What’s Real? What’s Not?

In writing My Heart Lies Here, I tried to draw from the historical record as much as possible. However, creating believable characters around the real-life events requires an author to imagine, interpret, suppose and make choices about what might have plausibly happened at the time. Fiction can never rival history in jaw-dropping surprises; events and coincidences occur in the historical record that would appear too improbable or fantastic if included in a fictional work. My hope is that my readers pick up a work of history on the Ludlow Massacre.

Here is a list of what’s real (and what’s not) in the novel.

1.       Berwind Canyon

Much of the action that takes place in Berwind is fictional. However, the coal canyons of the Southern  Fields were, indeed, closed to public travel. This made possible a number of abuses–social workers, Red Cross volunteers, Congressional representatives and other concerned or curious humanitarian advocates never set eyes on the canyons. A Methodist circuit rider provided spiritual guidance every so often, even though most of the immigrants who filled the coal canyons were Catholic.

In fact, Colorado Fuel & Iron recruited workers in Joplin, Missouri from waves of immigrants who had been lured west with the promise of fortune and land. The new workers were then loaded on trains that traveled through the great plains of America with window shades drawn and guards in each car. The trains’ arrivals at Berwind and Delagua Canyons and the other mines were scheduled at night, leaving the passengers with no idea where they had come to or any picture of the American landscape.

 2.       The dynamics of the schoolhouse

There are historical anecdotes that imply that the seating in the schoolhouse was assigned by the color of a student’s skin and a student’s facility with English. Learning English was not encouraged–therefore keeping young people from growing up into active, contributing Americans who could read a ballot, understand laws, and identify injustices.

In the coal mines of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, miners were told not to interact with anyone outside their ethnic groups. For instance, Italians were told to avoid the Greeks, who were dirty and practiced a false religion, and vice versa. For decades, this system of fomenting distrust and prejudice prevented the coal field workers from organizing. Probably the biggest challenge, however, faced by the United Mine Workers of America in organizing the Southern Fields was the lack of a common language. It is estimated that some 31 languages and/or dialects were spoken in the Ludlow tent colony.

3.       The teachers in Berwind

All of the teachers represented in the novel are fictional creations. However, it was generally accepted that school teachers were spies that reported back to the company any signs of sedition or independent thinking in students. It is also widely documented that the teachers were often incompetent–they drank, they were unusually brutal, they themselves were poorly educated . Students who wanted to continue their education through high school had to board in Trinidad, a hardship for most coal canyon families.

 4.       The information that Edith McCormick passes to Christian in Chapter 2

I used the character of Edith as a mouthpiece to express the discontent and fear that the miners felt. Everything she imparts to Christian about the conditions in the coal camps is historically documented.

The coke ovens at Hastings

The coke ovens at Hastings

 5.       The “Northern Lights”

This, of course, is a vehicle of character development. However, I have met residents of the Trinidad/Walsenburg areas who as children watched the sky turn orange and red as the coke ovens burned near Cokedale.

 6.       The Greek camp in Berwind and “Bricktown”

The Greek camp is entirely fictional. In truth, the Greek men (who were unmarried or who had left wives and families in Greece) would have lived in company-provided boarding houses for “single gentlemen.” The concept of sleeping in “shifts,” however, is real. Boarding houses rented rooms to several occupants at one time, and sleeping was staggered throughout the day and night.

 “Bricktown,” however, is factual. Quickly constructed brick houses were built for the Third Wave immigrants who crowded into the coal canyons in Berwind and Delagua Canyons.

 7.       The house of ill repute in Berwind Canyon

The “house” that both Ethel May Farrington and Pearl mention is factual. Ethel May’s promise to her mother that she would lower her eyes and not look as she passed it on her way from her father’s ranch to the school house in Berwind is based on a promise made in real life by Martha Bonacquista to her mother.

 8.       The active/passive partner system of organizing the Southern Fields

The United Mine Workers of America implemented this system as a subterfuge for the mine guards and detectives of Colorado Fuel & Iron. An “active” partner would work from the office in Trinidad, passing out cards and publicly promoting union. Meanwhile, the “passive” partner working in the mines would report anti-union colleagues to the company as having joined the union. Christian’s fear throughout the novel of being “sent down the canyon” was, indeed, very real.

