The objects seem ordinary: a twisted fork, a shattered whisky bottle, a cracked doll's face. But they bear witness to a deadly day that changed this nation.
They can be seen in Working American: The Human Experience of the Colorado Coalfield Strike of 1913-14, on display at Colorado College this month. The exhibit, approximately 50 artifacts supplemented by historic photographs, was created especially for CC by one of its alumni.
In September 1913, fed up with low pay and dangerous conditions — the state then ranked second in the U.S. in coal miner deaths — southern Colorado miners went on strike and were evicted from company-owned towns. Families fled with everything they could carry and established tent colonies; Ludlow, northwest of Trinidad, was the largest.
On April 20, 1914, militia sent by Gov. Elias Ammons swept through. Estimates of the death toll vary from 19 to 25, but it's agreed that among the dead were two women and 11 children asphyxiated and burned in a tent. Subsequent attacks throughout the area, some by retaliating miners, led to more fatalities.
"The deaths of women and children caught the attention of the media and set into motion national reform for regulation and safety," writes Mary Brown, who's curating the show as part of her pursuit of a masters in anthropology at the University of Denver.
After the massacre, the Red Cross and survivors moved through Ludlow's ruins. They shoveled debris into cellars dug underneath the tents, providing treasure troves for archaeologists excavating there from 1997 to 2004 for the Colorado Coal Field War Project.
Working American is part of a campus-wide focus on resource extraction and its human and environmental tolls. (The latter is illustrated in J Henry Fair's photos in the Industrial Scars exhibit in CC's I.D.E.A. Space.)
"What are workers' rights? Why did people in Ludlow go on strike?" asks Jessica Hunter Larsen, I.D.E.A. Space curator. "I think it's really interesting to be considering those questions right now. We're reconsidering them in a way that can have implications for the future."