Colorado History

Colorado Fuel and Iron: New TV Doc Explores Infamous Steel Empire

A new documentary screening on local television this weekend takes a fresh look at what was once the most powerful corporation in Colorado — a company that played a crucial role in the deadliest labor struggle in American history.

Forging the West, an hour-long program airing on Christmas Eve, promises an unblinking look at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, with the aid of archival materials and interviews with authors, historians, former employees and others. A century ago, CF&I was Colorado's largest landowner, its biggest employer — and, arguably, its most formidable political force, particularly during the years it was controlled by John D. Rockefeller Jr.

CF&I was much more than a steel mill on the south side of Pueblo. The company owned coal mines scattered across southern Colorado, iron mines in Wyoming and Utah, and its own coking ovens and a railroad. It also owned a number of sheriffs, lawmakers and other assorted bureaucrats — all of which made it difficult for the largely immigrant work force in its coal camps to get a decent wage or the right to shop outside of company stores. A massive strike in the winter of 1913-’14 led to various violent confrontations between strikers and mine guards or state troops, culminating in a showdown at the Ludlow tent colony near Trinidad on April 20, 1914, which claimed nineteen lives — mostly women and children.

CF&I went through a number of struggles for survival itself before being taken over by Oregon Steel Mills in the 1990s (and more recently, by a Russian company). Assembled by HaveyPro Cinema from more than a year of shooting, the documentary touches on some of the lesser-known aspects of the company's history as well as more famous (and infamous) episodes.

Forging the West airs on KTVD, channel 20, on Saturday, December 24, at 7 p.m.  Check out the trailer below.

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast