Author: F. Darell Munsell
The most comprehensive study of John Cleveland Osgood to date, From Redstone to Ludlow covers events from 1892, when Osgood and his associates organized the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, to 1917, when Osgood signed a contract with the United Mine Workers of America, marking the end of his long history of battling the union.
Called the Fuel King of the West, Osgood was the leading coal baron in the western mountain region and the most prominent spokesperson for the coal industry for over three decades. During this time, his anti-union policies made him the UMWA`s most formidable foe in its effort to organize the Colorado coalfields. From Redstone to Ludlow depicts the bipolarity of his approach to the threat of unionism. The “Redstone experiment,” a model industrial village designed to improve the lives of workers through social programs, showed Osgood`s efforts to attain his anti-union goals through compassion. Conversely, the Ludlow tent colony and the events that transpired there, marked by armed gunmen and machine guns paid for by Osgood, illustrate his willingness to resort to violence and intimidation for the same purpose.
A leading participant in the transformation of the West, Osgood helped to shape the character of the Gilded Age. Today, the beautiful village of Redstone and a granite memorial at Ludlow are reminders of Osgood`s complex role in the clash between labor and management during the most violent industrial struggle in American history.
From Redstone to Ludlow is a study of the Colorado coal industry as it was related to John Cleveland Osgood, one of Colorado`s leading industrialists during the late 1800`s and early 1900`s. Osgood was one of Colorado`s earliest coal entrepreneurs and quickly rose to be the leading figure in the industry by the 1890`s. Osgood`s legacy would be remembered for his long struggle with labor which culminated in the infamous Ludlow Massacre of 1914.
Coal mining differed from hard rock mining at the time due to the structure of the industry and the tendency for coal mining towns to be company owned. Laborers at coal mines were contracted and paid by the amount of coal they mined rather than the usually daily rate of pay common at hard rock mines. This pay structure was rife with corruption and abuse – from miners getting cheated on the actual weight of the coal they mined to forced “dead work” that the miners would not get paid at all for. Dead work was work performed in support of the mining of coal, but that did not directly produce coal that could be weighed an attributed to the miners pay. Much of this work was safety related – like the timbering of the underground works. This system created a dangerous and abusive system where miners were cheated out of pay and at the same time incentivized to cut corners that ultimately led to the deaths of many miners – often in spectacular mine explosions that killed tens or hundreds of miners in a single incident.
The inherent unfairness of the coal mining pay system is likely what led to the closed, company town system. Coal companies had a lot of labor unrest to deal with, and part of how they controlled potential unrest was to own and operate the towns in which the miners lived. Miners were often paid in scrip, which was a credit for work that could only be redeemed at stores owned and operated by the company. Since this created a monopoly situation in the closed towns, stores could charge high prices for their goods. Miner’s were unable to own property in the towns. Since the towns were closed, anyone seen as a union agitator or sympathizer could be simply thrown out of the town for good.
The net effect of the unfair pay system for miners and the closed, company-owned mine camps was that the mining companies controlled most aspects of the miner`s lives. This situation eventually led to widespread discontent among the miners and periodic strikes that were crippling to the industry. Osgood`s method for dealing with strikes was to be absolutely unyielding to the demands of the strikers. While he was successful in ending earlier strikes with little or no concessions to the miners, ultimately conditions continued to deteriorate in terms of mine safety and company town life that led to the disastrous strike of 1913-14, the Ludlow Massacre, and the Ten Days` War.
The events of the 1913-14 strike have been written about in many books. From Redstone to Ludlow describes these events in some detail but with emphasis on the key players in the events leading up to the strike, the strike itself, and the aftermath of these events. At the time John D. Rockefeller, absentee owner of Colorado Fuel & Iron (CF&I), was the target of attacks by congressional investigators and the media. This may have painted Rockefeller as the chief culprit in the unfortunate events of 1913-14, but Redstone to Ludlow paints a different picture. Rockefeller was an absentee owner of the largest coal companies in Colorado and had little impact on the day to day operations at the mines or the events surrounding the strike. John C. Osgood however was active in events related to the strike, including directly contributing to the miners grievances that led to the strike, and the tragic events of the strike themselves. As the head of the Coal Operators Association in Colorado, Osgood united the companies in a policy of unyielding defiance of the demands of the miners union. The book presents compelling evidence that the megalomaniacal Osgood was the chief culprit in the events leading up to and during the tragic 1913-14 strike.
Western Mining History was intended to be a website about hard rock mining in the West. However, after a recent trip to Trinidad (center of Colorado coal country), and after reading the excellent From Redstone to Ludlow, I think that representation of the history of the coal industry has its place here at WMH. F Darrell Munsel has done an excellent job of researching Osgood`s role in both the coal industry of Colorado and the events of the 1913-14 strike.