TRINIDAD, CO – Linda Linville climbed down the steep stone steps into the dugout on the southern Colorado prairie Sunday where one branch of her family was wiped out in one day 100 years ago.
Her great aunt, her unborn baby and two children died in a fire that broke out during a battle between coal miners striking against John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and the Colorado National Guard in what became known as the Ludlow Massacre. Twenty-seven-year-old Cedilena Costa, 4-year-old Lucy and 6-year-old Onofrio suffocated from the smoke as they hid below ground to escape the battle. Linville said Cedilena’s husband, Charlie Costa, a union organizer, was captured and shot in the head that day and never knew his family’s fate.
“Anyone who says they died in vain is wrong,” said Linville, a retired history teacher from Corona, Calif., referring to the fact that the miners eventually ended up going back to work without winning any of their demands.
The massacre and battle left 21 people dead, including the Greek-American union leader Louis Tikas, and set off 10 days of civil war in which the miners killed 30 mine guards, supervisors and strikebreakers. They surrendered only after President Woodrow Wilson sent federal troops to the state.
The deaths drew national attention to the long running strike and forced Rockefeller to take a public role in Colorado Fuel & Iron. He instituted a company union and grievance system, which the miners later rejected when they won the right to unionize on their own during the New Deal. The massacre and the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911 are credited with the helping win the eventual passage of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act.
Linville and over 100 others — including members of the United Mine Workers of America wearing the red bandanas the strikers wore — gathered at the site of the former Ludlow tent colony to mark the massacre’s 100th anniversary with a Greek Orthodox Easter service. It was very similar to the one the miners, who came from a variety of countries, shared in 100 years ago with the Greek strikers the day before the massacre. The Easter service included the traditional reading of the Gospel story in several languages to symbolize the universality of its message.
The service was low-key, with participants seated on folding chairs and wooden picnic tables underneath a pavilion near the railroad tracks. No statewide elected officials attended.
Just yards away from the memorial to the miners and dugout, the crowd held candles and listened and repeated the liturgy focusing on joy over Christ’s resurrection.
Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, the leader of the Greek Orthodox church in Colorado and 11 other Western states, led the service, noting that a priest named Isaiah also led the funeral service for Tikas 100 years ago. He said the massacre ultimately led to good by exposing the exploitation of the mostly immigrant workforce.
“The news spread all the way to Washington, D.C., and to all parts of the country and people started waking up,” he said.
Linville’s infant mother and her family were among the striking coal families too but survived. Her Sicilian-born grandfather started coal mining at 12 but gave it up after the massacre and the family eventually moved to Los Angeles to start over again. Her grandfather and grandmother named their next child Charlie after his brother.