LIFE IN THE COAL CAMPS
OF SOUTHERN COLORADO, 1890-1933
Richard J. Clyne
B.S., New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, 1986
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Richard J. Clyne
has been approved for the
Department of History
Mark S. Foster
Clyne, Richard J. (M.A., History)
Life in the Coal Camps of Southern Colorado, 1890-1933
Thesis directed by Professor Mark S. Foster
This thesis examines everyday life in the coal camps of Colorado's
Las Animas and Huerfano counties between 1890 and 1933. It examines
how communities developed in these isolated, company-dominated towns
and looks at the experiences of the men, women, and children who lived,
worked, and died in them. The following topics are discussed in the text:
town and community development, ethnicity and immigration, the
corporate presence, health care, religion, recreation, transience, household
work, diet, secondary incomes, schooling, and child labor.
A few broad themes are maintained throughout this study. First, the
lives of camp residents were dominated by the dangerous nature of mining
coal. The fear of death and dismemberment was pervasivenot only for
the miners venturing into the earth day after day, but for their dependents
Second, a strong sense of commonality, acceptance, and tolerance
existed in the camps. A large portion of camp populations had immigrated
from eastern and southern Europe. The shared immigrant experience
combined with the danger of mining to create an open, collective support
system centered around the community.
Third, organized labor played a relatively minor role in the lives of
camp residents. Only during periods of labor unrest, which occurred
approximately every ten years in southern Colorado, would the union
wield any influence over camp residents. The union would virtually
disappear for a decade at a time. Community, not the union, was the
primary source of strength and support for the miners and their families
surviving on the industrial frontier.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I
recommend its publication.
Mark S. Foster
1. INTRODUCTION: COAL FIELDS, COMPANIES, AND UNIONS
2. THE COMPANY TOWN................................
3. THE COMMUNITY...................................
4. A MINER'S LIFE..................................
5. A WOMAN'S LIFE.......................:..........
6. A CHILD'S LIFE..................................
A recent book on Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations
contains the following passage:
The signs of at least a merger of the New Freedom and the
New Nationalism had been gathering since early 1915. They
were manifest in, among other things, the flexibility that
Wilson had demonstrated...in his sympathetic approach to the
grievances of the miners of Ludlow, Colorado, who had been
murderously victimized by John D. Rockefeller's private army
in the notorious massacre of 1914.1
The Ludlow Massacre dominates the historiography of labor and industry
in Colorado. The passage above is typical of those found in countless other
histories and monographs examining the Progressive Era. Like Homestead
and Pullman, Ludlow immediately evokes the archetypal images of
industrial conflict: a haggard, exploited labor force driven to solidarity by
miserable living and working conditions, and the cold armies of wealth,
eager to employ the most extreme measures to maintain the profitable
status quo. These are the images for which eight decades of coal production
in southern Colorado are most often remembered.
Historians have eagerly embraced the imagery of Ludlow and the
Great Strike of 1913-1914. The events surrounding Ludlow are a
convenient, microcosmic synopsis of the entire industrial revolution, and
they contain an alluring element of heroism as well. The battle lines of the
Great Strike are crisply drawn, and the motivations of both sides are
universally understood. At Ludlow human dignity squared off against
profit margin, and when the guns fell silent 20 innocents lay dead. Many
of the historians who have written about Ludlow and Colorado coal have
been swept up by the drama of this epic conflict. Ludlow has taken on
mythical proportions in much of the historiography.2
That bloody Ludlow dominates the historiographical landscape is
understandable. But the focus on Ludlow tends to oversimplify and
neglect the complexities of southern Colorado's industrial era. Industrial-
scale coal production began in southern Colorado in the 1880s and reached
its peak during World War One. With the exception of a boom experienced
during World War Two, production declined steadily from the heights
reached in the late 1910s, and the last of the dedicated coal mining towns
shut down in the 1960s. The struggle to unionize is only a small part of
this 80-year-long story.
Tens of thousands of peoplemany of whom were newly arrived
immigrantslived in the company towns of the southern Colorado coal
fields. Theirs is very much an American story. Many only knew America
through what they experienced in the isolated company towns. What was
it like to be a child in a these towns? What did a typical day entail for the
wife of a coal miner? What, if any, leisure activities were available to
miners and their families? How did a sense of community develop in these
industry-dominated camps? What role did the coal companies play in the
daily lives of camp residents? These are a few of the broad questions
addressed in this study. The answers reveal a small slice of America
during her transformation into a modern, industrial society, and they
indicate that the societal, cultural, and economic dynamics in the coal
towns were more complex than those conveyed by historians who focus
exclusively on the periods of labor unrest.
The history of southern Colorado's coal mining towns cuts across a
number of historiographical subdisciplines and sheds light on what the
American experience meant to generations of miners and their families.
Labor historians, immigration historians, gender historians business and
economic historians, and cultural and social historians can all find fertile
ground in the camps. Relying heavily on two oral history collectionsthe
University of Colorado's Coal Project and the Huerfano County Ethno-History
ProjectI have tried to discover how people lived together on southern
Colorado's industrial frontier.3
Although this study spans 50 years and hundreds of square miles of
the southern Colorado landscape, a number of general trends are apparent.
