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Scanned by Dick Chenault
Edited by Zale Nagler
Date of Interview - 10-17-1979
Interviewed by Elaine Baker
Topic: Strike of 1913
EB: We are in the home of Frances Nelson. We are going to discuss the strike and the general mining history today.
When I was here last time we discussed a lot of things, but one thing we discussed was within your home, within your family, your father and your brother had different ideological points of view. And I am particularly interested in that because most of the people we talk to tell about these experiences but not about the implications of the issues involved, so I am really interested to know what people thought.
FN: Well, being brought up in a mining atmosphere and community, I guess all of my family, uncles and brothers and father, were all miners and the things that I remember best are things that I heard the miners themselves talking about were the conditions in the mines in those days. My mother had this boarding house, and as a child I remember the miners talking about the terrible conditions in the coal mines, and all the dangers of the coal mines, the rate of their pay, and things related to the coal mines.
My father was a fire boss and he naturally was on the side of the companies at that time. My brother Mose was a miner, but he was a striker, which created quite a problem for mother here. At the time of the strike my father couldn't stay with us because it was dangerous in those days to walk to work on the mine. We had to go up on Seventh Street. He worked at the old Walsen Mine. So moved to Walsen Camp where he batched. But at that time, well, maybe I should go back a little and talk about the background.
In about 1900 the whole thing started, all the mine troubles, when the United Mine Workers came in to organize the miners, all over Colorado, I suppose, but I'm speaking of this area. Most of the miners were from Southern Europe. At some time they came over to work in the coal mines.
I remember when father had to batch in the old company store in Walsen, mother used to bake bread for him but I couldn't walk up Seventh Street because most of the miners' families lived on Seventh Street from the 600 block up, and naturally if they'd see me walking up the street with something to take to the mining camp, they wouldn't let me get through. Well, anyway, I remember crossing the bridge, the railroad bridge, the trestle down here, do you know where that is? And I would go and I'd walk through the hills until I came to the company fence and there the guard would let me in. They knew who I was, so I'd take dad his bread and come back the same way.
Mose, my brother, was a strong union man. We began to see the danger of father working in the mine with the strike going on. So we finally convinced him that he had to come home. So he quit and came home. But I remember that Mose would guard the house at night.
EB: Did you feel the violence come from the union side or the administrative side.
FN: Well, it's difficult to tell. I know the mine guards did harrass the miners on many occasions and of course they fought back.
And going back to the time of the massacre, I was coming home from school, I remember that, and everything was so quiet you couldn't see anyone on the street. Of course, it had all happened already, and I was coming up the street and I don't think anyone was walking with me. I remember being alone and as I approached the corner I saw this dead man lying in the middle of the street right between our house and the bakery, in that area some place, and I could see he had a pipe in his mouth. It was the queerest thing. I'll never forget it. Then I guess I didn't come into the house at all, because I remember I was so frightened, I didn't know what happened, everything was so still and there was this dead man lying in the street toward the Atencio home; the other Atencio home. Let's see, the schoolhouse was next door, about the fourth house up. I could see a man lying over the gatepost and whether he was wounded or dead I don't know. I think he was shot through the neck. I remember say he was shot through the neck.
What started the whole thing, was the Wahlmeirs, August Wahlmeirs, lived in the house next door, to the Atencio home on Seventh Street. He was a company man, but his wife lived here. They thought it was quite dangerous for her to live in town during the strike so they sent the mines guard down to move the furniture. Somehow she had left the house already. My sister Anna lived next door and she was cleaning house, and she had all the barrel of shoes outside and the cushions and everything. It must have been a nice day because it was in October; it must have been an October like we're having now, because she said she had everything outside, the barrel of shoes and the pillows and the quilts and everything else to air them out. Her mother and father were at the farm and she was cleaning for them to come home, they had a home here and one on the farm too. So she says, she actually was an eyewitness, and Anna could tell you more about it than I can because, let's see, 1913. She was around 17 or 18 years old. She says what she saw was this company wagon come up the alley and mounted guards riding along with the wagon and they stopped at the Wahlmeirs home and they loaded all the furniture to move it. The first thing she knew a group of women had stepped into the yard and were throwing the shoes and all they could find at the wagon and at the guards. And she remembers they broke a large mirror that was on the wagon. As to who fired the first shot, all she remembers, she says, that there was a window facing west and she saw a man creeping up with a rifle. It was one of the strikers. She wouldn't identify him, though. And of course, the guard was on his horse. As to whether the guard fired the first shot or the miner fired the first shot, she heard the shot and saw the guard fall from his horse. Then you might say everything broke loose when the first shot was fired. Then they started firing. The guards fired, the miners fired. And that's when the killings took place, I suppose. Even on our house and on the schoolhouse next door there were bullet holes. They must have been shooting quite wildly at everybody and everything. I don't know why the shots would reach our house.
