The Bloody History of Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

The ghost town of Ludlow sits along a quiet dirt road in rural Colorado across from the train tracks that once carried the coal its residents excavated from nearby mines. Built in the early 1900s, Ludlow was the site of events so appalling that the ensuing public outrage forced profound changes that affect American life to this day.

Abandoned buildings of Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

After exploring the awesome Pueblo Mission Ruins of New Mexico, I made my way north into Colorado. The weather had warmed just enough to begin melting the thick snow that blanketed the land, transforming the dirt road that once functioned as Ludlow's main street into a muddy mess.

Abandoned buildings of Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Despite the town's age, quite a few structures still stand. Others lie in heaps of stone and decaying wood. Several hundred yards from the intact buildings, a brick wall and chimney marks the site of a collapsed structure of unknown purpose.

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned buildings of Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

A badly damaged piano with wooden keys is half-buried inside a partially collapsed structure.

Abandoned artifacts in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Rusted equipment lies scattered throughout the property.

Abandoned artifacts in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned artifacts in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Melting snow dripped from the ceilings of the old buildings. I marveled that they had survived such an environment for over a hundred years without their wooden beams rotting and giving way.

Abandoned building in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Some, such as the old jail, were made of stone

Abandoned Jail ruins in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned building in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned building in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

..but even those sturdy walls had not all stood the test of time.

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

A dozen or so structures were still mostly intact. Among them were homes,

Abandoned building in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned building in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned building in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

a restaurant and general store,

Abandoned restaurant ruins in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned building in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned building in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

and a repair shop with several autos in serious disrepair.

Abandoned building in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned building in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned building in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned antique car in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned antique car in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned antique car in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned antique car in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

As if to lend authenticity to the Old-West feel of the town, a train thundered by.

A train passes the abandoned buildings of Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

I headed south of Ludlow's main drag to get a closer look at the town's two abandoned single-room schoolhouses.

Abandoned Schoolhouse Ruins in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

A fallen playground slide lay in the brush nearby.

Playground equipment at the abandoned schoolhouse Ruins of Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Neither of the schoolhouses were in great shape, but one was particularly deteriorated. Its roof was coming apart and the ceiling inside had fallen in.

Abandoned Schoolhouse Ruins of Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned Schoolhouse Ruins of Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned Schoolhouse Ruins of Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

The other seemed to have held up better through the years and was being used to store bales of hay. 

Abandoned Schoolhouse Ruins of Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned Schoolhouse Ruins of Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned Schoolhouse Ruins of Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Abandoned Schoolhouse Ruins of Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

Between the buildings is an uncovered well.

Abandoned Schoolhouse Ruins of Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Though a remote Colorado ghost town, Ludlow is famous for being the site of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, a tragedy that had important lasting effects on the American labor movement.

Ludlow was a company town that belonged to Colorado Fuel and Iron. Owned by John D. Rockefeller, it was the largest coal operator in the west and one of the nation's most powerful corporations. Despite its wealth and power, the company exploited its employees and took heavy-handed measures to prevent them from organizing.

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

By housing its employees in a company town, CF&I held considerable control over all aspects of workers' lives. Curfews were imposed and armed guards patrolled the town to enforce them. Employees were paid in company scrip, a form of credit that could only be redeemed at the company-owned store, where prices were abnormally high.

Abandoned Artifacts in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

Wages were determined by the amount of coal produced, while "dead work" such as repairing damaged roofs was often unpaid, causing workers to neglect safety precautions in order to earn more. The death rate in Colorado's mines rose to nearly double the national average. Not surprisingly, mines worked by union employees had 40% fewer deaths than nonunion mines across the US.

Many mine workers were immigrants who did not share a common language. CF&I's management used this to their advantage by assigning workers to teams with mixed nationalities so that they could not effectively communicate with one another and therefore could not unionize.

Workers became fed up with CF&I's mistreatment and eventually turned to the United Mine Workers of America for help. They presented the company with a list of demands, which included recognition of collective bargaining power, an eight-hour workday, enforcement of Colorado's safety laws, and fair pay in legal currency instead of company scrip.