First, the act of mining coal dominated all aspects of camp life. Mining was
physically demanding, frequently debilitating, and often deadly. Coal
miners struggled against the earth, extracting a livelihood from the cold,
dark rock deep below the surface. They and their families lived knowing
tragedy could come on any day the mine operated. Death and suffering
came without warningin the form of a slab of unstable slate, a pocket of
gas, or an explosive concentration of dust. A subtle tension pervaded the
present in the coal towns, and uncertainty colored the future. An
underlying mix of tension and uncertainty permeated life in the coal camps
and all the personal relationships associated with it.
Second, southern Colorado's coal communities served as ready-made
support systems for a transient mining population. Mining families were
highly mobile, traveling from camp to camp in search of steady work or
better wages. The perennial danger and stress of mining coal combined
with an ethnically diverse population to create a strong sense of
commonality among camp residents regardless of the length of time they
had resided in the community. A unique bond existed among those who
mined coal or depended on a coal miner for survival. In addition to being
readily accepted into the existing community, newly arrived mining
families would quickly find an additional sense of belonging in the ethnic
enclaves that subdivided these towns. A large portion of the region's coal
miners between 1890 and 1933 had immigrated from southern and eastern
Europe. Shared danger and the common immigrant experience created a
atmosphere of acceptance and tolerance in the camps.
Third, organized laborthe focus of so much mining historywas a
minor influence in the lives of southern Colorado's coal miners and their
families. The region was rocked by strikes about once every 10 years, and
battles were waged over solidarity, union recognition, and better living and
working conditions. The unionsprimarily the United Mine Workers of
Americawielded a considerable amount of power over members during
periods of strike activity. But these periods were relatively short and
infrequent. In the wake of these turbulent conflicts the union virtually
disappeared, and camp life would settle back into extended periods of
These trends are discussed in detail in the pages that follow.
Chapter 1 provides background information on the companies and the
unions active in the southern Colorado field, and Chapter 2 describes the
company towns and how they developed. Chapter 3 examines community
in the coal towns emphasizing ethnicity, health care, religion, and leisure
activities. A coal miner's life is described in Chapter 4, and a woman's life
in the coal town is presented in Chapter 5. Chapter 6 examines what life
was like for a child growing up in the camps. A short conclusion is
presented in Chapter 7.
1. Knock, Thomas ]., To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for
a New World Order, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, p.88.
2. The accounts of Ludlow, the Great Strike, and the struggle to
unionize southern Colorado's coal fields are numerous. A few of the better
known historical works that contribute to the epic stature of the conflict are:
Barron Beshoar, Out of the Depths: The Story of John R. Lawson, A Labor Leader,
Denver, 1942; George S. McGovern and Leonard F. Guttridge, The Great Coal
Field War, Boston, 1972; Priscilla Long, Where the Sun Never Shines: A History
of America's Bloody Coal Industry, New York, 1989; and Zeese Papanikolas,
Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre, Norman, 1982.
3. University of Colorado Institute of Behavior Sciences's Coal Project.
Transcripts of interviews with miners conducted by Eric Margolis. University
of Colorado at Boulder; Huerfano County Ethno-History Documentation Project.
Elaine Baker, Project Director. Huerfano County Library.
INTRODUCTION: COAL FIELDS, COMPANIES, AND UNIONS
Unlike manufacturing industries the mining industry can not
choose its location with any reference to labor supply. It must bring
its labor wherever the coal seams run, and they run with no regard
to the adaptability of a region to community or family life...
U.S. Women's Bureau, 19251
Iron and coal are the two primary ingredients of industrialization.
Iron ore can be smelted and refined into a variety of products, such as pig
iron, wrought iron, and steel, each of which has different qualities of
strength and malleability. Iron is the starting material for the rebar, which
supports the concrete pillars of modem sky scrapers, and for the high-
grade steel used in the manufacture of a turbine for an electric power plant.
Coal is an excellent industrial-scale fuel. Prior to the nineteenth
century, wood was civilization's main source of thermal energy, but wood
could not efficiently generate the amount of heat needed to drive modern
industrial processes like the smelting of metal ores. A relatively small
quantity of coal supplies the same amount of thermal energy as a large
quantity of wood. Because of its high energy density, coal could be
economically transported moderate distances to fire smelters and blast
furnaces. During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, countries
that had large amounts of accessible coal and iron, such as Germany,
Britain, and the United States evolved into industrialized, global powers.
The availability of these key resources certainly played a role in the
political and economic ascendancy of these countries.
