the admiration of the public through his overbearing ways and self-conceit... his idea seemed to have been to make the most gorgeous military display possible, and to give himself the largest notoriety as a military leader.
George Suggs observed,
Using force and intimidation to shut off debate about the advisability of the state's intervention, Brigadier General John Chase, Bell's field commander, systematically imprisoned without formal charges union officials and others who openly questioned the need for troops. Included among those jailed were a justice of the peace, the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, and a member of the WFM who had criticized the guard and advised the strikers not to return to the mines.
So frequently were individuals placed in the military stockade or "bull pen" at Goldfield for reasons of "military necessity" and for "talking too much" in support of the strike that the Cripple Creek Times of September 15 advised its readers not to comment on the strike situation. Not even the newspapers escaped harassment. When the Victor Daily Record, a strong voice of the WFM, erroneously charged that one of the soldiers was an ex-convict, its staff was imprisoned before a retraction could be published.
While Victor Daily Record editor George Kyner and four printers were in the bullpen, Emma Langdon, a Linotype typesetting machine operator married to one of the imprisoned printers, sneaked into the Daily Record office and barricaded herself inside. She printed the next edition of the paper, and then delivered it to the prisoners in the bullpen, surprising the guards in the process.
On September 10 the National Guard began "a series of almost daily arrests" of union officers and men known to be strongly in sympathy with the unions. When District Judge W. P. Seeds of Teller County held a hearing on writs of habeas corpus for four union men held in the stockade, Sherman Bell's response was caustic. "Habeas corpus be damned," he declared, "we'll give 'em post mortems." Approximately ninety cavalrymen entered Cripple Creek and surrounded the courthouse. The prisoners were escorted into the courtroom by a company of infantry equipped with loaded rifles and fixed bayonets, and the soldiers remained standing in a line during the court sessions. Other soldiers took up sniper positions and set up a gatling gun in front of the courthouse. Angered by the intimidating display, an attorney for the prisoners refused to proceed and left the court. Undaunted after several days of such displays, the judge ruled for the prisoners. Judge Seeds commented in his closing remarks,
I trust that there will never again be such an unseemly and unnecessary intrusion of armed soldiers in the halls and about the entrances of American Courts of Justice. They are intrusions that can only tend to bring this court into contempt, and make doubtful the boasts of that liberty that is the keynote of American Government.
Yet Chase refused to release the men until Governor Peabody ordered him to do so.
Even those Colorado newspapers which had supported the intervention expressed concern that court orders were not being obeyed by the National Guard. The Army and Navy Journal weighed in, observing that the Colorado National Guard had been placed,
...in the relation of hired men to the mine operators and [the arrangement] morally suspended their function of state military guardians of the public peace. It was a rank perversion of the whole theory and purpose of the National Guard, and more likely to incite disorder than prevent it.
The Colorado Constitution of the period "declares that the military shall always be in strict subordination to the civil power." The district court ruled that Bell and Chase should be arrested for violating the law. Bell responded by declaring that no civil officer would be allowed to serve civil processes to any National Guard officer on duty.
Within a week after the arrival of troops, the Findlay, Strong, Elkton, Tornado, Thompson, Ajax, Shurtloff, and Golden Cycle mines began operations again, and recruited replacement workers were "practically forced" to go to work. The mine owners recruited from surrounding states, telling the potential miners that there was no strike. Emil Peterson, a worker recruited from Duluth, ran when he realized the purpose of the military escort. Lieutenant Hartung fired a pistol at him as he ran. A warrant for the lieutenant was ignored by the military officers.
The CCMOA began to pressure companies to fire union miners who were still working in mines that had not been struck. Companies that refused to do so, or who in some other way refused to join the employers' alliance movement, were blacklisted. When the Woods Investment Company ordered their employees to quit the WFM, the employees joined the strike instead. The superintendent and the shift bosses accompanied all of the workers out the door.
In the election of 1903, organized labor won a victory. Claiming that the mine owners controlled both the Republican and the Democratic candidates for county assessor, Teller county labor united behind a candidate on the Independent Citizens ticket, and won. A different story dominated the local news, however. A railroad track walker had discovered missing spikes.
