Max Eastman

The Nice People of Trinidad

(July 1914)

Published: The Masses, July 1914
Transcribed:Sally Ryan for in 2000

Pearl Jolly says that after she escaped from the blazing tents at Ludlow, she spent the night with a crowd of children, out of bullet-shot, in the cellar of Baye’s ranch, a mile away. The next morning she crept up to the telephone to listen for news. And this is what she heard:

Mrs. Curry, the wife of the company’s physician at the Hastings mine, was talking with Mrs. Cameron, the wife of the mine superintendent.

“Well, what do you think of yesterday’s work?” she said.

“Wasn’t that fine!”

“They got Fyler and Tikas.”

“Wasn’t that fine!”

“The dirty old tent-colony is burnt down, and we know of twenty-eight of the dirty brutes we’ve roasted alive down there.”

Later she heard two men discussing the same subject.

“We have all the important ones we wanted now,” they agreed, “except John Lawson and the Weinburg boys.”

Pearl Jolly is a cool, clever and happy-hearted American girl, the wife of a miner. She stood in her tent making egg sandwiches for the people in the holes, while bullets clattered the glassware to the floor on all sides of her.

“Tikas asked me if I was afraid to stay,” she said. “I was, but I stayed.”

When Pearl Jolly tells you exactly what she heard over the telephone, correcting you if you misplace a monosyllable, it is difficult to retain the incredulity proper to an impartial investigator. But still it is possible, for the thing she heard is a shade too barbarous to believe. The quality of cruelty is a little strained. And so I shook hands with Pearl Jolly and hastened away from her honest face, in order to do my duty of disbelieving.

Subsequently I heard with my own ears, not from professional gunmen or plug-uglies, but from the nicest ladies of Trinidad, sentiments quite equal in Christian delicacy to those she plucked out of the telephone. And I quote these sentiments verbatim here because they prove, as no legal narrative ever can prove, where lay the cause of the massacre of Ludlow, in whose hearts the deliberate plan of that Indian orgy was hatched.

A visit to the general manager of the Victor American Company, an introduction from him to his superintendents, Snodgrass at Delagua and Cameron at Hastings, a charming and judicial lecture from these gentlemen, had netted us nothing more than a smile at the smoothness with which a murder business can be conducted. Not an armed man was in sight as we drove into the camp, not a question asked at the gate, everything wide open and free as the prairie. Did we wish to see the superintendent? Oh, yes – his name was Snodgrass. We had mislaid our letter of introduction? Well, it would hardly matter at all, because in fact the general manager happened to be telephoning this morning and he mentioned our coming.

So began a most genial conversation as to the humane efforts of the companies to conduct the strike fairly and without aggression upon their side, whatever indiscretions might be committed by the miners. I had just come up from the black acre at Ludlow, where I had counted twenty-one bullet holes in one wash-tub, and yet when that Snodgrass assured me that there had been no firing on the tent-colony at all I was within a breath of believing him. There are such men in the world, mixing cruelty and lies with a magnetic smile, and most of them out of politics are superintendents of labor camps.

So we learned nothing to corroborate Mrs. Jolly from the company’s men – except, perhaps, an accidental remark of Mr. Cameron’s “town marshal,” A. W. Brown, that the strikers got so obstreperous last fall that he “really had to plant a few of ’em" – a remark we may set down to the vanity of one grown old as a gunman in the company’s service. Excepting that, the men behaved as men of the world have learned to behave under the eyes of the press.

And for this reason we turned to the women.

We secured from the librarian at Trinidad a sort of social register of the town’s elite. We selected – and “we” at this point means Elsa Euland, who was representing the Independent – selected and invited to a cup of afternoon coffee at the Hotel Corinado a dozen of the most representative ladies of the elegance of the town. And as the town’s elegance rests exclusively upon a foundation of mining stock, these ladies were also representative of the sentiment of the mine-owners in general.