Throughout the nineteenth century, America's industrial engine
slowly gained speed. When the century opened, small amounts of coal
were being burned as a domestic fuel in areas where coal seams protruded
through the earth's surface and coal could be gathered easily. As the pace
of industrialization quickened, America's appetite for coal grew. In the
three decades from 1800 to 1832, America's annual coal production
increased 10 times from about 100,000 tons to 1 million tonsbut that was
just the beginning. Production increased over 100 times in the next half
century; by 1885 the United States mined 110 million tons each year. By
1900 this figure more than doubled to 243 million tons annually, which
surpassed Britain's production by 43 million tons, making the United States
the world's largest producer of coal.2
The majority of America's industrial-age coal came from the
Appalachian Mountains. Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky,
Tennessee, and Virginia combined to produce about 80% of the coal mined
in America.3 Much of the remaining 20% came from the midwestern states
of Ohio and Illinois. A small amount came from the western United
Statesfrom Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Montana, with Colorado
being the region's leading producer. The coal fields of the West were more
important than their output indicates; they allowed heavy industry to
develop in the region and reduced the need to transport finished iron
products from the East.
Most of Colorado's coal lies in two great fields: the northern field,
which runs up the Front Range in Boulder and Weld counties, and the
southern field, which underlies large portions of land in Las Animas and
Huerfano counties. Minor fields exist elsewhere in the statein Fremont,
Routt, and Gunnison countiesbut production in these areas was minimal
compared to production in the northern and southern fields.
The bituminous coal produced in Colorado's southern field was well
suited to industrial uses. Bituminous coal can be used directly as a source
of fuel, say in locomotives or homes, or it can be processed into coke,
which entails baking the coal slowlywithout igniting itto remove
organic matter. Coke is sort of a purified coal that burns cleaner and hotter
than regular coal; it is the fuel of choice for firing the large blast furnaces
that produce steel because coke introduces fewer impurities into the molten
Coal comes in two other grades, anthracite and lignite. Anthracite is
a very dense coal that is difficult to ignite but bums cleanly. Because it
burns cleanly, anthracite was used primarily as a domestic heating fuel in
densely populated areas in the east. The country's only major anthracite
field lies in eastern Pennsylvania, although small seams were mined for
years in Crested Butte, Colorado and in Madrid, New Mexico. Lignite is a
softer coal that contains high amounts of organic matter. Colorado's
northern field produced lignite, which was used as a source of domestic
fuel throughout the region.
The bituminous coal beds of southern Colorado stretch out in the
shape of a large, backward "L" (see Figure 1 on page 4). Beginning about
10 miles north of Walsenburg in Huerfano county, the beds run south for
50 miles, paralleling what is now Interstate 25. Near the bottom of Raton
Pass, just south of Trinidad in Las Animas county, the seam turns ninety
degrees to the west, heading straight up the Purgatoire river valley. About
30 miles lie between Trinidad and Tercio, the western-most coal mine in the
Trinidad and Walsenburg were the two main population centers
anchoring the industry and the company towns that developed around the
coal beds. Hispanics migrating from northern New Mexico founded both
towns in the 1850s, establishing traditional plaza communities. Herding
Figure 1. Las Animas and Huerfano Counties. The gray shading represents the underlying coal
and light agriculture allowed these communities to take hold and attain
modest self-sufficiency. Although the region's climate is semiarid, the
towering peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range to the west
captured enough moisture throughout the year to supply these
communities with fresh water. The Purgatoire River begins near the
summit of Culebra Peak, flows through Trinidad, and meanders into
eastern Las Animas county (see Figure 2). The Cucharas river, whose
headwaters spring from the awe-inspiring Spanish Peaks, runs through
Walsenburg and then flows northeast before emptying into the larger
Huerfano river. All the rivers and streams running through Las Animas
and Huerfano counties ultimately drain into the Arkansas River on the
plains of eastern'Colorado.
Figure 2. The view looking west up the Purgatoire River Valley. The New Elk coal
minethe only mine still operating in southern Coloradostands in the foreground.
The isolated, pastoral existence of La Plaza de Los
LeonesWalsenburg's Hispanic precursorand the plaza village at
Trinidad lasted only a few short decades. The end of the Civil War marked
the beginning of a great influx of people from eastern states into Colorado.
Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, the Colorado territory was being forged
into a state. Land was swallowed up by private owners, and the industrial
infrastructure needed to tap the territory's vast natural wealth was rapidly
erected. No part of this infrastructure was more influential than the
Heavy industry arrived in southern Colorado on the rails of General
William Palmer's Denver and Rio Grande (D&RG) Railroad. The golden
age of coal mining in Colorado began with the rails. When General Palmer
assumed control of the fledgling D&RG in 1873, the company had already
begun mining coal in Fremont county under one of its subsidiaries, the
Central Colorado Improvement Company. The Canon Mine in Fremont
produced a respectable 13,000 tons of coal in 1873, with about one-third of
it being consumed in Palmer's narrow-gauge locomotives.4
The economic crash of 1873 greatly curtailed Palmer's ambitious
plans for expanding the D&RG south to tap the markets of Central
America. The railroad from Denver had just reached Pueblo when the
depression hit, and it would take another three years before the line's main
branch crept into southern Colorado's coal fields. The tracks reached El
Moro, a D&RG company town 5 miles north of Trinidad, in 1876, forging
the crucial link that would allow for the exploitation of the area's vast coal
deposits. During the next three years, the DR&G's property holdings grew
considerably as spurs expanded westward to reach the hard-rock mining
centers of the Colorado Rockies.
