Casualties of War: The Missing Pieces of the Historiography of the Cripple Creek Strike (1903-1904)

By: Kira Boatright

The Cripple Creek strike of 1903-1904 divided observers as it took place. The strike occurred at a very tumultuous time in Colorado’s history known as the Colorado Labor Wars (1903-1905). The state experienced a series of often violent strikes in which unionized workers and business owners, supported and armed by the state government, clashed over various causes. The conflict began when smelter workers in Colorado City walked off the job to protest for their right to form a union. To put added pressure on the manager of the smelter in Colorado City, the Western Federation of Miners directed Cripple Creek miners to go on strike in order to cut off Colorado City’s supply of ore. Unfortunately for the WFM, Governor James H. Peabody was vehemently anti-labor and sent the state militia to the Cripple Creek district at the insistence of the district’s mine owners. The presence of the militia escalated tensions and violence in the district. The militia violated the right of the district’s residents to practice free speech, to bear arms, and to avoid arbitrary arrest. The strike stood at a stalemate until June 1904 when the Independence Depot exploded, killing over a dozen non-union miners. The district’s business powers and the state government held the WFM responsible. As a result, the militia deported over two hundred union men, deposed all civic and business leaders sympathetic to the WFM, and blacklisted any miner who refused to renounce his union membership. A coalition of anti-union powers turned what once stood as one of the greatest, decade-long strongholds of organized labor in the Rocky Mountain West into a company town in a matter of days.

Because the event was so controversial and polarizing, most of its historiography finds itself in two camps: one that is firmly pro-labor and one that is extremely pro-capital. The historiography thus primarily consists of connecting the strike to much loftier ideological battles and transformations, such as the growth of socialist, syndicalist, and industrial unionist currents in the American labor movement in the early twentieth century because of its connection to the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World.[1] The narrative of Cripple Creek as a community seemed, in most histories, to become inconsequential after the fantastic violence and terror ceased. But who cleaned up the shattered shop windows, the ransacked homes, and the ashes and debris of Independence Depot? Besides Elizabeth Jameson’s work All That Glitters (1998), much of the strike’s historiography lacks an understanding of the lived experiences of the men, women, and children who withstood the worst of the economic and social costs that emerged during and after this long and violent strike. Between the ideological battles, the pointing of fingers, and the retelling of only the strike’s most dramatic, controversial incidents, the social history of this event and an understanding of the very concrete cost to human life and thousands of livelihoods has been lost.

Emma Langdon founded the strike’s historiography when she wrote her work, The Cripple Creek Strike, 1903-1904 (1905) as a counterreaction to the silencing of pro-labor publications during the Colorado Labor Wars. In fact, Langdon witnessed the censorship of labor first-hand. During the strike, members of the state militia arrested five staff of the Victor Daily Record, the only pro-labor newspaper in the district, on the pretense that the paper had falsely claimed that a militiaman was an ex-convict. Of the five men arrested, one was Langdon’s husband, and one was her brother-in-law. With the few staff that remained out of the militia’s custody, Mrs. Langdon labored through the night to publish the morning paper despite the militia’s attempt to muzzle the Record.[2] As a resident of Victor, one of the towns in the Cripple Creek district, and a victim of the anti-labor hostility that unfolded during and after the strike, Langdon was intimately acquainted with what unfolded during the Cripple Creek strike and involved in some of the most important events that took place during the conflict.

Despite Langdon’s personal connections to the strike, in her history she let her sources speak for themselves, limiting her own commentary and interpretations of events. Langdon explained herself quite clearly, “Press reports on the strike were not what they should have been in most cases…. Had the press reports been fair or just, this book would never have been written (Langdon’s emphasis).”[3] Langdon hoped to amplify documents that expressed pro-labor perspectives and to provide evidence of the militia and the state’s abuses of power to prevent the re-election of Governor James Peabody. From newspaper articles, letters, legal petitions, and executive orders from Governor Peabody, Langdon often printed documents in their entirety. While this makes her book at times feel like looking through an archive, her intention was to allow her audience to “have the facts.” She implored her readers to “be [themselves] the judge.”[4]

