Vintage Saturday: Colt 1895 on Water Tower Hill

In 1914, a long-standing strike of mine workers against the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company was ended by the Colorado National Guard in what is known today as the Ludlow Massacre. As part of their preparations, the Guard emplaced a Colt 1895 “Potato Digger” machine gun on Water Tower Hill above the striking workers’ camp. These three photos from the Denver Public Library’s collection show that machine gun and its emplacement (the third appears to be taken from a different location).

Machine gun on Water Tower Hill at Ludlow
Members of the Colorado National Guard, called in to suppress the UMW strike against CF&I, sit near an automatic rifle on a tripod near Ludlow, Las Animas County, Colorado. A Colorado & Southern Railway (C&S) train makes its way past the town.


Sergeant Davis
Sergeant John Davis of the Colorado National Guard, called in to suppress the UMW strike against CF&I, poses near a newly assembled tripod-mounted automatic rifle, on Water Tank Hill near Ludlow, Las Animas County, Colorado. Cloth coverings, a wooden crate and a tobacco box are near the gun.


Colorado National Guard
Members of the Colorado National Guard, called in to suppress the UMWA strike against CF&I, stand and crouch near a tripod-mounted automatic rifle, on Water Tank Hill near Ludlow, Las Animas County, Colorado.


  1. So Ian, what was the out come? I can probably guess, since it involved a greed union and inane politicians (just like today). As per usual, you delve into the unusual.

    • The U.M.W. was the real deal. Not a “greed union.” By the way, since we depend on earning wages–well, I do anyway, no trust fund here. Didn’t earn my keep the “old fashioned way,” e.g. inherited it from my daddy who stole it…What is wrong with trying to get higher wages and benefits exactly? In a “free enterprise system” isn’t everyone a bit “greedy?”Mom’s family were coal miners since way, way back.

      As for the Ludlow Massacre and the Colorado strike,you could always consult Scott Martelle, _Blood Passion: The Ludlow Massacre and Class War in the American West_ (Rutger’s University Press, 2008). In it, one learns about the notorious and horrible Ludlow Massacre, but also gleans important and overlooked details about the “underside” of the whole messy affair in the southern Colorado coal fields, including the fact that most of the violent deaths by gunfire were at the hands of striking miner’s guns. Rural folks in the American West then and now have guns you see.

    • Recognition of the union as bargaining agent
      Compensation for digging coal at a ton-rate based on 2,000 pounds [20] (Previous ton-rates were of long-tons of 2,200 pounds)
      Enforcement of the eight-hour work day law
      Payment for “dead work” (laying track, timbering, handling impurities, etc.)
      Weight-checkmen elected by the workers (to keep company weightmen honest)
      The right to use any store, and choose their boarding houses and doctors
      Strict enforcement of Colorado’s laws (such as mine safety rules, abolition of scrip), and an end to the company guard system.ARE ALL THESE UNION DEMANDS GREEDY??Back in the day the mines looked like the modern day Chinese and Pakistani sweatshops.

  2. Were the Colt’s converted to cal. 30 Model 1906 or left 30 Krag ? My eyes are not good enough
    to make out the cartridges from the photographs.

    • I did thought exactly what you did and expanded each picture and found the answer in the top pic.
      You can zoom in on the top pic and it’s .30 caliber model 1906. The Army only bought 142 Diggers in .30-40 Krag and as far as I know no more and I wonder if this was a regular Army digger or actually purchased direct from Colt for the Colorado National Guard.
      Retiring in 3 months and going to put the Digger book together so there may be some answers in all the research I have unless someone just knows this.

      Al from Texas

  3. Thankfully modern police forces are much better armed, it’s less much likely that the National Guard will have to be called in to quell disturbances.

    • The National Guard was called in to “pick up the pieces” of the Baldwin Felts Detective Agency, just like in West Virginia after Matewan and thence Blair Mtn. …

      Police these days have invested a lot in “less than lethal” techniques and equipment. And most U.S. corporations responded to the higher wages and so on from the, erm, legal NLRB “greed unions” to look to their own profits and greed and move factories and so on to places like the U.S. South where anti-union politics prevail, and thence abroad where labor is more tractable and less expensive. The so-called “race to the bottom” if you will. Once, the idea was an “Open Door” to the huge China market. U.S. manufactures in a land of untold millions of people… Now the idea is the Chinese have not found anything cheap and shoddy that they can’t reliably sell to the U.S. consumer, in a nation with a decidedly hollowed out “post industrial” manufacturing sector. Oh the irony. All the more reason those defense contracts are so important: the weapons get produced largely in the U.S.

