Huerfano County, Colorado
La Veta Massacre

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1913 La Veta Massacre by Nancy Christofferson
Huerfano World - October 31, 2002
Contributed by Louise Adams

One of the four stone guardhouses remains at the site of Oakview camp, evoking memories of the bloody coal strike of 1913-1914. If the four murdered mine guards of the La Veta Massacre were involved in the construction is unknown, but the buildings date from that era. The guardhouse is on private property where trespassing is not tolerated.

If the disembodied spirits of the restless dead return on Halloween, there may be no more likely people to come back than the four men who met sudden death on Nov. 8, 1913 outside of La Veta.

The incident occurred near the beginning of the 1913-1914 coal strike which lasted over one year.

Before the strike was called, most miners in Huerfano County were trying to organize local "chapters," called locals, of the United Mine Workers of America, or the UMWA.

In the La Veta area, the only mine of importance operating at the time was the Oakdale, at Oakview, seven miles west of town. Many of the miners at the Oakdale were residents of La Veta, so the union organizers met in two of the town's meeting halls to perfect their unionization. The halls were those above the businesses of John Stranger, now Ryus Avenue Bakery, and of Pelegrino Galassini, next door in the present Parkside Gallery.

The Oakview local was a particularly active, and aggressive, group. Less than a week after the nationwide coal strike was called on Sept. 23, 1913, the unionists attacked the camp at Oakview and shot up a number of company buildings and houses (this was not that uncommon at Oakview, as regularly the Japanese boardinghouse was used for target practice).

It was no doubt at this time the guard houses were built on hillsides overlooking the camp. It is said there were four of these. One is still standing, intact; one remains, roofless; one can be seen in historic photographs and the other is just plain lost.

It is believed these round, stone structures were used by mine guards to watch for, and repel, striking unionists. Since Oakview was located in a pasture in a valley reached by two roads and the railroad, the site was easily defensible.

Once the strike commenced, all unionists were ordered from the camp, and the company hired "scabs" to replace them to keep up production. Many Oakview strikers moved home to La Veta, and strikers who normally lived in the camp moved to a tent colony on the Smalley property north of La Veta.

So, La Veta was full of strikers and sympathizers.

One day a scab in Oakview named William Gamblin needed to see a dentist. The nearest one being in La Veta, Gamblin walked into town and received care. He then phoned to the mine and requested a ride back.

Four mine guards, Capt. H.F. Bryan, Driver Luke Ferry, W.H. Whitten and R.G. Adams, drove into town and picked up Gamblin. As they began their trip back to the mine, just as they began to drive up the incline just west of town, a fusillade of gunfire rained down upon them.

An unknown number of men were secreted behind Lougheed dam on the top of the hill, and they continued firing until the four mine guards were still.

With the beginning of the attack, the mine guards had leaped from their car and ran down the road to take offensive positions to return fire. The scab stayed beside the vehicle. All four guards were killed, but Gamblin somehow survived the attack without injury.

Three of the guards were found dead at the scene. The fourth, 29-year-old R.G. Adams, was mortally wounded but whispered out his story.

He said, in part, "I was struck in the arm, and it whirled me over on my back, and then I was shot through the foot ... those fellows were firing right along then; then there was a kind of a dull thud, and the chauffeur said, 'I am killed; they got me right through the heart; tell mother,' and he slipped sidewise over in his seat. Then I was hit, and Whitten says, 'They've killed Adams,' and I told him I was shot through the arm - I thought it went through my side. Whitten says "I've got it, too,' but he says, 'It isn't bad,' and almost immediately I heard the captain groan, and Whitten says, 'They've killed Harry.' Whitten says, 'They've got me, too.' The miner that was with us was right up against the rear wheel of the automobile, away from the firing, and he held up a white handkerchief, and I tried to load my gun, but I was in such pain I couldn't load the thing. There was possibly - for two or three minutes then there was about five shots fired; one of them went over me and hit at Whitten's feet - that was the only one I saw strike ... We never saw a person all the time the firing was going on; I couldn't see a thing; we could just hear the crack."

Now is that pathetic, or what?

An old timer of La Veta once said he was nearby during the attack, standing with many other people on the next hill to the south, and at the conclusion of the firing, the unionists all stood up from their hiding places and threw their hats into the air signifying victory.

The surviving scab made his way back to town but by then, the gunfire had attracted the authorities. Frantic calls were made to Walsenburg where a unit of militia was stationed following an incident two weeks previously in which three strikers were killed on Seventh Street.

Meanwhile, Dr. S. Julian Lamme of La Veta made his way to the gory scene and discovered one of the dead guards had been a close friend of his in college.

Lamme's thoughts must have been dark ones as he removed the bullets from the poor bloody bodies (these same bullets can be seen in the mining exhibit at Francisco Fort Museum, as can the pennant of the local union).

The soldiers from Walsenburg soon rounded up some suspects named as (depending on which page of the newspaper you read) Dan, Edward and Charles Richards, brothers; Frank or Edward Krupa or both; someone DeJohn; Charles Sheperd and Peter Rich. Evidently, none of the above were found guilty of murder.

Actually, there were many in La Veta who knew exactly who was shooting from that hill, but no one offered any information, and no one was ever punished for the murders.

The militiamen entered the armed camp at Oakview and discovered a machine gun capable of shooting 400 bullets a minute. This was confiscated and placed in the meadow north of La Veta, where the local populace eyed it with trepidation and excitement, depending on their outlook. The bullets, no doubt, fed the militia's machine guns.

Following the shootings, many soldiers were transferred into Oakview and La Veta. Most were moved back to larger towns and camps about three weeks later, but some were bivouaced in the upper story of the old red brick schoolhouse for the best part of the next year.

The violence of the strike continued, with the Walsenburg World noting nonchalantly, "A few shots were exchanged Tuesday night at Pictou." It would seem if no one was actually killed or badly wounded, shootings were relatively commonplace.

Of course, the most violence occurred the following April, when the fighting at Ludlow and surrounding mines in Las Animas County, and in Walsenburg, claimed several dozen victims, but the strike did not end until November 1914, when everyone must have been sick at heart for all the carnage.

Although the murdered mine guards were not buried locally, would not their spirits linger where their mortality was so dramatically ended? Or would the hatred so viciously displayed from the top of the hill remain as an evil, living emanation? Maybe someone should go find out.

Be careful this Halloween. .

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