According to Peter Carlson, author of the book Roughneck, written about the life of WFM leader Big Bill Haywood, the incident at first appeared to be an attempt to wreck a train carrying strike breakers to non-union mines. A former member of the WFM by the name of H.H. McKinney was arrested and confessed to K.C. Sterling, a detective employed by the Mine Owners' Association, and D.C. Scott, a detective for the railroad, that he had pulled the spikes. McKinney implicated the president of District Union No. 1, the president of the Altman local, and a WFM activist in an alleged conspiracy to wreck the train. But then McKinney repudiated his confession by writing a second confession, stating that he had been promised a pardon, immunity, a thousand dollars, and a ticket to wherever he and his wife wanted to go, to "any part of the world," if he would lie about the spikes. He didn't know who had pulled them, and the first confession had been brought to him, already prepared, while he was in the jail.
McKinney and his wife were then given new suits of clothing, and he was granted "unusual privileges", allowed to spend time away from the jail for free meals and to see his wife. A trial was held for the three union men, and McKinney changed his story again, this time asserting that his original confession was true, and that the repudiation was false. He testified that he didn't know who paid for the meals and clothes.
But some of the testimony in the trial implicated the detectives who had arrested McKinney. One of the two arresting detectives admitted to being employed by the CCMOA for "secret work," and a third detective confessed to helping plot the derailing. One of the detectives had also been seen with another man working on the railroad tracks. The plot had been hatched by detectives employed by the railroad and the Mine Owners Association, with the intent of blaming the union.
Rastall reported that McKinney testified he would be willing to kill two hundred or more people for five hundred dollars. In his autobiography, Bill Haywood, the secretary treasurer of the Western Federation of Miners, stated that the president of the Victor Miners' Union and many other union men were on the train. Haywood described McKinney as a "rounder and a pimp" who had also worked with a third detective named (Charles) Beckman, from the Thiel Detective Service Company. Beckman had worked undercover as a member of Victor Miners Union No. 32 since April. His wife was an undercover member of the union's Ladies' Auxiliary.
Additional testimony indicated that Detective Scott inquired of a railroad engineer named Rush, where would be the worst place for a train wreck. Rush pointed out the high bridge where, if a rail was pulled, the train would crash three or four hundred feet down an embankment, killing or injuring all on the train. Scott told Rush to be on the lookout for damaged track that night at that spot. Later that evening Rush stopped his train, walked ahead on the track and discovered that spikes had been pulled.
Sterling admitted in his testimony that the three detectives had tried to induce WFM members to derail the train. But in Bill Haywood's perception, Detectives Sterling and Scott put all the blame on McKinney and Detective Beckman. A jury of non-union ranchers and timbermen unanimously found the three union men "not guilty." McKinney was allowed to go free on the train-wrecking charge, but was later arrested for perjury. He was released on $300 bond, which the Mine Owners' Association covered. Detectives Sterling, Scott, and Beckman were never arrested.
In Telluride, all was peaceful. Peabody withdrew the militia, and dozens of expelled strikers returned to the area. The Citizens' Alliance responded by issuing National Guard rifles to attendees at their meeting. The meeting was adjourned and the armed vigilantes immediately rounded up seventy-eight of the union men and sympathizers, and expelled them again.
During the Telluride strike, a union man named Henry Maki had been chained to a telegraph pole. Bill Haywood used a photo of Maki to illustrate a poster displaying an American flag, with the caption, "Is Colorado in America?" The poster was widely distributed, and gained considerable attention for the WFM strike. Peter Carlson describes the "desecrated flag" poster as famous, and "perhaps the most controversial broadside in American history."
The WFM obtained an injunction against further deportations in Telluride, and WFM President Charles Moyer decided to go there to test the injunction. Moyer was arrested on a charge of desecrating the flag for having signed the poster, and the National Guard refused to release him when the civilian courts ordered them to do so. For the journey, Moyer had accepted an offer from a Cripple Creek striker by the name of Harry Orchard to travel along as a bodyguard. Orchard was destined to become one of America's most famous, and controversial, assassins.
Much of the history of the Cripple Creek strike is shrouded in mystery because Harry Orchard was such a riddle. Who was he working for? What were his goals? In a trial three years later, Orchard would confess to having served as a paid informant for the Mine Owners Association. He reportedly told a companion, G.L. Brokaw, that he had been a Pinkerton employee for some time. Perhaps Orchard was a Pinkerton operative who later pressed his luck too far, or perhaps he simply had his own agenda and sought opportunity working for both sides in labor disputes. Newspaper reporters were initially very impressed with his calm demeanor on the witness stand, even under cross-examination. But historians still disagree about Harry Orchard's bloody legacy.
