An underground uprising

 

Killing for Coal: America's
Deadliest Labor War

Thomas G. Andrews
386 pages, hardcover: $29.95.
Harvard University Press, 2008.

Rusted bits of metal, staircases to nowhere, perhaps a weathered gun tower: These fragments are all that remain of southern Colorado's coal-mining towns. The casual visitor would never guess how central to Western history their inhabitants were.

There is one incident that has never been forgotten, however, and that is the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, a deadly battle between striking coal miners and the Colorado National Guard, who fought on behalf of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company. Twenty-five people died, and nearly all of them, including 11 children, were on the strikers' side. The Ludlow Massacre has entered legend as an unprovoked murder of innocents, with its context -- including the decades of labor strife that preceded it -- generally disregarded. Thomas G. Andrews' Killing for Coal seeks to remedy that.

In 1870, Colorado coal baron William Jackson Palmer was struck by a vision of a utopia powered by happy coal miners. His autocratic dreams depended on miners knowing their place and stifling their grievances. It didn't turn out that way, partly, Andrews argues, because coal miners were autonomous in ways that other miners weren't. They were paid by the ton, owned their own tools and set their own hours.

But the coal companies controlled where the miners lived, shopped and spent their leisure time, and accidents and deadly explosions were common. It was a recipe for rebellion, and by the late 19th century, coal miners across the country were organizing. The miners' uprising led to improved working conditions. But it also inspired a brutal backlash, including the carnage at Ludlow.

Andrews is sometimes overzealous in providing context. He whisks readers back to the age of the dinosaurs for a lesson in coal formation, then to 18th-century Europe for a history of itinerant labor. Yet despite its flaws, Killing for Coal is a book that needed to be written. Too few remember Colorado's coal miners or the horrible labor conditions that led them, over and over again, to "fight for justice, freedom and home" -- and sometimes to die for them.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Type: Permanent, fulltime Reports to: Executive Director Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state and out-of-state required Compensation (beginning): $44,000 to 46,500/yr., DOE plus excellent benefits...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.