EB: Is that when the Lenzini brother was killed?
FN: Well, his brother was killed in the Lenzini store, but it wasn't at that particular time. It was during the strike, but I don't think it was the same day. They had a store on West Seventh Street. They said the bullets came from the hill. I don't know.
ER: It sounds like the town was pretty much occupied by strikers and the men stayed pretty much in the camps because of the guards.
FN: There were some miners. They were called scabs, who lived in the camps. It was terrible in those days to be called a scab. I remember the miners talking about it: Miners were paid around $3.00 for a 10-hour shift. It was not enough. Carpenters and everybody else were making more than they were. Those living in the coal camps, when the strike started were evicted and had to set up colonies in different places. I remember one of the colonies was called, “White City.” So the miners had to move out, those that were on strike. Those that weren't on strike stayed in the mine camps. Those were dangerous times.
EB: Do you get the feeling that the, union came in and incited the strikers or that the thrust of the strike came from the people in the mines?
FM: Well, the United Mine Workers came in to organize the miners in the first place because of the dangerous working conditions and because of the living conditions. As I said, in those days they worked 10 hours a day for $3 and then the danger of the mines, too, and then they were obligated to live in the coal camps. They had to live there and they were paid with script, which was called script in those days, a piece of printed paper, used to trade at the company store.
EB: So they didn't have trouble organizing? The people were ready?
FN: Yes, I think they were ready and organized. It was in October, let me see, of course there was another coal mine strike but I couldn't remember that. I didn't hear too much talk about it. In the early 1900's there was another coal strike and that brought about some better conditions in the mines but not all. I suppose if the miners started the mine guards would fight back, you know. Like after this massacre on Seventh Street I remember how frightened everybody was and I don't know who told the people on Seventh Street to get out because they were going to shoot a cannon down the street. So we left our house and went to live with a friend of ours across from St. Mary's school. While there I remember, we stayed about four or five days until things quieted down and when we came back home. I remember looking out one evening and we could see where they c1aimed the strikers had blown up the McAnaly Mine, which is right over the hill. We could see the flames going up. I don't know if they started that or not and maybe the mine guards fired back. I don't know. That's all I remember.
EB: Did the church involve itself at all?
FN: Not that I know of. There was no involvement that I know of by the church. They were probably sympathetic to the strikers because so many of them were Catholics. I don't know how any of the other churches responded. Most of the striking miners were Southern Europeans, you know, Greeks, Italians, Polish people. The Spanish speaking people were involved to some extent but not too much because they worked in the mines before that and I never heard of any trouble or anything. But I think the thing started with the unions trying to organize and wanting to better miner's conditions.
EB: During the strike, did they all get involved and work together?
FN: At first, I think. (interruption)
FN: We had a boarder who was very active In union affairs. His name was Jack Burke and he and my brother Mose were very close. As a matter of fact, I felt as if Jack was a member of the family, he had been with us for so long. He was a supporter of the union and did everything he could to better the conditions and to “stir 'em up.” I guess, against the companies, too, because I remember that he brought several of the people connected with the strike to eat at our house. That used to be the dining room at one time, and Mother Jones, maybe you've heard about Mother Jones, she was already in her '80's then. I remember her eating here. And John Lawson, who was another, and Germer. I remember all those names. I remember those people clearly because they would talk about the strike and I would sit and listen. He was quite a person. So I can say that I was acquainted with most of the leaders. Some of them, I don't remember their names, but I do remember Mother Jones, and John Lawson and Germer. I have forgotten what his first name was, we just called him Germer.
