The Greek Immigrant Who Changed the Course of American History and Labor Laws


As we celebrate Labor Day today across the United States, we should take a moment and remember the legacy of a Greek immigrant from Crete named Louis Tikas whose heroism and activism a century ago set the stage for the reforms to American labor laws and workers’ rights. Not much has been written about the story, with the exception of an important book called Buried Unsung.

Tikas was born in Crete and emigrated to the United States with thousands of his fellow islanders and countrymen. Official and unofficial documents point to an astonishing 40,000 Greeks working in Rocky Mountain mines, mills and railroads before World War I.

Tikas, whose full name was Elias Spantidakis, was shot and killed by US government militiamen on April 20, 1914 along with over dozen others— including women and children. The event is known as the Ludlow Massacre and involved a colony of workers— mainly immigrant workers from Greece, Italy and elsewhere, who were in the midst of a 14-month strike at a coal mine operated by Colorado Fuel & Iron Company owned by mogul John D. Rockefeller.

The conditions for the workers were atrocious and the immigrants, most of whom spoke no English, were taken advantage of by their American corporate bosses on a regular basis. Tikas organized a strike to demonstrate against the horrid conditions. More than 1,000 people— mostly Greek workers and their families— were immediately evicted from company housing near the mines.


They set up a make-shift camp just outside the gates of the company. Within weeks a tent-city had been created as other workers joined the strikers, in protest against the Rockefeller company. As the striking miners and their families celebrated Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday, the governor of the state of Colorado sent in the state militia— at the request of the company.

Machine gun fire began to rip indiscriminately through the camp from the militia, sending the camp into chaos. The miners fought back but were eventually overpowered. Tikas, who throughout the day was seen helping women, children and the wounded, escaped the carnage was captured by the militia. He was found shot in the back three times. His body was left unburied for several days. The battle ended only with the arrival of Federal troops and a complete burning of the camp.


The scorn of the nation was heaped on Rockefeller and his son. John D. Rockefeller, Jr was forced to accept reforms and better conditions for workers. A United States Commission on Industrial Relations conducted hearings in Washington and the subsequent 1,200 page report suggested many reforms sought by the unions, including the establishment of a national eight-hour work day and a ban on child labor.

Historian Howard Zinn called Tikas’ murder by members of the Colorado militia “culminating act of perhaps the most violent struggle between corporate power and laboring men in American history”.

Funeral-of-Louis-TikasTikas was laid to rest on April 27, 1914, in a funeral attended by hundreds of his fellow miners in a procession that was said to be more than a mile long.

Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre is an important book that tells the history of the massacre and focuses on Tikas’ story. The book was written by California historian Zeese Papanikolas and received critical acclaim when it was published— not only for its quality as a history of the Ludlow Massacre and Tikas’ life, but also as an important testimony from a largely unknown chapter of American history whose impact is felt today. (Get the book here)

To mark the centennial of the event this year, Greek filmmakers Lamprini Thoma and Nickos Ventouras created a documentary called “Palikari” which charts the story of the strike and Tikas’s murder, as it survives in oral and family traditions, as well as in official history. They interviewed historians and artists, some of them direct descendants of those striking miners.

Watch the trailer of the documentary “Palikari” here:



  1. Eugenia G. Burpulis on

    As I was reviewing the content of your e-mail, I was quite interested. However, you need to change the date that Tikas was shot. It is showing as 2014.
    I am guessing the date needs to be changed.

  2. Athanasia Pappas on

    I have heard stories about my grandfather who worked in Denver Colorado during the early 1900s and was fascinated to read this article about a part of my family history that I know very little about. My grandfather moved back to Greece before starting a family so my father doesn't know much about where my grandfather lived/worked in America, but he does recall stories told to him by his father about working in Denver. I wonder if my grandfather was one of the 40,000 Greeks that worked at the Rocky Mountain mines? Thank you for sharing this history. I am interested in reading the book and watching the documentary to get a greater insight about the life my grandfather lived in 1900s America.

  3. We will be in NYC on the 19th for a screening at CUNY (and maybe for a second screening in late October). For more details you can check our website ( – section screenings.). DVDs will soon be available, too. Thank you so much for your interest.

  4. My father and his brother left Greece in 1914 and worked the mines in Colorado – many tales of this adventure and the racial hatred toward the Greeks was part of these intense stories-all Greek immigrants can relate to such incidents!!!

  5. Please note that the laborer's image in the opening photograph is not of Tikas but of Pete Katsulis. On the contentious relationship between these two labor leaders see Zeese Papanikolas' Buried Unsung.

  6. Pingback: The Pappas Post Ludlow Massacre Documentary on US Screening Tour - The Pappas Post

  7. Thank you all for making such a heroic and tragic story public knowledge. I would LOVE to watch the movie here in South Africa for the older and young generations. I will make sure that I get the book , such lives NEED to be celebrated. the last time I read something important about Greek workers in the USA was Prof.Dan Georgakas articles some years ago. Thanks to Mr. Pappas and all involved in uncovering the REAL heroes.

  8. Never heard this story and hope it comes to a theatre close to us so we can see it! All I heard was that both grandfathers had worked on building the railroad – wasn't an easy task & required much endurance, so whoever rides those trains can get a peek at the problems of their days!! Thanks fr posting!! Waiting for announcement in the Boston Area!!

  9. Pingback: Palikari: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre DVD Available for Purchase Exclusively from Pappas Post Online Shop - The Pappas Post

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