Ludlow Massacre

Album: Hard Travelin': Asch Recordings Volume 3 (1949)


  • Woody Guthrie wrote a song about a massacre of 1913, which although an horrific accident with appalling loss of life was not really a massacre. The following year though there was a bona fide massacre in in Ludlow, Colorado on what was to become one of the most shameful days in one of the most shameful periods of American labor relations.

    This is a long and involved story but at this time many American miners lived in towns that were literally built by the mining companies. Initially, these company towns had been reasonable places for ordinary working people to live when one takes into consideration the general standards of living and public hygiene that prevailed, but in the quest for profits the owners drafted in cheap immigrant labor, while on the other hand the native miners organized unions to improve conditions of work and pay. This was the classic case of an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, and a strike resulted. Striking mine workers and their families were evicted from company homes, and ended up living in union sponsored tents.

    The company hired a detective agency to break the strike, a task it set about with total ruthlessness. As violence flared on both sides, the National Guard was brought in, but following a murder of a replacement worker the man in charge of the Colorado National Guard ordered the tent colony to be destroyed in retaliation.

    The following month, during what was virtually open warfare, two women and eleven children lost their lives when a tent was set on fire. Five men were also shot to death including three company guards and a militia man.

    In spite of this, the strike dragged on ending in defeat for the mine workers when the union ran out of money, but the bitter and at times lethal dispute led to a government commission which resulted in major labor reforms.

    The last survivor of the Ludlow Massacre, Mary Benich-McCleary, who was 18 months old at the time, died in June 2007.
  • "Ludlow Massacre" is just the kind of song Guthrie would have been expected to produce: written from the perspective of the mine workers - and rightly so in this case. It is more of a narrative poem than a fully formed song.
  • Mining being a dirty, unglamorous profession doesn't inspire many songs; probably the best known is "Sixteen Tons" which charted on both sides of the Atlantic. Although "Ludlow Massacre" did not enjoy the same commercial success, the song, and what it symbolizes, is no less important for that. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above

Comments: 1

  • Mark from Keweenaw Michigan The song, Massacre of 1913, is not about a "horrific accident". Do a little research on the event.
    Listening to my grandmother's account of that night, surviving along with her three younger sisters due to the quick thinking of their mother, may make me a bit biased. This event is listed as the largest mass murder in the state of Michigan.
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