This Day In History: The Governor of Colorado Send The Militia Into Cripple Creek (1903)

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On this day in the Old West, the Colorado governor sends in the state militia to a mining town in order to re-establish law and order. In reality, the governor wanted to break a strike by miners. The wealthy in the state feared the growing importance and influence of unions in the mines and industries of Colorado. The militia was sent to the mining town of Cripple Creek. Miners had been on strike since the summer and the mines had stopped working. The owners of the mines had called on the State to help them end what they called an ‘illegal strike’.

The miners were all members of the  William “Big Bill” Haywood’s Western Federation of Miners. The strike had been called to support some workers in a local smelter who demanded an eight hour week.   The Union had been established in Montana in 1893 and it had been involved in several strikes and these had often ended in violence. The Union had been able to become established in Cripple Creek and they had the support of the majority of miners and other workers in the town, but it should be noted that not all the miners supported the Union. By October everything at Cripple Creek had come to a halt. In desperation, the local mine owners and business community asked the Governor to intervene and his eventually sent in the militia. The role of the militia was to provide security for the mines and to allow replacement workers to be brought in from outside Cripple Creek. These outsiders would enable the mines to become operational once more.  The strikers were outraged and they feared that if replacement workers were brought in that the strike would be broken and that they would also lose their jobs.

The strikers responded by blocking roads and railways. The militia arrived and began to arrest strikers and closed a pro-Union newspaper.  This was all unconstitutional but the local courts simply ignored the illegal activities of the militia. The Union became desperate and by early 1904 they resorted to violence. The employed a professional saboteur to  stop the transport of strike-breakers into Cripple Creek.  A railroad station was blown up and 13 strike-breakers were killed.  This led to a brutal crackdown by the militia and the authorities. They rounded up many of the strikers  and simply threw them out of town and they were not allowed to return. There were more acts of violence perpetrated by both sides. By the following summer, the strike was broken and the mine owners were once more able to run the mines as they pleased.  The Union was never able to regain their influence in the Colorado minefields.

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Cripple Creek (2013)

 

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