Colorado Coal Project
Colorado Coal Project
Interview with Donald Mitchell, Walsenburg, Colorado (part 1 of 2)
Margolis, Eric, 1947-
McMahan, Ronald L.
Coal Strike (Colorado : 1913-1914)
Coal mines and mining--New Mexico--Colfax County
Strikes and lockouts--Coal mining--Colorado
Coal mine accidents--New Mexico--Colfax County
Coal miners--Personal narratives
Coal mines and mining
Coal mines and mining--Colorado
10:00 -- Discussing his work as a fire boss in the mine (pg. 7 of pdf transcript, this page of the transcript is blank); 20:00 -- Dangers of mining (both his own experience and his family's) (pg. 12 of pdf transcript); 30:00 -- Inadequate compensation for the dangers of mining, causes of the strike (pg. 17 of pdf transcript); 40:00 -- Difficulties of union membership, the Wobblies and the 1927 strike (pg. 23 of pdf transcript); 50:00 -- Unfair labor practices such as inaccurate weight of a miner's production (pg. 29 of pdf transcript); 60:00 -- Memories of Shorty Martinez and Mitchell's childhood, future coal development (pg. 38 of pdf transcript).
Donald Mitchell was born in the mining camp of Rouse, Colorado, the child of a Scottish miner and an English mother. He describes growing up in coal camps, inventing his own toys and games. Discipline was strict, both at home and at school. He recalls homesteaders growing various crops during his childhood and believes the area was moister then, with higher stream-flows everywhere. Neighbors could rely upon each other for help during hard times. Different ethnic groups got along well. He recalls Walsenburg as a busy place, even late on a Saturday night. He started mining at the age of 18, in Taos, New Mexico, doing "company work" at $7.75 per day. This was after the 1913 strike when the company was paying $1.85 per day. The state brought in "Baldwin thugs" from West Virginia, to oppose the strikers. The militia asked strikers to surrender their weapons, and strikers saw the state militia as little more than company guards. He recalls Sheriff "Jess Farr" (i.e., Jeff Farr) and his deputy, Shorty Martinez, as company supporters. He feels that many immigrants were brought in specifically to "take jobs" that might have gone to union members. News of the Ludlow massacre spread by word-of-mouth; the press initially avoided the story. Mitchell was in Rock Springs, Wyoming at the time, but heard warnings about possible violence the night before the massacre. In 1914, violence at Ludlow subsided after the arrival of Federal troops. Working conditions improved somewhat after the strike and even more so with widespread unionization during the 1930s. After 1914, Rockefeller's businesses started a company union. In 1915, Mitchell witnessed vigilantes shooting unarmed miners and then fleeing to the courthouse for refuge. He describes the aftermath of the Ludlow strike as a "real war." He narrowly missed a 1915 explosion that killed 365 miners in 2 connected coal mines (the Dawson, New Mexico coke mine owned by Phelps Dodge). He was among the unmarried volunteers who re-entered the mine to recover bodies after an explosion. Mitchell worked as a fire boss, thoroughly inspecting the mine for gas before miners were allowed to start work. He recalls plunging in a car through the mine, in the dark, and being trapped in a cave-in. Two of his brothers also mined; 1 died in the mine. He relates union organizing efforts throughout Colorado: the northern part was organized, but southern Colorado was not until the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s. Mrs. Josephine Roach ran a model mine, with good wages and union representation. In parts of Colorado, Mitchell was fired when his union membership was discovered; he was black-listed from coal mining for a while and shifted to oilfield work. Mitchell encountered Wobblies during their strike but was not sympathetic to their cause. Unions demanded check-weighmen, to determine the tonnage produced by each miner (for those paid by production). During slack periods in the mine, he'd do ranch work. He also worked at the Monarch mine, in Boulder County, Colorado. His best earnings were in the 1920s when he would earn a full shift's wages each time he entered the mine -- regardless of the length of the task. After asking for the right to elect officers, he was called a communist by some local union officials. Both he and his brother have black lung disease (Pneumoconiosis, earlier known as "miner's consumption"). He eventually won compensation, but the process took 5 years with many examinations and delays. Mitchell believes that new coal mines will be more difficult, as the accessible coal has already been mined. He thinks that mine explosions in the area -- especially for coking coal -- were due more to dust than to gas. He fears corruption in unions and the growth of government programs. He recounts several anecdotes of accidents in the mines, some of which appeared to be deliberate suicide.
University of Colorado Boulder Archives
Title: Interview with Donald Mitchell, Walsenburg, Colorado (part 2 of 2)
Title: Interview with Donald Mitchell, Walsenburg, Colorado
Ludlow (Las Animas, Colorado, United States, North America) (populated place)
Dawson (historical) (Colfax, New Mexico, United States, North America) (populated place)
Walsenburg (Huerfano, Colorado, United States, North America) (populated place)