There was Mrs. McLoughlin, who is Governor Ammon’s sister and the wife of an independent mine-owner – an active worker also in the uplift or moral betterment of the miners’ wives.

There was Mrs. Howell, whose husband is manager of the Colorado Supply Company, operating the “Company Stores,” of which we have heard so much.

Mrs. Stratton, whose husband heads a commercial college in Trinidad.

Mrs. Rose, whose husband is superintendent of the coal railroad that runs up from Ludlow field into the Hastings mine.

Mrs. Chandler, the Presbyterian minister’s wife.

Mrs. Northcutt, the wife of the chief attorney for the coal companies, the owner also of the bitterest anti-labor newspaper of those counties, the Chronicle-News.

One or two others were there, but these furnished the evidence. And they furnished it with such happy volubility to our sympathetic ears, and note-books, that I feel no hesitation in reproducing their words exactly as I copied them there.

“You have been having a regular civil war here, haven’t you?” we asked.

“It was no war at all,” said Mrs. McLoughlin. “It was as if I had my home and my children, and somebody came in from the outside and said, ’Here, you have no right to your children – we intend to get them out of your control’ – And I tell you I’d take a gun, if I could get one, and I’d fight to defend my children!”

A mild statement, by what was to follow, but to my thinking a significant one. For what exists in those mining camps – incorporated towns of Colorado, with a United States postoffice and a public highway, all located within a gate called “Private Property" – what exists there, is a state of feudal serfdom. The miners belong to the mine-owners in the first place, and what follows from that.

“Then you attribute the fighting,” I said, “solely to these agitators who come in here where they don’t belong and start trouble?”

“Just these men who came in here and raised a row. There was nothing the matter. We had a pretty good brotherly feeling in the mines before they came.”

“Yes,” Said Mrs. Northcutt, “I’ve had a hired girl from the mining camps tell me how much money the miners get – but they never save a cent. ’I tell you we live high,’ she would say, ’we buy the very best canned goods we can get.’”

“Yes – the men who are willing to work make five and six dollars a day. Of course the lazy ones don’t. But the majority of them in the Delagua camp just simply cried when the strike was called! They didn’t want to go out.”

“Isn’t that strange,” I said."How do you account for 80 or 90 per cent of them going out when they didn’t want to?”

“Well, the union compelled them – that’s all. You know all the good miners have left here now. That is always the way in a strike. The better class go on to other fields.”

“Then you feel that the low character of the strikers themselves is what made it possible for these trouble-makers to succeed here?”

“That’s it exactly – they are ignorant and lawless foreigners, every one of them that caused the trouble. I’ve thought if only we could have a tag, and tag all the foreigners so you could recognize them at a glance – I believe if Roosevelt were here he’d deport them.”

This subject of the native iniquity of every person not born on American soil was then tossed from chair to chair for the space of about an hour. It is the common opinion in Trinidad society. We even heard it voiced by a Swedish lady of wealth, who had herself been less than ten years in America.

“Americans, you know, won’t work in the mines at all.”

“I wonder why that is.”

“Well, I don’t know. They don’t want to go under ground, I suppose," was one answer. Another was:

“These people are ignorant, you see, and that’s why they will do the menial work.”

“I see,” I said.

“And you must understand that our town was absolutely turned over to these people for a week. They were armed with guns and singing their war songs in the streets. The policemen knew they could do nothing and stayed home. I kept my children in the basement.”

“Was the larger part of the town sympathetic to the strikers?”

“Well, those of us who weren’t sympathetic thought best either to keep still or pretend we were!”

“I understand. And what did they do?”

“Had control of the town, that’s all! And don’t hesitate to say that we didn’t have any mayor.”

“What became of your mayor?”

“The mayor received some letters and he was called suddenly away, that’s what became of him! And the sheriff – they say he went to Albuquerque for his wife’s health – but his wife stayed at home.”

