Wednesday, August 16, 2017

John D. Rockefeller and the Ludlow Massacre

John Sr. and John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1915
Growing up in New York, the Rockefeller name was pretty much a constant hum in the background.  Nelson Rockefeller, son of John D. Rockefeller Jr.,  was our state governor for no less than four terms and, considering my youth plus the fact that public figures were far less likely at that time to have their dirt dished by the press, I was blissfully unaware that he was anything less than a god.  When I bought my place in Wyoming,  located just five miles from Grand Teton National Park, the Rockefeller name again became synonymous with public service; it was largely John D. Rockefeller, Jr. whose land company was responsible for large swathes of the park.  So imagine my horror to discover that very same man was also responsible for one of the bloodiest episodes in American trade relations and commerce—the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado.
Coal mining had been going on in Colorado since the late 1860s, but with the expansion of the railways, coal became a highly valuable commodity.  The Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, purchased by his father in 1902, was under the management of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. with the controlling interest from 1911.  Sitting comfortably in his New York City office, he had high principles by which he lived, and could live securely with his own money.  His workers, on the other hand—mostly immigrants from Italy, Serbia and Greece—had other concerns Rockefeller could not possibly have understood.
Colliers at the time were ‘company men.’  They lived in company housing with curfews, medical care ‘provided’ by the company, unable to shop anywhere but in the company shops, and their children poorly educated if at all.  They worked long hours for low pay by the tonnage, often weighed by cheating employees of the owner, and were not paid for associated work other than the mined coal itself.  The eight hour work day was not enforced.  And these first generation immigrant workers of mixed backgrounds had difficulty communicating with each other, thereby making discourse of their complaints difficult. This mix was done on purpose by management with a ‘divide and conquer’ attitude.
Enter the United Mine Workers Union and a fifteen month strike ensued. Obviously, the Union wanted recognition for itself.  For the miners,  they wanted basic freedoms from this feudalism—freedom to live where they wanted, shop where they wanted, seek medical attention anywhere.  They wanted enforcement of the eight hour day with a ten percent pay increase, as well as payment for the work other than mining such as shoring up the backs (roof) of the cavities, handling the discard of impurities, and laying track.  They desired the weight-checkers to be elected by the colliers and the ton to be 2K instead of the long ton that was in use (2200lbs.) Naturally, the mine owners refused and subsequently, in September 1913, turned out the striking workers.  Tent camps were set up, and the largest was Ludlow, with around one thousand residents, seventeen miles north of Trinidad, CO.

Rockefeller’s thugs hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency whose method in
'Death Car' armored and with gun placement
dealing with the strike was to shine searchlights in the tents and randomly shoot, often killing or maiming the occupants. An armored car was also built at company expense from which snipers did their work. It was then the colliers started digging pits in which women and children hid to avoid the bullets. But without a method of retaliation, and with non-union workers being brought in, it appeared the strike would end.
By the spring of 1914, the National Guard had been called in and dealt with several sites, but the state of Colorado had run out of money to pay them.  Rockefeller’s company proceeded to pick up the bill and a machine gun was placed on a hill overlooking Ludlow. Fighting raged for a day but as a freight train stopped, intervening between the two factions, the miners were able to regroup.  This included hiding some 11 children and several women in a pit under the tent infirmary.
On the evening of April 20th, a day after the Orthodox Easter—the major holy day in that calendar—had been celebrated, the tent camp was torched. All the children and two of the women in the infirmary pit died. While our neighbors in Mexico were undergoing a revolution that held the attention of America, a small revolution had  occurred in Colorado. The Colorado Coalfield War only had a death toll of seventy-five people but its effects were extensive and long-lasting. Although the United Mine Workers of America failed to win recognition and eventually ran out of money, John D. Rockefeller Jr. brought in Mackenzie King—future Canadian Prime Minister and a labor relations expert—to bring in reforms. He also brought in a public relations expert. Under their advice, Rockefeller let the workers unionize, without penalizing those who had taken part in the strikes.  John Jr. actually left the comforting confines of New York and went to Colorado to meet with the miners and their families.  He listened to their grievances, attended social events, and subsequently made improvements—better conditions for working as well as in their homes, paved roads, safety enhancements, better health services and recreational facilities.
Ruins of Ludlow after fire