In 1875, some thirty years earlier, an agent for the Pinkerton detective agency infiltrated an organization of rebellious Pennsylvania coal miners called the Molly Maguires. After James McParland's testimony resulted in the execution of nineteen union men in the subsequent trials, he moved to Denver to run the regional Pinkerton office. McParland directed the activities of scores of spies that had been placed within the Western Federation of Miners. Charles MacNeill, general manager of the USRRC refining company, had been a Pinkerton client since 1892.
I had been having some difficulty with the relief committee of the Denver smelter men. At first we had been giving out relief at such a rate that I had to tell the chairman that he was providing the smelter men with more than they had had while at work. Then he cut down the rations until the wives of the smelter men began to complain that they were not getting enough to eat. Years later, when his letters were published in The Pinkerton Labor Spy, I discovered that the chairman of the relief committe (sic) was a Pinkerton detective, who was carrying out the instructions of the agency in his methods of handling the relief work, deliberately trying to stir up bad feeling between the strikers and the relief committee.
Historian J. Bernard Hogg, who wrote "Public Reaction to Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," observed:
Much of the hard feeling toward the Pinkertons was engendered by the fact that not infrequently detectives worked their way into high positions in the union and then revealed the intentions of the organization to the employer.
A second and similar function of the detective was to work his way into the union during strikes. From this advantageous position information could be secured against the leaders; and if arrest and conviction followed, the strike would be broken...
A detective will join the ranks of the strikers and at once become an ardent champion of their cause. He is next found committing an aggravated assault upon some man or woman who has remained at work, thereby bringing down upon the heads of the officers and members of the assembly or union directly interested, the condemnation of all honest people, and aiding very materially to demoralize the organization and break their ranks. He is always on hand in the strikers' meeting to introduce some extremely radical measure to burn the mill or wreck a train, and when the meeting has adjourned he is ever ready to furnish the Associated Press with a full account of the proposed action, and the country is told that a "prominent and highly respected member" of the strikers' organization has just revealed a most daring plot to destroy life and property, but dare not become known in connection with the exposure for fear of his life!
Hogg makes several additional points that are of interest: a local sheriff was frequently overwhelmed by the requirements of managing a strike, thus necessitating the "Pinkerton" role; that Pinkerton guards were secured "by advertising, by visiting United States recruiting offices for rejectees, and by frequenting water fronts where men were to be found going to sea as a last resort of employment," and that "[to] labor they were a 'gang of toughs and ragtails and desperate men, mostly recruited by Pinkerton and his officers from the worst elements of the community.'" This may be an overly-broad generalization, but the description appears to fit well in the case of Harry Orchard.
Using dynamite to effect social changes seems to have been a tradition in the Cripple Creek District even when there was no strike. Private assay offices catered to the individual prospector, and to miners who secreted gold out of the mines. Mine owners were concerned about ore theft, and several large mines hired Pinkerton agents beginning in 1897, but high grading – the diversion of rich gold ore by miners – was difficult to control. Jameson observes that "the Mine Owners' Association paid (someone) to blow up assay offices in 1902 to try to stop high grading."
The Western Federation of Miners (or at least its members) routinely intimidated strike breakers, and also had resorted to violence, such as blowing up an Idaho mill in 1899.
That detectives hired by the mine owners sought to create incidents which could be blamed upon the union simply complicates our task in understanding who in particular inspired much of the violence. The Colorado Labor Wars are fascinating in part because we know so much, but we know so little for certain.
On November 21, two management employees at the Vindicator mine were killed by an explosion at the 600 foot level. The coroner's jury could not determine what had caused the explosion. Although the mine was heavily guarded by soldiers and no unauthorized personnel were permitted to approach, the CCMOA blamed the explosion on the WFM. Fifteen strike leaders were arrested but were never prosecuted because evidence of their involvement never materialized.
The union blamed the employers for the Vindicator mine explosion, claiming it was just another devious plot that went wrong. That incident and the apparent efforts to wreck a train raised tensions and provoked rumors throughout the Cripple Creek District. It was said that a shadowy vigilante organization called the Committee of 40, which was composed of "known 'killers' and the 'best' citizens," was formed to uphold law and order. The miners were said to have formed a "Committee of Safety" in response, for they feared that the Committee of 40 planned acts of violence that could be blamed on the WFM, thus creating a pretext for the union's destruction. The National Guard stepped up its harassment, and began arresting children who chided the soldiers. On December 4, 1903, the governor proclaimed that Teller County was in a "state of insurrection and rebellion" and he declared martial law.