Maybe you have some questions and things will come back to me.
EB: What was your impression of the people?
FN: Militant people, as we talk today about people who work for the poor and the oppressed. They were working for the miners and trying to better their conditions. And Mother Jones was, well, a dynamic little person. And I remember how much I favored the union, all because of Mother Jones, not because I understood too much about working conditions. And dad Nelson was a quiet a soft spoken person. He never did talk much about conditions. And since he worked for the coal mine ever since he started coal mining he never said very much about it. Maybe he was equally divided in his sentiments and feelings, because part of the family were strikers and part of them were company people, who were called, “scabs.” I had an uncle, Uncle Valdez, who was a mine guard, so it was a rather strange situation. You didn't know which side to be on, because you had relatives on both sides.
I remember that at Christmas time all the strikers' children were lined up on both sides of the Street and there came this big truck headed by striking miners giving toys to the children. What I got was a little wooden elephant. And Jack used to tell me, Jack Burke, he says, “Franny, they should have given you a donkey because you're supposed to be a Democrat” and I had received an elephant. Course most of the strikers were on the Democratic side, because we had a very strong sheriff, Jefferson B. Farr, who was a Republican and on the side of the companies. The strikers always blamed him for part of the trouble because he sided in with the companies. And then when the militia came in, the National Guard came in, I think It was, and they had their tents pitched over on Sixth Street, in the vacant space there between the homes and the railroad track. I remember how excited the children were to see the men in uniform. When the problems got real bad, then they sent the federal troops in and that quieted things up for awhile, I think they disarmed both the miners and the company guards.
Anna was telling me, I didn't remember too well, Anna is my sister, that my uncle and I think a first cousin had a contract to open up a ditch along the Hogback for the Fruth Autrey Ranch outfit, and they were working with their teams, clearing out the ditch when bullets started flying. They claimed the bullets came from the Hogback that's the hill right behind the ditch there, so it must have come from the strikers first. She said what they did was they let the horses loose and they crawled on their hands and knees till they got out of the danger spot, but then the guards were shooting back. I think that was when Mike Lenzini was killed, when they were firing from the Hogback. I am not sure of that, but I think that is when it happened. Anyway, my Uncle Tim Valdez was a guard and when he saw the shooting he told the company guards to stop, that his relatives were working in that ditch. They could have gotten killed if they hadn't gotten out fast.
I remember there was a hearing in Castle Rock, (and I don't know why the hearing was held in Castle Rock), as to why or, who started the shooting at that time. But Anna said, that her father went there as one of the witnesses and the men that were working in the ditch went, but she doesn't remember if that was mentioned in McGovern's book or not, the hearing at Castle Rock. And why they held it in Castle Rock, I don't know. Maybe they felt they couldn't get a fair hearing in Huerfano County. And of course, Mother Jones was in jail here in Walsenburg for a good many days.
EB: When there was a division within a family, which came first, the family loyalties or the strike loyalties?
FN: Well, I think in our case the family loyalties, because father Nelson came home. And he was aware of the danger, not only to his family, but the danger to other relatives, too, who were strikers.
EB: It seems to me those divisions would exist in the people who lived in the county before the miners came because the people who came over, the immigrants, almost all were workers, so that the kind of jobs like fireman and the management jobs, but not top management jobs, would be people who, like Sam Vigil was something at one point.
FN: By the way, it was his father that was the ditch foreman at the time they had this battle up on the hill.
EB: He might remember something.
FN: He was working in the ditch, Sam and Dan and their father and my father Atencio and brother Mike and my cousins were all working in the ditch at that time. You ask Sam about that. He probably remembers more about it, because he was involved in the whole thing, you know.
EB: I felt that a lot of the Spanish families would be ones where there would be people on both sides and then family loyalties would probably come first there.
FN: I would think so. Then across the street in the Joseph home, I had a first cousin who lived there and she had a daughter named Dora Endes. Dora and her boyfriend went out riding on a motorcycle and they went out on where the Pueblo Highway is now, on the Hogback, and I don't know if he was warned the first time they went by that he shouldn't try to cross the hill there or go through the hill, but on the way back he was killed. He was shot off the motorcycle but she wasn't. Dora was injured but wasn't killed. So there is another involvement of the family in the strike. Her boyfriend was killed riding a motorcycle. That might have been the time that Dr. Lester was killed, too. That was the “Hogback Battle.” I guess you might call it
EB: What was the role of women in the strike?
