Notebook: The Ludlow Massacre Revisited

Boardman Robinson, book jacket for Upton Sinclair's King Coal (1917, rpt. 1921) “There Was Blood,” my review-essay of two recent books about the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, appears in the New Yorker on 19 January 2009. What follows is a bibliography and supplementary online smorgasbord, which won’t make much sense until after you’ve read the article itself.

My first debt, as ever, is to the books under review, Thomas G. Andrews’s Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War and Scott Martelle’s Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West, both excellent. Also in print and useful were Rick J. Clyne’s Coal People: Life in Southern Colorado’s Company Towns, 1890-1930, Ron Chernow’s Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and Elliott J. Gorn’s Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America. Marilynn S. Johnson’s Violence in the West: The Johnson County Range War and Ludlow Massacre: A Brief History with Documents arrived too late for me to consult it when writing the article but we dipped into it while fact-checking. Among older sources, the most useful were Barron B. Beshoar’s Out of the Depths: The Story of John R. Lawson, a Labor Leader (1942), George Korson’s Coal Dust on the Fiddle (1943) for lore and songs, George S. McGovern and Leonard F. Guttridge’s The Great Coalfield War (1972), and Zeese Papanikolas’s Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre (1982).

Which should you read, if you want to know more about Ludlow? Martelle has the best day-by-day account of the conflict. Andrews has the most insight into the geological, economic, and sociological forces, and he gives the context of the preceding decades in more detail than any of the others. I think both deserve the highest marks in terms of their scholarship and their accuracy. Beshoar’s father was a doctor who treated the Ludlow strikers, and the strikers named a camp after him. As a result, Beshoar’s version of events is frankly partisan, and sometimes he veers into the propagandistic. His account is one of the liveliest, though, perhaps because he tapped oral sources not available to later writers (don’t be put off by the subtitle; his book is only nominally restricted to Lawson). As you would expect, McGovern and Guttridge are very good about the politics, which got quite complex, as the federal government was brought in against the state, and as various committees undertook to investigate the mine operators and interfere with one another’s investigations in the process. Papanikolas’s is a very nice piece of writing, though a somewhat melancholy one, and he has a novelist’s eye for detail. When Papanikolas tracks down Tikas’s grave, for example, the manager of the cemetery recalls for him how he adopted a runaway St. Bernard on the day of the massacre. Later, reading testimony contemporary with the massacre, Papanikolas finds mention of a St. Bernard loose in the desolate camp carrying a burning timber in its mouth, and he wonders if he’s found the historical trace of the cemetery manager’s animal. Papanikolas’s book is worth reading as much as an essay on the historical impulse as for its account of Ludlow (like Beshoar’s, his book isn’t limited by its apparent focus on a single individual). Though I name-check King Coal in my article, it isn’t Upton Sinclair’s best novel. If you’re hell-bent on reading Sinclair, which I’m not sure you should be, read Oil! instead (and notice, when you do, that in the book, corporate power and false religiosity are hand-in-glove allies—not opponents, as in the movie—and that they are united to suppress the revolutionary force of labor, which the movie knows not of).

The Ludlow massacre and the Great Coalfield War are well documented online. The best compilation is the Colorado Coal Field War Project, produced by the University of Denver, which has a historical outline, a bibliography, photos, a historical map that links to some of the photos, and information about an archaeological exploration of the site. The Holt Labor Library of San Francisco, meanwhile, also offers a Ludlow bibliography, comprised of print and online sources. The Bessemer Historical Society, custodian of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s archives and legacy, has published a brief history of the company and sells several texts about mining and CFI in its store, including a reprint of Camp & Plant, the weekly run by CFI’s Sociological Department.

The Sort of Houses the Mexican Employes Built for Themselves at Segundo, Camp and Plant 2.15 (11 October 1902) The Sort of Houses that the Company Builds for Them, Camp and Plant 2.15 (11 October 1902) As it happens, Google Books has digitized a stray volume from Camp & Plant, so you can examine for yourself the paternalism of CFI’s early years, as instanced in such photos as these of worker-made adobe homes (left) and the factory-made wood-and-concrete structures that replaced them (right). Here, by the way, is what the factory owners thought of workers who failed to subscribe to their periodical. (Andrews reports that one miner quipped that the mule workforce “was unionized before some of us.”)