 There is no evidence that the Greeks organized by sponsoring boxing matches. In fact, the Greeks were one of the last ethnic groups to organize, as they were given to fierce rivalry and mistrust of their own countrymen, as well as anyone else. The Italian miners were far better at organizing, coming together in a strong and consistent solidarity that still resonates through the communities of Trinidad, Walsenburg and Pueblo (home of CF&I’s steel mill) today.

  It is debatable whether Mary Thomas, the lovely, red-headed Welsh soprano, really sang opera as a diversion while the Italians organized. It is true that she would sing “O Sole Mio” a number of times throughout the evening, but she denies that her performances fostered union talk in her book, Those Damn Foreigners. There is, of course, speculation to the contrary.

 9.       Leaving for Ludlow

The fictional character of Ned Binford outlines the union’s demands to CF&I, which are historical. The action in the novel that takes place around the convention in Trinidad and the exodus of the coal miners from the coal canyons is well-documented and historically portrayed in the novel. Indeed, the tents had not arrived by the time the coal canyons emptied, leaving hundreds with nowhere to go. The strike began in chaos and disorganization–which would haunt it until it ended in December, 1914.

 10.   Mother Jones

Any scenes involving Mother Jones are from the historical record. The speech she gives to the residents of Ludlow, in which she claims that “in America, there are no dagoes,” is adapted from the speech she gave at the UMWA convention and from other speeches she gave during the strike. Her statement that women don’t need the vote to raise hell is a nod to the surprising fact that Mother Jones was against women’s suffrage.

 11.   The Death Special and Baldwin-Felts agents

The Death Special existed as a tool of intimidation and terror. It was, indeed, manufactured at the CF&I steel mill in Pueblo, and the Baldwin-Felts agents George Belcher and Walter Belk, both veterans of the West Virginia strikes, were often seen manning the twin machine guns.

 Strikers in Ludlow were urged to whittle blocks of wood into facsimiles of guns, as Alex does, in order to give the impression that the strikers were well-armed. It is also true that most of the guns that the UMWA acquired were given to the Greek men, who were “deputies” in Ludlow. The number of guns overall in Ludlow, however, could never match the weaponry of the Baldwin-Felts and, later, the Colorado National Guard.

 12.   The battle of the steel train

The events surrounding the arrival of the “steel train” in Ludlow are portrayed according to the historical record. Women and children were evacuated to a big tent in the arroyo, and a hospital tent was erected. However, whether the nurse in charge of the hospital, Mrs. Pearl Jolly, would have attempted surgery is speculation.

 Mrs. Jolly was the American-born wife of a Scottish miner who had been trained at the CF&I hospital in Pueblo. She was in Ludlow alone; her husband had not joined the strike, and she was consistently called upon to use her medical skills to aid the strikers. She was reputedly the lover of Louis Tikas, which has led to a theory that the Colorado National Guard treated him so brutally because he was having an affair with an American woman. Whatever the situation, she was with Louis Tikas during the final siege at Ludlow, helping him with the wounded until he left to turn himself in to the Colorado National Guard in the hopes that the militia would call off the attack on Ludlow.

 13.   The arrival of the Colorado National Guard

This is portrayed as it occurred. The residents of Ludlow held a parade in honor of the arrival, and the militia gave a spectacular show of its precision and horsemanship.

 Two militia officers who are mentioned briefly in the book rise above the others for their decency toward the striking workers: Captain Philip Van Cise, who headed the investigation of the Ludlow Massacre for the Colorado National Guard and who went on to have a brilliant career as a crime-syndicate buster and District Attorney of Denver, and Lieutenant William Doll, also a lawyer. Both men would also earn recognition in their fight against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s.  Lieutenant Karl Linderfelt is accurately portrayed as brutal and lawless, but his story is much deeper and more complicated than the novel’s structure allowed.  

 14.   The Thanksgiving “line-up” on the prairie

This happened as depicted in the novel, including the search of Ludlow and the barbed wire in the water well. It has been reported that Louis Zancanelli, who assassinated George Belcher, was tortured in the jailhouse in Trinidad. He was deprived of sleep, warmth, and doused in cold water until he confessed to the killing.  

 I did not include in the novel the “forced” vaccinations by the Colorado National Guard of the residents of Ludlow against smallpox. This happened in December, but involved the same man-handling and lack of compassion as the line-up.

