I’m Mike Pattarozzi.
I was born in a United Mine Workers of America hospital and raised in a family of miners in a small coal mining town in southern Illinois. My great-grandfather, both grandfathers, an uncle, and a cousin worked coal. My father’s father worked underground from the time he was thirteen until he was sixty-three. I first went down in a coal mine with him when I was twelve. Stories about coal mining were part of our everyday lives. Some were tragic or frightening (my father’s cousin died in a coal mine); others reminded us of the importance of hard work, standing up for yourself, and doing the right thing.
Thanks to this upbringing, I’ve always had an interest in coal mining and workers’ rights. I’ve also been interested in the history of the American West ever since I was a kid.
I studied geology in college, earning a master’s degree related to the remediation of coal mines. I was actively recruited into coal exploration and mining first by Exxon, and subsequently by Mobil Oil. Neither suited me. I left that lucrative career for a not very lucrative one, fire-fighting, which I loved. However, I never lost my interest in the American West, coal mining, workers’ rights, and history.
My fascination with the West and its history led me to writing two very different kinds of stories: a novel based on the true story of the Ludlow Massacre, and children’s stories, including a series of stories about fire horses at the turn of the twentieth century.
The Ludlow Massacre was the result of the brutal putdown of a 1913 miners’ strike that ended in the deaths of eleven children, two women, and three men at the hands of the Colorado National Guard. My book blends the story of Ludlow with that of a ranching family living nearby on the banks of the Purgatoire River.
The ranching family is fictional. The death of the innocents is real.