To Langdon, the Cripple Creek strike was part of a larger regional struggle that connected to the labor conflicts taking place in Telluride, the southern and northern coalfields of Colorado, Idaho Springs, Colorado City, and Dunnville. The Cripple Creek strike was part of a “great war” to ensure the right to a union and an eight-hour day for miners and workers in related industries. The coalition of anti-union parties, which included the state militia, Governor Peabody, the Mine Owner’s Association (MOA), and the Citizen’s Alliance (CA), worked in tandem to crush union power and instigated the violence that occurred during the strike. Langdon asserted that the WFM was not guilty of dynamiting the Independence Depot or of any of the other accusations of terrorism that the governor and his allies leveled at the organization. Additionally, she argued that Governor Peabody’s disregard for democracy had consequences that extended outside of the strike and brought about the 1904 gubernatorial election controversy.[5] For writing this history, Langdon was made an honorary member of the WFM and the union adopted her version of events as the WFM’s official history of the strike.[6] Langdon’s interpretation served to unequivocally vindicate the union of any alleged wrongdoing and to expose the tyranny and despotism on the part of the state.

Morris Friedman’s The Pinkerton Labor Spy (1907) supported and supplemented many of Langdon’s observations and conclusions. Friedman believed the Cripple Creek strike was part of the protest over the denial of smelter workers’ right to unionize in Colorado City. According to Friedman, Governor Peabody behaved as if he was the head of a “monarchy” and the state militia acted as a private army for the mine owners. All the while the striking miners, despite the abuses they faced to their civil liberties and personal safety, “remain[ed] calm and peaceful” and were innocent of any charges of threatening “law and order” in the state.[7] As the focus of the book was the involvement of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in western labor conflicts, much of the evidence in Friedman’s work consisted of Pinkerton operative reports. Friedman had access to these sources because he was the private stenographer of James McParland, the celebrity detective and the head of the western division of the Pinkerton Detective Agency, until 1905.[8] His work thus added another angle to Langdon’s narrative in presenting documents from within the agency and providing evidence of the involvement of agent provocateurs in the Cripple Creek strike.

Friedman’s work, while it did not challenge Langdon’s narrative, differed because it was far more polemical. Langdon sought to counter the press’s dominant narrative about the strike, but she intended for readers to use the vast number of sources she provided to formulate their own conclusions. As such, Langdon shied away from blatant accusations that the MOA and the CA were responsible for some of the most flagrant acts of violence that took place during the strike. Friedman, on the other hand, boldly pointed fingers at the MOA, the CA, and the Pinkerton Detective Agency for the attempted derailing of a train on the Florence and Cripple Creek Railroad, the explosion that took place in the Vindicator Mine, and the explosion of Independence Depot. Friedman claimed that these incidents “prove[d] that organized capital will go to any lengths to crush organized labor.”[9] The major purpose of Friedman’s work was to expose the infiltration of unions in the West by Pinkerton detectives and the general collusion that took place between the state, the detective agency, and capitalists. While much of his work focused on what occurred during the Colorado Labor Wars, Friedman sought to uncover a much larger conspiracy that took place throughout the western United States.

Friedman’s narrative of the Cripple Creek strike was written in reaction to the trial of WFM leaders Charles Moyer, William D. Haywood, and George Pettibone for the assassination of former governor of Idaho, Frank Steunenberg. Harry Orchard confessed to killing Steunenberg, but claimed that the WFM had hired him to do so. In addition, Orchard claimed that Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone hired him to commit several other acts of violence on behalf of the WFM, including the dynamiting of Vindicator mine and Independence Depot in 1903-1904. Moreover, the Pinkerton Detective Agency was deeply involved in the case—James McParland had interrogated Orchard and extracted his confession.[10] Friedman, however, claimed that it was the Pinkertons, at the behest of the mine owners, who hired Orchard to commit these outrages. Friedman’s work sought to undermine the agency because it was currently “engaged in manipulating the prosecution of a case which promise[d] to become a most noted landmark in the history of the United States.”[11] Through his interpretation of the strike, Friedman intended to discredit McParland and the agency to cast doubt on Orchard’s testimony and vindicate the WFM in the public’s eyes.