As was common in this era of accelerating industrialization, the
D&RG set up a variety of subsidiariessome of which were "real"
companies, others were "paper"to defray the costs of conducting business
and to protect profits. General Palmer believed he could ultimately save
money by producing the steel rails that D&RG's growing spurs voraciously
consumed. Palmer consolidated D&RG's subsidiaries in 1979 in order to
build a steel mill in Pueblo, which he hoped would reduce transportation
costs and eliminate the profit margin he was paying to rail suppliers. And
so the Colorado Coal and Iron Company (CC&I) was born. At its
inception, the new company's holdings were substantial, including 13,571
acres of coal land in Huerfano, Las Animas, and Fremont counties, and
83,944 acres of agriculture lands along the Arkansas, Cucharas, and
Purgatoire rivers. With its land holdings, coal mines, and the new steel
mill, known as the Besssemer Works, in Pueblo, the company had become
the preeminent economic force in the southern part of the state. Colorado
Coal and Iron was responsible for one-half of the coal mined in Colorado in
CC&I had marginal success through the 1880s. Building and
operating the steel mill in Pueblo was capital intensive, and demand
fluctuated for the mill's steel rails. The company had a difficult time
operating in the black throughout the decade but remained profitable
because of its real estate and fuel departments. The real estate department
managed all the land rented or leased by CC&I, including all the buildings
and dwellings in the coal camps and in Pueblo. When steel production
took an upswing in 1890, about 800 men were employed in CC&I's mines,
coke ovens, and quarries, and an equal number were employed at the steel
In 1892, CC&I merged with the Colorado's other large coal interest,
the Colorado Fuel Company (CFC), run by John C. Osgood. Osgood had
come to Colorado from Iowa in 1882 to evaluate coal deposits for the
Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. Liking what he saw, he and his
"Iowa Group" of friends founded the Colorado Fuel Company in 1884.
CFC acted as a coal clearing house, buying coal from Colorado mines and
reselling it to midwestern railroads. Osgood was a busy man though, and
in addition to CFC, he founded a number of other smaller coal-based
companies in the state between 1884 and 1888. In the latter year, Osgood
reorganized CFC to consolidate all his holdings. By the decade's end, half
of CFC's 5,500 acres of coal land was in Las Animas county, and the
company's Sopris mine -a few miles west of Trinidad was the state's largest
The merger of Colorado Coal and Iron and Osgood's Colorado Fuel
Company occurred smoothly, as both realized it was in their best interests
to put an end to the cut-throat competition in which they were engaged.
Osgood got the best of the deal as a result of his savvy negotiating skills
and CFC's record of success. Stockholders approved the merger in the fall
of 1892, and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) was born. CF&I
would reign as the dominant power in Colorado's coal and steel industry
for the next 60 years.8
John Osgood assumed control of CF&I from inception, and its vast
holdings made it an immediate, powerful economic and political force. The
new company owned 70,000 acres of coal lands in the state, about half of
which was in the southern field. In Las Animas county, CF&I owned the
Engleville, Sopris, and Berwind mines; in Huerfano county it held the
Walsen, Robinson, Rouse, and Pictou mines. It operated additional mines
in Gunnison, Fremont, Garfield, and Pitkin counties. Combined, CF&I's
coal properties contained an estimated 400 million tons of coal.9
CF&I weathered the economic crash of 1893 and maintained
profitable operation for the rest of the decade. In 1899, the company began
an ambitious four-year improvement plan that would greatly expand the
steel mill in Pueblo and bring additional coal and iron mines under its
control. It was a daring gamble that Osgood ultimately lost; the expansion
overextended CF&I financially, resulting in Osgood and his associates
forfeiting their control of the company. The lion's share of the $24 million
invested in expansion was spent enlarging and diversifying the Bessemer
Works at Pueblo, which until this time had exclusively produced steel rails
for train tracks. The mill, which by 1903 was capable of providing the full
range of steel products, was renamed the Minnequa Works, and it gave
Pueblo the proud epithet "Pittsburgh of the West."10
The new mill had a tremendous need for coal, and CF&I's coal
production tripled to 3.75 million tons annuallyequalling 49% of
Colorado's total outputbetween 1893 and 1903, the year the expansion
was completed.11 Although Osgood had navigated CF&I into dangerous
financial waters to accomplish the expansion, business for CF&I and the
state's other large operators was booming at the turn of the century. The
Denver times reported that "...daily production of black diamonds now is
considerably in excess of 30,000 tons, and coking ovens produce more than
a thousand tons of coke for each day of the year."12 CF&I's coal operations
at Sopris, Starkville, and Engleville employed thousands men and were
operating full time. The Victor Fuels Company, one of CF&I's main
competitors, had "an army of men" employed at its Hastings and Maitland
mines, "and still the company finds it difficult to fill the orders it
Business was indeed booming, but not enough to lift CF&I out of the
hole Osgood had dug expanding the company. In debt to the time of $7
million in July 1903, CF&I could not to meet its obligations. Hard cash was
the only solution, and to get it CF&I's core coterie of stockholders had to
relinquish their control of the company. This took place in the late summer
of 1903, when a group led by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. put up the needed
money. Osgood was out, and for the next four decades CF&I would be a
small part of the vast Rockefeller economic empire.14
CF&Ialthough small by eastern standardsstretched over four
western states and directly employed 15,000 people. At the time of the
takeover, CF&I had 23 mines and 9 coking plants in Colorado. About 6000
men made a living digging coal and processing it into coke in the state,
with another 6000 employed at the Minnequa works. About 60,000 people
lived on or near CF&I property. The high-quality beds of Las Animas
county produced 52% of CF&Ts coal, and Huerfano (20%) and Fremont
(15%) contributed most of the balance.15
John C. Osgood had lost control of CF&I, but he rebounded quickly,
taking over Victor Fuels. The new Victor American Fuel Company soon
became the state's second largest producer, with the Rocky Mountain Fuel
Company close behind. Collectively, the three operators produced about
70% of Colorado's coal, with scores of smaller companies accounting for the
remaining 30%. In the southern field these smaller operations included the
Occidental Coal Mining Company, The Huerfano Valley Mining Company,
the Trinidad Coal and Coke Company, and the Prospect Point Coal
Company, to name just a few.
