Give up Gatling when pried from the crank

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Having problems with labor? Can't get a strike settled? Uppity miners won't go back to work? Two, out of three turn-of-the-century Colorado mine owners prefer martial law, military force and the use of a Gatling gun.

A hand-cranked weapon with six barrels revolving around a central shaft with cartridges gravity fed into the top through a hopper, the Gatling gun was invented during the Civil War by Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling. The first version of the gun was capable of firing 600 rounds a minute. Each barrel fired 100 rounds per minute and could continue at that pace for hours without overheating. By 1900, most armies around the world included the Gatling Gun in their arsenals.

In 1877, Dr. Gatling was living next door to the widow of the late Samuel Colt (of Colt Firearms) at whose factory the Gatling Gun Company then manufactured their guns. Colt's neice, Elizabeth Jarvis, was a frequent visitor to the Gatling's home in Hartford, Connecticut, and Gatling explained to her in a letter his beliefs in developing the guns.

“In 1861, during the opening events of the war, (residing at that time in Indianapolis, Md.,) I witnessed almost daily the departure of troops to the front and the return of the wounded, sick, and dead. The most of the latter lost their lives, not in battle, but by sickness and exposure incident to the service. It occurred to me if I could invent a machine--a gun-- which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a great extent, supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease be greatly diminished. I thought over the subject and finally this idea took practical form in the invention of the Gatling gun.”

In Colorado, during the hard rock miner's strikes in Cripple Creek and Telluride, and during the Coal Wars in the southern part of the state after that, the gun was an instrument of intimidation.

“At the time of the 1904 strike a group of the strikers had been arrested by the militia under Adjutant General Sherman Bell,” wrote Raymond Colwell in 1961. “The District Judge, Lewis, I believe, issued a writ ordering Bell to produce the prisoners in court for a habeas corpus proceeding. The District was under martial law of the State at the time, and Bell refused to turn the prisoners over to the civil authorities, but did bring them in under military guard. The District Court room then was in the Mining Exchange Building.”

Colewell was a freshman in high school at the time and attended classes just across the alley from the excitement.

“There were militiamen all over the place, sharpshooters on the top of the National Hotel and the high school, which was just across the alley from court room, and Gatling guns in the street intersection. Militiamen were lined up practically shoulder to shoulder on the Fourth Street side of the Mining Exchange Building.”

In Telluride it was a similar story.

Capitalist Author A. Collins, to make the mines there more profitable, instituted a contract system that in effect reduced the miner's standard $3 per eight hour a day pay rate and pushed them into working longer and more dangerous shifts. In protest, the union miners went on strike in 1901. The union, Western Federation of Miners, agreed to having issues arbitrated by the State Board of Arbitration, but the offer was rejected by Collins, and he hired strikebreakers at the same rate that he refused to give to the union. Armed union miners tried to discourage non-union laborers from working for weeks and violence broke out one morning eventually, and resulted in three deaths and six serious injuries as well as strikebreakers being forced out of town. The violence on both sides continued for years.

Collins was assassinated with a shotgun blast through his window nearly year later while playing cards with friends. And the Telluride district also fell under martial law administered also by Sherman Bell but eventually turned over to a citizen's militia.

“In preparation for the transfer of military command, Bell took Troop A through maneuvers around town at a gallop, trundling the Gatlin gun along and out to the ballpark,” wrote MaryJoy Martin in her 2004 book, “The Corpse on Boomerang Road.”

“Sergeant Jack Bowman put the men through training and target practice, cutting down trees at 800 yards... Bowman allowed Sheriff (John) Rutan to have a `crank' and the sheriff was aghast at the firing power. `That's the most wicked machine I ever witnessed in operation,' he said. And once again, Bell impressed upon the town that he meant to use the wicked machine if necessary. Intimidation at its finest was meant to scare off the remaining union men and Socialists,” wrote Martin.

In the southern Colorado coal mine areas, it was once again a strike, though by a different union, that brought out the Gatling gun.

In 1913, when the United Mine Workers of America went out on strike in the southern coalfields of Colorado, additional detectives from Baldwin-Felts were brought in from West Virginia by the Coal operator Colorado Fuel & Iron (CF&I) for the express purpose of protecting mine property and strikebreakers.

With them they brought the “Death Special.”

“To goad the strikers into violent action, the coal companies mounted a harassment campaign, shining high-powered searchlights on the tent colonies at night or using the “Death Special,” an improvised armored car to which a Gatling-type machine-gun was affixed, to periodically spray certain colonies with machine-gun fire. On more than one occasion people were killed,” according to historic information on the Colorado Bar Association's Web site.

“A discussion on the Death Special was included in a Congressional investigation by the House Committee on Mines and Mining after its use in West Virginia earlier. The first Colorado use of the Death Special was at the Forbes colony of October 17 where the entire unprotected tent colony was raked with machine gun fire. One miner was killed, one child shot nine times in the leg, and 148 bullet holes were found in one tent alone.”

The troubles increased for both miners and operators eventually resulting in one of Colorado's darkest miner-operator incidents, the Ludlow Massacre, in which 25 people were killed in a single day. Among the dead: 11 children, most of which suffocated in pit under a tent that was set afire by Colorado militia. The incident occurred in one of the union's largest tent cities known as Ludlow. Afterward, a battle waged for weeks in the camps and towns from Walsenburg to Trinidad and President Woodrow Wilson was finally forced to call in federal troops to end the carnage.

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