The first major work of history that challenged the pro-labor narrative put forth by Langdon and Friedman was Benjamin Rastall’s Labor History of the Cripple Creek District (1908). Originally written in 1906 as Rastall’s PhD dissertation for the University of Wisconsin, this work was the first academic history published about the strike. Rastall lived in Colorado Springs, home to many of Colorado’s wealthiest and most powerful business owners and magnates, and was connected to the business community there.[12] Much of Rastall’s history thus unsurprisingly excused and justified the actions of Governor Peabody, the state militia, the MOA, and the CA. While Rastall admitted that in many cases these entities overstepped and violated constitutional liberties, ultimately “the unions reaped only what they had sown.”[13]

Rastall pointed to a different cause for the strike than previous authors had. According to him, union power had become too concentrated in Cripple Creek district; “radicals” in Teller County “came into undue power” and formed a “Little Mining Monarchy” that did not represent the interests of the district at large. Although WFM leadership had called the strike in support of the smeltermen in Colorado City, the action was unpopular amongst the rank and file. This out-of-touch “minority rule” likewise alienated the district’s mine owners; mine owners were without “any apparent method of settlement unless they were to join hands with the organization…and [eat] humble pie.” Rastall admitted that the use of the militia was undemocratic and the deportations of miners were a “disgrace.” However, it was the union that was responsible for the more heinous acts of violence like the Independence Depot explosion and the Victor riot. These actions gave the state no option but to take extreme measures.[14] WFM acted arrogantly, and its power had become far too threatening to Colorado business interests. The mine owners were the heroes in Rastall’s understanding of the strike. Despite the fact that Rastall published his history soon after the conclusion of the Steunenberg assassination trial, he made no mention of it when assessing the Independence Depot explosion. It was likely that the acquittal of Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone too heavily opposed Rastall’s claims about the Federation’s involvement in the dynamiting. Despite these omissions, Rastall’s history was methodologically and stylistically more academic than Langdon’s and Friedman’s works, which both read more journalistically. As a result, his work appeared more authoritative. Subsequently, Rastall’s work would stand as a major narrative of the strike for decades until other academic historians revised his narrative.

The only major work that revisited the strike between the early 1900s and the 1950s was William D. Haywood’s The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood (1929). The lack of interest in the Cripple Creek strike in the years between Rastall’s and Haywood’s work was likely related to the decline of the Industrial Workers of the World in the 1920s and to the Ludlow Massacre, which garnered immense public attention in 1914.[15] When it came to the play-by-play and the causes of the strike, Haywood’s narrative read very similarly to Langdon’s, as her work was the official history adopted by the WFM. As the former secretary-treasurer of the WFM, Haywood’s depiction of the strike reflected his political and ideological leanings and aims. Rather than a regional or state-wide conflict, Haywood viewed the Cripple Creek strike and the other conflicts that took place during the Colorado Labor Wars as national in scale. He described that he and the Federation hoped the Labor Wars would have recreated a confrontation as vast as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. The deportations, the forced renunciations of union membership, and the blacklisting that occurred at the conclusion of the strike nearly wiped the WFM off the map, yet Haywood somehow turned the narrative into a victory for the union. The Colorado state legislature passed an eight-hour law following the struggle, which, according to Haywood, showed the efficacy of industrial unionism—the tactic the WFM utilized by uniting the causes of smelter workers with miners—over trade unionism. Haywood’s history was also the first to link the creation of the IWW with the Colorado Labor Wars. The Cripple Creek strike was pivotal in leading to the creation of the IWW, an organization devoted to ”amalgamat[ing]…the entire working class into one general organization” devoted to industrial unionism, socialism, and syndicalism.[16]