Sherman Bell immediately announced that "the military will have sole charge of everything..." The governor seemed embarrassed at Bell's public interpretation of the decree and tried to soften the public perception. Bell was undeterred; within weeks, the National Guard suspended the Bill of Rights. Union leaders were arrested and either thrown in the bullpen, or banished. Prisoners who won habeas corpus cases were released in court and then immediately re-arrested. The Victor Daily Record was placed under military censorship, and all WFM-friendly information was prohibited. Freedom of assembly was not allowed. The right to bear arms was suspended–citizens were required to give up their firearms and their ammunition. An attorney who dared the Guard to come and get his guns found himself confronting soldiers and was shot in the arm. On January 7, 1904, the Guard criminalized "loitering or strolling about, frequenting public places where liquor is sold, begging or leading an idle, immoral, or profligate course of life, or not having any visible means of support."
On January 26, 1904, a cage full of non-union miners broke from the hoist at the Independence mine, and fifteen men fell to their deaths. The coroner's jury found that management was negligent, having failed to install safety equipment properly. The WFM echoed the accusation about negligence, while management claimed the WFM had tampered with the lift, in spite of the union having no access to the militarized property. Reportedly 168 men quit the mine.
On March 12, troops occupied the WFM's Union Hall in Victor. Merchants were arrested for displaying union posters. Then the CCMOA began pressuring employers inside and outside the district to fire union miners, issuing and requiring a "non-union card" to work in the area, while the WFM took counter-measures to limit the impact.
In spite of all the repression, only 300 of the original 3,500 strikers had returned to work as scabs. The rest of the miners had not repudiated their leadership, as the CCMOA had expected. There was evidence that the non-union mine operators were paying a heavy price for their actions, and the union believed that it was winning the strike.
On June 6, 1904, there was a horrific explosion at the Independence Depot. Thirteen non-union men were killed – some of them mutilated – and six more were injured. Sheriff Robertson rushed to the scene, roped off the area, and began an investigation.
The district split into opposing camps based upon whether the WFM was presumed innocent or guilty.
Immediately after the explosion, the CCMOA and the Citizens' Alliance met at Victor's Military Club in the Armory and plotted the removal of all civil authorities that they did not control. Their first target was Sheriff Robertson. When he declined to resign immediately, they fired several shots, produced a rope, and gave him the choice of resignation or immediate lynching. He resigned. The mine owners replaced him with a man who was a member of the CCMOA and of the Citizens' Alliance. In the next few days the CCMOA and the Citizens' Alliance forced more than thirty local officials to resign, and replaced them with enemies of the WFM.
Then ignoring the objections of the county commissioners, the employers called a town meeting directly across the street from the WFM Union Hall in Victor. The city marshal of Victor deputized about a hundred deputies to stop the meeting, but Victor Mayor French, an ally of the mine owners, fired the marshal. An angry crowd of several thousand gathered, and anti-union speeches were made by members of the CCMOA. Rastall records,
C.C. Hamlin [secretary of the Mine Owners' Association] mounted an empty wagon, and began a speech which from the first became violent, unrestrained, with judgment and caution thrown to the winds, of a kind that could not but arouse to frenzy men whose passions were already deeply stirred... [He declared that] the people should take the law into their own hands... A single shot was fired. Then there came a fusilade of shots... men were seen to draw their revolvers and fire simply at random into the crowd... Five men lay on the ground, two of them fatally wounded... The wonder is that twenty men were not killed instead of two.
Fifty union miners left the scene to cross the street to the union hall.
Company L of the National Guard, a detachment from Victor that was commanded by a mine manager, surrounded the WFM building, took up sniper positions on nearby rooftops, and began to fire volley after volley into the union hall. Four miners were hit, and the men inside were forced to surrender. The Citizens' Alliance and their allies then wrecked the hall, wrecked all other WFM halls in the district, and looted four WFM cooperative stores. The Victor Daily Record workforce was again arrested. The day of the explosion, all mine owners, managers, and superintendents were deputized. Groups of soldiers, sheriff's deputies, and citizens roamed the district, looking for union members. Approximately 175 people – union men, sympathizers, city officials – were locked into outdoor bullpens in Victor, Independence, and Goldfield. Food requirements were ignored until the Women's Auxiliary was eventually allowed to feed the men.
