Huerfano County, Colorado

Contributed by: Louise Adams
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Coal Mines

Coal Mines in Huerfano, by Nancy Christofferson - Huerfano World - June 25, 1998

In 1879 SCCTC merged with Colorado Coal and Steel Works, a company organized to produce iron and steel, to become Colorado Coal and Iron. Palmer was president. CC&I bought Walsen mines from SCCTC, along with other properties.

Palmer was voted out of his presidential seat of CC&I in 1884, but remained with the railroad until 1901 when Jay Gould bought controlling interest.

Meanwhile Colorado Fuel Company had been established in 1883 in Gunnison County by John Cleveland Osgood who had the contract to supply Denver with coal. Associates included Julian Abbott Kebler and Samuel F. Rouse. Sound familiar?

In 1887 the Southern Land Company was incorporated by some of the officers of CC&I. The company bought lands around the later sites of Lester, Rouse and Pictou, which were then leased to CC&I. Colorado Fuel bought the land company outright in 1889.

CC&I backers also formed the Southern Colorado Coal Company which opened Sulphur Springs mines (Pictou) in 1888. Colorado Fuel bought this enterprise in 1890.

Colorado Fuel opened Rouse mine in 1888 and bought the Big Four tract northwest of Walsenburg in 1892.

On 21 October 1892, CC&I and Colorado Fuel merged to form Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. Osgood was president and Kebler, general manager. One Dr. Richard W. Corwin was chief surgeon for the company.

So now we have CF&I, the "(former) industrial giant, but can see that without railroad and land companies, the mining company itself might not have been born. In fact, without the D&RG, Walsenburg and La Veta might not have survived.

CF&I went on to buy out the Victor Coal and Coke Company in 1899 and several other companies in Las Animas County, and opened or bought mines in New Mexico and Wyoming. It established the American Fuel Company to operate mines near Gallup. It also took over Rocky Mountain Coal and iron Company which had 258,000 acres in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado on the Maxwell Grant, where Primero, Segundo, Tercio and Cuatro were later built.

Osgood and friends organized Colorado Supply Company in August 1888 to sell goods and operate boardinghouses in the coal camps. Though the first store opened in Sopris, No. 2 was in Old Rouse and No. 3 in Pictou.

After the turn of the century, when CF&I employed some 15,000 men in its coal and iron camps, quarries and steel mill, it launched its Sociological Department. Programs were inaugurated in the field of personal education, social and industrial training, housing and communications.

The programs included traveling libraries and art exhibits, lectures and stereopticon lantern shows, plays and concerts. The department also encouraged and helped camps began brass bands to play for dances, patriotic and holiday observances and other occasions.

Forming kindergartens was another object, though CF&I began this one in 1892. This was possibly aimed at starting many children with the rudiments of English, a language many had never heard at home.

The Sociological Department started night classes to teach English to the adults, and opened reading rooms with newspapers, books and magazines in many languages besides English. While game rooms were operated, no gambling was allowed.

Teachers of the department taught crafts and skills as well. Some camps, especially in Las Animas County, became noted for their specific talents, such as weaving blankets, making lacework or other handcrafts.

One reason for initiating such programs was to help the women earn extra money. Another was one of the department's goals, assisting the foreign born in social skills and adapting to American life.

The department also undertook camp improvement projects. New houses were constructed and old ones demolished, unless they were privately owned. Water systems were built for fire control and domestic use, though the privies stayed out in the backyard since bathrooms were not part of the amenities package. Regular streets were laid and graded. Miners were encouraged to raise vegetable gardens and improve their lots with lawns, shrubs and flowers. The company even ran annual contests for the best yards and gardens.

Coal Mines Bring Riches, by Nancy Christofferson - Huerfano World - July 2, 1998

For these amenities, miners paid a fixed sum, such as, in the early days, 25 cents per room per month, and 25 cents per light bulb. So, a three-room house with three lights would be $1.50 a month. Rates were raised, obviously, as homes became more modern. CF&I company houses were of three, four or five rooms. Only company officials could demand for more and naturally, the superintendent's house was always the finest in camp.

A financial crisis forced Osgood out as president in 1903, and the company was obtained by the Gould and Rockefeller interests.

Following the 1913-1914 strike, John D. Rockefeller was said to be so upset about the reported conditions in the CF&I camps in southern Colorado that he rushed right out - in September 1915. His lasting contribution to Huerfano County was a band pavilion for Cameron. It must be said, however, that he seemed to care about the miners' environment, both in and out of the mines, and made many trips to the Walsenburg area, even touring the underground working and visiting with the employees and their families.

With CF&I in the lead, Huerfano County's mines produced over a million tons of coal in 1898 but with the closure of the Rouse, mine, tonnage fell to 632,577 in 1899. In 1902 the county was back to over a million, and in 1910 over two millions tons were mined. This amount fell back through the teens, picked up during the first World War, declined, and roared back over the two million mark in the early 1920s. The mid 1920s were the peak years for Huerfano County coal. In 1925 for example, 2,002,982 tons were produced and 2,725 men were employed. Huerfano County produced 20 percent of all Colorado coal that year. Between the time Rockefeller became involved with the company and 1920, CF&I purchased 14 mines and closed 12, some the same properties, such as Hezron. Thirteen more mines were closed in the 1920s, so by 1930 CF&I's only properties working were Kebler No. 2, Pictou, and Robinson No. 4 (Cameron).

