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1894 Cripple Creek strike - Essay Example

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The Cripple Creek District is located in the Rocky Mountains and is about 85 miles southwest of Denver. With the discovery of gold in 1890,…
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The Cripple Creek Strike of 1894. The Cripple Creek Miner’s Strike of 1894 was a five-month strike by the Western Federation of Miners in Cripple Creek, Colorado, USA. The Cripple Creek District is located in the Rocky Mountains and is about 85 miles southwest of Denver. With the discovery of gold in 1890, Cripple Creek became a booming mining camp, with 40 mines in development. At this stage, conflict erupted between the miners and the mine owners. An understanding of the Cripple Creek Strike requires the analysis of its causes, the developments and its notable differences.
The causes of the Cripple Creek Strike were largely economic. America was in the throes of an economic depression. Banking institutions, businesses and factories closed, and “as a result, millions of laborers were idle” (Rastall, 9). The country was rocked by strikes in various parts. The situation was exacerbated at Cripple Creek by the closing of Colorado’s silver mines. Workers, desperate for jobs, came to Cripple Creek, creating a labor surplus. The mines had no uniform working-hours, with some having a ten-hour day and others an eight-hour day. “The wage at all the mines was uniformly three dollars per day, irrespective of the length of the shift” (Rastall, 19). Citing the economic condition, the owner attempted to increase the working day from eight hours to nine and 10, with no increase in pay. The alternative offered was that Workers could keep the eight-hour day, but for a reduction of 50 cents in their daily pay. The dissenting miners formed the Free Coinage Union No. 19, which was part of the militant Western Federation of Miners (WFM). The battle lines for the conflict were drawn.
Attempts at compromise failed and, on February 7, 1894, all mines with eight and ten hour days were closed. The miners went on strike, and set up roving picket lines. In a show of solidarity, the miners who were still working in the eight-hour mines contributed 10 percent of their wages to support the strikers. A relief fund was organized and soup kitchens were set up. John Calderwood was elected President of the Union. The owners attempted in vain to open the mines. When the County Sheriff, Frank Bowers, sent a team of six deputies to defend a mine, they were captured by the local marshals “special police,” who were on the side of the strikers, but were later freed. Several miners were arrested and subsequently freed. A second crisis developed when the ranks of the hitherto law-abiding union were swelled by large numbers of rough elements. Order deteriorated with the raiding of stores and roughing up of non-union men. The owners now expedited the formation of an armed militia of 1,200 deputies. In reply, the miners prepared for armed resistance. On May 24, the advancing deputies were driven back by the miners by the dynamiting of a shaft house. Subsequent fighting resulted in the capture of five miners, three management officials and two casualties. Calderwood succeeded in imposing order on the miners, and expelling the lawless elements. Governor Waite ordered the disbanding of the miners and the militia of deputies. Attempts at compromise under President Sloeum of Colorado College failed. Governor Waite arrived to settle the issue. Finally, on June 4, it was agreed that eight hours actual work shall constitute ‘a day’ --- (for which) shall be paid three dollars” (Rastall, 37), and that there would be no discrimination against non-union or union men. However, the deputies marched on the miners at Bull Hill. The State Militia, under General Brooks prevented any confrontation. Just as the situation began to assume the serious proportions of a small war, a meeting at Altman secured an agreement among all parties and the deputies withdrew and disbanded. Cripple Creek slowly limped back to normalcy.
The Cripple Creek Strike was essentially a victory for the Miner’s Union. The strike had certain unique traits. A section of the miners continued to work throughout the strike. The exchange of the captured miners for the imprisoned mine officials was extraordinary. The State authorities, under Governor Waite, extended active support to the striking miners. The Cripple Creek Strike of 1894 is particularly renowned for being the only occasion in the history of the United States when a State Militia was called to support striking labor.
Works Cited.
Rastall, Benjamin McKie. “The Labor History of the Cripple Creek District; A Study in
Industrial Evolution.” Part I. Victor Heritage Society. Web. 12 November 2012 Read More
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