The dominant ideologies of the 1950s, notably McCarthyism and New Deal liberalism, clearly influenced discussion of the strike in works published in that decade. Out of the entire historiography of the Cripple Creek strike, none approached the level of brazen partiality as that displayed in Marshall Sprague’s Money Mountain (1953). Sprague’s popular history of Cripple Creek was primarily a celebration of the district’s bootstrapping prospectors and mining magnates. Sprague oversimplified the strike and its primary actors, who appeared as caricatures from a Western novel or film. William Haywood was the crazed, despotic leader of the conflict who wished more to flex his power rather than improve conditions for the smeltermen in Colorado City. Additionally, Sprague reduced the members of the Federation to terrorists; he used Harry Orchard as the primary representation of a rank-and-file member. The author characterized General Sherman Bell of the Colorado state militia, who even Benjamin Rastall was deeply critical of, as somewhat overzealous, but overall heroic. Bell was one of “Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite Rough Riders,” who “roared into Cripple like Teddy charging up San Juan Hill.” Governor Peabody’s declaration of martial law in Teller County was just and necessary “so that Bell could destroy the WFM without any nonsense about civil rights.” The Governor and Bell were strongmen of their time who responded appropriately to the conniving and subversive WFM. Sprague mentioned the deportation of miners and the destruction of union sympathizers’ property in passing. He additionally treated the Cripple Creek strike as an isolated event, making no mention of the strikes that were taking place simultaneously throughout the state that also met the resistance of the governor and state militia.[17] It is necessary to assess and understand the mine owners’ position during the conflict in Cripple Creek, but Sprague hardly attempted to do even this. His version of events lacked nuance and relied on the assumption that any entity that acted against the powers of capital was inherently in the wrong. This history stood out as the only interpretation that called the protests over the governor and the militia’s violations of constitutional rights as “nonsense.” The result was a cartoonish retelling of a deeply complex event. However, such an interpretation was reflective of the fact that it was a history published during the height of McCarthyism. After all, the strike was called by a miners’ union with socialist leanings.

The first academic history to contend with Rastall was Vernon Jensen’s Heritage of Conflict (1950). The Cripple Creek strike of 1903-1904 figured into Jensen’s broader history about labor relations in the nonferrous mining industry in the West and his attempt to explain why they so often produced hostility between workers and employers. The failure of the Colorado state legislature was the root cause for the Colorado Labor Wars at large. Because labor unions were unable to achieve their goals through political means, Jensen explained that they felt they had to resort to “direct action.” Equally important to the cause of the conflict was a “mass offensive by employers nationally and locally to resist organized labor and check its growth.” The strike in Colorado City and the refusal of management to grant recognition to the union there was a clear example of this. The strike in Cripple Creek was a “defensive action” on the part of the WFM to “protect the principle of the right to have a union” against the “Mine Owners’ Association and the ‘smelter trust.’” Rastall’s history was one of the main sources that Jensen utilized to recount the narrative of the strike, but Jensen’s interpretation was far more sympathetic towards the union and the striking miners.[18] Jensen saw the major consequences of the strike being the formation of the IWW, the 1904 gubernatorial election controversy, and the decline of Cripple Creek’s economy and community.

Jensen’s observations about the singular effects on Cripple Creek as a community were novel, and something that even later historians failed to pay attention to. Although his description was brief, it was the first hint of a narrative that approached themes of social history in the historiography of the strike. The labor conflict and the crushing of unions in the district widened the disparity between employees and employers and destroyed the district’s ability to maintain permanent residents. With the deportations and the banning of unions in the district, young, transient bachelors replaced the resident miners who lived in the district with their families. The business district and the real estate market went into decline. Employees and employers no longer talked as “they pass[ed] by” one another in the street. Relations were frigid where they once had been friendly, transforming the social and economic characteristics that once defined the district.[19] By uncovering what happened in the Cripple Creek district after the strike, Jensen intended to demonstrate the importance of unions in maintaining peaceable negotiations, communication, and understanding between employee and employer. Jensen’s interpretation was clearly influenced by Keynesian economics and New Deal liberalism—two of the most prevalent economic and political ideologies of the mid-twentieth century. Jensen, similarly to New Deal liberals, believed that unions and healthy labor relations allowed workers to provide for families and participate more in the economy. His narrative reflected the idea that the prosperity of business depended on the prosperity of workers.

The treatment of the Cripple Creek strike in historiography of the 1960s and 1970 factored into larger organizational or regional histories of labor. However, these works represented early approaches toward new labor history—a historical approach influenced by the social movements of the 1960s—which understood organized labor as part of larger social and political movements. These authors brought the Cripple Creek strike beyond the borders of Colorado and into the context of broader movements undertaken by workers in the early twentieth century. However, these works collectively neglected one of the other major focuses of new labor history: the rank-and-file worker.