“You know our church is right next door to the union headquarters, and on Sunday morning there was such a crowd of these people around there that we couldn’t get to church. I wasn’t going to pick my way through these people to get to church” – this is the minister’s wife speaking – "so I called up the chief of police and asked him to clear the street. He said he had no authority, it was a county matter. So I called up the sheriff’s office, and they said they couldn’t do it. Finally we had to call up the labor union secretary himself!”

“Has the church done anything to try to help these people, or bring about peace?” we asked.

“I think it’s the most useless thing in the world to attempt it," she answered. And there followed the story, which I had also from a priest himself, of how a Catholic father was reported as a scab and compelled to stop preaching because he taught that “idleness is the root of evil,” and tried to advise the men to return to work.

“Christianity could prevail, of course,” was her conclusion, “but we haven’t enough of it.”

“You haven’t a spiritual leader in the community, have you?” said the least tactful of us.

“We haven’t a spiritual community!” said the minister’s wife.

“And how do you feel about the disaster at Ludlow?” we asked. It was Mrs. Northcutt who answered.

“I think there has been a lot of maudlin sentiment in the newspapers about those women and children. There were only two women, and they make such a fuss about those two! It was their own fault, anyway.”

“You mean that the papers are to blame for all the trouble they have caused?”

“The sensational papers,” she added. “They’re looking for something to sell their papers, that’s all.”

“I guess that’s true,” I said, and thanked God they were.

“The worst that has come out of this strike,” Mrs. Northcutt continued, “is the way those poor militia boys have been treated. They’ve just had abuse heaped upon them. Yes, my heart has felt very sore for those boys who came down here full of patriotic feelings!”

“And General Chase certainly was a fine man,” said another, “one of the Lord’s own! Do you know that at the time they broke up the Mother Jones parade a woman stuck her hatpin in the general’s horse, and the horse threw him off?”

“That was just it – the low things they would do!” came the refrain. "And he hasn’t a bit of cowardice in him. He rode around all day just the same! I tell you the soldiers behaved themselves nobly down here.”

“And yet people object,” said Mrs. Stratton, “because they occasionally got drunk – didn’t General Grant get drunk? Did they expect a lot of angels to come down here and fight a lot of cattle?"

Mrs. Stratton had touched the key-word – cattle – and from that word ensued a conversational debauch of murder-wishing class-hatred of which I can only give a suggestion.

“That’s it,” said Mrs. Rose, “they’re nothing but cattle, and the only way is to kill them off.”

I think one of us winced a little at this, and the speaker rested a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. “Nothing but cattle, honey!” she said.

“They ought to have shot Tikas to start with," added the minister’s wife, a woman of more definite mind than the others. “That’s the whole trouble. It’s a pity they didn’t get him first instead of last.”

“You know, there’s a general belief around here,” she continued, "that those women and children were put in that hole and sealed up on purpose because they mere a drain on the union.”

“Yes, those low people, they’ll stoop to anything,” agreed Mrs. Northcutt.

“They’re brutal, you know,” continued the minister’s wife. “They simply don’t regard human life. And they’re ignorant. They can’t read or write. They don’t know anything. They don’t even know the Christmas story!”

“Is that possible!” I gasped.

“Yes, sir; there was a little girl, one of the daughters of a miner, and she was asked on Christmas day what day it was, and she said, ’Well, it’s somebody’s birthday, but I’ve forgotten whose!’”

“All you ladies, I suppose, are members of the church?” we asked in conclusion.

“Oh, yes; all of us.”

“Well – we are glad to have met you all and found out the true cause of the trouble,” we said.

And here I turned to Mrs. Rose – whose word comes, remember, straight from the mine above Ludlow. “What do you seriously think,” I said, “is the final solution of this problem?”

“Kill ’em off – that’s all,” she answered with equal seriousness.

So that is how I returned to my original faith in Pearl Jolly’s story of what she heard over the telephone. And when she tells me that while she was assisting in lifting twelve corpses out of that black pit, the soldiers of the National Guard stood by insulting her in a manner that she will not repeat, and one of them said, “Sorry we didn’t have more in there for you to take out,” I believe that, too.