Most of the surviving photographs of the Ludlow massacre were taken by Louis R. Dold, whom Papanikolas, amazingly enough, tracked down and interviewed for his book. (Elsewhere Dold’s first name is sometimes spelled “Lewis” and his last name “Dodd.”) Dold’s Ludlow photographs, and those taken by several others, are available for browsing in the Denver Public Library’s Western History collection. Here, for example, is an evocative one of the pit below Tent No. 58, which Dold has annotated as follows: “Hole Where Bodies of 11 Women and 2 Children Were Recovered From After Fire at Ludlow Coloney [sic].” You can also see strikers’ children playing in the snow with what is either an effigy or a scarecrow; the chaos in Trinidad when a panicked National Guard general ordered his cavalry to “ride down” a group of women protestors; the Death Special; strikers playing baseball; numerous shots of the Ludlow camp before and after it was razed; and an image of Tikas’s corpse, mislabeled in the Denver Public Library’s files as being that of another striker (the indefatigable Papanikolas writes of having come across the same misidentification when he visited the archives in person).

Coal miner's wife (detail), Denver Public Library Western History Collection, X-60426 Mary Thomas O'Neal, 1974 More cheerfully, there’s also a 1914 photo of a “coal miner’s wife”, whom I believe may be Mary Thomas O’Neal. I’m guessing based on the resemblance between the photos reproduced here. At left is a detail from the Denver Public Library’s photo (call number X-60426). At right is an image of Mary Thomas O’Neal that pops up when you play an oral-history interview with her conducted in 1974 and available online through the Virtual Aural/Oral History Archive at California State University Long Beach. Mary Thomas O’Neal is one of the few Ludlow survivors who left a first-person account, published as Those Damn Foreigners in 1971. As Martelle observes in an end note, her memoir “differs radically” from the testimony she gave shortly after the massacre; Papanikolas had similar doubts about the reliability of her memory when he interviewed her; and the oral history comes with the caveat that she herself was aware that her memory was deteriorating. But there’s no doubt that she was a coal miner’s wife (though she was separated from her husband during the strike); that she was active in the union cause, lending her talent as a singer to its recruiting parties; and that she was in Ludlow camp with her children the day of the massacre. You can hear her, in her eighties, singing the union song “We’re Coming, Colorado,” if you click through to section 1a, segment 11, of the Virtual Aural/Oral History Archive interview with her. (She starts singing roughly at the 1:50 mark.)


Jimmy Carter, Dedication of White House solar panels, June 1979

My essay-review “Good at Being Gods,” about Buckminster Fuller and the alternative energy movement of the 1970s, is published in the 18 December 2008 issue of the London Review of Books. It begins thus:

In the recent Pixar movie Wall-E there is a conflict between two different visions of technology. From one angle, technology appears to be humanity’s overlord: the movie imagines that in the future a megacorporation called Buy N Large will so exhaust and pollute the planet that it will have to whisk its customers away on a luxury outer-space cruise ship for their own protection. From another angle, technology appears to be the only thing capable of saving humanity’s soul. Wall-E, a scrappy, pint-sized robot left behind to tidy up Earth, scavenges for mementos of human culture, finds evidence of resurgent plant life and falls in love. The two visions are inconsistent but inextricable: Wall-E is himself a Buy N Large product.

A similar ambivalence colours the reputation of the 20th-century designer Buckminster Fuller. You might say that Fuller aspired to engineer a post-apocalypse outer-space cruise ship but in the end managed only to get himself adopted as technology’s mascot. . . .

The article is available online, but you have to subscribe or buy an electronic copy to read it. (I encourage you to, because ultimately that’s how I find the money to buy my daily allotment of toast and peanut butter.)

The file folder containing my notes for this review is titled “Utopian post-oil,” because when I started thinking about the issues, it seemed to me that a lot of the utopian alternative-energy notions of the 1970s were returning to haunt (or inspire) us today. The review focuses on K. Michael Hays and Dana Miller’s Buckminster Fuller: Starting with the Universe, because much of the 1970s movement crystallized around Fuller, and the Whitney Museum show and Yale University Press exhibition catalog provided an opportunity. But I also take account of Andrew G. Kirk’s Counterculture Green: The Whole Earth Catalog and American Environmentalism (University Press of Kansas, 2007), an informative book on an aspect of technological and social history that hasn’t been much chronicled; Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger’s Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), an analysis and manifesto that seems to have been taken to heart by the Obama campaign, if I’m reading the tea leaves correctly; and Giovanna Borasi and Mirko Zardini’s Sorry, Out of Gas: Architecture’s Response to the 1973 Oil Crisis (Canadian Centre for Architecture, 2007), a sort of visual encyclopedia of the 1970s alternative-energy movement and as a book an object of great charm. The “Sorry, Out of Gas” website is also well worth a visit. I also tapped the following for more information:

As close students of my work, if there are any, will have noticed, this is part of an ongoing obsession about the history of energy. Or anyway, a trilogy, comprised of my recent New York Times Book Review piece on horses as a nineteenth-century energy supply, this one for the LRB on windmills and solar power, and another forthcoming in the New Yorker.

