Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Shovels and Rifles: The Massacre of the Miners (Horrors of History) by T. Neill Anderson

The sun rose, casting gauzy shards of light over the ruins of the Ludlow tent colony. The camp had been home to more than a thousand people, but now it was in ashes. Militiamen moved among the few tents that remained, looting what few valuables they could find.

In the second row a disheveled woman crawled out from under the floorboards of a burnt tent. She clambered out of one of the many pits dug under the tents as hiding places for the women and children.

"Please!" she shouted, waving her hands above her head. "My children!" A militiaman stepped down into the pit and shone his torch in front of him. He stopped and sucked in his breath.

On the dirt floor in font of him was a jumble of charred clothing and the twisted, lifeless bodies of two women and almost a dozen children.

Few young adult readers realize that there was a time when employers could lawfully require workers to work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. In the Paterson, New Jersey, strike of 1835, textile workers sued their company to gain an eleven-hour day and six-day work week. The long history of labor goes back for centuries, dotted with violent events--the Homestead Strike in Pennsylvania, the Battle of the Viaduct in Chicago, the Bread and Roses Textile Strike in Lawrence, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Strike and subsequent fire which got the attention of the nation--all featured retribution and violence between workers and company guards.

But the event which finally triggered new attitudes across the nation was the Ludlow Massacre in Colorado in 1914. Although the death count was not as high as some earlier encounters, the collusion of the Colorado National Guard with the mine owners, who included J. D. Rockefeller, and the graphic photos of women and children suffocated in the fire set by the militia men prompted eventual investigation and action in Congress. By that time newspapers circulated widely and front pages featured photos from the torched and looted coal miners' tent city, each picture worth the proverbial thousand words.

T. Neill Anderson's Horrors of History: Massacre of the Miners: A Novel (Charlesbridge, 2015) follows several families and features children and young teenagers's experiences in the standoff of the two armed camps and the unnecessary actions which triggered the event. The author traces the death of twelve-year-old Frank Snyder, shot while retrieving some bread to take back to his family hiding underground, and tells the story of Helen Korich, still wearing her white Easter dress, who fled the hail of bullets carrying her baby sister to the safety of a nearby ranch.

Keep up, ladies!" the only man in the group shouted. "No time to waste."

The man reached his hand out to Helen's mother. A bullet suddenly screamed just over Helen's head, and Kristina shrieked. Helen saw that the bullet had rippled through the man's head and blasted away a large piece of his skull. Helen saw blood on her mother's sleeve.

"Mom! Give the baby to me!" she called.

It seems incredible that National Guardsmen were firing on their fellow citizens over issues like allowing the miners to buy their food at stores other than the company store, but it all happened not so very long ago in American history. Anderson's book, filled with strikingly clear photos of the miners and their children and militia taken at the time--a girl with long braids holding her best doll contrasted with photos of Guardsmen shooting into the camp from an ore car, drive home the understanding that our history is the story of real people trying to do the right thing. Gripping passages describing the efforts of the miners' families to survive will keep the full attention of young readers. The author appends a factual epilogue and author's note with a list of the victims, twelve of which were infants and children. This historical novel takes a real look at the people, the children, and the leaders on both side who lived through this tumultuous period, providing a look at one of our darker moments. Says School Library Journal, "The plethora of back matter and other nonfiction elements make this novel a good fit for classroom literature circles or as part of a library booklist or display about mining life."

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