The Town of Aguilar, Colorado was first settled in 1861, and was known as “San Antonio Plaza.” The settlement was mainly a trading post for Native and Spanish Americans that farmed and ranched in the surrounding area. In 1878 the railroad came through the town opening the area to coal mining and expanding opportunities for the ranches, farms and encouraging other businesses to move into the area.
The owner of the land on where the town now stands was state legislator J. Ramon Aguilar. The town was named for him in 1888 and in 1894 the Town of Aguilar was incorporated. Situated in the Apishapa River Valley in south central Colorado midway between Trinidad and Walsenburg on the I-25 corridor, the community enjoys a dry climate making for a healthy lifestyle. With warm, sunny days and cool nights, the climate makes Aguilar a wonderful place to live.
In 1888, the Peerless Coal Mine setup operations and initiated the “Industrial Boom” that turned Aguilar into a community of over 2,500 residents, with many miners and their families living in numerous coal camps around town. With 3 large mines immediately adjacent to town, the weekly payroll in some areas was reported to be about $90,000. On the other hand, the miners were mostly immigrants, many of which brought their families who shared a common goal of helping each other through the loneliness of the new country, surviving the horrendous working conditions and trying to get by on the horrible pay. In most cases, the pay they reveived were in the form of company chits that could only be spent at company stores and bars.
In 1913, the miners began to band together under the banner of a union and shortly there after developed a list of demands and presented it to the mine owners. Their list of demands consist of many of the things we take for granted today. But were almost unheard of in their time.
1. Union recognition, and a raise in wages.
2. An eight-hour work day which was already a state law but was generally ignored.
3. Hourly pay for dead work, “work that didn’t directly produce coal”
4. A weigh-man at all mines to be elected without interference from the companies.
5. The right to trade in any store they chose.
6. The right to select their own living places and doctors.
7. The enforcement of Colorado mining laws and the abolition of the guard system that had run the camps for so many years.
This was a hard and nasty pill for the owners to sallow and for years they had fought every attempt at union organization with harsh and sometimes, bloody tactics in an attempt to make the mines toe the company line. Union miners were fired, tarred and feathered, beaten, and threatened, or rounded up and deported across state lines and abandoned in remote areas of the prairie. When the union movement began to gain enough strength to call a strike, the companies retaliated by importing laborers. They sent recruitment ads to foreign countries boasting of the United States as a “land of milk and honey where the streets are paved with gold.
On April 20, 1914 Colorado National Guard moved into a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado and in the following hours 20 people, 11 of them children died a violent deaths of, during an attack. These deaths occurred after a day-long fight between strikers and the Guard. Two women, twelve children, six miners and union officials and one National Guardsman were killed. In response, the miners armed themselves and attacked dozens of mines, destroying property and engaging in several skirmishes with the Colorado National Guard.
Ludlow massacre monument marks the location of the bloodiest event in the 14-month 1913-1914 southern Colorado Coal Strike. The strike was organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) against coal mining companies in Colorado. The three biggest mining companies were the Rockefeller family-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Company (CF&I), the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company (RMF), and the Victor-American Fuel Company (VAF). Ludlow, located 12 miles (19 km) northwest of Trinidad, Colorado, is now a ghost town. The massacre site is owned by the UMWA, which erected a granite monument, in memory of the striking miners and their families who died that day.
Aguilar was a prosperous town until the coal mines began shutting down in the 1940′s and 1950′s. As the mines closed, the market for foodstuffs provided by farmers along the Apishapa River Valley dried up and many of those farmers moved on. Now, the population of Aguilar is around 600, the lights are still on… and new businesses are opening on Main Street. Things are starting to look up again.In the 1920′s prohibition came to the United States, and with it the rise of the gangsters began. One of the most notorious was Al Capone, also known as Scar Face by the Feds and some brave newspaper men. He discover southeast Colorado and at first began to sent his hitmen to the area to cool off when they were being hunted by the law in Chicago.
There is a local rumor that a tunnel was constructed for Capone by out of work coal miners that ran from the basement of the old drug store on Main street in Aguilar, 16 miles north to the south side of Walsenburg. This was not only Al’s way of traveling without being detected, but was a means of transporting moonshine from one community to another.
Is was said that the tunnel was large enough to allow the gangsters to use a model T pickup to transport booze and people between the two towns. It was also humored that another tunnel was constructed between Aguilar and Trinidad that would allow the gangsters to move over 30 miles without detection by the revenuers or local lawmen.
There is speculation about is a story about a wedding that took place in Aguilar in the 1920′s, and that two of the celebrated guests were Al Capone and Joe Bananas.
You can get more information on the history of Aguilar from the Apishapa Valley Heritage Center at www.aguilarhistory.com or call 719-941-4678.