 15.   This is all true:

            • ·         The snowstorm that buried Ludlow, which still stands as the worst snowstorm in Colorado’s history.
      • ·         The jailing of the Greeks and the arrival of the strikebreakers.
      • ·         Christmas Day in Ludlow.
      • ·         Mother Jones’ arrest.
      • ·         The incidents at the women’s parade. Women and children were sliced by sabers and ridden down by horses, and several were arrested. Mary Thomas and her daughters, ages 2 and 4, were held for six weeks in the jail.
      • ·         Theros’ story about being called upon, while in jail, to dig a new privy for his jailers.  
      • ·         The planned “war” on Trinidad, which is called off because of the promise of a Congressional hearing. The hearing was held; however, nothing came of it.
      • ·         John D. Rockefeller’s refusal to testify on the matter until ordered to by President Woodrow Wilson. He claimed he did not have enough information on the situation in Colorado to make a statement.
      • ·         The exit of the Colorado National Guard from the strike zone, and the implementation of a new means of recruiting members of the militia.
      • ·         The burning of the Forbes tent colony and the erection of a militia camp on the site.

 16.   Running guns

The Greek coffee house bakery is a fictional place. However, there were several Greek bakeries at the time in southern Colorado and in Denver as well, and they were known not only as places of conversation and camaraderie, but also of political unrest.

 As far as I know, no woman ran guns for the Greeks. However, in the oral histories gathered in the 1970s, an Italian woman spoke of bringing guns into Ludlow under her skirts. That gave me the idea of making Christian a gunrunner for the Greek men.

 17.   Linderfelt riding down the passengers at the train station

Lieutenant Linderfelt was known for his cruelty toward the strikers, and “riding down” the passengers seemed to happen quite frequently. At one point, Linderfelt is reported to have shouted at the passengers disembarking from the trains, “I am Jesus Christ on horseback!” This is one of those facts which is too outrageous for fiction.

 18.   The Ludlow Massacre

I took great care in depicting the night in Ludlow with as much accuracy as possible. Christian and Pearl’s plight in the pit is, of course, fictionalized, but Louis Tikas and Mrs. Jolly did go tent to tent in an attempt to save lives. On the other hand, Mr. Snyder, whose son had just been killed, cautioned the women to return to their tents and pits. One can only speculate on whether this had any historical significance.

The body that Christian sees spread-eagled on the ground was that of John Bartolotti, an Italian striker killed early in the fighting. 

Most of the women in Ludlow did find their way to the barn at the Bayes Ranch, although a few, like Mrs. McCormick, spent the night in the dried-up well. Others survived the fire in the pits beneath their tents. The men, who had been fighting through the day, regrouped in the Black Hills east of Ludlow the morning after the fire, where the UMWA had ammunition and guns waiting for them. Dr. Ben Beshoar, who had cared for the residents of the tent colonies from the beginning of the strike, also went to the Black Hills to help with the wounded.

 It is possible that Christian could have journeyed through Ludlow after the fire. Several refugees were picked up by the Colorado National Guard that morning, and they were handed over in “prisoner exchanges.” I have placed Mary Petrucci and Alcarita Pedragon, whose children had suffocated in the pit, at the depot at the same time as Christian, but this is a fictionalization.  However, the deaths of the entire Costa family and Louis Tikas’s execution are from the historical record.

 19.   The camp at San Rafael and the destruction of Berwind

The UMWA would build a new tent colony from the quickly-assembled camp neat San Rafael Hospital. Here, the strikers who committed to the UMWA would live until the strike was called off in December, 1914. Only a few strikers took up the cause after the Massacre; most moved on to new locations and, I would hope, better situations. In the end, the union district was bankrupted by the strike, and John Lawson’s reputation and career were ruined.

 After the massacre, John Lawson’s “Call to Arms” attracted hundreds of armed, angry men to the region. The numbers of men “marching in” from Texas, New Mexico, and other western states has not been exaggerated. The fighting that followed has been called a “civil war.” Many of the mines and coal towns were heavily damaged in revenge for the killings, which inadvertently harmed the strikers even more; there was now nowhere to go back to work.

 20.   After the Massacre

The funerals of the victims, the arrival of federal troops, and the eventual legal charges for participants in the strike are historical. Alex’s decision to return to Scotland, is probable; two-thirds of Third Wave immigrants (approx. 1880-1910) returned to their native lands. Usually, however, these immigrants were from eastern European countries and had not yet adapted to American customs or learned the English language.

Archaeological excavation at Ludlow, 1999

Archaeological excavation at Ludlow, 1999

 

 

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