With Rockefeller's takeover of CF&I, the overall management of the
southern coal fields settled into a long period of corporate stability. In the
relatively short span of 30 years the coal fields of southern Colorado had
been discovered, exploited, and consolidated in the hands of relatively few
men. This rapid and impressive growth did not occur, however, without
the violent labor struggles that scarred this era of industrialization
nationwide. The counterweight to the growing power of the corporation
was the union, and for brief periods, the union could have an enormous
influence on the lives of miners and their families.
Labor unions arrived in Colorado in the late 1870s. A group of
miners in Erie, in the northern field, forged the first Knights of Labor
Assembly in 1878. In these early years membership in the organization
fluctuated. Numerous small strikes occurred, some meeting with success
and others almost destroying the fledgling organization. The Knights' first
real test came in August, 1884 when the Colorado Coal and Iron Company
ordered a 10% wage cut. Many miners rallied to the union's call for a
walkout. The miners' grievances included the method the company used
for weighing coal, the existence of a blacklist, and the company's control of
mining supplies. These grievances and others, such as union recognition,
the eight-hour day, and pay for deadwork (such as laying track and
shoring up overhead rock), would surface again and again in the
labor/management conflicts during the next five decades. The 1884 strike,
which originated in Fremont county, quickly spread to the northern and
southern fields, but the union was too weak to maintain a sustained drive.
The historical record contains oblique references to 300 black strike breakers
who were brought into the Walsenburg district from Tennessee; this was
apparently the straw that broke the union's back. Miners reluctantly
returned to work in December of 1884, accepting the 10% cut.16
The coal miners' unions of this era were small, localized
organizations that had little cohesion or direction. A handful of locals in
Colorado's northern field banded together in 1886, forming the Coal Miners
Federation, but large-scale organization did not occur until the United Mine
Workers of America (UMWA) was formed in 1891. Although the UMWA
became the dominant labor organization in the coal fields for the next 42
years, it attained only marginal success in unifying the state's coal miners.
From the time of the UMWA's arrival in Colorado in 1890 to the
passage of the Wagner Act, which legalized collective bargaining in 1933,
the miner's union had an erratic existence. To the coal miners and their
families living in the camps, the union was like a comet. The majority of
the time it was a small, mildly significant part of their lives. Yet when
relations between labor and management became sufficiently tense, the
union would come streaking back to the fore, championing the miner's
hopes for dignity and a better future.
Labor unrest erupted in Colorado's coal fields roughly every ten
years, each time bringing violence and upheaval. In the months prior to
these strikes union membership would soar. The coal operators were kept
informed of the increased union activity by company spies. As union
activity increased, the operators would exercise the unchecked authority
they wielded within the company towns. In addition to immediately
releasing any miner believed to be involved in union activitysending him
and his family "down the canyon" as it was referred to in the southern
fieldthe operators flagrantly violated the miners' basic civil rights. They
often prohibited town residents from freely moving about on or off
company property, and regularly tampered with the U.S. mail, as the post
offices were usually located within the company store and managed as part
of the company.