FN: Well, women were more militant than the men were. Anna says, that women were the first that gathered around the Wahlmeir place when they were moving the furniture. I think the women started it, she said, it seemed that way anyway. They walked into the yard and they threw her cushions and shoes at the wagon. We never did get back our belongings, she said. But that's what started the whole thing.
EB: So that, in general, the women were as involved as the men?
FN: They were as involved. And I remember with Mother Jones the women used to come and talk, give talks against the companies and for the union. I remember going to some of these. Children are curious I guess, but this was at “White City” and I must have been there with a group of children, because I remember this young lady, this young woman getting up on a box and waving her hands. Of course we were just fooling around, the children were, but I remember all the men and the women were gathered around listening to what she had to say.
CC: When we started, you talked about. I don't know how many people we'll be interviewing will have read the materials that you've read. Before we began the interview you had a couple of comments you were going to make about the McGovern book, additions or differences you had with the book. I wonder if you have any comments about the things you've read.
FN: I would have to look at the book again. But I remember there were what I thought were discrepancies and I remember talking to Anna about it and she said, “Well that wasn't true, it didn't happen that way” you see. But I would have to read it again. I can't remember specific things.
CC: It did occur that in specific instances, though, that you were involved in, you remembered it differently.
CC: I suppose he had to rely on interviews.
FN: I don't think he did the interviewing himself. I think the man that helped him write the book, what was his name?
FN: Yes, I think he was the man that was down here and did the interviewing.
EB: But they didn't ask you.
FN: No, they didn't. Of course, I don't know if they would want the testimony of a 8 or 9 year old child. But Anna, my sister, would remember more.
CC: You lived right here on the way to the mine and then your family was very involved. But I wondered if you felt if it was a community wid involvement? Were all the people in the area to some extent or another involved in the issues and questions. I mean, do you feel it touched the lives of many of the people in the community to some extent or another?
FN: I think it just touched the lives of the strikers.
CC: What do you think the attitude of the other people in the community was? Do you have any sense of that, maybe from conversations over the years? How they viewed the whole thing.
FN: Well, I think the working people were biased, probably, and they were on the side of the strikers, and the people that made their livelihood some other way maybe on the side of the companies.
CC: Did you have a sense, or have you over the years, that people chose sides, that there was that involvement?
FN: Not too much, no. As I say, the family was sort of divided because the undersheriff for Jeff Farr was my mother's nephew. They called him “Shorty” Martinez, and they called him Shorty because he was 6—1/2 feet tall. So he naturally was on the side of the company, so he probably taught his side of the family, you know the family that were close to him, the relatives that were close to him, he probably taught them in favor of the company, so it was one way or the other. You'd sit and listen to people talk and some were in favor of the companies and some were in favor of the strikers.
EB: What kind of a person was Shorty Martinez?
FN: Well, you know I have a picture of my grandmother with his brother. And he looked very much like his brother. That isn't shorty, that's his brother. But I have a picture of Shorty Martinez. That's my grandmother, my. paternal grandmother. She was a beautiful woman. And that's Shorty Martinez's brother. But I just wanted you to see his height, how tall he was.
And this is Shorty right here. This is a picture that was taken in 1918 of the draftees that were sent to the first World War. And taken, let me see, if Shorty is here. Here's Shorty. All the important people in town were there. There's Dr. Trout. He delivered most of the babies in Walsenburg. Dr. Greer. Alex Guerrero, he was county assessor. Shorty Martinez. Charlie Sanchez. We stayed at Charlie Sanchez's house when we were running away from all the fireworks. And here's the mayor, Kirkpatrick. Mayor Kirkpatrick, As I say, all the important people were there to see Able Valdez. He was being drafted and going into the war. And this is his mother here with her hand placed over her heart.
CC: Striking looking man. (Shorty Martinez)
EB: David has to get special film for the process to do it correctly.
CC: That should certainly be copied.
