Cripple Creek — Location, geology, settlement — General economic conditions in 1894 — Conditions in Colorado and Cripple Creek in 1894

Indirect Causes Of The Strike

Uncertain business conditions — Irregularities in employment of labor

Events Leading Up To The Strike

The First Crisis

Attempts at a compromise — The lockout Feb. 1st, 1894 — The strike Feb. 7th — John Calderwood — Preparation by the unions — The injunction of March 14th — Capture of the deputies — Sheriff Bowers calls for militia — Beginning of friction between state and county — Conference between the generals and union officers — Recall of the militia — Compromise at the Independence

The Second Crisis

Coming of the rough element — The coup of Wm. Rabedeau — The demands and terms of the owners — Formation of the deputy army — "General" Johnson — Preparation of the miners for resistance — First detachment of deputy army — The blowing up of the Strong mine — The miners attack the deputies — Excitement in Colorado Springs — Rapid increase of deputy army — The governor's proclamation

Attempts At Arbitration

Conservative movement in Colorado Springs — The non-partisan committee — The miners propose terms of peace — Failure of the arbitration committee plan — Exchange of prisoners — The mission of Governor Waite — Miners give governor full power to act — The conference at Colorado College — Attempt to lynch Calderwood — The final conference in Denver — Articles of agreement

Militia vs. Deputies

The deputies march on Bull Hill — Call of the state militia — The question of authority — The clash in Grassey Valley — Military finally in control — Movements of the deputies — Conference in Altman — Withdrawal of deputies

The Restoration Of Order

Turbulent conditions in Cripple Creek — Attempts upon life of sheriff — Plan for vengeance in Colorado Springs — The attack upon General Tarsney — Arrests and trials of the strikers

Peculiarities Of The Strike

The union allows men to work — Exchange of prisoners — Unusual influence of state authority

Arguments Of The Various Parties

The position of the mine owners — The position of the miners — The position of the governor

The Baleful Influence Of Politics


General Development

Increase in population and wealth — Industrial advance — Removal of frontier conditions — Entire dependence upon mining — The working force

The Background For The Strike

Divisioning of El Paso county — Growth of unions in political power — Western Federation becomes socialistic

The Situation Immediately Preceding The Strike

Unions misuse power — Treatment of non-union men — Minority rule — The strike power delegated

The Colorado City Strike

Formation of union — Opposition of Manager MacNeill — Presentation of grievances — The strike deputies and strikers — Manager MacNeill secures call of state militia

Partial Settlement By Arbitration

The Cripple Creek mines requested to cease shipments to Colorado City — The governor visits Colorado City — Conference at Denver — Settlement with Portland and Telluride Mills — Failure of second conference with Manager MacNeill

The Temporary Strike At Cripple Creek

Ore to be shut off from Standard Mill — The strike called — Advisory board — Its sessions — Further conferences — Settlement by verbal agreement

The Call Of The Strike

Dispute over Colorado City agreement — Appeal of the union — Statements submitted by both sides — Decision of advisory board — Second strike at Colorado City — Strike at Cripple Creek

The First Period Of The Strike

Events of the first three weeks — Disorderly acts on September 1st — Release of Minster — Mine owners demand troops

The Militia In The District

The governor holds conferences with mine owners — The special commission — Troops called out — Militia arrest union officers — Other arrests — General partisan activity of the troops

Civil, vs. Military Authority

Habeas corpus proceedings — Militia guard court house — Judge Seeds' decision — The militia defy the court — Prisoners released — Rapid opening of the mines — Strike breakers

Attempted Train Wrecking And Vindicator Explosion

Attempts to wreck F. & C. C. R. R. trains — McKinney and Foster arrested — McKinney makes conflicting confessions — Trial of Davis, Parker, and Foster — Digest of evidence — Release of McKinney — The Vindicator explosion — Evidence in case

A State Of Insurrection And Rebellion

The governor's proclamation — The power conferred as interpreted by militia officers — Local police deposed — Censorship of Victor Record — Registering of arms — Idle men declared vagrants — More general arrests of union officers — Habeas corpus suspended in case Victor Poole — Rowdyism by certain militiamen — Mine owners' statement — Federation flag posters — Withdrawal of troops