I won’t go into the politics here of whether this had long-lasting effects—whether the 85,000 miners still working in the USA have sufficient health care against black lung disease and so on. And it’s difficult to sum up Rockefeller’s views in the stance of 1914.  But what I do know is this:  the man made necessary improvements to the lives of his workers in the coal industry, and he went on to purchase some 35,000 acres that now comprise part of Grand Teton National Park.  Maybe that forced trip west opened his eyes to quite a lot.
For more photos and information, you may appreciate listening to Woody Guthrie singing ‘Ludlow Massacre’ at

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stagecoach Mary--a Beloved Legendary Woman of the West

by Heather Blanton

Fans of AMC's western Hell on Wheels may not realize that Mary Fields--the tougher-than-rawhide stagecoach driver--was a real, historical figure.
“Stagecoach” Mary was a black slave born in TN probably around 1832 or so. She was taken into Judge Dunn’s family and served as a nanny and house maid, and remained with the family, even after emancipation. During her growing up years, she became friends with Dunn’s daughter Dolly. Dolly, a gentle soul, joined a nunnery and shortly after transferred to Saint Peter’s Mission in Cascade, MT. She quickly discovered that the mission, a school for Native American girls, was in a magnificent state of disrepair.
Sister Amadeus (or, the daughter formerly known as Dolly) just about killed herself trying to get the place cleaned up, to the point she contracted pneumonia and fell deathly ill. She contacted Mary at this point and asked if she would like to come west and help out for a bit. Mary must have been a sight to behold walking around the school. Over six feet tall, weighing in at a lean two hundred pounds, wearing pistols on both hips, this woman was big and very black. And she liked to work. She nursed her friend back to health and then took on the mission, literally. An indomitable attitude coupled with her skill with a hammer and Mary was promoted to foreman of the place in pretty short order.
Not all the men on the grounds crew were OK with this and one mouthy gentleman started a fight. Not only did a bullet windup tearing daylight through the bishop’s drawers (on the wash line), some folks just didn’t care for Mary’s less than ladylike language and her fondness of alcohol. The bishop forced Sister Amadeus to fire her old friend.
After a short-lived attempt at running a restaurant, Mary applied for a job with the US Postal Service delivering mail at the age of 60. The USPS was looking for one qualification: the fastest time in hitching up a team of horses. Consequently, Mary became the first black woman hired by the USPS and only the second female in general.
God love her, Mary’s belligerent attitude, never-say-die determination, and willingness to fight at a drop of hat served her well in this job. She gained an unequalled reputation for delivering the mail. Literally, sleet, snow, ice, blizzards, bandits, it didn’t matter. If the horses couldn’t make the trek, she strapped on snowshoes and kept on trucking. In between, she spent a lot of time at the local saloon and developed quite the reputation for fisticuffs. And what girl doesn’t enjoy a pinch of Copenhagen between the cheek and gum after a tough fight?
Mary retired from the post office at the age of 70 and the nuns at the mission helped her open a laundry, which she ran until her death in 1914. This woman was so loved by the folks of Cascade, they closed the schools to celebrate her birthdays.
Race, gender, age, all barriers Mary busted wide open and the citizens of Cascade were smart enough to look past. Now that’s what I call “respecting the lace.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

Finding Inspiration at the Mid-State Fair

I grew up riding horses and taking care of animals. I worked on a farm for a while. But for many years now I've lived in cities and suburbs. I don't have a horse anymore, and my only animal is a small fluffy dog. Yet I write about horses and cattle and ranches. And although I can pull from experiences I had long ago, lately I've been craving the real thing. So last month I got in my car and drove a few hours south to the California Mid-State Fair.

There is something so magical about a fair.  People walk in with a certain energy, eager to get to their favorite attraction. You can tell that a lot of folks put time into choosing their outfits  From crisply ironed western shirts to motorcycle boots and fringed leather vests... I could have spent the entire time just watching the outfits!

But I was there to see the animals. So I made my way to the big barns and came upon the sheep and goats, and the 4-H kids. Maybe it's the former-teacher in me, but I love seeing the kids' displays and the way they interact with their animals and each other.

An especially decorative 4-H group display.

I had the most charming chat with the little girl who owned this goat. A goat full of mishaps, including a notched ear due to a dehorning accident and green ears because somehow the ink used to tattoo a number in the ear exploded everywhere.

Even though it seemed extremely doubtful that this little goat was going to win any ribbons, the girl and her mother were having so much fun just being a part of the fair. And will this goat and the little girl make it into one of my stories? It's very possible!

My next stop was the judging ring. I found myself cheering on each child. All of the judging was interesting, but the judge of the heifer competition discussed every animal with the audience so we understood why he chose the winners. I learned a lot about heifers!

Judging sheep.