Happily for those who disagree with my skepticism about do-it-yourself environmentalism, the website Treehugger recently released a buying guide to “Hot Home Wind Turbines You Can Actually Buy.” (Hot as in stylin’.) And for those in search of more Fulleriana, here are links to Stanford University’s R. Buckminster Fuller Archive, which features an entertaining slide show; a sort of interactive information tree of Fuller’s ideas called the Fuller Map; and for explications of the Fuller terminology that flummoxed me, the R. Buckminster Fuller FAQ.

Miles per oat

What Happened on 23rd Street, NYC, 1901

“A World of a Different Color,” my review of Ann Norton Greene’s Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America, appears in the 30 November 2008 issue of the New York Times Book Review. Jennifer Schuessler, my editor, has also posted to Paper Cuts, the NYTBR blog, about the uncanny parallels between anti-car diatribes today and anti-horse diatribes a century ago, as reported by Greene. Another tidbit from Greene’s book that might be of interest to Streetsblog readers: it was late-nineteenth-century bicycle culture that paved the way, as it were, for the displacement of horse by automobile, “by advocating an increased role for the state and national government in what had been the largely local responsibility for road funding and road building” (p. 259).

Diatribes, of course, need not be fact-based, whether they be anti-car or anti-horse. Were horses really as dangerous as cars? In his recent treatise Traffic, Tom Vanderbilt notes in passing that

in the New York of 1867, horses were killing an average of four pedestrians a week (a bit higher than today’s rate of traffic fatalities, although there were far fewer people and far fewer vehicles). (p. 9)

Fearful if true! While reading Greene’s Horses at Work for my review (as well as a book on the same topic, The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century by Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr), I was on the lookout for evidence to confirm or refute Vanderbilt’s statistics, which he sources to a 1992 book titled Ways of the World: A History of the World’s Roads and the Vehicles That Used Them.

As it happens, McShane and Tarr agree with Vanderbilt that horse-drawn vehicles were dangerous, writing that “Per vehicle, nineteenth-century horse-drawn vehicles caused more accidents than motor vehicles would later, an appalling accident toll, at least in New York City” (p. 54). Not all accidents are fatalities, though, so this isn’t complete vindication.* And it turns out that Greene disagrees with Vanderbilt. She writes:

Few accident statistics predate the earliest twentieth century, and much evidence is anecdotal. . . . The cited dangers of horse-driven traffic must be understood within the context of nineteenth-century traffic control, of which there was none. Cities did not institute systems of traffic police and mechanical signals until the twentieth century. . . . New York City gave right of way at intersections to north- and southbound vehicles, mandated signaling by drivers, forbade stopping and parking except in designated areas, and limited speeds to five miles per hour for business vehicles and eight miles per hour for passenger ones. Speed limits could not be enforced because there was no way to measure speed anyway. Since the streets were congested, speeding was rarely an issue. It is hard to imagine that horse-drawn vehicles traveling two to five miles per hour were dramatically more dangerous than heavy metal cars and trucks traveling ten to forty miles an hour.

So maybe horses are innocent after all. Clearly there is room for further research. If you’d like to see some nineteenth-century horse-drawn vehicles in action, the Library of Congress offers video of traffic in New York’s Herald Square in 1896, near New York’s Dewey Arch in 1899, and on South Spring Street, Los Angeles, in 1897. On the verge of the twentieth century, there’s “What Happened on Twenty-third Street, New York,” in which, against a background of equine transport, a young woman has an adventure with a street grate that prefigures Marilyn Monroe (but with sturdier and more abundant undergarments). There are also two movies of traffic in New York’s Broadway in 1903, a very long film of San Francisco’s Market Street in 1905, and for good measure here’s some footage of the Place de l’Opéra in Paris in 1900. Alas, in none of this documentary footage are the horses wilding. In the absence of any death and dismemberment, I found myself noticing that New York City streets seemed much more expansive then that now. It took a moment for me to figure out why, but then it came to me: there wasn’t any curbside parking. You can pause a horse at the side of the street while you make a delivery, but you can’t leave it in harness unattended for any serious length of time. It’s a living animal. So here’s an easy proposal for returning spaciousness to New York’s streets: restrict parking to stables.

* UPDATE (Dec. 2): In a comment added below, author Clay McShane has written in to say that the accident statistics in his and Joel Tarr’s book are in fact for fatalities, not merely casualties, and that the major issues are kicking and biting.

