Refugees from Ludlow

I haven’t written any family history in some time. That was the original purpose of this blog but I sorta…went down another path.

Here’s a family story about my Dad’s family and how they crossed the plains in a covered wagon. The crucial difference was they traveled from west to east after fleeing for their lives out of Colorado.


My Dad’s family immigrated to the United States in 1904 arriving through Ellis Island in New York harbor. Dad was two years old at the time.

Grandpa had spent a number of years in the US in the previous decade. He and some cousins from Grandma’s side of the family arrived in the early 1890’s and developed a gold mine in Cripple Creek, CO. It took some time to develop the mine but when it was paying enough, Grandpa went back to England to bring the families to Colorado.

Condensation of history here. When the families arrived at Cripple Creek, the cousins who stayed had disappeared and the current owner of the gold mine was John D. Rockefeller. There wasn’t too much that could be done to dispute ownership of the mine. Rockefeller had money, lawyers, banks and lawmen. Grandpa didn’t.

Being low on funds, most of the families moved to Pennsylvania where other relatives were located, but Grandpa and some others stayed in Colorado. That was 1905. Now, flash forward to 1913. With mining skills learned in the mines of England, Scotland and Wales, the family is now near Trinidad, CO. The mining conditions were horrible and the miners had banded together under the banner of the United Mine Workers of America and were on strike. Grandpa and the others were union members and when the strike began, they were ousted from their homes in Trinidad and moved to the tent city at Ludlow, Colorado. 19:

Ludlow tent colony rebuilt on the ruins of the old. C. May 1914. Courtesy Joseph “Moose” Martinez.

By April of 1914, both sides of the strike had become entrenched. Rockefeller had enough and he was able to get the Governor of Colorado to send in the state militia to break up the strike. This led to what was later known as the Ludlow Massacre. Another tent city had been razed a month earlier and everyone expected Ludlow to be next. Fortunately for the family (and me), Dad and some of his friends were in the mountains around the camp hunting and saw the militia installing machine guns on a ridge above the camp. They ran back to their families with the news.

Grandpa informed the strike leadership about the machine guns but they ignored him because they’d been promised by the governor that the militia was there to keep the miners separate from Rockefeller’s strike-breakers.

Photo 11: Members of the Colorado National Guard, called in to suppress the UMW strike against CF&I, including Sergeant John Davis, pose near an automatic rifle on a tripod on Water Tank Hill near Ludlow, Las Animas County, Colorado. A nearby wooden crate reads: “1200 Ball Cartr[idges].30 Model 1906 For Mo[?] Rifle C. P Dupont Pyro Celluion [?] der, Lot No. 246 of 1910 Muzzle Veloc[ity] [pe]r second U. S. Cartridge [M]assachusetts“.

“Water Tank Hill Sgt. Davis at gun”
Photographer: Stuart Mace
Courtesy Denver Public Library.
One of several photographs showing the Colorado Militia posing with the light machine guns that raked the Ludlow Tent colony on April 20, 1914. It is unknown whether the photo was taken before or after the attack. The men in civilian clothes are probably company guards.

During that night, Grandpa and the family crept out of camp along with several other families and started east across the plains. The next day, the remaining strikers confronted the militia in a series of gun battles that ended with the militia firing on the tent city with the machine guns they had sited the previous day.

Dad’s family along with the other refugees were tracked for several days by a small group of strike-breakers. Dad called them night-riders. They stayed a few miles away from the cluster of covered wagon and when dark arrived would ride through the camp shooting. This running gun battle continued until several of the night-riders had been killed or wounded. Dad didn’t mention any casualties on the refugees side but I expect some must have been wounded during this time. The various families broke up when they reached Kansas City. Grandpa and his family continued on to Illinois where they finally settled in Benton, another coal mining town.

I always thought of Dad being a pioneer whenever he told this story. It wasn’t until much later that I read more about Ludlow and I realized that the family were really refugees rather than pioneers.

Happy Birthday, Dad

Happy Birthday, Dad.

My father was born in New Castle, UK and emigrated to the US when he was two years old. He grew up mostly in Pennsylvania and Colorado, climbed the mountains around Pueblo, CO and crossed the prairie eastward in a covered wagon with his family and some family friends fleeing the massacre at Ludlow of striking miners by members of the Colorado Militia. His family relocated in southern Illinois and he lived there the remainder of his life.