When a train despatcher at Ludlow and his assistant both assure me that at 9:20 A. M. on Monday, the 23d of April, from their office, square in front of the two military camps, they saw and heard the militia fire the first shot, and that the machine guns were trained directly on the tent-colony from the start, although never a shot was fired from the colony all day, I believe that.

This “Battle of Ludlow” has been portrayed in the best of the press as a “shooting-up” of the tent-colony by soldiers from a distance, while armed miners “shot-up” the soldiers to some extent, also, from another distance.

The final burning and murder of women and children has been described as a semi-accidental consequence, due perhaps to irresponsible individuals.

I want to record my opinion, and that of my companions in the investigation, that this battle was from the first a deliberate effort of the soldiers to assault the tent-colony, with purpose to burn, pillage and kill, and that the fire of the miners with their forty rises from a railroad cut and an arroyo on two sides of the colony was the one and only thing that held off that assault and massacre until after dark. It was those forty rises that enabled as many of the women and children to escape as did escape.

Every person in and in the vicinity of the colony reports the training of machine guns on women and children as targets in the open field. Mrs. Low, whose husband kept a pump-house for the railroad near the tent-colony, tells me that she had gone to Trinidad the day of the massacre. She came back at 12:45 alighted at a station a mile away, and started running across the prairie to save her little girl whom she had left alone in a tiny white house exactly in the line of fire. They trained a machine gun on her as she ran there.

“I had bought six new handkerchiefs in Trinidad,” she said, “and I held them up and waved them for truce flags, but the bullets kep’ coming. They come so thick my mind wasn’t even on the bullets, hut I remember they struck the dust and sent it up in my face. Finally some of the strikers saw I was going right on into the bullets – I was bound to save my little girl – and they risked their lives to run out from the arroyo and drag me down after them. I didn’t know where my baby was, or whether she was alive, till four-thirty that afternoon.”

Her baby, as I learned, had run to her father in the pump-house at the first fire, and had been followed in there by a rain of .48-calibre bullets, one of which knocked a pipe out of her father’s hand while she was trying to persuade him to be alarmed. He carried her down into the well and they stayed there until nightfall, when a freight train stopped in the line of fire and gave them a chance to run up the arroyo where the mother was hiding.

This has all grown very easy for me to believe since that bloody conversation over the coffee cups. And when citizens of Trinidad testify that they saw troops of armed soldiers marching through on their way to Ludlow at midnight of the night before the massacre, that too, and all that it implies, is easy to believe. It prepares one’s mind for the testimony of Mrs. Toner, a French woman with five children, who lay all day in a pit under her tent, until the tent was "just like lace from the bullets.” At dark she heard a noise “something like paper was blowing around.”

“I looked out then, and the whole back of my tent was blazing, with me under it, and my children. I run to a Mexican tent next door, screaming like a woman that had gone insane. I was fainting, and Tikas caught me and threw water in my face. I was so thrubled up, I says,’My God, I forgot one, I forgot one!’ and I was going back. And Mrs. Jolly told me, ’It’s all right. They’re all here.’ And I heard the children crying in that other hole, the ones that died, and Mrs. Costa crying, ’Santa Maria, have mercy!’ and I heard the soldier say, ’We’ve got orders to kill you and we’re going to do it!”

“’We’ve got plenty of ammunition, just turn her loose, boys’ they said.

“Oh, I tell you, that was one of the saddest things was ever went through! When I was lying in my tent there, Mr. Snyder come running in to me with his two hands out just like this. ’Oh, my God, Mis’ Toner,’ he said, ’my boy’s head’s blown off. My God, if your children won’t lay down, just knock’em down rather’n see ’em die.’ He was just like wild.

