miners lamp heading miners
In speaking of miners, labor historian Mark Leier, said, "These lives may have been raw, but it's important to know their sweat, blood, and dreams if we are to know all of our history. They fought to make our lives better and their example can be an inspiration for the issues we face."
Tomboy Mine

Colorado's San Miguel County Commissioner, Art Goodtimes, conceived the idea of a Telluride Miners' Memorial in fall 2004. Because Telluride owed her existence to miners, yet had a dark time in her history when several mine owners, her leading citizens, and their hired gunmen illegally and brutally drove union miners, their families, and supporters from the town, Goodtimes believes such a memorial will heal the shadows of 100 years ago. The life-size bronze, featuring Vincent St. John, Telluride's own unsung hero, will restore the miners to their rightful place in this mountain town's history, acknowledging their many contributions, honoring their sacrifices and heartaches, commemorating those who died in the great Bullion Tunnel fire and other local disasters, and celebrating the miners' boisterous camaraderie.

The Telluride Miners' Memorial is being designed and created by Telluride sculptor, Richard Arnold. The work is being funded through contributions from local and national donors. If you have a love for, or a connection to Telluride, her mining history, or her miners, please join us, the Telluride Historical Museum, the Telluride Watch, the Wilkinson Library, Writers in the Sky, publishers, architects, teachers, students, and the enthusiastic Telluride citizens in making this work a reality.

Richard Arnold's challenge is to recreate in bronze Vincent St. John holding the limp body of a fellow miner who has succumbed in the Bullion fire, illustrating both the difficult and dangerous profession of the miner as well as capturing the miners' absolute dependence on one another and their instinctual protection of their fellow worker.

This page will keep you updated as the work progresses.

three miners

Honoring a Real American Labor Hero

by Art Goodtimes

Why a statue for Vincent St. John?

Blame it on a book.

MaryJoy Martin's The Corpse of Boomerang Road (Western Reflections, Montrose, 2004) is an historical blockbuster. It explodes the myths and legends that for too long have passed for history in Telluride. Against a backdrop of high peaks and deceitful behavior, good guys and bad guys change places. This is revisionist fireworks at their take-you-by-surprise best.

It wasn't but a handful of years ago that a bad play premiered locally trying to portray Bulkeley Wells as a charming if difficult man. Pop! Bang! Wrong! He was a dastardly villain who twisted the truth, staged the bombing of his own bedroom, and repeatedly used every means at his disposal to discredit a union intent on equal pay and an eight-hour-day.

Official history tags the Western Federation of Miners as bombers and assassins, disposed towards violent means at every turn. Zoom! Zam! Kaboom! PR fiction (paid for by the mine owners), as the Union mostly responded to violence inflicted on it by the vigilante mobs and the National Guard.

Martin digs deeper than the mere chronicle of a town's dissolution and self-destruct as a labor/capital battleground. She makes stories come alive, until you can almost hear the rattle of General Sherman Bell's Gatling gun splintering aspen in an intimidating show of anti-labor force. She rattles the skeletons in a lot of closets.

This is a far cry from the Town Without A Bellyache, as Telluride was once known in the prosperous 1880s and 1890s, when the mills were roaring and the populace riding the crest of a heavy metal boom. The turn of the 19th Century was a traumatic event for the nation. McKinley assassinated by an anarchist. Manifest Destiny leading us into war in the Philippines. And all the ills inherent in the laissez faire American capitalist system getting played out on Colorado Avenue, and in the surrounding hills. The town's largest mine and mill, the Smuggler-Union, got bought up from sympathetic management with Nate Mansfield at the helm (universally liked as a kind and generous manager) and turned over to corporate henchmen - back when the Bostonian Livermores acquired the property for $3 million (a hundred years ago), and tried to squeeze out profits at the expense of their workers. It was unregulated capitalism's ugliest face.

Martin clearly takes sides in this struggle. Thanks to meticulous and exhaustive research, she solves the mystery. There was no corpse on Boomerang Road - a fiction dreamed up by Wells and company. And the reader soon realizes that the heroic young labor leader, Vincent St. John, was up against a coordinated effort on the part of the business classes to sleight, insult, slander, bully, provoke to violence and physically destroy the Miners' Union, not only in Telluride, but all across the West. Kentucky-born St. John, who quickly rose from young miner supporting a widowed mom and sister to leader of the local chapter of the Western Federation of Miners, would eventually be run out of town. And he would go on to become a founding member and general secretary of the International Workers of the World (IWW, aka the Wobblies), who are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year.

But, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Telluride was one of the decisive battles in the war between labor and capital. Here labor lost. Not because the union men were violent. Reliable accounts seem to suggest they were just the opposite - visionaries intent on achieving their goals of an eight-hour work day, decent wages ($3 a day back then) and safe working conditions for all. By peaceful and legal means. Violence was a tool of the mine owners. Though the union was branded with its stigma.

In the hands of the vindictive Eddie Curry and in collusion with one of the town's veteran bankers, A. M. Wrench, the town's daily newspaper spewed lies for so many years that history has been colored with its opprobrium. Local and state politicians of the day used every trick of the trade to break the union (including martial law). The mine owners hired thugs and scabs. And businessmen condoned mob rule, railroading union sympathizers out of town, often at gunpoint. In the end, union miners were beaten, blackballed, killed, or banished, most never to return. It's a very disturbing legacy that most Telluridians have been completely ignorant about. Or simply chose not to ever discuss publicly.