Melvyn Dubofsky’s We Shall Be All: A History of the IWW (1969) considered the Cripple Creek strike and the Colorado Labor Wars to be foundational to the origins of the IWW and the rising influence of socialism and syndicalism in the labor movement. Dubofsky interpreted these events through a profoundly Marxist lens. To him, the Colorado Labor Wars “seemed to epitomize Marxian class war.” As such, Dubofsky disputed other historians’ conclusions that the conflict arose over eight-hour day legislation. Since many miners already enjoyed an eight-hour day, the strike was actually “a raw struggle between employers and employees for economic power,” emphasizing the idea of class war. The most important impact of the “class war in the West” was that it “created a class ideology” that the IWW organized around. According to Dubofsky, it was a “Marxist ideology for the simple reason that the Mountain West from 1890 to 1905 seemed to follow the classic Marxian pattern of monopoly capitalist development” and because workers learned from the conflict that “labor and capital could never coexist peacefully.”[20] Cripple Creek and other western labor conflicts were the staging grounds for the IWW’s radical roots. The experience of workers in the West elevated the ambitions of the labor movement. Instead of focusing simply on local conditions, workers now changed their aim to making national, political, and systemic changes. However, Dubofsky painted the strike in broad strokes. He focused less on the individual experiences of workers and more on placing the strike into the context of an ideological movement.

Far less ideological was Mark Wyman’s Hard Rock Epic: Western Miners and the Industrial Revolution (1979). Wyman sought to “examine the impact of the Industrial Revolution” on hard rock miners “while avoiding favoritism to, or condemnation of, any specific group.” Wyman’s description of the Cripple Creek strike was brief, reflecting the author’s desire to avoid “the spectacular and violent” descriptions of western labor conflicts, and instead focus on “historical understanding.” The causes and outcomes of the strike, rather than the strike itself, were thus the focus of Wyman’s study. The primary cause of the strike was the denial of eight-hour day legislation in Colorado. Wyman described that “union recognition was a key issue,” but that it was only secondary to the cause for a legislatively mandated eight-hour day.[21] The Cripple Creek strike was one of many battles being waged throughout the West to achieve such legal recognition of union demands.

Wyman thus did not see the Cripple Creek strike as a singular event, but as a part of a much larger trend of increased political involvement on the part of labor unions. Cripple Creek, along with other labor struggles over eight-hour legislation in states like Idaho and South Dakota, left miners “disillusioned” and “cynical about the effectiveness of the political system.” As opposed to Dubofsky’s interpretation that Marxian-style warfare and economic development led to labor’s radicalization and the creation of the IWW, Wyman believed that radicalism and the IWW was born out of a “mounting sense of desperation” amongst workers. The government had proven that it protected the interests of the corporate powers that wished to destroy organized labor. Workers lost faith in the existing order of the nation, so they sought to make more systemic and revolutionary changes through an organization that would extend itself across the country and across trades. The failure of the strike, the fallout of the WFM, and the formation of the IWW were a result of the fact that industrialization allowed for the monopolization of the mining industry by corporations.[22] Wyman understood the turn of western laborers towards socialism and syndicalism, which he simply referred to as “radicalism,” as a counterreaction to the concentration of industrial and corporate powers. Workers felt that they had to match these massive companies with a conglomerate of their own. While not as overtly ideological as Dubofsky, Wyman also sought to understand the roots of the radical labor movement.