This little boy was brushing some dirt off of his pig's backside
just before the judge entered the ring.

Judging the heifers.
While I watched the judging, I tried to take in everything I could about my surroundings. Things that stood out?  The dust in the air, the smells of the animals, the half-light of the open-sided barn that gave everything a slightly golden hue. The proud parents, the independent kids, the enormous American flag, the cowboy hats and boots. What really struck me was the way everyone was focused on something so simple, such as the way a sheep stood, or the width and breadth of a heifer's chest. Life in our country has felt pretty mixed-up lately, and it was refreshing to get back to the basics. I really felt like I was seeing one of the things that makes our nation so special.

Then it was on to the arena where I was fortunate to catch one of the team sorting competitions. Wow.  If you've never seen a cutting horse at work, make sure you do so. The horses and riders look like they're dancing. And the team sorting has you on the edge of your seat as the riders work together to cut certain cows out of the herd and make sure the wrong ones don't leave the pen.

I loved watching the teams of women. Cowgirls rock!

But this gentleman was so comfortable in the saddle, I really enjoyed seeing him too.

It's hard to choose between all the photos I took, but this next one is probably my favorite. The tenderness of the daddy's posture toward his son, the way he seems to be listening to his little boy so intently even though he just finished competing, melted me. Will that man become a hero in one of my novels? Absolutely.

As writers, or even as readers, we can end up spending a lot of time indoors, with our computers or kindles. My trip to the Mid-State Fair was a reminder to get out in the world and experience things close up. I had a fun adventure and came away inspired to write many more stories!

The Butcher, The Baker, The Undertaker by Paty Jager

Silver City, ID cemetery
As usual with my writing, I wrote a scene and then went, what did they do back then? Which led me to researching about undertakers and burials in the old west.

That means this post isn't about the butcher or the baker, it's all about the undertaker. This was usually a man who spent most of his time as the local carpenter or builder. The tools of his trade were lumber, hammer, saw, and nails. Most of the smaller towns had townsfolk who had multiple jobs. The undertake was one of these. Unless there was an epidemic or a raid by Indians or outlaws the undertaker didn't make coffins all day long every day.

Most small communities or towns usually had a group of women who would "lay out the dead". This meant they would clean them up and dress them in either the deceased's Sunday best or a nightdress. Then they were placed in a family parlor or place where the community could come by and pay their respect.

Sweet smelling flowers were in abundance in the parlor to overpower any smell that might be coming from the decaying body. Before the discovery of embalming, most bodies were not left out of the ground more than 3 or 4 days due to the smell.

Before the discovery of formaldehyde bodies were soaked in arsenic or alcohol to preserve them long enough for family to gather for a proper burial. There was a note of a woman who preserved her husband in a tin container full of whiskey and kept him under her bed.

Formaldehyde was discovered by a Russian chemist in 1859. Aleksandr Butlerov. He made the fluid by disolving a gas in water and adding an alcohol base. So the earlier methods of preserving a body with alcohol weren't too far off.  Formaldehyde stabilizes the bacteria in a body that causes decay.

The downside to formaldehyde is the fact it is dangerous to the Undertaker. It can cause lung cancer, bronchitis, and death.  

Embalming became a way to preserve the bodies of wealthy men and officers during the Civil War. These men would be sent back to their families and given proper burials.

The methods discovered to preserve bodies, postponed the decay of a body and families could hold off on burying their loved ones until all the family could arrive. This started the move toward elaborate funerals and the undertaker now had more of a business than making coffins.

The information I dug up about funerals in the old west was interesting. they would gather before the burial to eat and tell stories about the deceased. The coffin would be on sawhorses and people would gather around it. then the preacher would give a service and the pallbearers would carry the coffin out to a waiting wagon and the procession would walk to the church and cemetery for the burial.

I found a couple of  "funeral etiquette" statements.

It was considered improper to remove a body through the door the living crossed to enter the parlor or room where the deceased was "laid out". For this reason some homes would be built with an extra parlor door that didn't have steps or a porch. This was the door used to carry the coffin and deceased out of the house.

And the body should always be carried out of a building head first. I didn't find a reason for this one.

As always happens with my research, all I needed to know was an undertaker's exact job description in the old west and I ended up finding other interesting tidbits that worked well for this post.

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 32+ novels, novellas, and anthologies of murder mystery, western romance, and action adventure. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters.

This is what readers have to say about the Letters of Fate series- “...filled with romance, adventure and twists and turns.” “What a refreshing and well written love story of fate and hope!”

Photos: Paty Jager