FN: A lot of the leading citizens of the county at that time, that was 1918. Then I think I can get the picture of the owls. That was considered a fraternal organization, I think, and that has even more of the early families in the county. I will get it from a friend of mine if she still has it. Several of these in this picture died in the World War. He was killed in the World War I. He was, let's see, who else? We've gone from the strike to the World War I.
EB: What was the role of the fraternal organizations in the strike? I always had a feeling that there were many fraternal organizations in this town.
FN: Yes, and I have a beautiful picture of one of the first Hispano fraternal organizations. They are all dressed. I took this around with me several times and had people identify people for me. I have a slip of paper that has all the names of men that could be identified.
EB: And what were these called. Is this the Owls?
FN: No, this wasn't the Owls. I even have the badge. This is my dad, see right there. All important people that had something to do with the… There's my Uncle Tercio, who was in the state legislature. This is one of the early organizations, this and the Owls, and I'll get that one for you too.
CC: What was the function of this group?
FN: Well, it was just a fraternal organization. I think it had some insurance. I know that they had a branch, I think the parent branch was in Antonito or Conejos, someplace there and then they had this large group here in Walsenburg. This is my uncle. He wasn't a representative or a senator. He went to the legislature, and I can't seem to find out what he was doing there. Anyway, he must have been assistant maybe to the representative from Huerfano County, I came up with that. Tircio Valdez, my mother's brother.
That's the store where the Motel is now. That's where Dad Nelson had a store at one time. This is John Albert, only survivor of the Taos massacre.
EB: When was this picture taken?
FN: I don't know. Her daughter gave it to me. He had twenty three, twenty four children. He'd been married two or three times. So I think this was from the last family.
This is Agapito Atencio, one of the first settlers of the Huerfano County, as a young man and then as an older man. He's mentioned in Sporleder's book, Romance of the Spanish Peaks, if you read that book. That's the man he makes reference to. That's his wife, Josefa, but I don't know who the girl is. I haven't been able to get her identified. It must have been one of her grandchildren, probably.
EB: So this was the...
FN: That isn't so old, I don't think, but she was quite old when that was taken. And this is one of the Atencio girls. I just want you to look at it because of her beautiful dress. It was handmade in those days and there must have been wonderful seamstresses.
EB: Pretty good photographer, also for Walsenburg.
FN: Well, it was Bunker, the name was Bunker. I have seen it on other photographs. It was taken here in Walsenburg.
EB: We'll get them all.
Maybe this is a good time to ask you, we mentioned in the last week about the divisions in the community, perhaps starting with the miners coming over from Europe.
FN: I think there was a little resentment from the Spanish speaking people of these foreigners coming in. At least they thought, “They're foreigners” because they were so different from the natives, the people that actually lived here. And I think to this day there is this feeling. You hear people in their conversations say, “Well, you know, they just came to this country and they're trying to tell, us what to do.” But I think that things have changed a lot since those days.
EB: We were talking about the early days, early settlement, that everybody cooperated, got along.
FN: I could see the feeling between the Spanish speaking people and the early settlers, the German people, that came here, was very good, very good. As a matter of fact, they were asked to be God parents when the children were born, baptized, that sort of relationship, very close. Like our family, now, and the Mazzones family, very close. My mother, I think, baptized one of their children, and even worked for them when they were in business. So, they never felt they were any different, just one of us, they belonged to us, they were just part of our big family in Walsenburg.
EB: And when do you think it changed?
FM: I think it was the opening of coal mines that brought the change. Before that time people got along fine.
EB: That was in about 1876. The railroad came in, too, and brought in a lot of different people. The Spanish people were in the majority at first, you see, and probably with all these other people coming in they felt a little threatened or some way in their ways of living and their attitudes towards people. And for a long time there seemed to be that between religions, too, Catholics and Protestants didn't get along at all. We had the same divisions in our family. My maternal grandparents were Presbyterians and my paternal grandparents were Catholics so there was that division all the time, but of course, being relatives, you get along pretty well.
EB: When did the Mexicans begin to come in from Mexico?
FN: Well, in 1598 Juan deOnote came up into what was known as New Mexico Territory. It was Mexican territory at the time.
EB: I was differentiating between the Spanish who came up through Mexico and the people who were Mexican citizens later on... the later settlements of actual Mexicans.