George Suggs’ Colorado’s War on Militant Unionism: James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners (1972) also assessed the Cripple Creek strike as part of a political movement not only of organized labor, but of the Peabody administration and Republican business owners. Suggs characterized his own work as one of the early interpretations of the Colorado Labor Wars belonging to the school of new labor history. Suggs provided one of the most thorough examinations of the motives of mine owners’ in the Cripple Creek district and of Governor Peabody. As such, Suggs focused on the WFM’s adoption of socialism and a more “revolutionary rhetoric” that “went beyond demands for a reform of hours, wages, and working conditions to demands for a new social order.” The cause of the strike was thus the industrial unionist ideology of the WFM, not simply the hope of creating eight-hour day legislation. Because of the WFM’s radical ideologies and history of resorting to violence during other strikes, the MOA, the CA, and the governor felt pressured to overthrow the WFM permanently. Suggs’ interpretations echoed those of Benjamin Rastall in many ways. The strike had the potential for polarization and violence because it was a district that depended on a single industry and thus required “uninterrupted mining” to ensure the district’s “prosperity.” The WFM was ever more threatening to mine owners because of its enormous influence over the district’s miners and local political offices. The “power” of the WFM to “disrupt the local economy was enormous.” As a result of these factors, the strike became a struggle over “who or what interest should control the district.” What resulted was a “revolutionary overthrow” of all that the WFM controlled, which allowed the governor and the mining companies to establish a new political and social order that reflected their capitalist agendas.[23] Suggs represented the actions of the mining companies and the state as an extreme but almost natural reaction to the radicalism of the WFM. Aside from the influence of Marxism, Suggs’ interpretation echoed that of Dubofsky; the strike represented a power struggle over economic, social, and political influence between two equally powerful and mutually threatening entities.

Almost twenty years later, Anthony J. Lukas wrote a large investigative work that examined the Cripple Creek strike in the context of the Steunenberg assassination and trial. Since the main topic of Lukas’s work was the trial of Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone, his treatment of Cripple Creek was not entirely unique from previous interpretations. Like Dubofsky, Lukas characterized the strike as the closest the United States had come to “ever approach[ing] outright class war.” Because of the role of James McParland and the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the trial, Lukas explored the organization’s role in the conflict, revisiting some of the themes addressed almost ninety years earlier by Morris Friedman. The strike was part of a wider struggle within Colorado, but also part of a much larger trend in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in which state governments and corporations hired private detectives to police and incriminate organized workers.[24] Lukas, like previous authors, thus placed the Cripple Creek strike in a broader history of social and political movements that shaped relations between labor and capital at the dawn of the twentieth century.

The most recent and one of the most unique histories written about the Cripple Creek strike is Elizabeth Jameson’s All That Glitters (1998). Compared to previous histories, it stands out as the only work that takes an in-depth look at the social and economic costs that the strike had on Cripple Creek residents and their community. Jameson argued that the cause of the strike in Cripple Creek and of other local strikes could not be generalized as some sort of crusade for eight-hour day legislation. Additionally, Jameson refuted previous interpretations that the strike was the “inevitable consequence of labor’s socialist endorsements” that authors like Rastall and Suggs promoted. The causes for the various strikes of the Colorado Labor Wars “originated with diverse local issues and escalated because anti-union owners could mobilize state support.” In the case of Cripple Creek district, the local issue was “[u]nion survival.” Jameson’s narrative of the strike differs little from earlier pro-labor interpretations. However, she provided some of the most damning evidence implicating the MOA’s involvement in the Independence Depot dynamiting. The testimony of A.C. Cole, a Victor resident and former member of the MOA, described the dynamiting as a conspiracy designed by the MOA to depose the WFM from the district and establish a new social and political order. Despite this evidence, Jameson admitted that there was truly no way of knowing who was responsible for the destruction of the depot and the murder of the thirteen miners who were blasted along with it.[25] Although this provided additional background to the most spectacular event of the strike, pointing fingers and assigning blame was not the primary purpose of Jameson’s work, as it had been with some of the other histories of the conflict.

The most important aspect of Jameson’s interpretation of the strike was her focus on the consequences of the strike for workers and their families. Previous works ignored the rank-and-file worker. Using the oral history of a woman named Kathleen Chapman Welch, who was a young girl when the strike took place, Jameson provided a “microcosm” of “the fates of thousands of people who worked and lived a while in Cripple Creek.” The story of Chapman Welch’s father, John Welch, painted a picture of the economic instability and uncertainty, family separation, and communal deterioration that affected individual miners and their families after the strike. When Welch discovered the militia was going to deport him, he left his family and home in the district to find work in Leadville, Colorado. His wife and children stayed behind, but eventually, after militiamen harassed and frightened Welch’s young sons, they too left the district, surrendering the home and community they knew and contributed to for years. Jameson also importantly noted that the “casualties” of the strike “went far beyond individual lives.” The people of Cripple Creek “lost, too, their shared social visions and collective history” as a result of “[f]ear of company retaliation.” After the strike, employers in the district controlled the press, union records, and what people could talk about. The “owners controlled not only events” during and after the strike, “but the history of those events.”[26] Of course, this has affected the sources available to understand the consequences of the strike for those who experienced it first-hand. However, the true level of destruction, the true level of violence, and the true level of fear that the conflict in Cripple Creek produced cannot be fully understood without looking at the lives of individuals who were directly affected by it. While Vernon Jensen offered the first, far more vague descriptions almost fifty years prior about the economic and social decline that took place in Cripple Creek, Jameson, primarily because of her use of oral history, was the only author who offered a concrete depiction of the devastation that Cripple Creek residents faced after the events of 1903-1904.