On June 7, the day after the explosion, the Citizens' Alliance set up kangaroo courts and deported 38 union members. General Sherman Bell arrived with instructions to legalize the process of deportation. He "tried" 1,569 union prisoners. More than 230 were judged guilty – meaning they refused to renounce the union – and were loaded onto special trains and dumped across the state line. For all practical purposes, in a matter of days the Western Federation of Miners had been destroyed in Colorado's mining camps.
Governor Peabody worked with the Italian secret service and the Italian consul in Denver to expel "undesirable aliens" from mining districts.
On June 8, General Bell attacked an unsuspecting camp of fifteen union prospectors eight miles south of Victor with one hundred and thirty soldiers and deputies. The miners, who altogether possessed two rifles, three shotguns, and five revolvers, were no match for their fully armed assailants. One was killed and fourteen surrendered.
Eight armed men destroyed the office and machinery of the pro-union Victor Daily Record. The WFM was blamed, even though the printers recognized Citizens' Alliance members in the wrecking party. Governor Peabody offered to cover the losses with state funds, and the paper resumed operations as an anti-union paper.
The National Guard stopped all work at the remaining union mines. This anti-free enterprise action was carried out on the Portland mine, the Pride of Cripple Creek, the Winchester mine, and the Morgan leases at Anaconda. Miners were arrested at shift change and deported. The owner of the Portland mine filed lawsuits to challenge the mine closing, but he was stopped by stockholders who preferred a non-union mine.
General Bell then ordered that all aid to families left behind by the deported miners had to be channeled through the National Guard. By such means he hoped to starve them out, insuring that the miners would have no reason to return to the district. Members of the Women's Auxiliary who distributed food in secret were arrested, taken to the bullpen and intimidated, although they were not held. Over the coming weeks other incidents of intimidation, gunfire, beatings, and expulsion erased every visible trace of unionism in the district.
C.C. Hamlin, the secretary of the Mine Owners' Association who had started the riot, would later be elected District Attorney. When court cases were brought against mine owners, mine managers, mill owners, bankers, deputy sheriffs, and other members of the Citizens' Alliance for deporting the union men, and for beatings and destruction, Hamlin refused to prosecute any of the cases.
A Telluride merchant, Harry Floaten, had been deported for his union sympathies. He, along with others, tried for three days to meet with Governor Peabody about their treatment at the hands of an anti-union mob, but Peabody refused to see them. Floaten penned a bitter parody that, according to Peter Carlson, "channeled the miners' frustrations.":
After decades of struggle in the mines of the West, the miners who made up the Western Federation of Miners had come to a class analysis of their circumstances. Haywood said that miners were exploited by "barbarous gold barons" who "did not find the gold, they did not mine the gold, they did not mill the gold, but by some weird alchemy all the gold belonged to them."
The language of the Cripple Creek District Citizens' Alliance suggests that they also viewed the struggle as a class conflict. Their resolutions to Governor Peabody spoke not of prosecuting the lawless strikers, but rather of "controlling the lawless classes." This view echoed that expressed by the governor when he declared martial law, declaring that such actions were taken to counter "a certain class of individuals who are acting together..."
The governor publicly allied himself with the employers' alliances, and he thanked Craig of the Denver Citizens' Alliance for the honor of receiving "membership card No. 1." The governor meanwhile spoke of his supporters – in particular, donors to a "Law and Order Banquet" – as the "best element of the State." The railroads offered half-priced fare for those attending the banquet, and "business and industrial leaders flocked into Denver from all over the state" to honor Governor Peabody for "his stand on law and order."
The explosion at the Independence Depot was never properly investigated, for the civil authorities were deposed or deported in the aftermath, and those who replaced them assumed WFM guilt. Nonetheless, it is generally accepted that Harry Orchard, the WFM member who for one day acted as a bodyguard to WFM President Charles Moyer, and who would later assassinate former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg, may have been involved in the crime. Testimony in the Steunenberg case was only indirectly related to events in Colorado, so all inquiries into the Cripple Creek violence have been incomplete. But that testimony offers some intriguing insights.
In addition to admitting he had been a paid informer for the Mine Owners' Association and bragging about having been a Pinkerton agent, Orchard signed a confession to a series of bombings and shootings which had killed at least seventeen men, including the explosions at the Independence Depot and the Vindicator mine.