At the time of the 1913-1914 strike, CF&I maintained it was all the strikers' fault they had gone out, and that they were perfectly well paid, etc. As evidence of its benevolence, many officials produced payrolls for August 1913, just before the strike began, from the Rouse mine. The statistics showed miners earning from $2.50 to $6.50 per day, an average of over $4. What is not demonstrated by these salaries is the amount of slack time when the mines had no orders, or equipment was broken, or railroad or steel mill workers were on strike, or weather prohibited transportation to work, or floods or fires filled the entries, or, well, you get the picture. Sure, a miner might earn an average of $4 one month but this was by no means a twelve-month-a-year-with-two-weeks-vacation kind of job. Nor are the charges assessed by the company - housing, equipment, medical, etc. - mentioned. Furthermore, August was a big production month as orders began arriving for coal for the upcoming cold season.

Nor did the companies necessarily suffer from a lack of manpower during the strike, as production in 1913 was about 200,000 tons less than 1912, and went up in 1914 as CF&I and others brought in strikebreakers or scabs to replace experienced workers out on strike.

CF&I and its cohorts agreed to compromise with the United Mine Workers to end that strike. But, in fact, the companies did not abide by the agreements. The eight-hour day, one of the union's demands, was still years away, union miners were still banned from certain camps and benefits remained sketchy.

In 1916 CF&I employed 1,464 men in its seven Huerfano County mines, who produced almost 6,000 tons DAILY. There were 298 employed at Walsen; 271 at Robinson; 269 at Rouse; 169 at Cameron; 171 at ideal; 179 at Lester and 107 at Pictou. The county's annual production from all 17 mines was 1,811,585 tons from 2,767 employees.

In 1926 Huerfano County produced one fifth of Colorado coal, a total of 1,965,912 tons, worth $6,405,000. Over 2,750 were employed. Total wages that year amounted to $2,811,267, an average of $5.52 per day. Two years later CF&I had just five mines in operation here, Rouse, Cameron, Pictou, Tioga and Walsen-Robinson.

By 1930 production was down to 1,034,074 tons and only about 2,000 men were working the mines. This still ranked Huerfano as third in the state in production, which would fall annually as the Great Depression deepened.

As production decreased, CF&I also decreased salaries, with 20 and even 30 percent cuts occurring in the 1930s, a direct result of the Depression. In turn, the company reduced charges to the miners. In May 1932 CF&I cut rentals so miners could have a "four room house with garage, bath and glassed porch for less than $15 per month." Fees for hospital stays, lamp rentals, bath house use and electric light expenses were also cut by 15 percent.

A new agreement was made between CF&I and UMW in September 1933 that granted the miners an eight-hour day and 40 hour work week at $4.44 per day. This was pretty good money for Depression days. By 1939 workers were receiving 90.3 cents per hour.

There were only two substantial strikes during the '30s, the first in 1935 when l,600 men walked out and the other in 1937 which affected 1,200 Huerfano County miners.

The war in Europe enlivened the mines, but production did not reach the million ton mark again until 1944, and never again.

After the United States entered the war, many miners joined the armed services and experienced workers were harder to find. However, they were found and the union even approved a seven-day work week in 1942, provided, of course, time and half was paid. The following year UMW called a strike for November but cancelled it when wages were raised to $8.50 per day. It also agreed to a nine-hour work day including an uncompensated 15-minute lunch break.

Huerfano County miners were very supportive of America's cause in World War II. They bought bonds, collected gum, candy and cigarettes, books and magazines to be sent "to the boys overseas." They also held dances, ball games and other benefits to raise funds to donate to the Red Cross which in turn aided many of the miners' relatives back in Europe.

Following the war, though, things changed dramatically. The government froze wages in December 1946, causing UMW President John L. Lewis to order his men to walk out. As electrical service was cut back due to the shortage of coal, Gov. John C. Vernon appealed to the miners to return to work. This they did, after an 18-day hiatus. Unfortunately, D&RG workers then went on strike, so what was produced could not be moved to market.

By 1950 CF&I had but two mines operating in Huerfano County, Kebler No. 2 which closed in 1953 and Pictou, which ceased operations in 1954 (however, in 1951 the company had opened the Allen mine in Las Animas County which provided employment for some Huerfano people).

Without the CF&I mines, production dropped, reaching just 60,694 tons in 1960. The glory days were over. Reflecting the employment of CF&I, Huerfano County had a population of 17,062 in 1930; 15,901 in 1940; 10,549 in 1950 and 7,771 in 1960.

The CF&I mines in Huerfano County included Kebler No. 1 and 2, Jobal, Pictou, Walsen, Robinson No. 1 and 2, Cameron No. 1 and 2 and Robinson No. 4 at Cameron, Ideal, Hezron, Lester and Rouse.

