The Archaeology of Class War: The Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913–1914

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The Archaeology of Class War: The Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913–1914
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The Archaeology of Class War: The Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913–1914
Whiteside, James
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Denver, CO
Center for Colorado and the West
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Auraria Library
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Auraria Library
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The Archaeology of Class War: The Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913914 | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 1:01:14 PM] Home The Archaeology of Class War: The Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913The Archaeology of Class War: The Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913Submitted by jainlayconley on 2-10-2010 10:14 PMAuthor: Karin Larkin and Randall H. McGuire, eds Publishing: Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2009. xvii + 380 pages. Photos, tables, maps, index. 8-3/4 x 6. $60.00 hardcover. Reviewer: James Whiteside Reviewer Affiliation: University of Colorado Denver In 1996 the Colorado Coalfield War Project began excavating the site of the April 1914 Ludlow Massacre and the nearby Berwind coal camp. This volume of essays by scholars involved in the project is a result of those excavations and analysis of the artifacts they produced. The project had, and continues to have, an agenda beyond merely studying one of the most important episodes in the conflict-ridden history of American labor relations. It is, as one of the contributors states, an explicitly political project, an attempt to fuse scholarly labor with working class interests (311). The same author also asserts that the story of the Ludlow Massacre is a silenced history (311). That assertion may come as something of a surprise to the historians who have researched and written on the subject of the strike and massacre over the past several decades, but likely is correct in terms of popular culture and memory. On the morning of April 20, 1914, Colorado National Guard troops attacked the United Mine Workers of America tent colony at Ludlow, in southern Colorado. The previous September the union organized a strike against the coal operators, primarily the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and the Victor-American Fuel Company. The union set up several tent colonies, including the camp at Ludlow, to house the striking miners and their families. Throughout the winter and early spring of 1913 the guardsmen harassed the strikers, especially as gunmen hired by the coal companies infiltrated the Guards ranks. Tensions finally exploded into all-out warfare when the Guard attacked and burned the Ludlow colony. After the fighting stopped and the fires burned themselves out, nineteen colony residents, mostly women and children, were dead. Eleven of the dead, including a baby, lay in a pit beneath one of the tents. The burning tent had collapsed and trapped them in this death pit. The first three chapters of The Archaeology of Class War are introductory, explaining the projects, and the books, major scholarly and political goals; summarizing the history of the 1913 strike; and describing the archaeological strategies and methods used at the Ludlow and Berwind excavations. Two final chapters contemplate the problems of teaching class conflict in the modern educational system and reflect on the cultural and political lessons of Ludlow, especially for understanding the significance of class in American history, as well as themes relating to gender and ethnicity. The intervening seven chapters analyzing the archaeological findings at Ludlow and Berwind are the heart of the book. The excavations at Ludlow, coupled with historical sources such as photographs and oral history collections, demonstrate that workers and the union self-consciously used both private and public spaces to create a sense of community EXPLORE BY MEDIABook Reviews Photographs Video Biographies New Publications Resource Guides County Newspaper HistoriesEXPLORE BY TOPICLand & Natural Resources Government & Law Agriculture Mining Commerce & Industry Transportation People & Places Communication Healthcare & Medicine Education & Libraries Cultural Communities Recreation & Entertainment Tourism ReligionEXPLORE BY CULTUREHispanic Native AmericanWithin Colorado boundaries are lands once claimed by Spanish kings and Mexican governors.


The Archaeology of Class War: The Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913914 | Center for Colorado & the West at Auraria Library[12/8/2015 1:01:14 PM] Auraria Library 303-556-4587 1100 Lawrence Street Denver, Colorado 80204 In the News Partners & Donations About Us Contact Us that emphasized shared class interests transcending the ethnically diverse character of the camp. Private artifacts, such as dishware and toys, also show that the miners and their families adopted aspects of mainstream American culture but adapted them to their own cultural habits. The excavations also underscore the central role of women in maintaining both family households and the community. Even more compelling than the findings from Ludlow are those from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Companys Berwind camp. Excavations there shed light on the lives of workers and families both before and after the strike. Here, more than at Ludlow, is evidence of the ongoing, daily struggle for control over private life. Through its control over housing and other physical aspects of camp life, the corporation attempted to impose its vision of appropriate American domestic, moral, and ideological values, a vision that aimed to develop a sense of individual rather than collective identity (143). In short, the companys strategy sought to inhibit the creation of working class identity. That effort was only partially successful as working-class people at Berwind had a distinct view of what it meant to be an American (149). After the strike the company took steps to improve the physical conditions in the camp but did so while reinforcing its control over daily life. Nevertheless, workers and their families had strategies for mitigating company control. One was the widespread use of patent medicines, often heavily laced with alcohol, in order to avoid using, and paying for, company medical services. The Archaeology of Class War has much to recommend it, especially to specialists in Colorado, labor and industrial, ethnic, and gender history. Many of its findings support and illuminate what historians already have written about the 1913 strike and Ludlow. In addition to the volumes two editors, eleven other scholars contributed chapters. However, neither the front matter nor the chapters include any information on their scholarly credentials. Nonspecialists may find some of the books jargonized prose off-putting. Sentences such as This illuminates povertys role as a constitutive project of social difference (Katz 1989) and its successful mobilization in projects of othering, cast more fog than light (163). Nevertheless, the chapters on daily life at Berwind and Ludlow are worth the readers effort for their contributions to understanding the self-conscious character of class identity. Reviewer Info: James Whiteside is a member of the history faculty at the University of Colorado Denver. He is the author of Regulating Danger: The Struggle for Mine Safety in the Rocky Mountain Coal Industry (1990). Add new comment