‘The Fight in Berwind Canyon’ by Hugo Oehler from Labor Defender. Vol. 2 No. 12. December, 1927.

‘The Fight in Berwind Canyon’ by Hugo Oehler from Labor Defender. Vol. 2 No. 12. December, 1927.

A few days of non-picketing in the southern field in the coal strike, complying with the Governor’s orders, showed that the miners were losing. The most important weapon of the Colorado miners had to be rescued and was when mass meetings were again held on the property of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. Some of the picketers thought this did not constitute such, but when it was effective in stopping the production of coal the C.F. and I. henchmen ruled that it was picketing and arrested some of the speakers and issued warrants for others.

By November the fourth a caravan of sixteen cars of Fremount strikers who are out a hundred percent arrived in Walsenburg to help out in order to close mines in the southern field. While they were arriving in Walsenburg the afternoon mass meeting to be held at one of the mines encountered barbed wire barricades on the highway leading to the mines charged with an electric current, and company gunmen behind them.

That night’s mass meeting in Walsenburg at the I.W.W. hall brought forth action and a caravan of some thirty cars of Fremount and Walsenburg strikers left after the meeting for Aguilar. Arriving at midnight a meeting was held at the I.W.W. hall, a combined force of these two and the Aguilar boys. When morning came a caravan of some fifty cars headed for the C.F. and I. property and at twilight the caravan arrived at the bridge leading up Berwind Canyon to three of their mines.

Walsenburg at the I.W.W. hall.

Enmassed on the other side of the bridge were over two dozen men with revolvers, shotguns and clubs, company and state officials. The strikers formed a mass and marched to the bridge where the spokesmen of the gunmen informed them that they could not pass. A combined force, a night’s activity, a determined group who were out to close the mines marched forward. Unarmed, carrying the American flag forward as many did in the battlefields of France but this time unarmed against armed, hired gunmen.

The two forces met on the bridge and as the workers pushed forward clubs and butts of forty-fives could be seen flying and landing on the heads of strikers. It was a short battle with blood flowing as the might of the workers pushed forward beyond the bridge. Collecting their wounded, they surged forward and marched up the canyon singing the song Solidarity as the officials and gunmen collected their forces and followed.

The hall today.

Up Berwind Canyon as daylight was breaking marched the singing miners and their wives and girls. Up Berwind Canyon marched the struggle of the Colorado miners in defiance of the combined forces of the C.F. and I. and state officials. Up Berwind Canyon marched unarmed, brave miners who were fighting for a living wage and better conditions. Along the hovels of the miners, with sleepy people looking out and on the hills men and children looking on some joining as the procession marched a mile up to the Berwind Post Office steps.

Berwind, Colorado.

Then the miners massed and prepared for a meeting and when the flag carrier informed the audience that he had received a broken knuckle while carrying the flag, the Sheriff, heads of the State officials, the gunmen, the special officers sent to the strike zone, arrested him. Following that a strike leader from the audience who asked what the other man got was also arrested.  The thugs, company and state gunmen were upon the crowd and some with horses on the outer part. The chairman only opened his mouth and was pulled down. Speaker after speaker who took the platform was pulled down and the arrested were cornered. Other miners in the crowd were also arrested. By this time the gunmen continued their handling of miners with force and, separating them as fast as possible, ordered them down the canyon.

The mass sang Solidarity, milled and fought back, demanded the release of the prisoners while the state officers and gunmen continued their attacks on those who seemed to direct, or those who were the most hated. By the end a dozen were arrested. Then the Sheriff said all were arrested and must go down the canyon. They refused. Gunmen on horses rode into the crowds and unarmed workers beat them back time and time again, while women on the outer line fainted. One miner’s wife was trampled by the horses while clubs flew here and there. Every once in a while the uproar was quelled by songs of the striking miners. Axe handles were passed around to the gunmen and by eight o’clock Saturday morning, about three hours after the miners marched up the canyon they agreed among themselves to go down. The first ones arrested mingled with the others and lost their identity to the officials.

In the middle of the battle a girl was rearrested and put in an auto with another girl; a Spanish speaking comrade and the chairman of the meeting were rearrested. This brought on more confusion and more clubbing. Strikers demanded the release of their fellow workers

Shortly after this story, the Walsenburg I.W.W. was machine gunned January 12, 1928.

At the foot of the canyon the tired miners entered their cars. They entered and left after putting up a heroic battle against armed gunmen. Their victorious march up the canyon will never be forgotten. Their lessons and solidarity will remain in the minds of these miners. Back to their halls, back to their wobbly meeting places, back to renew the fight tomorrow.

Labor Defender was published monthly from 1926 until 1937 by the International Labor Defense (ILD), a Workers Party of America, and later Communist Party-led, non-partisan defense organization founded by James Cannon and William Haywood while in Moscow, 1925 to support prisoners of the class war, victims of racism and imperialism, and the struggle against fascism. It included, poetry, letters from prisoners, and was heavily illustrated with photos, images, and cartoons. Labor Defender was the central organ of the Scottsboro and Sacco and Vanzetti defense campaigns. Editors included T. J. O’ Flaherty, Max Shactman, Karl Reeve, J. Louis Engdahl, William L. Patterson, Sasha Small, and Sender Garlin.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/labordefender/1927/v02n12-dec-1927-LD.pdf

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