      • Never allow China to build your railways! Chinese companies tend to blackmail their clients into paying double the initial price (that’s the best case scenario, or else you have a half-built rail bed and no tracks!).

      • The US manufacturing sector is not hollowed out; it is producing more goods by dollars now than at any time in history. But it is doing so with far fewer workers, which is just as good a thing as is producing far more food than at any past time in history with far fewer workers.

        It’s called creative destruction, and it’s what makes it possible to have new industries producing new goods. If we still required as many workers to produce the same amount of goods, no one would have any new tech.

        Trade enriches everybody. That’s called comparative advantage. It makes as much sense for the US and China to trade as it does for Michigan and California, or Albany and Buffalo.

        There is no such thing as a trade deficit. Every dollar sent overseas to pay for imports has to come back to the US, and that requires buying something from the US. If that were not the case, the Chinese (and Japanese before them) might as well light fires with the dollars, for all the good they did them accumulating overseas and never using them to buy US products.

  4. The Ludlow death car had two of these privately purchased buggers.
    I was recently given a handle for a Marlin 1917, I am going to use it as a “basis” for a metal full scale “model” of a 1895 digger to supplement the other models and dummy guns in my “collection”, I have a wooden one but I am not satisfied with it. What I did not realize was the navy continued to use theirs right through WWI and ordered more in 1917, they also ordered the sealed gas operating version that dispensed with the lever but they rejected those out of hand when it was shown that they had been tuned to the Frankford Arsenal cartridges only, one of those errors in design that occurred due to rush ordering, like the Chauchat 1918. Seems like everyone had a problem in standardization in WWI due to the rush, rush, rush to get weapons made. I believe the USS Olympia took it’s original diggers to Murmansk in 1919.
    If anyone has any loose digger parts of any type let me know. The more original parts used the better the impression. MY Hotchkiss 1909 modified to look like a Benet Mercie 1909 with original Benet Mercie stock got a lot of positive reviews at the 100th Anniversary of Pancho Villas raid last weekend. The museum there had an original BM there and I was able to take pics so I can improve improve the impression. I need to make up a beefier bipod and stock elevating mechanism made up, the ones I made a a bit too delicate in appearance. Also looking for more of those stocks that Sarco off erred some years ago. I could only afford one at that time but wish I had dug deep and bought some more. I wonder where they are now? No one seems to be grafting them on to Portative kits like I did…and I am glad I did. The stock is untoughed I modified the kit to fit it.
    My friend with all the talent is making me up right now a Chauchat 1918 from scratch that will be displayed with my Chauchat 1915. Now I will be able to finally show a “good” hot cat and a “bad” hot cat at the Camp Maybry Austin display.

    • Also, according to Chinn (Machine Gun, vol. 2) the Marlin-Rockwell MG which was the primary aircraft fixed (pursuit plane) MG of the U.SA. Army Air Service from 1916 to the late 1920’s, was basically the Marlin version of the Colt 1895, that substituted a Hotchkiss-type linear gas piston for the gas tappet and crank rod of the Colt.



      • In reality the MR aircraft machine guns only saw service in the last few months of the war (although used in training and testing in the US before that, training planes like the Thomas Morse scout and the armed Jenny’s used them in the US, not to mention American DH-4’s), and only about 1/2 of US aircraft had been re-equipped in those last few months. The Marlin Rockwell gun was going to be the primary tank and aircraft gun in 1919 and would have been seen in very large numbers as over 30,000 were made in 1918.
        The Marlin aircraft and tank gun was different than the unsuccessful Navy modified gun.

        • Warning: War Story Follows. I was in the Merchant Marine in the late 1990s. At some point the Pearl Harbor attack came up in conversation Our ships cook mentioned that he had been a deckhand on a fishing boat out of San Francisco Bay on December 7, and the boats Captain was a member of the National Guard. The rest of the country may have been paralyzed with shock but the California National Guard reacted with lightning speed. The morning of December 8, their fishing boat motored out past the Golden Gate Bridge armed and ready give the Japanese Imperial Navy a good hiding. They had two (2) M1917 Enfield rifles and one (1) “Marlin” machine gun mounted on a hand-made-last-night bow mount. They had two clips of rifle ammunition and a single one hundred round belt of MG ammo in a burlap sack. So, if you ever wondered why the Japanese never successfully invaded San Francisco, now you know.

          Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

      • Right now I have a the following dummies and metal models:
        All are “ongoing projects and I am constantly on the prowl to try to find original parts to make them more real.

        The Colt 1895 is a favorite of mine, had a Marlin 1917 tripod and parts kit but had to sell it due to financial reasons to a friend some years ago but my favorite is the original Colt 1895 with heavy barrel with the tall tripod and/or light landing carriage. Kind of a TR, SAW Marine, and Mexican revolution fan where these guns saw good use.