To follow in the footsteps of Jameson presents historians today with somewhat of a challenge, but if a complete, coherent picture of the strike’s consequences will ever be understood, it is the necessary direction in which the historiography of the event must go. Since the start of the strike, commentators of the event have disagreed over its causes and meaning, so it is likely that historians will carry on the strike’s legacy of contentiousness. Focusing on individual and communal narratives of those who lived in Cripple Creek would provide historians with an opportunity to extract new meaning from the strike that transcends some of the topic’s polarization. Regardless of who caused the explosion of Independence Depot, it still brought about the overthrow of the WFM. Whether the mine owners framed the WFM or not, the results were the same for the district’s resident miners and families. Historians should seek to find a greater understanding of what their lives looked like before and after the strike. While the censorship implemented by the company powers in the district has limited the amount of documentation left behind, historians are not completely without records to interpret. Take, for instance, the over two hundred deported miners. We know their names—that alone could lead to at least a few paper trails that provide narratives of how the strike transformed several individuals’ social and economic statuses.

The people of Cripple Creek have much to offer when it comes to understanding the economic and social consequences for working people when they are either provided with or deprived of organizational power and a collective voice. How can we talk about this so-called war when we do not even know the stories of those who stood on the front lines or who got caught in the crossfire? Surely, the lost voices of regular people can be recovered. Surely, they matter enough that we, as historians, should at least try to hear what they might have to tell us.


Dubofsky, Melvyn. We Shall be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World. United States: University of Illinois Press, 1969.

Friedman, Morris, b. 1883. The Pinkerton Labor Spy. New York (State): Wilshire Book Co., 1907.

Haywood, Big Bill. Bill Haywood’s Book: The Autobiography of William D. Haywood. New York: International Publishers, 1929.

Jameson, Elizabeth. All that Glitters: Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek. United States: University of Illinois Press, 1998.

Jameson, Elizabeth. ”The Cripple Creek Strike Remembered,” in The Colorado Labor Wars, Cripple Creek 1903-1904: A Centennial Commemoration, ed. Tim Blevins, Chris Nicholl, and Calvin P. Otto (Colorado Springs: Pikes Peak Library District, 2006).

Jensen, Vernon H. Heritage of Conflict: Labor Relations in the Nonferrous Metals Industry Up to 1930. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.

Langdon, Emma Florence. The Cripple Creek Strike, 1903-1904. United States: Press of Victor Daily Record, 1904.

Lukas, J. Anthony. Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America. New York: Touchstone, 1997.

Rastall, Benjamin McKie. The Labor History of the Cripple Creek District; a Study in Industrial Evolution, Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin No. 198, Economic and Political Science Series vol. 3, no. 1. Madison, Wisconsin: 1908.

Sprague, Marshall. Money Mountain: The Story of Cripple Creek Gold. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1953.

Suggs, George G., Jr. Colorado’s War on Militant Unionism: James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.

Wyman, Mark. Hard Rock Epic: Western Miners and the Industrial Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.