The Slxth Day Of June

Independence station explosion — Wrath of the community — Sheriff forced to resign — Bodies taken from undertaker — Mass meeting at Victor — The Victor riot — Militia capture miners'' union hall — Wholesale arrests of union men — Riot in Cripple Creek — Meeting of Mine Owners' Association and Citizens Alliance — The federation to be broken up

The Annihilation Of The Unions

Teller County again under military rule — Plant of Victor Record wrecked — Forced resignation of large number of county and municipal officials — The military commission — Deportations — Militia close the Portland mine — Aid to families forbidden — District entirely non-union — Withdrawal of troops

The Period Immediately Following

Mob deportations — The Interstate Mercantile Company — Second wrecking of the stores — The November elections — The expense of the strike — Summary

The Western Federation Of Miners. Its Side Of The Case

History of the federation — Its socialistic tendencies — Sympathetic statement of its position

The Mine Owners' Association. Its Side Of The Case

History of the organization — The card system — Sympathetic view of its position

The Citizens Alliances. Their Side Of The Case

History of the alliances — Sympathetic view of their position

The State Authorities

Statement by Governor Peabody

The Responsibility And Blame — The Western Federation Of Miners

Cause of strike — Crimes of the strike

Mine Owners' Association

Criminal guards — Mob violence

The State Authorities

Use of troops — Perversion of authority

Arraignment Of Each Side By The Other

The "Red Book" — The "Green Book."

Comparison Of The Two Strikes

The first natural, the second artificial — Frontier conditions vs. complete industrial development — Contrasts in the use of state authority — Civil and military authority — Politics — Minority rule

Significance Of The Labor History


The Labor History of the Cripple Creek District;
A Study in Industrial Evolution
by Benjamin McKie Rastall

book image

pages 85-90


The Cripple Creek Strike

The Call Of The Strike

The shipments of ore to Colorado City did not increase sufficiently to permit the opening of the Colorado Mill. The hope that this mill could be used to rapidly employ the union strikers was therefore without fulfillment. It became apparent early that Manager MacNeill and the Colorado City Union interpreted the terms of their agreement differently. As fast as vacancies occurred the positions were offered by the company without regard to the kind of work or the wage, but were refused by the men unless given their former kind of work and former wage. The company was holding the agreement to mean simple reemployment, the men, to mean reinstatement. Further cause of irritation was the refusal of Manager MacNeill to consider a new wage schedule. He met the committee of mill men according to his agreement, but that was all.

Photo, union men are forced to leave the state of Colorado


The advisory board convened for its final sessions on May 23rd, and received statements from the Colorado Reduction and Refining Company and the Western Federation. The statement of the company set forth that there had been one hundred two applicants for work, of whom forty-two were refused and sixty offered employment. A detailed list was given of the refusals, with reasons therefor. Forty-seven of the sixty men to whom work had been offered refused it, and only thirteen accepted. Twenty-seven were offered positions at the same pay they had received before the strike, eight accepted, nineteen refused. Eleven were offered higher wages, three accepted, eight refused. Twenty-two were offered smaller wages, two accepted, twenty refused. Work had been refused in all cases where it did not give the man the same position that he occupied before the strike.1

The statement of the union took exception to many of the refusals of the company to employ men, and gave a detailed rebuttal to the statements made concerning them. It insisted that the agreement had been to reinstate the men in their old positions, and that the company had failed to keep its promise.2

After several days deliberation the board made a final report to the governor in which the conclusion was reached that the company had to the best of its ability carried out its promises.3 There is every evidence that this conclusion was a just one, so far as the letter of the agreement at least was concerned. The whole question was as to whether the company had agreed to reinstate, or simply to reemploy. Throughout the whole preceding series of conferences Manager MacNeill's position had been firm that he would take no step that would remove from his position a single man then in his employ, and a promise to reinstate the strikers must have meant the displacement of many. President Moyer in his report to the annual convention of the Federation in June states clearly that the proposition from Manager MacNeill which he finally accepted was to "take back" the striking men "without discrimination, if vacancies occur in the working force." and that Mr. MacNeill had just rejected a proposition offered by himself which included the "reinstatement" of the men.4 As to whether the company had not in reality discriminated by offering work in the most unacceptable way, and in refusing entirely to employ many of the men, the evidence is not so clear.