        Mg08/15 with original, replica, and made from scratch parts. Had to make a fusee cover from scratch but finally found one at a price I could afford. Still looking for internal parts for the feed block.

        Benet Mercie 1909 which is a dummy receivered Hotchkiss 1909 modified to accept a real Benet Mercie stock and with many smal parts for the stock and rear and front sight. Took it to the 100th Pancho Villa raid celebration/living history and it was a big hit.

        Chauchat 1915 made from about 20% original parts with the rest scratch built. The big issue is finding an original magazine…they have dried up. Gone are the days of 20 dollar chauchat mags. But I do have one made up in metal that looks passably good. Always looking for orignal parts. I have a friend with two original chauchats and myself would like to find original bipods, my scratchbuilt bipod is a ok, but an orginal would be better.

        Have a Madsen parts kit being retro’d to Bulgarian/German type, primarily an extension of the cooling jacket and puttin a bipod at the end of the jacket. With time stock revisions will be made.

        Chauchat 1918 being made from scratch using the CSRG 1915 as a general guide. It’s almost done (actually my friend that does my work is building one for himself but it is going to be a loaner for my displays as we can finally be able to explain the good Chauchat and bad Chauchat history visually. He is incredibly good at modifying orignal parts from other guns, in this case he has made a very passable CSRG 1918 mag by using a common MG 13 mag and converting it to a single stack config….you just can’t tell the difference from the original without comparing them.

        My friend made for myself and him MP 18’s from scratch. They look great. Current use an airsoft trommel drum for the mag so has not to have to invest in an original mag. But it looks great.

        Just recently took delivery of a very nice made from scratch Lewis ground gun, all metal with only three original parts. Gear cup, cocking handle, and magazine. Have compared it favoribly with one of those outstanding dummy guns that came out years ago.

        Mot spending a fortune, I buy materials and obtain for my friend parts kits of guns he wants to build for himself. He has already built a beautiful Madsen, a sten, two stirlings, an MG 42 (from the expensive Yugo parts kit–but as he made up the Lewis from scratch and as well as is loaning me the CSRG 1918 I needed to get him something nice.

        My next goal in early machine guns is the Vickers. My friend has an excellent dummy gun from IMA but no tripod. he is going to mount it on his full scale replica of his Rolls Royce armored car (WWII version with Ford Chassis) so he did not build a tripod but the Vickers gun is needed for US WWI display. It’s not well publicised that some 10 or so US divisions were armed with Colt/Vickers guns.

        Dummy and scratch built heavy machine guns are not for everyone, but when you consider that most of the original guns just sit in dusty museums and cost many, many thousands of dollars more when you can find them in the private sector, not to mention Imperial interference by the ATF, these dummy/scratchbuilt guns can be fun and education. Beats a photo.

        If anyone is interested there is a great guy in California who is building full scale models of LMG 08/15’s out of machined aluminum…the parts he is making look great, but he is handicapped due to a day job building race cars and doing other machining work but he is getting there. He has already supplied me with an excellent aluminum booster for my MG 08/15 at a lot cheaper price than even a working replica, and his comes apart into the original three pieces and screws in perfectly with the 08/15 water jacket. However his progress is slow and he needs some motivation his work is all weekend. He has already sold some small parts to various individuals for their dummy guns. He is using aluminum because he wants to sell them in the reproduction aircraft flying and museum market. Virtually all museums and replicas have erroneous machine gun installations either with the wrong vintage LMG 08/15 installed, terrible models crudely made, and of course without the proper belts our in the case of Fokkers the clearly visible empty ammo trays.
        There is still a lack of understanding of the available knowledge in this area so that is one of my goals, to try to spread the knowledge base and start relevant discussions (like Ian does with Forgotten Weapons) so we can get more into the “real” and past discussions over whether the Chauchat was “good” or “bad”.
        Oh, yeah, a single barrel Nordenfelt is in the works which I hope will lead to a five barrel Nordenfelt to which I have great personal affinity. Depending on how well my upcoming retirement goes, it might not be too many years for that one. Oh, yeah, have a Ford three-ton tank working model in the planning stages….I think my retirement is going to be very, very busy.
        It is an outlet for my suppressed creativity. I’ve authored a couple of books, not for money, but for the preservation of knowledge in niches that are not well known. When I did my Confederate flag book (actually published and still being printed), ignorance was rife, but that was twenty years ago and that situation has changed radically. My Old Hoodoo book on the 1895 USS Texas is just available in publish on demand but it is a far better work detail packed in about 400 pages with close to 800 photos and once you read it you will appreciate the need to preserve the 1895 USS Olympia and it has got some good weapons stuff inside from Naval Artillery to the Colt Machine guns used by the Texas’s Marines as well as the Marines at Camp McCalla. Company C of the Marine battalion used three Colt 1895’s (two from the Texas) at the battle of Cuzco Wells, but this was not known by many until I found the info. And a five barrel Nordenfelt on a landing carriage from the Spanish Cruiser Reina Mercedes was used in defense of Santiago Harbor during the seige and saw action against the USS Merrimack when it tried to block the harbor and trap Cervera’s squadron.

