Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reader Viewpoint

The following comes from blog reader Richard Myers and is published with his permission. Richard and I have exchanged a few emails and he has a keen interest in historical and contemporary labor issues. His comments and theories are too interesting not to share.

Other viewpoints and comments are encouraged and can be directed to me at: john.t.richards@sbcglobal.net

I have a theory to propose to you. Imagine for a moment that Harry Orchard was an agent against the WFM all along, and his big mistake was going rogue when he assassinated Governor Steunenberg, possibly due to some personal animosity over the 1899 strike.

If this theory was true, it would be necessary to somehow demonstrate, IF he actually perpetrated all that he confessed to, then Orchard was complying with the motives and instructions of the Pinkertons, the Mine Owners Association, and/or maybe the Colorado National Guard when he blew up the Vindicator, killed all of those miners at the Independence Station, etc.

But there seems to be a big hole in this theory, at least for the moment.

What would, say, the National Guard have to gain from violence carried out against the Vindicator, against the miners at the Independence Station, etc.?

At first it doesn’t seem at all plausible. But please read on...

I have uncovered a report of testimony from two (well, actually three) militia members, one of them a major, which in my view could be the key to cracking the behind-the-scenes story of the Cripple Creek Strike wide open.

This was published in The Public, a Chicago newspaper, on November 5, 1904:

Further light on the miners' troubles in Colorado (p. 372) alluded to above has been shed by two members of the Colorado militia, one of them a commissioned officer. The officer, Major Francis J. Ellison, has sworn to the following affidavit, made public at Denver on the 29th:

State of Colorado, City and County of Denver—Francis J. Ellison, being first duly sworn, upon his oath deposes and says: That on the 12th day of December, 1903, at the request of Adjutant General Sherman M. Bell, I went to the Cripple Creek district on special military duty, and from that time have been continuously in the service of the State, both in the Cripple Creek district and in the Trinidad district. When General Bell first sent me to Victor I offered him certain evidence in regard to the perpetrators of the Vindicator explosion, which he has failed to follow up. but which would have led to the arrest and conviction of the men who are responsible for the placing of that infernal machine. At about the 20th of January, 1904, by order of the adjutant of Teller County military district, and under special direction of Major T. E. McClelland and General F. M. Reardon, who was the Governor's confidential adviser regarding the conditions In that district, a series of street fights were commenced between men of Victor and soldiers of the National Guard on duty there. Each fight was planned by General Reardon or Major McClelland and carried out under their actual direction. Major McClelland's instructions were literally to knock them down, knock their teeth down their throats, bend in their faces, kick in their ribs and do everything except kill them. These fights continued more or less frequently up to the 22d of March. About the middle of February General Reardon called me into Major McClelland's office and asked me if I had a man in whom I could place absolute confidence. I called in Sergeant J. A. Chase, Troop C, First Cavalry, N. G. C., and, in the presence of Sergeant Chase, he stated to me that, owing to the refusal of the Mine Owners' Association to furnish the necessary money to meet the payroll of the troops, it had become necessary to take some steps to force them to put up the cash, and he desired me to take Sergeant Chase and hold up or shoot the men coming off shift at the Vindicator mine at 2 o'clock in the morning. I told General Reardon that I was under the impression that most of these men caught the electric car that stopped at the shaft house so that such a plan would be impracticable. He then said to me that the same end could be reached if I would take the sergeant and fire fifty or sixty shots into the Vindicator shaft house at some time during the night. Owing to circumstances making it impossible for Sergeant Chase to accompany me, I took Sergeant Gordon Walter of the same troop and organization, and that same night did at about 12:30 o'clock fire repeatedly into the Vindicator and Lillie shaft house. Something like sixty shots were fired from our revolvers at this time. Afterwards we mounted our horses and rode into Victor and into the Military Club, reporting in person to General Reardon and Major McClelland. The next day General Reardon directed me to take Sergeant Walter and look over the ground in the rear of the Findlay mine with a view of repeating the performance there, but before the plan could be carried out General Reardon countermanded the order, stating his reason to be that the mine owners had promised to put up the necessary money the next day, which, as a matter of fact, they did. General Reardon, in giving me directions regarding the shooting up of the Vindicator shaft house, stated that Governor Peabody, General Bell, he himself, and I were the only ones who knew anything about the plan.

Maj. Ellison's affidavit is corroborated by the affidavits of Sergeants Chase and Walters, whom he mentions.

Louis Freeland Post, The Public, November 5, 1904, page 487

Did you catch the part where Major Ellison’s orders from his National Guard superiors were “to take Sergeant Chase and hold up or shoot the men coming off shift at the Vindicator mine”?

The source is available from Google Books.

If true (and I don’t have any reason to doubt its authenticity), this could mean:

o The National Guard readily committed unprovoked violence, both physical assault and with gunfire, in part for apparent monetary and political gain during the Cripple Creek Strike. Yes, some of us strongly suspected this sort of thing from all the related history, but testimony to that effect from a commissioned officer seems very significant.

o The leadership of the Colorado National Guard seemed to have had no qualms whatsoever about killing innocent miners for their own purposes.

o So who then was really behind the Vindicator explosion, the Independence explosion that killed thirteen, etc.? Bell apparently saw no reason to pursue an actual investigation of the Vindicator explosion. Why? Did he already know who was responsible?

o We know that Harry Orchard received money from detectives, and once boasted of being a Pinkerton agent. Was he a solid agent for them all along, meaning that perhaps the detectives/National Guard used him for assorted provocations throughout the strike, and he only made the big mistake when he went rogue in killing Governor Steunenberg? And,

o Governor Peabody may have been in on at least some of the details of grossly illegal activity by the Colorado National Guard. (!)

This history does get interesting, and I expect there is much more to uncover.

best wishes,
richard myers
Denver, Colorado

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