A month elapsed between the report of the commission and the second strike at Colorado City. No further men were employed by the Colorado Reduction and Refining Company, so the situation relative to the reemployment of the strikers developed no further. The union was dissatisfied however with the findings of the commission, and continued to declare that the company was violating both the spirit and letter of its promises, and to threaten another strike. The situation was further disturbed by the controversy over the question of wages. On May 1st. the Telluride and Portland Mills had agreed to the schedule submitted by the union, increasing the minimum wage from $1.80 to $2.25, and the continued refusal of Manager MacNeill to consider this schedule caused dissatisfaction to his employees, and also to the managers of the other mills. Manager Hugh Fullerton of the Telluride posted a notice on July 1st. to the effect that after July 5th wages would be reduced, and the minimum be $2.00 per day. This notice was removed upon the calling of the second strike.

A statement of the conditions cannot be complete without a word upon the status of eight-hour day legislation in Colorado at just this time. The state legislature in 1899 had passed an act limiting the labor day in mines, smelters, and reduction plants, to eight hours. The law was an almost verbatim copy of the eight-hour law of Utah, which had been declared constitutional by the supreme courts of the State of Utah, and of the United States, but notwithstanding this fact the Colorado Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. In 1902 a constitutional amendment was passed by popular vote commanding the legislature to pass an eight-hour act. But when the legislature convened in 1903 a powerful lobby appeared upon the scene. Conflicting bills were introduced, and loaded with a confusion of dispute-provoking amendments. The two houses could not agree upon a measure, and adjourned in April having accomplished nothing.

Upon the failure of the eight-hour legislation the Western Federation of Miners inaugurated a vigorous campaign of organization and strikes among the smelters of the state, to secure by force what apparently could not be gained by the ballot. The second strike was brewing in Colorado City. The eight hour day was not an issue there.5 But the Federation had decided upon a show of power, a trial of strength that would show that not with impunity could it be trifled with. The Cripple Creek District was its stronghold, the place for the most spectacular display, and there can be no question that these things had a powerful influence upon the executive officers of the Federation in bringing about the following strikes at Colorado City and Cripple Creek.

On July 3rd, a second strike was declared upon the Colorado Reduction and Refining Company at Colorado City. Only nine men responded to the call.6 Following the former tactics the men were called out from the mines in the Cripple Creek District on August 8th. But this time the Federation did not stop with the mines which were furnishing ore to the Colorado Reduction and Refining Company. The men were called out from all the mines of the district, with the exception only of a few small properties whose ores were being reduced by plants within the district. Thirty-five hundred men were affected, working in about 50 different mines.

The strike was called by the District Council of the Western Federation, in exercise of the general power given it months before the time of the first Colorado City difficulty. The district council was strongly under the influence of the executive board of the Federation ; it was the executive board that forced the action, and loath as the gentlemen composing this board have been to shoulder the responsibility, to them it belongs and to no others.7

There may be some doubt as to the opposition of the Cripple Creek miners to the first strike, but there can be none as to their opposition to the second. Loyally they obeyed the strike order of their organization and laid down their tools, but the vast majority, (many have put it as high as 90 per cent.) were unwilling to strike, and bewailed the haste with which they had voted away the control of their own labor.8

The strike at Cripple Creek was in support of the strike at Colorado City in which nine men were out. It tied up the industry of a whole section. The Western Federation of Miners had never had an organization in the Colorado City Mills, and the whole difficulty resulted from the attempt at organization there. Success had been achieved in two of the working plants, but not in the third. Ostensibly to force into line this third plant, which was running full capacity, 3,500 men were called from the mines. The Cripple Creek miners were to be used to club the mine owners into clubbing the Standard Mill to the wishes of the Western Federation of Miners. Comment on such an action is hardly necessary.9

1Report, Commissioner of Labor, V. 8., 1905, p. 129, and following. The statement is given in detail in Official Proceedings, 12th Annual Convention, Western Federation of Miners, pp. 125-133.

2Official Proceedings, 12th Annual Convention, Western Federation of Miners, pp. 134-140. But see also some contrary opinions by union officers in same, pp. 169-170.