FN: I don't think there were any… the colonial Mexicans, they might be called, were here when this was part of Mexico. I don't think the Mexicans that came, the immigration that started mostly after World War II. Course there were always some of them coming to work in the coal mines before that time, but they didn't make any settlements. They were all the Mexicans that came from New Mexico.
EB: After the revolution, in the '20's, there was an influx of Mexicans from Mexico.
FN: Well, probably, to work in the beet fields rather than in the coal mines. We never did have too many in Walsenburg. I remember we had boarders who were Mexicans who couldn't speak English at all, but somehow they seemed to be a little different than the natives. Their speech was a little different, their ways were a little different. Their foods were a little different.
EB: Did they stay separate as a group when they came?
FN: No, I don't think so. A lot of them intermarried with local girls. And they just became part of the community.
EB: When Adam Maldanado tells about people coming to work with shearing “peones,” who were these people? Were they people coming up from Mexico or were they local people who didn't own land?
FN: I don't remember the sheep shearers that were Mexicans, from Mexico. I think they were probably just natives. People from New Mexico or from the Southern part of the state, who were expert shearers; they would come in and help them shear.
EB: That's way off the topic, too maybe we should go back to the strike.
CC: I was thinking about, you were right on the road to the mine?
FN: Yes, Seventh Street was the main traffic, right up here. And as I say, most of the strikers lived in the 600 block. I would say from the 700 block up to the end of the Street.
CC: Had they moved from the coal camp?
FN: Some of them had, and some of them had bought properties. Probably some of the first ones that came, bought lots and homes.
CC: On the other side of town, was that a tent.
FN: That was a tent colony, called, “White City'.' But the strikers didn't live there at all. I don't know why they set up the White City, because maybe it was quite a distance from the mine, maybe out of danger and all that.
CC: So, I guess the real problem initially for the strikers was to halt the traffic in and out of the mine. You say it wasn't safe to walk to the mine. So it was pretty much closed down, the whole. There wasn't a thorough fare to the mine any more?
FN: Not unless it was the sheriff's people or the mine guards, probably armed, you know, maybe they could go up the street. And I think that incited the strikers, too, to see these people going up the street with their rifles, on horseback.
CC: And how long did that last?
FN: After the federal troops came in things kind of quieted down. The newspaper had a lot of stories about what the companies would do and all that, but it kind of quieted down after that.
CC: So, how long a period would that have been?
FN: I wouldn't recall exactly, but two or three years.
CC: So it was a long time that it was shut down as a thoroughfare.
FN: Of course, there weren't as many automobiles as we have now. People coming from the valley would have to come through here, but probably not too many coming through.
CC: Do you remember how foodstuffs would go in and out to the camp? Did it go through this road? Was there a railroad to the camp?
FN: There was the company store that was right at the head of Seventh Street, facing seventh Street. That was where they were going to place a cannon and going to shoot everyone on Seventh Street.
EB: Where was that approximately now, about where the gas station is?
FN: Yes, it was facing East.
EB: So Seventh Street stopped.
FN: Yes, right at the end of Seventh Street that became the camp. And it was barricaded and there was a fence where Lenzini's Garage and the filling station is, that's probably where the company store was. But I don't remember too well. I don't think the highway came through there at that time I think the highway was up around the hill, the old highway.
EB: And the railroad could get supplies in, so supplies would come in right on the railroad. So they were self contained.
FN: Yes, I would think so
EB: What role would you say local politics had? You mentioned Jefferson Farr.
FN: Yes, well, he was in power. A lot of people thought a lot of Jeff Farr. Course, the strikers didn't because he sided in with the company. And all the people that were on the side of the company were Republicans and all the Strikers were Democrats. I remember that Jack Burke always used to say, “You're a Democrat” Other members of the family always wondered “How did you happen to be a Democrat, Frances? We're all Republicans.” “Well” I said, “Jack Burke started me out”
EB: What happened to Jack Burke?