Orchard's testimony in the 1907 trial of Bill Haywood revealed that Orchard's contacts were K.C. Sterling, CCMOA detective, and D.C. Scott, the railroad detective, both of whom had been involved in the plot to wreck a train. Sterling had previously admitted the goal of blaming such violence on the Western Federation of Miners.
Unlike other WFM members, Orchard had freedom to operate. He testified that the detectives paid him small sums of money, and arranged safe passage for him through the National Guard lines where union men were not permitted. Orchard recalled that "[Scott] told me if I ever got into trouble with the militia to let him know."
Orchard blamed the WFM for directing him in a number of brutal attacks, including the explosion at the Independence depot. But there was circumstantial evidence and testimony implicating agents of the mine owners for that explosion. Witnesses to the depot explosion saw what may have been explosive powder being carried by CCMOA detective Al Bemore from the Vindicator mine to the depot. A bloodhound later followed a scent trail from the triggering device toward the Vindicator mine, and also to Detective Bemore's house. One source reported a meeting between Bemore and Orchard the day before the explosion.
K.C. Sterling was told via telephone of bloodhounds tracking to the Vindicator mine, and he allegedly said to call off the dogs, they were on a false scent, and he knew who the dynamiter was.
A.C. Cole was a former Victor high school teacher and Republican who served as secretary of the Victor Citizens' Alliance, and a second lieutenant of Company L, which fired upon the WFM union hall on the day of the depot explosion. He testified that preparations by the Victor militia had already been underway for the anticipated "riot" in the days preceding the explosion, and that they anticipated the specific date of a significant unspecified event. He had earlier been asked to participate in creating some sort of provocation, and refused. As a result of that refusal he was dismissed from his position with the Citizens' Alliance five days before the Independence Depot explosion occurred.
Cole stated that most of the militia and prominent members of the Citizens' Alliance stayed at the Baltimore Hotel in Victor the night before the explosion. A militia captain exhibited excitement and anticipation when he checked arms and supplies that night before the explosion. Cole testified that "It was generally understood and freely discussed that a riot was to be precipitated." Other members of the Victor militia corroborated Cole's story. Also, a sergeant in the Cripple Creek militia testified that he saw a murder committed by two Mine Owners' Association gunmen to keep someone quiet about the Independence depot explosion. There was additional testimony that the mine owners had plotted the Independence depot explosion, but had not intended to take lives. A couple of individuals stated, in effect, that a change of the work shift had put the non-union workers onto the depot platform at the wrong time.
It is widely accepted by popular writers and documentarians that the WFM was guilty of bombing the Independence Depot either because Harry Orchard was a union member, or because the WFM had the obvious motive of attacking strike breakers. An examination of conclusions drawn by a variety of writers and historians suggests that we should not accept the popular view so quickly.
Elizabeth Jameson summarized her research into the question of violence,
Whether or not individual members of the Western Federation of Miners committed violent acts during the strike, violence was not union policy. It was, however, the policy of the (Cripple Creek) Mine Owners' Association, the Citizens' Alliance, and the militia.
In 1906 Rastall concluded in part, before the Steunenberg trials in Idaho took place,
Concerning the crimes committed during the latter part of the strike so little evidence has been adduced, that judgment must, for the present, be suspended. Especially is this true since, at the time the outrages were committed, the district was completely in the hands of those who sought in every possible way to fasten the guilt upon the unions.
Many of the men employed as guards by the mine owners during the strike were roughs of the worst type, men with criminal records either before or since that time... there were in the employ of the Mine Owners' Association during the strike men capable of almost any crime, and that, as pointed out by the unions, these men might as logically be blamed for the overt acts of the strike as any men who could possibly have belonged to the unions.
Rastall appears to agree with some other writers that,
In the train wrecking case the union attorneys succeeded in throwing a great deal of suspicion on Detectives Scott and Sterling. Charles Beckman, who had joined the Federation as a detective for the mine owners, admitted that he had been urging the commission of various overt acts...
In spite of the portrayal of the WFM as a criminal organization, writer George Suggs concluded in his book about the Colorado Labor Wars,
"...at no time did the WFM engage in armed resistance against the constituted authorities, even when their extreme harassment and provocation might have justified it."
However, Suggs observed that in the Cripple Creek strike, "violence against union members and sympathizers was common."