Step into my landau, baby

There’s a consensus that sometime this century, the flow of oil out of the ground will peak. Some think it has already peaked; others that the peak is yet to come. What will happen when supplies of oil start to dwindle? People have started to wonder, including a writer named James Howard Kunstler in a book titled The Long Emergency. I haven’t read it, but his prognosis appears to be dire and includes something called a “die-off,” which doesn’t sound pleasant. Yesterday, in a bid for reassurance, I read a dismissive review of Kunstler’s book that I found through Arts and Letters Daily. I wasn’t reassured, however. The reviewer claimed that Kunstler’s “concern with oil depletion is overblown” because

the International Energy Agency’s (IEA’s) recent assessment in the World Energy Outlook 2005 finds that the world has sufficient oil to carry on at its present rate of growth at least out until 2030 (although the agency believes that this would be unsustainable on other environmental grounds).

I don’t feel altogether certain that I’ll be dead by 2030, so this wasn’t quite the warm blanket of denial that I was craving. Also, I wasn’t confident that the reviewer understood thermodynamics any better than I did, which is not very well, especially when he insisted that “total entropy on the Earth is not increasing . . . [b]ecause excess entropy is carried off by radiation into outer space.” Outer space? What about the greenhouse effect—does it trap entropy as well as heat? Don’t systems gain in entropy as heat is added to them, and isn’t that the net effect of the greenhouse gases, in preventing the release from Earth of heat?

Best to march quickly past the real physics, and get to the heart of the matter: dollars per gallon. Naturally, as my anxious mind contemplated the fate of a world in which fuel increased indefinitely in price, I wondered: How expensive would gas have to be for people to decide they’d rather take a horse-and-buggy than an automobile?

At first I thought that I would do this by adding up all the costs associated with keeping a horse—hay, blacksmithing, saddles, stableboys, much higher frequency of street cleaning—and compare them to those of keeping a car. In the former Soviet Union, there used to be whole academic departments devoted to making an inventory of all the society-wide costs and benefits of an item, in order to set, by fiat, its price. We are all Hayekians now, though, and believe that the best way to process all the raw data of abundance, scarcity, damage, benefit, consumer whim, and real convenience is by seeing what people actually pay.

As it happens, in New York today, it is possible to hire for a brief trip either a horse and buggy or an automobile. They aren’t exactly comparable; the buggy is a luxury item, and I suspect that it dawdles to seem more leisurely. Nonetheless both the buggy-owners and the cabbies must take the measure of a much wider range of expenses than I ever could, even with the assistance of the internet. I thought I’d start with their numbers, making a few adjustments along the way.

If you want to take a horse and buggy ride in Central Park today, it costs $34, and in twenty minutes you go one mile. Three miles an hour seems awfully slow—improbably slow. The websites of various companies that cart brides and grooms to and from church promise speeds no higher than four to seven miles per hour, and they seem to be offering their slowness as a selling point. In today’s world, the hirer of a buggy is probably paying mostly for the twenty minutes—for a share of the horse and buggy’s day—rather than the one mile. In a post-gasoline world, buggies would presumably go as fast as was financially and legally prudent. I’m guessing that I can safely double the speed advertised and say that a horse and buggy in Central Park could go six miles an hour without increasing its underlying costs. So I’m jiggering with the data, and guessing that for the same $34, you could get a horse and buggy to go two miles in twenty minutes.

To go two miles in Manhattan by taxi costs you $2.50 plus 40 cents for every one-fifth of a mile—in total, $6.50. (For ease of math, I’m leaving tips out of both sides of the equation.) Let’s estimate that cabbies get about 24 miles per gallon, and that they go about 20 miles an hour in the city. That means the trip consumes about one-twelfth of a gallon of gasoline and takes about six minutes.

Horse & buggy Car
$34 $6.50
20 min. 6 min.
Hay 0.0833 gal. gasoline

There’s one more arbitrary number to come up with. How valuable are the fourteen minutes you’d lose by taking the buggy? That’s hard to figure; it probably depends on how valuable your time is. People with a low hourly wage will probably walk rather than hire either vehicle, so let’s say $20/hour. The value of those 14 minutes will therefore be 14 min./60 min. times $20/hour, or $4.66.

Let x equal an increase in price per gallon of gasoline. Then as gas becomes more expensive, the price of the automobile taxi will be $6.50 + 0.0833 x. The price of the buggy will be $34 plus the loss of time, valued at $4.66. A person would just as soon hire a hire a cab powered by a horse as one powered by an internal combustion engine when the total prices are equal, i.e.,

$6.50 + x/12 = $34 + $4.66

x = (34 + 4.66 – 6.5) 12

x = 385.92

When gas costs $385.93 more per gallon than it does today, then, you’ll probably start taking the curricle.