Martial Law in Colorado

Martial Law in ColoradoMartial Law in Colorado

Martial law has been imposed several times in Colorado history.  Martial law (military law) is used during periods of conflicts and natural disasters and overrules normal civilian law.  Typically, it includes curfews, suspension of civil law and civil rights. Military law and military justice are extended to civilians, who may be subject to court-martial for violations.

In American history, martial law occurred during the American Revolution, during the War of 1812 in New Orleans, by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and in Hawaii during World War II.

A number of incidents of martial law were related to labor strikes, for miners in Idaho, 1892, West Virginia, 1920-1921, and Colorado, 1914, and dockworkers in San Francisco, 1934.

Martial Law Before Sand Creek Massacre

In 1864, Cheyenne and Sioux Indian warriors cut off all supply trains into Denver.  Some Indians were at war with settlers and raided farms and ranches in the region.  Other chiefs and Indians were at peace.  There was a Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian Reservation in eastern Colorado, between the South Platte and Arkansas River, east of El Paso County.

On August 11, 1864, Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans issued a proclamation to the citizens of Colorado and declared martial law.  All able-bodied men were ordered to take up arms against hostile Indians, to pursue, kill and destroy them, as enemies of the country.  Friendly Indians were directed to report to forts in the area for protection.  All militia members were offered arms and ammunition, and to be paid as regular soldiers, for their service.

Sand Creek Massacre, 1864

On November 29, 1864, Colorado soldiers, led by Colonel John Chivington, attacked the Indian village on the Cheyenne Arapaho reservation.  They killed 200 Indians, including women, children, babies, and the elderly.  Bodies were mutilated and body parts were taken for souvenirs.  The village was on Sand Creek and the attack is known as the Sand Creek Massacre.  November 2014 marked the 150th anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre.

In 1880, Colorado Governor Frederick Walker Pitkin declared martial law in Leadville, to suppress a violent mining strike.

In 1894, Governor Davis Waite, called out the state militia to protect gold miners and citizens in Cripple Creek from a private army of 1,200 armed men working for mine owners during a labor dispute.  After the threat of martial law, the private army was disbanded.

In 1903, Governor James Peabody declared martial law and proclaimed that Teller County was in a state of insurrection and rebellion, once again due to a mine labor dispute, during the Victor Labor War. The National Guard suspended the Bill of Rights and the newspaper was placed under military censorship.  The staff members of the Victor Daily Record were arrested for printing an editorial favoring the local miners rather than mine owners.

Ludlow Massacre, 1914

In 1914, during the Colorado Coalfield War, north of Trinidad, the Colorado National Guard was called in to deal with coal miners, striking due to oppressive and dangerous working conditions.  Clashes occurred and eventually resulted in the Ludlow Massacre.  About 24 coal miners, women, and children were shot and killed or died in fires in a tent colony at Ludlow, on April 20, 1914.  Colorado Governor Elias Ammons declared martial lawPresident Woodrow Wilson sent in federal troops.

The Ludlow Tent Colony site is now a National Historic Landmark.  (See images at top of the page of Colorado National Guard with rifles and machine gun and the Ludlow Monument.)

1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic

The Spanish flu pandemic killed approximately 500,000 Americans and over 50 million people worldwide.  The Spanish Flu arrived in Colorado around September 20, 1918, during World War I, when 250 soldiers from Montana, including 13 seriously ill, arrived in Boulder for special training at Colorado University.  A detachment of 200 Montana soldiers, 25 of them ill with influenza, arrived in Colorado Springs for training at the same time. The deadly flu spread quickly.

On October 7, 1918, Governor Julius Gunter issued an executive order for all health officers and the press to advise citizens of the danger of public gatherings and to urge local officials to take appropriate action to stop the spread of the disease by closing public places. On October 16th, Gunter issued an executive order banning public and private gatherings statewide.

There were closures of schools, churches, theaters, picture shows, pool halls, and other public places.  The November election was held, although some voters wore gauze masks.

Some American cities passed local laws requiring a mask to be worn in public, including San Francisco’s Influenza Mask Ordinance. Scofflaws caught without a mask by police were fined and the money was donated to the Red Cross.  Red Cross volunteers made masks and distributed educational brochures on infection control and prevention.

Intervention measures taken varied by local jurisdiction and included closing schools and public gathering places, curfews, business closures to prevent congregating in close quarters, and recommended or mandatory use of makeshift face masks.

Martial law was declared in some communities by local government, including Silverton.

Gunnison escaped the flu by moving swiftly to protect the town.  From late September, the local newspaper, the News-Champion, published front-page influenza news and practical advice to educate the public on avoidance and treatment.

The county physician, Dr. FP Hanson, placed a strict quarantine on Gunnison County. Fences, barricades, lanterns, and signs were installed near the county lines on all main highways and at passenger railroad stations.  Any person arriving was subject to quarantine for two days, later extended to five days.  Quarantine violators were arrested and jailed by the sheriff.

By early February, statewide flu cases were declining and Gunnison lifted quarantine restrictions. But a third wave of the flu arrived in March and infected about a hundred people. The cases were mild and none of them died.

Pueblo Flood, 1921

In June 1921, the city of Pueblo was under martial law due to a devastating flood that killed 200 people, destroyed 600 houses, railroad yards, telephone and telegraph lines, and placed the business district under 10 feet of water.  The National Guard was called out.  Persons could not enter the flood district without a permit.  Curfew was set for 7 PM.  Soldiers fired at looters robbing stores.

Roads between Colorado Springs and Pueblo were washed out.  The Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph chartered an airplane to send a reporter to fly over Pueblo to witness and report the damages.

In November 1921, Governor Shoup declared martial law as a result of a miners’ strike in Huerfano County.

During World War II, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, an internment camp opened in August 1942 in Granada, AKA Amache, in southeast Colorado.  The center was operated under the War Relocation Authority (WRA), created by executive order by President Franklin D. RooseveltJapanese American citizens were sent to the camp, which housed over 7,000 people.

Under the Colorado Disaster Emergency Act (2012), CRS 24-33.5-701, the Governor is authorized to issue an executive order to declare a disaster emergency.  The Act defines a disaster as “the occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property resulting from any natural cause or cause of human origin, including but not limited to fire, flood, earthquake, wind, storm, wave action, hazardous substance incident, oil spill or other water contamination requiring emergency action to avert danger or damage, volcanic activity, epidemic, air pollution, blight, drought, infestation, explosion, civil disturbance, hostile military or paramilitary action, or a condition of riot, insurrection, or invasion existing in the state or in any county, city, town, or district in the state.”

[Last-Modified Date 2020-05-06] added Ludlow images

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