Martial 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, and 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
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. The National Guard suspended the Bill of Rights and the newspaper was placed under military censorship.
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 law. President Woodrow Wilson sent in federal troops. The site is now a National Historic Landmark.
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.
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. Roosevelt. Japanese 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.”