The big strike of 1903-1904 is indicative of this pattern of increased
union activity followed by draconian measures from the operators. At the
end of 1902, the 20 local unions in Colorado reported 2,470 members, but
these were almost entirely from the northern field where greater ethnic
homogeneity, a loose corporate infrastructure, and geography worked in
favor of the union. In the southern field these factors, especially ethnicity,
all worked to the detriment of the union. A U.S. Industrial Commission
report from the turn of the century clearly identifies ethnicity as inhibiting
Were it not for the difficulties of language, the antipathy of
race, and the jealousies of religion, the problem of labor
organization would have been much easier, and organization
would not have been delayed so long. But at the same time,
it can not be said that these race problems are confined to the
foreign races. The jeopardy and defeat of the unions has been
owing as often to the competition of unorganized Americans
of native stock, in new fields, as in the competition of the
Only three locals existed in the south, at Pictou, Rugby, and Aguilar,
and "these had no standing with the mine operators."18 Toward the end of
the summer of 1903, as the storm clouds gathered, the union kicked off an
immensely successful drive to organize the southern field, but the operators
had effectively countered by the time the strike came in November. The
UMWA District 15 secretary reported:
From August 1, 1900 to November 9, 1903, over 8000 men had
been enrolled into the UMWA in Las Animas and Huerfano
counties, but on November 9 only 2000 remained in the union,
over 6000 having been discharged and put on the blacklist.19
The strike continued on into 1904, but the operators maintained the
firm upper hand, thoroughly extinguishing the short-lived burst of
unionism that spread through the southern field. One year after the strike
began only 100 men in the southern field remained active in the union.
The comet of unionism had streaked across Las Animas and Huerfano
counties, not to be seen again until the months preceding the Great Strike
Many of the historians who have written about Colorado's southern
coal fields hold the union up as the paramount positive influence in the
coal camps; they assert it was the wholesome, righteous glue that held
miners, their families, and their communities together. This was not the
case. While some, like the undertaker in Trinidad who only buried union
men, did place the union on high moral pedestal, many others were
ambivalent, viewing the UMWA as only a small part of their lives.20
One woman who grew up in the southern field remembers that a
strong brotherhood existed among the miners, but it had little to do with
the union because "...at work, you know, some didn't like the union."21 A
miner's wife recalls that her husband was not particularly active in the
union, but to be on the safe side, "He keep his union up...."22
Some of techniques the union used to organize the miners could be
as severe as those the operators used to discourage solidarity. Virtually
absent from the southern field for 10 years, the UMWA again mounted a
hugely successful organizing drive prior to the Great Strike of 1913-1914.
This strike is renowned for the storm of violence it brought to southern
Colorado, culminating in the Ludlow Massacre and the 10 day brush war
that followed it.
One of the methods the UMWA used to recruit new members before
the strike supports Pete Gergich's assertion that the union had little regard
for non-union miners. The most effective recruitment method was the
"active-passive" team consisting of two union miners. The active member
recruited conspicuously, talking openly with miners. The passive member
would seek work in the mines and subtly feign anti-union sentiments.
Often the passive member would serve as a company spy or "spotter." If
the active member came across a miner who refused to join the union, he
would inform the passive member who would report the miner to the
company as a union sympathizer. One source claims that in one month
this technique resulted in 3000 nonunion miners being released and
replaced by union men. The UMWA placed 21 such recruiting teams in the
southern field beginning in December 1912; by the following September
when the walkout began, almost the entire southern field had been
The union drew up seven demands justifying the walkout. The
primary demand was that the operators recognize the union, and the others
concerned miner-selected checkweighmen, pay for deadwork, a 10% wage
increase, and the enforcement of mining safety laws. The sixth demand
dealt specifically with the quality of life in the coal towns; the miners
demanded "...the right to trade in any store we please, and the right to
choose our own boarding places and our own doctor." This demand and
the miners' insistence that the company abolish the mine guard system,
whereby guards were imbued with the powers of law enforcement officials,
testifies to the amount of control the company could wield over the lives of
the miners and their families.24 A post-strike government report succinctly
states the underlying issue:
The strikers passionately felt and believed that they were
denied, not only a voice in fixing working conditions within
the mines, but that political democracy, carrying with it the
rights and privileges guaranteed by the laws of the land, had
likewise been flouted and repudiated by the owners.25
The Great Strike lasted officially from September 1913 to December
1914 when the union gave the order to return to work. In reality, the strike
had ended months before when many miners returned to work in the
aftermath of Ludlow, and coal production in the southern field reached
prestrike levels. Ostensibly the strike had failedthe union was broken
and UMWA District 15 was in financial ruins. On a different level though,
the Great Strike brought some substantial improvements into the area's coal
mines and coal towns. Historian Donald McClurg states that "the main
accomplishment [of the strike] had been the weakening of a system of
paternalistic despotism."26 The publicity surrounding the Ludlow Massacre
and the corporate callousness that surfaced in the numerous hearings
conducted in the strike's aftermath forced the operators to see labor in a
more progressive light. The strike and its repercussions:
...had effected profound changes in the framework of
industrial relations in Colorado coal, and some of those
changes were in turn to be felt far beyond the borders of the
state for many years to come.27
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was the obvious lightning rod for public
criticism. CF&I's absentee owner was far removed from the management
of his Colorado properties, and he seemed truly disturbed by the course
events had taken. As part of a public relations campaign, Rockefeller
toured his coal properties in the southern field for two weeks in the fall of
1915. He visited a number of the company towns, attended a miners'
dance, and even donned overalls and went into a mine to get a first-hand
look at working conditions.28
The primary purpose of Rockefeller's tripphoto opportunities
asidewas to announce the Colorado Industrial Plan, more commonly
known as the Rockefeller Plan. This was CF&I's attempt to form an
employee representation program that would stave off recurrences of the
previous year's deadly and costly strike. According to the plan, CF&I was
to be organized into four districts. Each district was to form four "Joint
Committees on Industrial Relations," consisting of equal numbers of
employees and management to address 1) Safety and accidents, 2)
sanitation, health, and housing, 3) recreation and education, and 4)
industrial cooperation and conciliation. That two of the four committees
were to address matters of a strictly community nature attests to the
importance miners placed on improving the living conditions in the
The Rockefeller Plan improved safety conditions in CF&I's mines
and brought positive changes in camp life. One former camp resident
recalled that "after the 1913 strike [the miners] had rails and props where
they worked....What the strike won was all this freedom. They had to pay
money and not scrips. [The miners] could go where they want to buy their
stuff. That's what they won..."30 Miner Don Mitchell recalled:
"after the 1913 strike, it got a little better all over...[Rockefeller]
said he don't know there was such conditions. Well, from
than on, they changed it, see. They used to have nothing in
these camps, see. Then [came] YMCA's and...showers and
everything. Before there was nothing like that, see.
