Miners Win 8-hour Day
Underground gold mining was difficult, dangerous, labor intensive work. Two major labor conflicts between the Association of Mine Owners and the Western Federation of Mines (WFM) Labor Union changed Victor and Gold Camp forever.
The first labor war was triggered by a union strike in 1894 over wages and number of hours miners worked per day. Two men were killed in a gun battle between striking miners and sheriff's deputies. The strike was finally settled in favor of the union when the mine owners agreed to pay the miners $3 for an eight-hour day.
Strike Turns Violent
The second labor war began in 1903. The WFM union called upon miners in the Gold Camp to strike in sympathy with smelter workers in Colorado City who earned just $1.85 per day. With 3,500 to 4,000 workers on strike in Gold Camp, most mining operations came to a halt and all hell broke loose.
Several mines attempted to reopen with non-union labor and violence erupted. At the Independence Mine, 15 men fell to their deaths when someone tampered with the shaft guides. A bomb at the Vindicator Mine killed several more men. Trains carrying nonunion men were wrecked.
To stem the violence, Colorado's governor placed the Gold Camp under martial law and by Sepember 1903, over 1,000 National Guard troops occupied the camp. During the six-month occupation, hundreds of union members and sympathizers were rounded up and imprisoned in "bull pens' while others were ordered out of the District, In September of 1903, Editor George Kyner of the Victor Record and some of his staff were arrested and the paper placed under censorship for pro-union sympathies.
When the troops were withdrawn in the spring of 1904, violence erupted again. On June 6, 1904, a depot where nonunion miners were waiting for a train at the Town of Independence (north of Battle Mountain) was blown up. Thirteen men were killed and many others were injured. Years later, Harry Orchard, a henchman for the WFM union confessed to the crime.
The following day, in the vacant lot where the one-story JET Service building now stands, the Mine Owners Association held a rally to place blame on the union. Shots rang out, two men were killed, and others were injured during the ensuing riot. Twelve-year-old Lowell Thomas was watching from the second story window of the Boston Clothing Building (now the Victor Mall Hotel) where the medical offices of his father were located. Despite the danger, Dr. Harry Thomas ran to the street, carried a wounded man to his office, operated and saved the man's life.
Union sympathizers fled up 4th Street to the WFM Union Hall. Bullet holed resulting from a gun battle between the union and anti-union forces can still be seen on the front of the building. Occupants of the Union Hall eventually raised the white flag of surrender. The union offices and union stores were destroyed. Union members and sympathizers were arrested and confined in the basement of the Armory (now the Elks Lodge).
The Governor sent the National Guard back to the Gold Camp which was again placed under martial law. The press was silenced and freedom of speech and assembly were abolished. Two days after the riot in June of 1904, the Victor Record was raided again and this time the printing press and linotype machines were destroyed.
Union members and sympathizers were again herded into "bull pen". This time 225 men were deported without trial - shipped off in railroad box cars to the Kansas and New Mexico borders where they were dumped with orders not to return to the Gold Camp. Within days the labor war ended and the WFM union was driven from the Gold Camp. The mines started up again and organized labor was totally defeated. Miners were allowed to work only if they has identification cards from the Mine Owners Association saying they wee not affiliated with the union. From June of 1904 until the present, there has been no union representation for miners in the Gold Camp.