In her book, Martin traces what happened to St. John – one of the most inspiring figures that ever walked Colorado Avenue. And what happened to Wells, the Harvard dandy who lied, cheated, and paid the notorious Pinkertons to fabricate evidence, build phony cases, and even kidnap union leaders for trumped-up grand juries. When Wells puts a bullet through his bankrupt head in a San Francisco office building, one almost wants to applaud. As if this arrogant reprobate finally got what he deserved – after ruining the lives of so many innocent workers and turning a vibrant mountain community into a law and order company town.

The last scene of the book is St. John's deathbed, and the contrast with Wells is striking. A man who gave so much of his life for others, braving bullets and fire, persecuted endlessly, serving jail time unjustly, St. John ends up bankrupt as well. But instead of taking his own life, he is taken in by friends, celebrated by many, a hero of the working class – his memory is an American flame on the altar of social justice.

Telluride needs to honor this man. Somehow. Some way.

That was my initial reaction to reading Martin's book in the fall of last year. I wanted a memorial to this real American hero. And since then, Martin and local sculptor Richard Arnold, along with Telluride Watch publisher Seth Cagin and local designer and history buff George Greenbank, have joined me in calling for a miner's memorial to Vincent St. John.

We have formed a little committee. If you are interested in helping us in any way, please contact us.


As a young architect graduated from the University of Colorado, I moved to Telluride in the spring of 1971. An historic Telluride building owned by Louise Gerdts had been used as a senior project and I had researched information on the building in the archives deep below Norlin Library at CU Boulder.

Having been politicized by the Vietnam War and current events, I was excited and appalled by the glimpse the library's records provided into Telluride's past. The story of Vincent St. John and Telluride's Western Federation of Miner's Union was especially exciting, but the archives offered only a limited view.

Upon arriving in Telluride, I visited my great aunt Edith Rucker, Alta Cassietto, and other old timers. My question about Vincent St. John and the turn of century events surrounding the Miners Union were not fully answered. Often the subject was diverted to more contemporary discussions on the railroad, early attempts at establishing skiing, or the highly charged issue of Wilderness designation. Sometimes, when I persisted, it was suggested that Telluride's role in the Union troubles was not a “proud” part of local history and other topics were best explored, as “family still existed” that might not appreciate my inquisitive meddling.

As the years passed I, too, placed my original excitement about the 16 to 1 Miner's Union on the back shelf.

In the 1980s, my brother suggested that I read “
Where the West Stayed Young,” by Charles Russell, a book about northwest Colorado and the range cattle business. It was about the involvement of big money, English investors in the cattle business, and the confrontations with small homesteaders and ranchers in the Brown's Park area. The big investment cattle companies hired gunmen and private police to intimidate and sometimes kill those who stood in the way of their land-use practices and economic goals. I again was excited by the period of history from the late 1800s to early 1900s. The oppression of small farmers and ranchers and the invasion of their civil rights by investor interests became a theme I looked for in my history reading.

Bob Meldrum's name appeared in a story within this ranching book. As the town marshal, Bob had killed a young popular cowboy on the streets of Baggs, Wyoming. Meldrum's work in Telluride for the mine owners and the town of Telluride was briefly mentioned.

A town marshal who matched the spirit, if not the gunmanship, of Bob Meldrum, had greeted many of us young, usually longhaired, residents of Telluride in the early 1970s. Marshal Everett Morrow's attitude towards us, and incidents created by him, became a focus of the emerging new Telluride population. Our complaints to Town Council were simply ignored. This resulted in the formation of a “slate” of new residents running for Town Council in 1974. I was one of those elected and of course our first act as a new council was
firing Marshal Everett. The civil rights of citizens of Telluride were protected.

When MaryJoy Martin's book on the Telluride Miner's Union and Vincent St. John first caught my attention, I went straight to the excellent index and there was Bob Meldrum. Bob's tenure as Deputy Town Marshal during the union era seemed to have created a pattern and attitude toward the citizens that the Town had trouble not repeating.

I rediscovered the incredible story of the WFM, Telluride's 16 to1 Union, and the amazing Vincent St. John that had first excited me back in 1970-71.

I realized that Telluride had lost a significant part of its history. Respect for local living families, whose patriarchs had performed so badly during the labor difficulties at the turn-of-the-century, had resulted in the community's and, especially the town and county governments', failure to confront and atone for their complicity in the denial of union miners their human rights when the WFM was run out of Telluride.

As “
The Corpse on Boomerang Road” so well describes, the “spirit of Telluride” was broken when the community and the government, which had first supported the noble cause of the unions, “drove them from our midst” with the help of deputized killers and fabricated lies.

The demonstration of community cohesiveness, once represented by the construction of the Miner's Union Hospital (still one of Telluride's finest buildings), was pushed aside, as the mine owners association, popular Bulkeley Wells, and the town and county governments stripped the union miners of their rights as citizens and deported them to Ridgway and Montrose.

A subtle animosity has always seemed to affect relations between Telluride and Montrose. MaryJoy's book describes the soup kitchen and rooming house, which served deported Telluride union miners in that town. I imagine that many of these people found jobs and homes in the Montrose community. Resentment towards the Telluride community would be understandable and continue for generations.

I would hope that the Telluride community and governments would now begin a process of healing fostered by a new and better understanding of that history.

George Greenbank
Telluride, 2005

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