3The report Is given almost in full in the Special Report of the Commissioner of Labor, U. S. A., 1905, Labor Disturbances in Colorado, pp. 130 and 1311

4Official Proceedings, W. F. M. A., June, 1903, p. 28. Paragraph from the proposition submitted hy Mr. MacNeill:

"Third. Men who had left the company's service on account of the recent strike to be taken back without discrimination as to being union or non-union men, if vacancies occur in the working force."

Paragraph from counter "ultimatum" submitted by Mr. Moyer:

"Third. All men who have left said company's service on account of the present strike, and all men who have been discharged, if any, for no reason other than that they were members of Colorado City Mill and Smeltermen's Union No. 125, of the Western Federation of Miners, shall be reinstated."

"The same were promptly rejected by Mr. MacNelll, and on March 31, I declared the strike off, or rather declared an armistice until May 18, * * * " See also opinion of some union officers, same, pp. 169 and 170.

5On March 12, 1904, near the close of the strike, the federation issued a proclamation of which the following is a part:

"We wish once again to call the public's attention to the fact that the Western Federation has at no time made any demand of the mine owners of the Cripple Creek district other than that they withdraw their patronage from the mill trust in order that living conditions might be secured for the employees of said mills.

"This, it is unnecessary to say, they have refused to do, thereby compelling the members of the Western Federation of Miners to discontinue the reduction of ore or grossly violate their obligations and abandon their fellow members who were formerly employed in the unfair mills.

"While we deplore the necessity which makes us a party to the continued unsettled conditions which now prevail, being wholly convinced our cause is one of justice, we have no Intention of giving up the battle until justice shall prevail and the same right conceded to mine and mill workers that is demanded by their employers."

6Special Report V. B. Commission of Labor, p. 161. They were all among the 13 men taken back under the Moyer-MacNeill agreement.

7The following paragraph from the president's report in the Official Proceedings for 1903, pp. 23-24, shows where the power lay practically.

"At the close of this convention your officers, whoever they may be, should know whether they have the power to conduct the affairs of the organization between conventions or whether they must obtain the permission of a local union before they are permitted to act in what they consider the best interests of the organization. If, in cases of emergency, it is optional with a local union as to whether they go on strike in support of another local, when in the opinion of your Executive Board it is for the best interests of the Federation that they should discontinue work, then your officers are, indeed, helpless and uncertain of the outcome of any attack which may be made by the enemy. During the past year some unions have questioned the authority of your executive officers to order a strike without submitting the same to the local involved for a referendum vote. This is a matter of great importance, and in amending your Constitution you should so define the authority of your officers as to avoid occurrences of this nature in the future."

The convention passed the amendment asked for, giving the Executive Board power to call strikes (see same, p. 226), but this did not go into effect officially until later, when it had received the vote of the local unions.

See also footnote 1, p. 81, on calling of first Cripple Creek strike.

8In this connection see opinions of some of the Cripple Creek union officials before the annual convention, June, 1903. Convention Proceedings, pp. 169 and 170. "Brother Seitz doubts if called on to come out that they would respond."

"W. B. Easterly states that the officers of No. 19 ... are satisfied that the boys in Cripple Creek will not respond as readily as before."

"Pollard . . . states that No. 19 would come out if asked, but states that they are only a small part of the Cripple Creek District for all that."

"W. F. Davis states . . . that if called out No. 19 will come out any time. ... He states that Dan Griffis, secretary, of Victor, stated that, if called out, the members of Victor Union No 32, he thought, would respond only to the extent of twenty per cent.

"E J Campbell, No. 40, states that MacNeill has contract with mine owners which will force them to ship to him or stay closed. My opinion is that at this time the men will not come out if called."

"C. E. Johnston, No. 106 Millmen's Union 1 , . . . feels that Advisory Board, after giving decision, should control our actions."

The Cripple Creek Union asked for a constitutional amendment making all legislation of the district unions subject to the initiative and referendum, but it was voted down. See, same, p. 218.

9The queston as to whether the strike was "sympathetic," being merely a question of terms, need not be discussed here. The mine owners insisted upon calling it a sympathetic strike, while the Federation declared that since the strike was all within its own order it was not sympathetic. Whatever be our terminology the vital point remains that the strike at Cripple Creek was called for the sole officially announced purpose of forcing the United States Reduction and Refining Company to close its works through lack of ore.

NEXT: Events of the first three weeks — Disorderly acts on September 1st — Release of Minster — Mine owners demand troops