Cripple Creek War (1894)

The Cripple Creek War, also known as the Cripple Creek miners’ strike of 1894, was a five-month strike instigated by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The miners’ strike resulted in a significant victory for the WFM and was followed in 1903 by the Colorado labor wars. The Cripple Creek strike was a significant event in the development of Populist labor movements in the Far West because it was the only time in U.S. history when a state militia was enlisted in support of striking workers. The strike at Cripple Creek, Colorado, was characterized by violent firefights, involved the use of dynamite, and was brought under control after a confrontation between the Colorado state militia and a private army working for the owners of the local mines. The Cripple Creek strike greatly contributed to the WFM's increasing political presence and popularity among miners in Colorado and the western region.

In 1894, the owners of the Cripple Creek Mine, J. J. Hagerman, David Moffat, and Eben Smith, instituted a lengthening of the work day to 10 hours from 8 hours per day. These three men controlled the salaries of nearly one-third of the miners, yet they were unwilling to raise the daily wage from $3 per day. The former silver miners protested, and the mine operators agreed to the 8-hour work day, but they would only pay the workers $2.50 a day. Shortly before this incident, miners at Cripple Creek, along with the Knights of Labor, had created the Free Coinage Union. With the new changes in pay and working conditions, the Free Coinage members merged with the WFM, becoming Local Chapter 19. In February 1894, the mine owners at Cripple Creek began enforcing the 10-hour work day. The president of the WFM, John Calderwood, delivered a notice to the mine owners demanding that they reinstate the 8-hour work day at the $3 per day pay rate. When Hagerman, Moffat, and Smith did not comply with the WFM's demands, the union officially struck on February 7. Portland, Pikes Peak, and Gold Dollar, along with some of the smaller mines, quickly agreed to the 8-hour work day and maintained daily operations. However, owners of larger facilities such as the Cripple Creek Mine held out, refusing to give into workers’ demands.

The Cripple Creek strike had an instant impact. At the end of February 1894, almost every smelter and ore processing facility was either shut down or operating part time. In March, the Gold King and Granite mines capitulated and resumed operations under the 8-hour day. However, many mine owners held out for the 10-hour day, and they attempted to reopen their mines; several owners brought in strikebreakers. The WFM attempted to convince the strikebreakers to join the union and strike, but they were ultimately unsuccessful. The violent and lawless WFM threatened nonstriking miners, and their predatory tactics were successful in preventing the nonunion miners from continuing work.

Christopher Allan Black

See also: Colorado, Populism in ; Depression of 1893 ; Knights of Labor ; Waite, Davis (1825–1901)


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