He would have been 107 today. Happy Birthday, Dad.

Posted in Dad

Grandma and ‘shine.

My grandmother was Lena Estell Miller. She was born in 1886 to Herman and Tilla Horine newly arrived from Hesse, Germany. After the death of my grandfather, she came to live my parents and me in 1958. Grandma stood 5’2″ and on her best day weighed 100 lbs. During the 1930’s, Grandma, like many others in southern Illinois, supplemented the family income with the product of her still. Grandma’s specialty was Applejack.

Now, Grandma was a straight and narrow Christian lady of the old school. But, after a hard day, she did like a little nip of her applejack. When Grandma moved in, she brought a number of jugs with her and stored them in our basement. In all, Grandma must’ve brought about 25 gallons of applejack.

My Grandfather Miller was a farmer near Cairo, Illinois, not too far from where the Mississippi met the Ohio. When the Great Depression hit, money got scarce. Everyone in that area, the Illinois Ozarks, knew how to make a still or knew of someone who did. Running a still at that time, in that area, was a proven method for a second source of income. The demand for ‘shine did not end with prohibition. In many areas the demand increased. Grandma’s ‘shine brought a nice income through the mid-30’s until Grandpa decided to move further north and get a job in the mines. Grandpa, in addition to farming, was a skilled blacksmith with skills in demand in the mines.

In 1936, Grandpa and Grandpa moved to Benton, Illinois in Franklin County. There were six coal mines near Benton and four mines six miles south in West Frankfort. There were also numerous apple orchards in Franklin County as well. By this time, the demand for Grandma’s product had diminished and the efforts of the revenuers had increased. Grandma decided to retire from the ‘shine business—except for a little for herself.

When Grandma moved in with us, she brought along her still. It was small; standing no more than four feet high. Grandma set it up in an old henhouse right next to Dad’s one-acre apple orchard. Every September, Grandma would pick up the best of the apples that had fallen in the orchard, peel and mash them, and for the remaining weeks of September, the old henhouse was infused with the aroma of apples and applejack.

Years later, when Grandma had passed on, Dad and I cleaned out the basement and we found some of Grandma’s old jugs. One still had some applejack. Dad said he wanted to show me something interesting. We took the jug out behind the garage. Dad cleaned out an old tuna can and filled it with applejack from the jug. He lit a match and tossed it into the tuna can. To this day, I can still remember the bright blue flame dancing on the surface of the applejack.

The Haint

Living in the country gave Dad an opportunity to indulge in one of his pleasures—‘coon and fox hunting. Dad raised dogs as a sideline to farming and working the mines and was famous locally for his field trial dogs and awards. Over the years he raised various hounds, Blue Ticks, Foxhounds, Beagles and Bassets. We always had dogs and during the summer, night-running, that is hunting raccoons and foxes was a prime sport.

A night-run would usually start with one of our neighbors stopping by in the late afternoon, or Dad stopping off at some neighbors on the way home from the mines and making “arrangements.” About 8 o’clock in the evening, Dad and I would gather up the dogs in the back of his government surplus GMC pickup and we’d head off to Miller’s bridge in the Big Muddy River bottoms. By 9 o’clock, there would be a half dozen to a dozen pickups and cars parked along the road on both sides of the bridge. Whoever arrived first would start a fire and put on a bucket of water for coffee. Others brought their refreshment in crockery jugs and mason jars.

After the dogs were let loose, we’d stand around sipping coffee, sodas for me and the other boys. A few of the men passed around jugs and mason jars. Soon the men would tell stories about local democrat politics, union politics, or long-gone gansters like Charlie Birger, whom Dad saw hung in 1929. Amid all the talk, everyone kept an ear out listening to the running dogs. When the dogs found a trail, their barks changed. We would listen and speculate on the location of the dog pack. Often the dogs would chase a fox or ‘coon in a circle around the trucks and back and forth across the river. On occasion, the dogs would chase a deer and not return home until late the next day. More often, their barks would change to howls and we’d know they had something treed. When that happened, off we’d go with lanterns held high and a pistol and rifle or two.