  5. Quiz: which major European military organization used the “potato digger” fairly extensively still during WW2? Google will of course reveal the correct answer, but many people don’t know about it.

    • Well darn. I was unaware that the Italians used them extensively in secondary duties in WWII. They had purchased a very large number for their Navy in WWI and it only makes sense in hindsight that they would have a pretty large inventory.

      • Not strange for me, considering machine guns made in Italy prior to WW2:
        Fiat–Revelli Modello 1914 – peculiar feeding system, troublesome during sustainable fire.
        Fiat–Revelli Modello 1935 – more powerful (8×59) cartridge, belt-feed, have problems with reliability
        Breda Modello 1937 – need oiling of cartridges, feeding from 20 round clip (no, this is not typo – TWENTY cartridges for heavy machine gun per one loading), additionally spent cases were put back into clip (which give another chance to jam). Were Italian Army Ordnance drunken when they ordered such gun? Who, in 1930s, might think “20 cartridges per one loading for tripod-mounted heavy machine gun is totally ok”?
        Comparing to this even old machine gun which don’t jam and use normal belt-feeding don’t look bad.

        • The Breda Modello 1937 wasn’t actually that bad. The cartridge oiler was sealed enough that apparently it did not cause major reliability problems even in North Africa. The strips could be fed continuously one after the other (similar to Hotchkiss M1914), so practical rate of fire wasn’t much lower than with a belt-fed gun, if the assistant gunner was able to feed the strips, which of course was the normal mode of operation; it was considered a heavy machine gun after all. The strip-feed would only become an issue if the assistant was not able to do his job and there was no one to replace him.

          The recycling of spent cases was also feature of the Fiat–Revelli Modello 1914. I believe this was favored because Italy was extremely short of strategic metals and recycling the brass cases was much easier if they want back to the strip instead of on the ground. The reinserting mechanism seems to have worked fairly reliably and in practice the Breda Modello 37 was probably the most reliable Italian infantry machine gun with a good reputation among the troops (certainly much better than the Fiat Mod. 1935, which had multiple reliability issues).

          • The British LRDG in the Western Desert loved the Breda M37 and happily “adopted” any orphan ones they could get. First of all, it was, as you say, extremely reliable. Second, it was air-cooled, and that came in handy where water was hard to come by.

            Third, it was extremely accurate; not something you commonly think of as a good thing with an HMG, because you generally want some dispersion, but remember the ranges they often worked at, over 500 yards.

            Finally, the 8 x 59 round packed a real wallop, with either a 210-gr. FMJ/AP at 2600 F/S or a 180-gr API at 2950. Compared to the 0.303in in the Vickers, K, and Lewis, Mk VII 175 gr at 2440 or the Mk VI 215-gr. at just 2050.

            With the Breda, they could engage German units with MG34, etc., at beyond the 0.303’s practical range, and more importantly the Breda’s rounds were a threat to German light armored vehicles like armored cars and halftracks.

            All in all, a handy thing to bolt on top of the 20cwt truck.



      • Yes. They were originally purchased for small naval vessels such as torpedo and patrol boats primarily as AA machine guns. The Italian Navy modified them with an add-on water cooling tank for better sustained fire. In the late 1930s and during the war most of them were replaced on naval vessels by Breda Mod. 37 machine guns in 8×59mm RB Breda, which had much superior ballistics, even though the Breda Mod. 37 wasn’t exactly a great AA machine gun either with it’s slowish rate of fire and strip feed.

        In any case, during WW2 the M1895/14 was used for naval base air defense by the Navy, and for general low level air defense by the MACA (Milizia Artiglieria Contro Aerei), which was the air defense subsidiary of the MSVN, the “black shirts” Fascist Militia organization.

    • I believe it was Imperial Russia/USSR. I also read that there are still some of the them in storage at that Ukrainian small arms storage salt mine.