FN: Well, Jack got involved in bootlegging, I remember that I always felt as if Jack were my brother because he had been with us so long. I don't know how many years he boarded in this house. When I first started to take piano lessons we didn't have a piano, we had an organ. And I couldn't reach the pedals. So Dad had to sit beside me and pump the pedals. The organ was in that corner where the breakfront is now, and Jack said, “Frannies” got to have a piano. She's taking piano lessons and she can't reach those pedals.” So he talked Mama Nelson into buying the piano and I remember he helped her with the first payment on the piano. We were that close, you know. And he bought me the first wristwatch I ever had. But as I started to say about Jack, he got involved in bootlegging at the time, and got caught, and sent to the penitentiary. I don't know if it was a year or two. But we corresponded all the time and I have a picture of Jack someplace. After that he never came home. All his belongings were here, his trunk was here and all his belongings. He never came back. We tried to locate him later on, I did, and I heard he'd gone to the Western Slope and from there he disappeared. We just don't know. But I imagine he's gone by now.
EB: He sounds like a fine person.
FN: He was a wonderful person, all Irish, you know. He would sit and talk to me by the hour, telling me about all these things, how people were oppressed, how the coal companies were making a lot of money, how many men were dying in the mines because they weren't safe, and how I should always stand for the right and always stand for the poor and oppressed, this sort of thing.
EB: Reading Pete Baione's transcript, I got the feeling that a lot of the people were taken up with the struggle but they weren't very involved with the ideas, they kind of… because there was so much going on, they were kind of caught up in the momentum, but they weren't very clear about what the union stood for. Do you have an idea about this?
FN: I think they knew what the union stood for, but I think that probably they were afraid to commit themselves anyway because the families were so divided, some of them working for the companies, and some of the strikers. They were just like our family was, you know, so they were afraid to take sides.
EB: Do you think the people involved in the ambushes and the skirmishes were representative, they weren't just the hotheads, they actually understood what they were fighting for?
FN: Oh, I think so, I think the miners clearly understood what they were fighting for, I really do. And I think that after the first strike in 1900, I think the company made some concessions, but not enough to satisfy the strikers.
EB: Reading McGovern's book, the thing that came to me was the amount of accidents that happened. That was one of the biggest things. If I were living and my husband was working in the mines that's what would bother me more than the script, was wondering whether he would come home or not.
FN: And of course, the living conditions, too, you know, you were forced to trade at the company store and you were forced to live in the coal camps, although we never did live in the coal camps, see, but still my father was working at the mine. He worked for 35 years. I even remember he got a gold pin saying, 35 years of service to the CF&I. I don't know what ever became of the pin.
EB: Was there any difference, kind of a class division between the people who worked in the mines and those who lived in town, were the kids, say the kids from the mines, looked down on when they came in town?
FN: I don't think so. I never had that feeling. Course, I went to this Seventh Street school when I first started and then I transferred to St. Mary's school, parochial school when that started. But I don't think there was that feeling at all But even the children, I feel, during the strike, in 1913, if you were a scab, they'd let you know you were a scab. And we'd call the miners “red-necks” because they wore these red kerchiefs around their necks. They'd call us the “rednecks” and we'd call them the “scabs” and here I was involved with both sides. And children fighting, you know, and calling each other things like that.
EB: What was school like? Was school very tense?
FN: No, not at the parochial school, it wasn't.
CC: Was there a school at the Camp?
FN: Yes, Walsen Camp had a school.
CC: So that the children that were the children...
FN: Of the workers at the mine went to school out there, at the mine.
CC: And the children of strikers went to school in town.
FN: That's right. Excuse me, I'm going to stir up my soup and see if I can remember more things, if I can?
EB Well, I can't think of anything else right now. I'm sure there'll be other things.
FN: Maybe I can remember, too.
EB: The leadership that came from the strike, there was a division in the political life of the county, about that time when the majority shifted to a, when the county shifted Democrat. Was the leadership that emerged from the Democratic Party the leadership that emerged from the strike?
FN: I would think so. After the downfall of Jeff Farr, things changed considerably. I remember Jack saying that the Democrats couldn't meet openly, that they had to hide to have meetings, cause there were so few of them. Jeff Farr was sheriff for a good many years. But after the strike was over and the miners went back to work it seemed like the Republican Party was, well, they started falling. That is, the membership. I guess most people started voting Democratic in this county
EB: I would like to talk to you sometime about the evolution of the politics and the alliances.
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