Massacre a sad part of Colorado’s story

Posted 6/4/09

A few years ago, as after-dinner entertainment on a trip to southern Colorado by the Old Forts group of local history buffs, Littleton …

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Massacre a sad part of Colorado’s story


A few years ago, as after-dinner entertainment on a trip to southern Colorado by the Old Forts group of local history buffs, Littleton historian/entertainer Max Smith wrote a dramatic piece, “The Ludlow Incident,” about the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, when the Colorado National Guard attacked a camp of coal miners and families who were pushing to unionize. Twenty were killed.

The memorial to the Ludlow Coal Field War site was on the group’s itinerary the next day during that trip.

“I wrote a first draft and put it away,” he says.

After enthusiastic metro area response in the past couple of years to his historic piece about the Orphan Train, which played in 17 different venues, Smith, a retired Littleton Public Schools teacher, brought his Ludlow script out, rounded up a group of stage-minded friends and put together a second history-connected hour of storytelling and music.

At 7 p.m. June 16, “Ludlow Incident“ will be presented at Bemis Library, as part of a series of programs sponsored by the Friends of the Littleton Library/Museum

“Those miners spoke 32 different languages, which kept them separate initially. Many were single and lived in boarding houses,” Smith says, describing hours of research. He says his friend Dr. Tom Noel (aka Dr. Colorado) helped him locate a new book about the tense labor situation.

Gradually the miners learned languages and could communicate as labor unrest grew between mine owner John D. Rockefeller and the growing United Mine Workers Union, which was secretly organizing miners.

Miners struck and were evicted from the mining camps. They set up tent colonies and stayed resistant for 14 months on the prairie, through cold and snow.

On April 20, 1914, the Colorado National Guard attacked the Ludlow colony of about 200 tents, which held about 1,200 miners and their families, setting the tents on fire. Twenty people were killed, including women and children.

The readers theater production will represent people involved in the incident: John D. Rockefeller, Mother Jones and miners from various ethnic groups. Cast members include Max and Donna Smith, Dick and Kathy Peterson, Charles and Marilyn Carroll and Phil Swaim.

Smith says he added several songs to the mix: ”Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” which was popular at the time with New Yorkers (Rockefeller) and 2,000 miles west, “Sixteen Tons,” a miners’ song. “Amazing Grace” is the final choice, fitting the sad ending of this story.

Smith says that with almost every “Orphan Train” performance, there was a connection with a person in the audience who was a descendent of an orphan on one of those trains, which brought New York orphans west to live with farm families. Each brought a story.

Perhaps this production will bring a similar response.

If you go:

The free performance of “Ludlow Incident” will be 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 16 at Bemis Library, 6014 S. Datura St., Littleton. 303-795-3961. Early arrival is suggested, since seating is limited. 303-795-3961.


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