  1. Syndicalists rallied behind the cause of the revolutionary union. The union was the primary organ that workers could use to gain control of the means of production and bring about meaningful change within the industrial order. Syndicalists were often also believers in industrial unionism. Labor organizers sought to increase the power of workers by organizing them beyond a single occupation and rather across an entire industry. For example, the Western Federation of Miners did not only unionize miners. The WFM organized all workers involved in the mining industry, which included miners, mill workers, and smelter workers.
  2. Emma Langdon, The Cripple Creek Strike, 1903-1904 (Denver, CO: The Great Western Publishing Co., 1905) 140-144, 339-342. In June of 1904, following the mob violence that ensued after the dynamiting of Independence Depot, a group of men destroyed the Record’s linotype presses. To prevent future targeting from the Mine Owner’s Association and the Citizen’s Alliance, as well as to receive reimbursement for damages from the state, the Record ceased to act as the voice for the district’s unions. The local takeover by the MOA and Citizen’s Alliance forced Langdon and her husband to flee to Denver.
  3. Langdon, 248-249.
  4. Langdon, 250.
  5. Months after the strike ended with the explosion of the Independence Depot and the MOA’s takeover of the Cripple Creek district, Colorado entered another gubernatorial election. Alva Adams, the Democratic candidate, won with over 10,000 votes. However, because of accusations of election fraud on the part of the Peabody administration, entire precincts’ votes were thrown out by the Colorado Supreme Court. Adams was sworn in in January of 1905, but accusations of corruption on both sides continued. The state government forced Adams to step down and declared Peabody governor. However, because of the controversy, a compromise was reached in which Peabody would immediately resign and lieutenant governor Jesse McDonald would instead become Colorado’s next governor.
  6. Langdon, 332-335, 44, 76, 111, 429-431, 441-443.
  7. Morgan Friedman, The Pinkerton Labor Spy (New York: Wilshire Book Company, 1907) 35, 71, 72, 78.
  8. J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble (New York: Touchstone, 1997) 687.
  9. Friedman, 84-86
  10. For an extended narrative of the Steunenberg assassination and trial of Orchard, Moyer, Haywood, and Pettibone, see Lukas, Big Trouble.
  11. Friedman, v, 86-87.
  12. Elizabeth Jameson, ”The Cripple Creek Strike Remembered,” in The Colorado Labor Wars, Cripple Creek 1903-1904: A Centennial Commemoration, ed. Tim Blevins, Chris Nicholl, and Calvin P. Otto (Colorado Springs: Pikes Peak Library District, 2006) 13.
  13. Benjamin McKie Rastall, The Labor History of the Cripple Creek District; a Study in Industrial Evolution, Bulletin of the University of Wisconsin No. 198, Economic and Political Science Series vol. 3, no. 1 (Madison, Wisconsin: 1908) 71-72.
  14. Benjamin McKie Rastall, The Labor History of the Cripple Creek District; a Study in Industrial Evolution, 81-82, 92, 123-126, 151-152, 154.
  15. For more on IWW, see Dubofsky, We Shall Be All. The union faced persecution from the United States government at the end of the First World War due to the First Red Scare and the perceived threat the union posed to the country’s economic development. In-fighting in the organization also left the union weakened and politically irrelevant by the mid-1920s. The murder of women, children, and unionized miners by the Colorado state militia during the Ludlow Massacre left much of the American public shocked. The strike received far more public sympathy than the Cripple Creek strike since the militia appeared as the clear instigator of violence and claimed innocent lives.
  16. William D. Haywood, The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood (New York: International Publishers, 1929) 127, 153-154, 174.
  17. Marshall Sprague, Money Mountain: The Story of Cripple Creek Gold (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1953) 250-259.
  18. Vernon Jensen, Heritage of Conflict: Labor Relations in the Nonferrous Metals Industry Up to 1930 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1950) 118, 125, 128-130.
  19. Jensen, Heritage of Conflict, 153-154, 155, 160.
  20. Melvyn Dubofsky, We Shall be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World (United States: University of Illinois Press, 1969) 37, 42-43, 48-49, 55-56.
  21. Mark Wyman, Hard Rock Epic: Western Miners and the Industrial Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979) ix, 213, 216.
  22. Wyman, Hard Rock Epic, 216, 225, 230.
  23. George Suggs Jr., Colorado’s War on Militant Unionism: James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991) 11, 85, 86, 89, 116.
  24. J. Anthony Lukas, Big Trouble Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America (New York: Touchstone, 1997) 226, 231-232.
  25. Elizabeth Jameson, All that Glitters: Class, Conflict, and Community in Cripple Creek (United States: University of Illinois Press, 1998) 201, 202, 207, 219, 227-230.
  26. Jameson, All That Glitters, 248-250.

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