In the century since the Colorado Labor Wars changed the political and economic landscape of the area, no clear and indisputable evidence has come to light exclusively implicating either the Western Federation of Miners, or the Mine Owners' Association and their allies, in the worst atrocities. Historians continue to debate who blew up the Independence Depot, and who paid them to do so. Arguments may be offered either way; absent any new evidence, expressions of certainty are almost certainly unwarranted.
Coinciding with J. Bernard Hogg's analysis of agents provocateurs in "Pinkertonism and the Labor Question," William B. Easterly, president of WFM District Union No. 1, testified that the only person who discussed violence at Altman WFM meetings during the strike turned out to be a detective.
J. Bernard Hogg also wrote of "toughs and ragtails and desperate men, mostly recruited by Pinkerton and his officers from the worst elements of the community." Harry Orchard's testimony revealed that he was a bigamist, and that he had burned businesses for the insurance money in Cripple Creek and Canada. Orchard had burglarized a railroad depot, rifled a cash register, stole sheep, and had made plans to kidnap children over a debt. He also sold fraudulent insurance policies.
Earlier in the strike, Detective Scott had paid Orchard, provided him with a railroad pass, and sent him to Denver where he would meet Bill Haywood for the first time, and offer his services as a bodyguard for Charles Moyer. That trip to Telluride delivered WFM President Moyer into the hands of the San Miguel County Sheriff and the National Guard. It is unknown whether this was coincidence or the result of a plan.
After former Idaho Governor Frank Steunenberg was murdered and evidence pointed at Orchard, Pinkerton Detective James McParland obtained Orchard's confession by threatening him with immediate hanging, and said that he could avoid that fate only if he testified against leaders of the WFM. As, apparently, in McKinney's case and the Steve Adams case, Orchard was offered the possibility of freedom and a vague promise of financial reward for implicating union officials in court, with witness coaching as part of the package.
According to Peter Carlson's 1971 book Roughneck, Orchard's original confession has never been released. In 1907 a comprehensive Orchard confession was published for public consumption; in that document Orchard describes experimenting with a pistol as a triggering device for explosives.  Shattered pistols were found at the Vindicatior explosion site and the Independence Depot explosion site. These and other claims are worth exploring, but there were also some significant contradictions in Orchard's allegations.
In light of an accusation by Steve Adams that Orchard's trial confession was revised with McParland's help over many months, we don't know what might be learned if Orchard's original confession was compared with the released confession. But we do know the results of his confession and testimony as translated into court decisions.
Orchard attempted to implicate at least five WFM men in the crimes to which he confessed. Three of those men stood trial in five court cases, four trials in Idaho and one in Colorado. The juries did not find Orchard's testimony sufficiently credible to convict any of the three defendants who actually stood trial. The charges against the fourth, WFM president Moyer, were dismissed, and the fifth individual, a WFM executive board member, could not be found.
Eventually alone facing justice, Orchard was arraigned for Steunenberg's murder in District Court at Caldwell, Idaho, on Tuesday, March 10, 1908. He pleaded guilty. On March 18, 1908, Judge Fremont Wood sentenced Orchard to hang on the execution date of May 15, 1908. His sentence was commuted, and he lived out the rest of his life in an Idaho prison.
As before, Bill Haywood's faith in industrial unionism was animated in part by a sense of betrayal. The Western Federation of Miners had been powerful in Colorado, but failed to gain the support of AFL unions, thus becoming vulnerable to a striker replacement strategy. Haywood's analysis concluded that the strike was defeated when unionized railroad workers – all members of AFL craft unions – continued to haul ore from the mines to the mills, in spite of strike breakers having been introduced at mine and at mill. "The railroaders form the connecting link in the proposition that is scabby at both ends," Haywood wrote. "This fight, which is entering its third year, could have been won in three weeks if it were not for the fact that the trade unions are lending assistance to the mine operators."
The Western Federation of Miners didn't die during the Colorado Labor Wars. A number of WFM miners and leaders traveled to Chicago in 1905 to help launch the Industrial Workers of the World.
In 1909 the Colorado State Legislature paid $60,000 to the Western Federation of Miners as compensation for damages inflicted by state troops on the WFM cooperative stores in the Cripple Creek District, and on the WFM union hall in Victor.
The WFM later changed its name to the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers. Under that name the union inspired the movie Salt of the Earth. The renamed union eventually merged with the United Steelworkers.
The Western Federation of Miners union hall in Victor, Colorado still stands, bullet holes and all, but is in need of restoration.
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