CU Denver Historian Earns Tops Honors for Capturing Coal Mine Tragedy

March 20, 2009

Thomas Andrews, "Killing for Coal"Thomas G. Andrews, PhD, is a first-time published author so you can imagine what an honor it was when he learned that he was named as a 2009 Bancroft Prize winner by Columbia University. The assistant professor of history at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver penned the book, Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War, homage to the deaths during the 1913-14 mining strike in southern Colorado. Nearly 100 deaths were attributed to the strike, but the deadliest event occurred on April 20, 1914, when the Colorado National Guard attacked a colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families in Ludlow, Colo. Twenty people died that day, including two women and 11 children. It is a day, and an event, forever known as the Ludlow Massacre.

One of the most coveted honors in the field of history, the Bancroft, is awarded annually by the trustees of Columbia University to the authors of books of exceptional merit in the fields of American history, biography and diplomacy. More than 200 books published in 2008 were nominated for consideration by the Bancroft jury this year.

“This truly is the highest honor that professional historians bestow upon a work in U. S. history,” said Andrews. “I imagined that I’d spend my entire career pursuing this goal without ever achieving it and I’m simply tickled to be in such incredible company at such a young age.”

Andrews put his heart and soul into writing the book. It was a process that took almost ten years and he found himself many times wondering if he would ever be finished or if anyone would read the book when it was done. “I’m a Colorado native but I never knew anything about Ludlow until I was in graduate school. When I first learned about the massacre, I was appalled that such killing had occurred and I was drawn to the opportunity it provided to bring together a much bigger set of stories: about the deep-seated dependence of westerners on fossil fuels, about the coal mines that generated so much conflict in southern Colorado, and about the men, women, and children who came from around the world to work in and around the mines,” he remembers. “Receiving the Bancroft is the greatest validation I could have ever imagined.”

The deaths at the historic event occurred after a day-long fight between strikers and the National Guard. All told, two women, 11 children, 6 miners and union officials and one National Guardsman were killed. It was the bloodiest event in the 1913-14 Colorado Coal Strike. Ludlow is located 12 miles outside of the south central town of Trinidad, Colo., and is a ghost town today, but visitors to the site will find a granite monument that was erected by the United Mine Workers of America in memory of those who died that day.

In addition to Andrews, two other authors were named as 2009 Bancroft Prize winners by Columbia: Drew Gilpin Faust for This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, an analysis of the impact of death and dying in the Civil War; and Pekka Hämäläinen for The Comanche Empire., a reinterpretation of the Comanches in the southwestern borderland in the 18th and 19th centuries.

All three Bancroft Prize winners will receive their awards at a formal dinner next month, hosted by the department of history and University Libraries at Columbia. The Bancroft Prize includes an award of $10,000 to each author.

“Over 200 books were nominated for consideration by the Bancroft jury this year,” said James Neal, vice president of information services and University Librarian at Columbia. “Once again, we were very impressed by the number of excellent submissions covering a broad range of themes, and are proud to honor this year’s winners. The Bancroft prize is a celebration and affirmation of historical scholarship, the library, the book, the academic press, and the reportedly threatened scholarly monograph.”