Of these, Walsen-Robinson was the earliest and most important.

Occidental Open, by Nancy Christofferson - Huerfano World - October 15, 1998

The Occidental mine near Oakview west of La Veta was opened in 1900 by the Occidental Development Company, of which Edwin D. Palmer was president.

Possibly the most interesting thing about the mine was the amount of effort expended in trying to develop it.

In July 1900 things were going swimmingly, with a nine foot vein of coal opened by two shafts. Soon, a second vein was opened and a 105 foot tunnel constructed. A frame bunkhouse and blacksmith shop 'were built. Not long after some homes and a boardinghouse were added.

A. A. Foote, noted La Veta curmudgeon, editor and one-time Huerfano County surveyor, was superintendent. In October he placed boundary and grade stakes and confidently announced the railroad tracks would go right to the tipple.

That fall the tipple was built and the company received coal cars. Advertisements claimed "It's hot stuff. Occidental Coal" Orders were being taken and coal delivered in La Veta.

Since this was the first mine of any size in the La Veta area, much attention was given to it. The Advertiser noted in March that there were 25 men on the payroll, which was $2,200 for the month, and that this was soon circulating among La Veta's businesses.

In October 1901 Denver and Rio Grande Railroad surveyors were running lines for a side track to the mine. Occidental lay but a half mile north of the new standard gauge right of way along Middle Creek.

But you couldn't get there from here, as the old saying goes. The surveyors decided to build track along a natural, easy grade to the main line, instead of attempting the construction of a huge bridge. The new grade left the mine heading south, turned west, crossed the creek, went east and meandered south to meet the D&RG tracks some four miles from the mine. The junction was known as Occidental Switch.

Grading was to start in February 1902. In October, Supt. Foote rousted his miners out of their tunnels and handed them shovels to assist building the railroad. Foote thought shipping might commence in December after the last mile of construction was completed.

This branch line was known as the Bald Mountain Railway. By the time building was well under way, it was found the route required seven bridges, one 168 feet high! The bridges on the north side of Middle Creek were done in December, but the south side was still waiting.

In January 1903 Foote said the railroad was 90 percent complete. Work was delayed by bad weather and though the grade was done by March, the bridges remained unbuilt.

At this time the builders woefully regarded a large chasm requiring an immense trestle, so changed their plans and built on up the canyon.

Foote thought maybe the grade would be done by September 1903, so work began on a 675 foot long tipple. Meanwhile, the company took delivery of a "narrow gauge saddle back engine" capable of pulling 600 tons or 100 coal cars.

E. L. Redding, now president of the company, confidently predicted shipping would begin before winter set in.

Well, in November part of the new tipple was destroyed in a wind storm, smashing a newly-constructed stable underneath on its way to the ground.

However, the company officials remained optimistic and work continued. Perhaps you would not be surprised to learn Occidental Development Company also was working some gold and silver mines on the West Spanish Peak? Hmmm.

December 1903 saw the completion of the Bald Mountain Railway and its tortuous route across ledges, fills and bridges to the D&RG. It had cost $60,000 to build. The engine had been joined by nine cars.

The owners were so jubilant they increased operations. Fifteen men were employed but the company figured up to 40 would be better. They thought the mine would soon be shipping five standard gauge cars per day.

In May 1904 an explosion injured one man. The next month everyone went out on strike.

But ever onward, thought the owners. They bought 40 more coal cars and contracted for a 200 foot tunnel.

Supt. Foote offered the highest wages around, but said union men need not apply. By August, production was down due to the scarcity of miners.

Then poor Foote fell off the tipple and broke some fingers, his nose and bruised his hip. Earlier, a construction worker had fallen off a 37 foot tall bridge which did him no good, but didn't kill him.

In December 1904 employment was up to 30.

A graphic insight of the route of the Bald Mountain Railway occurred that month, when "a colored gentleman working at Occidental switch turned white during his first trip."

But now, with the beginning of 1905, things were going better for Occidental. The Great Western Fuel Company contemplated building a company store and boardinghouse. The regular boardinghouse had 15 patrons.

Forty men were employed and they passed a petition requesting the establishment of a post office. A new 370 foot tunnel was driven. More dwellings were built.

Unfortunately, the keeper of the boardinghouse died unexpectedly and a new manager had to be found.

By June the mine was putting out 150 tons of coal per week on a contract with the D&RG. Soon, it was up to 200, and then four to five carloads per day.

In March 1906 production decreased to about 40 tons per day after some men were laid off. Another unpleasantry was the dynamiting of the boardinghouse.

In September Sheriff Jefferson B. Farr attached 240 acres of company land. The father of the boardinghouse keeper died. But, production was about three broad gauge cars per day, and 16 miners were still working.

In 1907 the tipple at the wagon mine burned down. The miners organized a union.

In the summer of 1908 the mine was shipping several cars daily, and Dr. J. B. Wright was appointed company physician. The miners went on strike.

Then the company threw in the towel. It was bankrupt. No doubt the coal mine had cost it a fortune, not to mention the gold mining ventures.

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