Legacy of Ludlow Massacre lives on, stronger than ever

June 5, 2005
Irene Dotson rarely talked about the day the soldiers came. She was only 2 years old at Ludlow, too young to remember the shootout with the miners, the screams of the dying, the flight in terror into the hills.
In May 2003, the monument to the five miners, two women and 11 children killed in the Ludlow Massacre was vandalized. Someone broke the heads off the granite statues and took them. Today, after more than two years of work, the restored monument will be unveiled. It’s a day Dotson didn’t live to see. Her daughter, Betty Rickel, will go instead, to honor her mother and the part she had in one of the bloodiest episodes in U.S. labor history. “Before she died, she said, ‘You have to keep going to this,’” said Rickel of Colorado Springs. “It’s just kind of in memory to my mother.” The 1914 massacre shocked the nation and sparked a 10-day war between striking coal miners and the Colorado state militia. The monument was erected in 1917. Nobody has been arrested in connection with the vandalism, despite rewards offered by the United Mine Workers. Las Animas County Sheriff James Casias said investigators don’t know if it was a prank or a statement against organized labor. There were no witnesses and few clues. “It’s still an open case, and we still want information on it,” he said. Dotson grew up in coal-mining camps, living in two-room hovels, going to school with the children of other miners. They were proud people who fought for their rights and dared to challenge one of the richest and most powerful men of the day, mine owner John D. Rockefeller. Decades later, after she moved from the family farm in Aguilar to Colorado Springs, Dotson could ride down Interstate 25 and point out where the different mining camps had been. In the 1980s, there was a resurgence of interest in Ludlow, and many writers and students tracked down Dotson, known for a famous Ludlow photo. “Everybody wanted to talk to the little girl in the white dress,” Rickel said. When the monument was vandalized, Rickel said, “She just couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to do such a thing.” She was hurt in a fall a few months later, and died in November of that year, at 91. She was one of the last known survivors of the massacre. The vandalism was a shock throughout the Trinidad region, where mining has a deep legacy and the Ludlow Massacre is much more than a footnote in history. “So many folks were involved in coal mining, and proudly so. Locals are very proud of the hard work they did,” said Paula Manini, director of the Trinidad History Museum. “It really stabbed at everybody’s heart.” The outrage went beyond southern Colorado. The United Mine Workers received $77,000 in donations from 500 people from across the country, enough to pay for repairs to the monument. “It just brought more people together,” said Mike Romero, president of United Mine Workers Local 9856 in Trinidad. “You wake a sleeping giant, and people just come from all over.” Many of those donors will be at the ceremony, which is open to the public. It begins at 10 a.m. at the memorial site, just west of exit 27 on Interstate 25. Rickel, 72, plans to keep going to the annual commemoration as a way to remember her mother, who was usually a guest of honor. “My mother always looked forward to going,” Rickel said. “She’s kind of part of it. She’s kind of part of the history of the area.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-1605 or srappold@gazette.com VIOLENT HISTORY On Sept. 23, 1913, about 13,000 southern Colorado coal miners went on strike against the Colorado Fuel and Iron Co., owned by John D. Rockefeller. They were mostly immigrants, striking for an eight-hour workday, the right to be paid in cash instead of company scrip, safety improvements and recognition of the United Mine Workers of America. The striking miners and their families set up tent colonies, the largest at Ludlow, which was home to 1,000 men, women and children. Tensions between miners and state militia were high April 20, 1914, when soldiers showed up to demand the release of a miner supposedly being held against his will. It’s unclear who fired the first shots, but the morning quickly escalated into a fullscale battle. Several miners and a soldier were killed. The miners fled, and the soldiers burned the camp, killing 11 children and two women hiding under a tent.
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