In these camps they built some homes. Fix things
up...and the men was treated much better.31
The improvements in safety and camp life notwithstanding, the
Rockefeller Plan was hardly the progressive marriage between management
and labor that its namesake hoped. It ultimately failed because the
company retained full control over the decision-making processthe
labor/management committees could only recommend changes, they had
no real authority. By 1921 the plan was moribund; it had become "less and
less a method of sharing decision-making with the miner and more and
more a means by which the will of the employer could be imposed without
incurring the penalties of open industrial warfare."32
As in the aftermath of the 1903-1904 strike, the union comet
disappeared after the 1913-1914 strike. The United Mine Workers of
America would not return to the coal fields of Colorado until 1933, and
only then under the protection of New Deal legislation. A combination of
factors inhibited unionism throughout the 1920s, including a post-war
recession, a nationwide surge of antiradicalism, right-to-work laws, a
marked decline in the demand for coal, and brutal infighting at the highest
levels in the UMWA organization.33 This is not to say that miners had no
grievancesclearly they did. They simply had no vehicle by which to
express them. The union "in Colorado had been reduced by the mid-
twenties to a paper organization and was ill-equipped to contain, or even to
influence, the stream of bitter protest that was shortly to flow. The time
was growing ripe for the successful organization of the Colorado fields, but
the union was not ready."34
Into this vacuum stepped the Industrial Workers of the World
(IWW) to stage Colorado's last great strike before the era of collective
bargaining. As in earlier conflicts, a flurry of organizing activity occurred
prior to the strike. The IWW had been successfully organizing since 1926.
In August of 1927, Wobbly organizers called for a three-day walkout to
protest the pending executions of Sacco and Vanzetti and were surprised at
the large number of coal miners responding to the call1,132 of Huerfano
county's 1,167 miners participated in the state-wide protest.
Inspired by this response, the Wobblies drew up a list of 25
demands, two of which addressed camp life: "No increase in charges for
rent and light in company owned houses" and "Labor organizers be
allowed to come and go in company owned camps."35 On October 18, half
the miners in the state struck under the IWW banner. The biggest turnouts
occurred in the northern field and around Walsenburg. The 4-month strike
brought its share of violence to the state. On November 21, police fired
into a crowd of picketing miners at the columbine mine in Weld County.
"The Columbine Massacre" resulted in 5 dead and numerous injured.
Throughout the strike, though, the Wobblies actively adopted a nonviolent
stand, which kept union-sponsored violence to a minimum.
The strike ended successfully in February 1928 when operators
statewide increased wages. The State Industrial Commission that
investigated judged that the miners demands regarding camp life were
unreasonable, reporting that company-provided facilities "such as stores,
bath houses, boarding houses...were all fair, adequate, and reasonable in
price."36 In addition to the Columbine Massacre, The Wobbly strike is most
often remembered for inspiring the progressive contract between the
UMWA and Josephine Roche's Rocky Mountain Fuel Company. The two
parties signed the contract in August 1928, basing the agreement "...on the
fact that men employed are as much an essential factor in the industry as
capital invested in it, and have rights in the determination of living and
Five years after the Wobbly Strike of 1927-1928, the United States
Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, giving labor
the right to select its own representatives. With in weeks the UMWA
organized Colorado's miners in one grand sweep. Miner Don Mitchell's
prosaic words capture the union's sluggish experience in southern
I'll tell you when the mines got organized really. They was
never organized here...what I mean, never got nowheres until
Roosevelt, when they gave you the right to organize,
see...They never had the union down in this part until then.38
1. United States Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Home
Environment and Employment Opportunities of Women in Coal-Mine Workers'
Families, Bulletin of the Women's Bureau, No.45, Washington D.C.:
Government Printing Office, 1925, p.ll.
2. Shifflett, Crandall A., Coal Towns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company
Towns of Southern Appalachia, 1880-1960, Knoxville: The University of
Tennessee Press, 1991, p.27.