      • Colt Potato digger was used as movie prop as fascist’s machine gun (with added shield) in propaganda movie Если завтра война (1938), see here:
        (time: 47min 04sec)
        This, as propaganda contain obviously false statements, K.E.Vorshovilov (played by K.E.Voroshilov) is created for hero and genius of war, in fact Voroshovilov should get WORST FRONT-LEVEL COMMANDER AWARD OF WW2 for combat around Leningrad in 1941.

  6. If you are ever in Trinidad CO, a visit to the massacre monument at Ludlow is a must. P.O. Ackley had his shop in Trinidad back in the day. I got to visit Colorado and the 4 corners area for Graduate School.

    It is a sad, eerie place, you get the feeling that a lot of people died there horribly. Near the monument, there are the remains of a basement where some women and children were asphyxiated by the fire. Lot of little Greek and American flags symbolize the dead.

    Requiescant in Pace

  7. Hey you. Yea you with the machine gun. Do you have Prince Albert in a can? If so you need to let him out.

  8. Thanks for leading us to the history of that coal mining strike. There is enough guilt to tarnish everyone involved. Roosevelt Junior looks like a callous robber baron who only paid by the ton … or was it tonne? …. refused to pay for “dead work” like shoring, … bought loyalty through the company store, etc.

    OTOH some unionized miners were brutal thugs who had only recently immigrated and had yet to learn the more genteel aspects of mining town culture.
    Like I said, guilt on both sides.

    As for the discussion about Bredas … sometimes wide dispersion is good in a heavy machine gun (killing infantry on an open field) OTOH accuracy is more important when shooting vehicles. I suspect that most of the sales pitches about the advantages of dispersion were ex post facto sales pitches”.

    As for clip feed on heavy machine guns, many French-built Hotchkiss MGs used clip feed and there are plenty of photos of Commonwealth troops turning Hotchkiss guns against their former owners.

    • The bad thing about playing the blame game too strenuously regarding historical events is that we often forget what is going on today will be judged just as harshly. The dynamic of present time reality doesn’t give us the big view that hindsight history does.

      • Years ago at a used book store I bought 2 book about the Franco-Prussian war that were both written at the time of the war. I thought these would be great to learn more about what really happened.

        One was published before the war had ended, but the Emperor had been captured. The other one was published about 6 months after the war ended.

        What I did learn was that history better studied years latter after the dust settles when little/no emotion is involved nor is there an ax to grind.

        The one that was printed during the war greatly favored France and wanted the US to give France anything it needed to win. I’d have to look again, but I think it included even send manpower to Frances aid.

        The other favored Prussia. Even when it was the same battle you’d think it was different wars being fought.

        One would say of a battle how well the French army preformed and point out nothing but the mistakes the Prussians made. The other would say how well Prussia/allies preformed and point French mistakes.

        I didn’t learn what I expected to learn, but did learn something very important. Plus for various reasons altered my understanding of why WW1 was fought.

  9. Well, that reminds me that France once had the opportunity to stab Nazi Germany in the back while the Wehrmacht was stomping in Poland by deploying its obsolete but nonetheless better than nothing bomber force to blow up munition factories. Politicians got in the way citing the fear of civilian casualties and potential international backlash. Indeed, the Luftwaffe was not in the position to help the Wehrmacht smash Poland and defend German skies at the same time!

    • Procrastination and wishful thinking are a universal
      constant. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different result..
      Never will understand the hesitation to attack Germany, the phony war.

  10. The barrel on that gun appears MUCH heavier than that of most of the “Potato Diggers” which I’ve seen.

  11. I lived in Trinidad for 2 years while in Gunsmithing school and Ludlow was a few miles north. Its been a ghost town for years and not much remains except the moment to the victims of Mr Rockefeller and old house foundations. One of the things I remember about that history was one or more of the 1895’s were stolen during that time. There was also another mining town at what is now the NRA Whittington Center at Raton.

  12. I just bought the Colt 1895 digger grips that were advertised on Numrich. I have the hand grip/plunger retainer from a Marlin digger, hope they fit, but if not the Marlin part will help in replicating a Colt grip. I am not satisfied with my wood metal mock up and want to make something all metal with the original grips to be mounted. The goal is to make a tall tripod mounted digger first like the one in the pics, and then maybe a light landing carriage.
    If any of you know of any parts for diggers that might be out there, please let me know even demilled pieces of any part….. Externally the gun is pretty simple. Also looking for at up to 3 Chauchat bipods, two for real demil parts kits that some friends have.

  13. Late getting in on this. But I’ve read that substantial amounts of arms were purchased by mining companies, oil, railroad etc. and ‘given’ to law enforcement or National Guard units for use against uppity wage slaves.

    Many such guns walking away from careless facilities and landing in the hands of criminals later on.

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