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San Juan Skyway
Courtesy, Colorado Historical Society

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Segment 5: The Telluride Mine Worker’s Strikes
Standards-Based Themes: Check chart

Just south of the Dallas Divide is the town of Telluride. In the late 1800s Telluride was known as the “golden gem of the silvery San Juans.” With its gold-based economy, Telluride experienced a booming economy at the very time that towns like Ironton were experiencing silver-related “bust economies.” However, like the towns of Silverton and Ironton, where hope and hardship existed side by side, Telluride also experienced years of adversity and turmoil in the midst of promise and prospect.
Seeking a piece of the American dream, the hardrock miners spent long days underground chipping and drilling for precious ore. The work was extremely difficult and accidents and deaths in the mines were frequent. In May 1901 miners went on strike at the Smuggler-Union mine hoping to abolish the “fathom” or “contract” system of work. A fathom was a body of ore six feet, six inches long and wide as a vein, whatever that might be. Under this system the miner was paid according to fathoms mined. If a miner happened to mine a wide vein (which took more time) his pay was less than if he mined a fathom on a narrower vein. Although they worked eight or more hours a day, many miners could not make the $3 per-day wage that was common in the district. Miners struck the mine demanding a salary of $3 for an eight-hour shift. The mine owners refused the demands of striking miners and retaliated by hiring non-union workers—at a wage of $3-per-day for an eight hour shift!
On July 3, 1901, striking union miners went to the mine to confront non-union workers. A gun battle ensued and three men were killed and six injured. Later that afternoon, the non-union workers were rounded up by the striking miners and ordered to leave the county. On July 6, the strike was settled and the non-union workers were allowed to return. The miners union was able to establish the eight-hour day and the fathom system was abolished.
In 1903 a second strike was initiated, this time at the Tomboy mine. One hundred miners struck the Tomboy because the mill had been staffed with non-union workers. The mine owners appealed to Colorado Governor Peabody to send troops to the district to provide protection for the non-union miners. The Governor complied with the mine owners’ wishes and a state of martial law was declared. In January 1904, troops arrested 22 men who were labeled as strike leaders and troublemakers and deported them via train out of the district. In March of the same year, another 60 union miners were deported and told never to come back. On April 5, the Telluride Mine Owners' Association delivered the following statement: “We do not propose to enter into negotiations of any nature with the Western Federation of Miners. We do not recognize a union in Telluride. There is no strike in Telluride. There is nothing to settle.” After three months of hardship, the union was broken.

Central City Opera House
Ironton, 1888
Courtesy, Colorado Historical Society

The price of silver crashes causing numerous silver mines to close.

Miner preparing to descend into mine
Road to Smugglers Mine
Courtesy, Library of Congress

The work is extremely difficult and accidents and deaths in the mines are frequent.

Central City Opera House
Courtesy, Colorado Historical Society

Union workers strike at Telluride’s Smuggler-Union mine and demand $3 for an eight-hour workday. Owners refuse and instead hire non-union workers at that rate.
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