This night, the dogs got on the trail of something different. From time to time we’d hear a high-pitched squalling, almost a scream. Whatever made the sound would stop and let the dogs catch up and we’d hear dogs barking, howling, and the unknown something screaming. The fight would last a few minutes and then the chase would take off once again. We followed the dogs about two miles into the brush, briars and trees of the bottoms when we heard the dogs barking “Treed!”

The tree was a large oak on a small rise in the middle of a slough. We held the lanterns up (mostly kerosene, white-gas Coleman lanterns were too expensive) and shine some flashlights into the trees to see what had been caught.

It wasn’t a ‘coon or ‘possum. It was long, almost slinky, dark furred and much larger than a ‘coon. The animal would let loose a loud squalling scream that made some of the men think we’d treed a “panther.” While we were speculating on the nature of the beast, it dropped from the tree into the middle of the pack of dogs and the fight was on!

Dogs barked, growled and howled, the animal squalled and screamed, men shouted and hollered. A few wanted to shoot the animal, but no one dared because the dogs were too close. In a few minutes, the dogs started running off in all directions. It wasn’t long before we noticed the dogs were all gone and in the dark we could hear the animal hissing, circling us just outside the light of the lanterns. Once or twice, someone caught the animal in the light of a flashlight and took a shot. I don’t think anyone ever came close to hitting it.

Dad and I finally got home about five in the morning. Mom was fit to be tied and Grandma had just got up to begin breakfast. Dad said he didn’t know what we’d found. Grandma called it a “Haint.” She said she had heard them from time to time all her life out in the river bottoms.

Years later when I was in college, I passed through the University museum, a short-cut between buidings, and saw the animal, mounted on display. The sign called it a Fisher. The mounted animal was quite small, the size of a large housecat. The one Dad and I saw was much larger, as large as a large dog, large enough to fight a dozen dogs and win. I’ve never seen one since, but I still remember it’s scream.

The Great Skunk Expulsion

I grew up on a small farm in Southern Illinois just off I-57 in Franklin County. Dad was a coal miner and after we moved to the farm in 1953, became a part-time farmer as well. The farm was only 60 acres, with an apple orchard, two ponds, a house and a barn.

The barn was old enough to have hand-hewn beams and joists. Along one side of the barn were several stalls and feed trough for larger livestock. There was a loft above the stalls where we kept hay, straw and feed. It was easy to fill the feed troughs by dropping hay or feed down a chute into the trough. There was a small space between the barn’s dirt floor and the bottom of the feed trough. Over the years, this area became filled with hay, manure and animal feed to form a fairly solid mass. Dad kept a few head of cattle and took in some horses owned by folks who lived in town.

One summer, a skunk moved into the barn under the feed trough into the far corner of the barn. For the most part, if the skunk didn’t bother us, Dad and I wouldn’t bother it. When the skunk had some kits, that changed. The skunk became very possessive of her territory and sprayed the horses, cattle and whomever else came close. When the cattle and horses would no longer enter the barn, everything came to a head—the skunks had to go.

I was in the sixth grade at that time. Dad got off from the mines about the same time that I got out of school. It was in May and the weather had been warm. Dad decided it was time to root out the skunks. The plan would be that he’d get the shotgun and shoot the skunks and I’d get the rack and drag them out and take the bodies off to the back of the farm. I didn’t much care for the division of labor. Dad got the easy part and I got the stinkin’ part.

So off we went, Dad with the shotgun over his shoulder and me with the garden rake. I opened the door of the barn to let in more light. Dad got down on the floor and with his best imitation of shooting in a prone position, sighted on the skunks in the corner under the feed trough, fired—and missed! He must’ve nicked ol’ Mama Skunk because she flew out of the corner, reversed and let fly all over Dad! Dad jumped up hollering, wiping his eyes and headed for the house with the skunk following.

I picked up the shotgun. It was an easy shot with the skunk in the open. I finished off the remaining skunks and followed Dad back towards the house. Mom fixed Country-Fried steaks for supper that night. Mom and I ate inside, Dad had his outside under the maple tree next to the house.

Fortunately, the horses took care of any skunk that tried to find a new home in the barn. Every now and then, we’d find a mashed skunk where skunk met horse and lost. Horses have long memories.

Funny how memories return. I hadn’t thought of that episode for decades until I saw a posting on Night Lightening Woman’s blog.