Decaying book in the abandoned Ruins of Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

The demands were rejected and UMWA called a strike in September 1913. Strikers were immediately evicted from their company homes. Fortunately the UMWA had prepared for this by building a tent village where the evicted employees could live.

CF&I hired the Baldwin–Felts Detective Agency, who had a violent reputation as strike-breakers, to intimidate strikers and protect replacement workers. They patrolled the camp's perimeter in an armored car called the "Death Special", which was mounted with a machine gun. Occasionally they fired into the tents of striking workers, who responded by digging pits beneath their tents for their families to hide inside.

In response to increasing violence, the National Guard was called in. Guard leaders sided with the company management. After a replacement worker was found dead, the National Guard attacked the tent colony, intending to destroy it.

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

During the attack, two women and eleven children became trapped in a pit beneath a tent that was set on fire and suffocated. These deaths galvanized the UMWA, who dubbed the attack the "Ludlow Massacre." Fighting spread to the mines and continued for ten days, resulting in at least 50 deaths, finally ending after President Woodrow Wilson sent in Federal troops.

The UMWA finally ran out of money, and called off the strike on December 10, 1914.

Despite its failure, the strike had a lasting impact on conditions in Colorado mines and on labor relations across the US. As a result of major public backlash, Rockefeller hired a labor relations expert to help develop positive reforms within his company.

The UMWA bought the site of the Ludlow tent colony in 1916 and built a memorial for those who died during the strike. On January 16, 2009, the memorial was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark.

Sign at the Ludlow Massacre Memorial near the abandoned Ruins of Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

The Ludlow Massacre inspired the novel King Coal by Upton Sinclair and several popular songs, including "Ludlow Massacre" by Woody Guthrie, "Ludlow" by Jason Boland, and "The Monument (Lest We Forget)" by Andy Irvine.

Support for unions reached an all-time high in the nineteen-thirties, but has since seen a major decline in the decades since, especially a steep decrease following the 2008 recession. Apparently the American public has forgotten how important unions were in shaping the labor laws and practices that we take for granted nowadays.

A study by the US Department of Labor shows that union employees earn up to 33% more than nonunion employees in the same field. Union employees also enjoy increased job security and safer and higher-quality working conditions. Rising income inequality in the US has been shown to correlate with the decline of the labor movement and union membership.

After exploring the ghost town I stopped at the historical monument and tossed a few dollars into the donation box, grateful for the sacrifices the strikers made a hundred years ago.

Ludlow Massacre Memorial near the abandoned Ruins of Ludlow Colorado Ghost Town

The "Death Pit" in which the women and children died:
Death Pit at the Ludlow Massacre Memorial

Abandoned buildings in Ludlow, Colorado Ghost Town

With daylight fading from the sky, I continued northward. I had enough time to explore one more ghost town before nightfall.

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6 comments :

  1. What an incredible tour and history. I know hubby will be drooling over the vehicles left behind. How neat!

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    1. Thank you. I was surprised those vehicles were still there. Someone really needs to restore them.

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  2. Amazing story; one I've never heard. Thank you!

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    1. I was amazed I hadn't heard the story either. It was such an important moment in the labor movement.

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  3. My family comes from this area during the strike and massacre. Great historical context that is hard to find on other websites summarized, and fantastic detail on the structures remaining. My great-great grandfather lived a few miles north of Ludlow on his homestead during the massacre, and his son (my great-grandpa) was a teenager working in a mine nearby when the strikes occurred. My great-grandpa became the first president of the UMWA in Trinidad, and a chairman and president of the Colorado UMWA in his lifetime, after his friends were killed in Ludlow, and the Hastings Mine Explosion a few years later. He designed and commissioned the Ludlow Monument, and was its caretaker from its construction until his death in 1954. Just found your website, and love it!

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    1. Your great grandpa sounds like an extraordinary man who improved the lives of countless people. His friends who died would have been glad to know that their deaths motivated him to make the world a better place.

      Thank you for checking out my website. I'm glad you're enjoying it!

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