The Archaeology of the Colorado Coal Field War

The Archaeology of the Colorado Coal Field War is an archaeological project conducted by Binghamton University, Fort Lewis College, and the University of Denver. We are investigating sites from the 1913-1914 coal strike in order to (a) understand how conditions in the coal camps led to the strike and how the strike changed those conditions (b) raise public awareness of the Coal War and the Ludlow Massacre. This project is funded by the Colorado Historical Society, State Historic Fund. For more information please contact Dean Saitta, Anthropology, University of Denver, Denver CO 80208; Philip Duke, Anthropology, Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO 81301; or Randall McGuire, Anthropology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY 13902-6000.

Archaeology at Ludlow and Berwind

The Colorado Coalfield War Archaeological Project initially tested the site of Ludlow for three weeks during the summer of 1997 to determine whether there were sufficient and significant archaeological remains from the tent colony to warrant a large-scale archaeological investigation. Having proved that there were, we returned in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 to conduct intensive archaeological investigations. We also worked at the old Colorado Fuel and Iron (CFI) camp of Berwind a couple miles up the canyon from the Ludlow tent colony during the 1998, 1999 and 2000 field seasons. Volunteers and students from all over the United States and even as far away as Bulgaria and England have come to participate in the project and in our field field school.


The project used remote sensing, photographic and archaeological survey techniques to find evidence of life in the tent colony. A combination of these different techniques uncovered not only the tent outlines, but cellar features that were used as trash pits after the massacre and preserved the household items, tools, and personal effects of the miners who lived in the colony. Because of the violent and unexpected end to the first tent colony, most of the personal belongings of the colonists were left at the site when they fled, and therefore remain for us to study today.

Remote Sensing and Photographic Overlay
Both remote sensing and photographic overlay techniques were used at Ludlow with success. We used Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Proton Procession Magnetometer (Mag), photographic overlay, and a metal detector to locate subsurface tent outlines and cellars or pit features. Results from the Mag (see Figure 1) led us to test several areas around the site that led to the discovery of two tent cellars and one pit feature. By using a special camera that superimposes an historic photograph (Figure 2) over the modern landscape, we were able to locate places where we believed we would find tents. We then used a metal detector to refine the location and did indeed find a tent outline.

Figure 1
Areas with Red indicate buried features. Several of these features were tested during various field seasons.

Figure 2
This historic photograph of the tent colony, taken from a water tower, was used in the photographic overlay technique.

Tent Outlines
In 1998, we found a pattern of features that marked a tent location. These features were mainly ditches, stakeholes, and postholes. You can see the outline of the tent in Figure. 3

Figure 3

There appear to be additional tents to the northeast and southwest, and possibly another tent to the north. These ditches that outline the tents were probably for drainage. We also know from photos of the colony that many of the tents had berms of dirt piled up around the outside, probably for insulation and protection against the wind.

Using the historic photographs, we also located another partial tent outline. However, this one was not as well preserved. A third tent outline, excavated during the 2001 field season revealed a tent footprint with an associated ditch around the tent seen in this sketch (Figure 4) of Features 99 and 100.

Figure 4

This field sketch of Features 99 and 100 clearly show a tent outline and its associated ditch. This sketch is from the 2001 field season.

Cellars and Pits
Perhaps the most interesting finds from Ludlow include the cellars and pit feature we uncovered. These cellars were dug by the striking miners living in the tent colony for storage, warmth and protection against gunfire, like the pit that the women and children were killed in on the day of the massacre and that is preserved today near the monument. When the colony was attacked and burned in 1914, the cellars became trash pits for the returning strikes and the Red Cross, who cleaned up the remains of the massacre and fire.

We have completely excavated two of these cellars and located five others. These cellars are windows to the daily lives of the striking miners and their families. Remnants of all their belongings have been found in these cellars, including: bed frames, stove parts, clothing, shoes, dishes, children’s toys, baby bottles and furniture. Figure 5 is a sketch drawing of one of the cellars in the middle of our excavations. You can clearly see the personal belongings of the tent’s inhabitants that were abandoned during the massacre.

Figure 5

Another interesting feature we found was a deep pit filled with tin cans, bottles, and other trash. As often happens in archaeology, we found this pit towards the end of the project, we were not able to excavate as much as we would have liked. We can say however that it is over 1.10 meters (3.60 feet) deep. It was a trash pit. One of the first artifacts we found when we started excavating here was the wire frame for a wreath, lying at the top of all the trash in the pit.

Upon analyzing the artifacts we found in the pit, we discovered many of the tin cans appear to be for evaporated or condensed milk. One still had a partial label on it, "Pet," which is a brand you can still find today. Other artifacts included tobacco tins, medicine bottles ("Hamlin's Wizard Oil" and "Aceite Mexicano" were the two main brands), a Heinz pickle jar, and whiskey flasks.

Lab Work
Archaeology is more than just excavating. Lab work--cleaning, identifying, and analyzing all the artifacts from the excavation--is a vital part of the archaeological project. The lab work on the Ludlow artifacts is still continuing, so we aren't able to draw any firm conclusions just yet. A number of things have struck us about the sorts of things we are finding. One of the main things the artifacts speak of is the day of the massacre. What we most often find on archaeological sites are the things people threw away. Under most circumstances people didn't leave their valued possessions around for archaeologists to find; they took them with them. This is not the case at Ludlow. We are finding many objects that speak of people fleeing leaving valued possessions behind--toys, clothes, jewelry, religious medallions, etc. We have also found artifacts that shed light on the battle itself--expended bullets coming into the tent colony and fired cartridges, possibly from strikers within the colony firing back. From what we have seen so far, it appears the strikers were armed mainly with shotguns, which, while good for hunting small game, would not have been much use against machine-guns and high-powered rifles. Some other objects we found were a revolver chamber, complete with bullets inside, and a coffeepot with bullet holes through it.


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