“I didn’t like to say it before the children – but I was going to have this baby in a day or two, and when I got to that tent I was having awful pains and everything. And there I had to run a mile across the prairie with my five children in that condition. You talk about the Virgin Mary, she had a time to save her baby from all the trouble, and I thought to myself I was havin’ a time, too.

“He was born in a stable, I says, but mine come pretty near bein’ born in a prairie. Look at him – I had everything nice for him, and here he’s come, and he didn’t have hardly a shirt to his name.”

Mrs. Toner sat up languidly from a dark and aching bed in a tiny rented room in Trinidad.

“I lost everything,” she said. “All my jewelry. A $35 watch and $8 chain my father gave me when he died. A $3 charm I’d bought for my husband. My fountain pen, spectacles, two hats that cost $10 and $7, my furs, a brown suit, a black one, a blue shirt-waist, a white one – well, just everything we had left. I don’t believe the Turks would have been half so mean to us.”

“Whom do you blame for it?”

“Do you know who I blame? Linderfelt, Chase and Governor Ammons – I think one of ’em as bad as the other. If Linderfelt had got any of my children I bet I’d have got him by and by. But then it’s the coal companies, too, for that matter – if they wouldn’t hire such people.

“They searched my tent eight different times, tore up the floor, went through all my trunks, and drawers. One of the dirty men asked me for a kiss. I picked up my iron handle, and I says, ’If you ask me that again I’ll hit you between the teeth.

“If they hadn’t brought those bloodhounds in here there’d have been no trouble. They started it on us every time. They’d often threatened to burn it up, you know, but we said, ’Oh, that’s just talk.’

“Look at him! I tell you it’s a wonder he was born at all!

“Just the same I’d go through the same performance again before I’d scab. I’d see the rope first. I was the first woman in that colony and I was the last one out – alive. They took my husband up to the mine, and offered him $300 a month to run a machine. He’d been getting $2.95 a day before, and they offered to pay up his back debts at the store, too.

“’You’ll need a wash-tub to come after your pay,’ they said.

“’Yes,’ he said, ’why didn’t you offer me that before the strike?’

“Oh, we ain’t bluffed out at all – only I’ll never go back and live in a tent. I brought my children out alive and I’m going to keep ’em alive.

“You know the children run cryin’ when they see a yellow suit – even the Federals. All yellow suits look alike to them!”

I have trusted Mrs. Toner’s own words to convey, better than I could, the spirit of the women on strike. But I wish I could add to that a portrait of the young Italian mother, Mrs. Petrucci, who survived her babies in that death-hole at Ludlow – sweet, strong, slender-fingered, exquisite Italian Mother-of-God! If there is more fineness or more tenderness in the world than dwells in those now pitifully vague and wandering eyes, I have lived without finding it.

It would be both futile and foolish, I suppose, to pretend that there is hatred, ignorant hatred of dwarfed and silly minds, only upon the “capital” side of this struggle. Yet I must record my true conviction, that the purpose to shoot, slaughter, and burn at Ludlow was absolutely deliberate and avowed in the mines and the camps of the militia; that it was an inevitable outcome of the temper of contemptuous race and class-hatred, the righteous indignation of the slave-driver, with which these mine-owners met the struggle of their men for freedom; and that upon the strikers’ side is to be found both more of the gentleness and more of the understanding that are supposed to be fruits of civilization, than upon the mine-owners’. It will be granted, perhaps, even by those who love it, that our system of business competition tends to select for success characters with a fair admixture of cruel complaisance, and that those excessively weighted with human love or humility gravitate toward the bottom? At least, if this is granted to begin with, it will be heartily confirmed by the facts for anyone who visits the people of Las Animas County.

“Revenge?” said Mrs. Fyler to me – and Mrs. Fyler’s husband was caught that night in the tent-colony unarmed, led to the track and murdered in cold blood by the soldiers – "Revenge? We might go out there and stay five years to get revenge, but it would never get us back what we lost. It would only be that much on our own heads.”