The Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia has a BSChE. She's an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting.

The Columbine Mine Massacre of1927 was a labor dispute that became violent in the company town of Serene, Colorado. This lesson is about the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927, the participants, and the causes.

Dark as a Dungeon

''Come, listen, you fellows so young and so fine,

Oh seek not your fortune in the dark, dreary mine

It will form as a habit and seep in your soul

'Till the stream of your blood is as black as the coal

It's dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew

Where the danger is double and the pleasures are few

Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines

It's dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.''

Dark as a Dungeon
Image of Coal Mine

The words to this song called ''Dark as a Dungeon,'' written by Merle Travis and performed by Johnny Cash, express better than any library book the terrible conditions that mine workers faced during the early twentieth century. It is these conditions that led to the Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927, a historical turning point for mine workers in America.

The Stage Is Set

During the early twentieth century, working conditions in American coal mines were dangerous, dirty, unpredictable, and unregulated. Mine workers were killed on the job on a regular basis, and they paid for much of the equipment that they used in their work themselves. These workers were paid by the amount of coal they brought out of the mines and not by the number of hours that they worked. They often were not paid in money but instead in scrip, which was currency that could only be used at stores run by the company. In Colorado, nearly all the coal mines were owned by the Rockefeller family and its Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation, or CF + I. Discrimination against workers who organized in unions was common, and tactics of intimidation and brutality were used to subdue these workers during the many labor disputes that took place.

The Columbine Mine Massacre of 1927

These conditions eventually led to the strike at Columbine in 1927. The strike was initially called by the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, an international labor union founded in Chicago in 1905. Members of this union were also known as ''wobblies.'' This left-wing union initiated the strike to protest the executions of two anarchists, Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

All but 13 of the Colorado mines were shut down by the strike. Scabs, or non-union workers continued to work in the mines that remained open and were paid at a slightly higher rate. Picketing workers were often arrested and sent to jail, and the local press created racial hostility by pitting workers of color against white workers in their publications. Both company-paid guards and local militia were used to intimidate and arrest the union members.

Serene, Colorado

The Columbine Mine was located in a small town called Serene, Colorado, which, at the time, was anything but serene. Prior to the Columbine Strike, there had been a strike at a mine in Ludlow, Colorado. CF + I had been negotiating with another union that was endorsed by the company. It was agreed by this union and the company that all the IWW workers were to be fired and that there would be a pay increase for the other workers of 68 cents a day. This broke the strike of the companies that were still running in the south of the state, leaving Columbine as the only mine left still on strike and running. Columbine was run by the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, who then put all of its focus on breaking up that strike. More guards, police, and the National Guard were brought to the scene, along with more weapons.

The November 21 Battle

As the intense strike continued, things began to heat up. The strike had been going on for five weeks when on November 21, 1927, a large group of several hundred miners and their families marched toward Serene and tried to get through the town gate. The Colorado Rangers, a group of police militia who had been organized to fight the miners, were dressed in plainclothes and met the miners at the gate, refusing to open it. Adam Bell, the strike leader, went toward the gate and was knocked unconscious with a police baton.

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