3. Shifflett, p.30.
4. Scamehorn, H. Lee, Pioneer Steelmaker of the West: The Colorado Fuel
and Iron Company, 1872-1903, Boulder: Pruett Publishing Company, 1976,
5. Scamehorn, pp.19, 40-46.
6. Scamehorn, pp.67-68.
7. Scamehorn, pp.82-90.
8. Scamehorn, pp.91-92.
9. Scamehorn, p.119.
10. Scamehorn, pp.102-103.
11. Scamehorn, p.124.
12. Denver Times, December 31, 1899, p.23.
13. Denver Times, November 20, 1900, p.ll.
14. Scamehorn, pp.165-168.
15. Scamehorn, pp.126, 139.
16. McClurg, Donald J., Labor Organization in the Coal Lines of Colorado,
1878-1933, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California, 1959, p.39;
17. United States Industrial Commission, Reports of the Industrial
Commission on Immigration and on Education, vol.15, Washington D.C.:
Government Printing Office, 1901, p.407.
18. McClurg, p.102.
19. McClurg, p.127.
20. Conditions in the Coal Mines of Colorado, Hearings Before a
Subcommittee on Mines and Mining, House of Representatives, Sixty-Third
Congress, Second Session. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1914.
Part 2, pp.663-664.
21. Huerfano County Ethno-History Documentation Project. Elaine Baker,
Project Director. Huerfano County Library. Interview with Beatrice Nogare.
22. Huerfano County, interview with Maria Batuello.
23. McClurg, pp.197-198
24. McClurg, pp.205-206.
25. West, George P., U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations Report on the
Colorado Strike, Chicago: Barnard and Miller, 1915, p.6.
26. McClurg, p.380.
27. McClurg, p.355.
28. McClurg, p.347.
29. Whiteside, James, Regulating Danger: The Struggle for Mine Safety in
the Rocky Mountain Coal Industry, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990,
pp.124-125; McClurg, p.349.
30. Huerfano County, interview with Beatrice Nogare.
31. Huerfano County, interview with Don Mitchell; University of Colorado
Coal Project, interview with Donald Mitchell.
32. McClurg, p.429.
33. Whiteside, p.29; McClurg, p.387.
34. McClurg, pp.434-435.
35. McClurg, p.456.
36. McClurg, p.513.
37. McClurg, p.533.
38. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Donald Mitchell.
THE COMPANY TOWN
Mostly out of need, but partly from paternalistic motives and
occasionally because of avarice, the operators established company
stores to sell groceries, clothing, and other items; obtained doctors;
and otherwise attempted to establish the essentials of community
The Boone Report, 1947.1
Company-owned coal mining towns began to dot the landscape of
Huerfano and Las Animas counties in the 1880s. The Denver and Rio
Grande Railroad, through its Coal and Town Company subsidiary, had
already set up a variety of company towns as the main line pushed south.
Colorado Springs, for example, was originally a wholly owned company
town established a few miles outside the existing settlement of Colorado
City. D&RG had complete control over the layout and management of the
town, shielding it from any interference from an independent municipal
government. The constant buzz of activity surrounding the railroad town
naturally lured businessmen, and Colorado Springs quickly eclipsed and
eventually swallowed Colorado City. The D&RG employed this tactic in
Pueblo, creating the town of Bessemer, and in Trinidad, where it founded
the town of El Moro 5 miles northeast of the existing plaza village.
So with some experience behind it, the D&RG began to establish
towns for the sole purpose of digging and processing coal. Hard pressed
for an original name, the company opened the El Moro mine 4 miles
southeast of Trinidad (6 miles south of the town of El Moro) in 1877. By
the end of the following year, 180 coke ovens were operating at the site,
and a town had been erected to support the miners and coke workers. This
operation would soon become known as Engleville or simply Engle.2
More towns followed. Starkville was established 5 miles south of
Trinidad in 1879. Morely was founded in 1882, just a few miles north of
the New Mexico border on Raton Pass. Sopris, 4 miles west of Trinidad,
was platted in 1888. These towns all fell within a short 5 or 6 mile radius
of Trinidad, which was beginning to prosper as a mining and rail service
center. While 5 miles does not seem like a great distance by today's
standards, in the 1870s it was too far to commute. Towns had to be
established to efficiently maintain a labor force with limited mobility.3
By the end of the 1880s company towns were being founded to mine
the rich beds north of Trinidad. Twelve miles to the north, Forbes came
into existence in 1889, as did Hastings, the first operation in Berwind
Canyon 20 miles northwest Trinidad.
In Huerfano, the need for the coal companies to erect towns was
initially less acute, as Walsenburg sat atop a great north-south seam that
stretched for 15 miles on either side of town. Coal was being mined 1 mile
west of Walsenburg, in what would eventually become the huge Walsen
Mine, as early as 1876. Production was limited, though, at this early stage,
and miners commuted from town. The first dedicated company towns
appeared in Huerfano County toward the end of the 1880s with Pictou, 2
miles north of Walsenburg, and Rouse, 5 miles south, both being founded
In spite of the severe depression that began in 1893, company towns
boomed in the decade following the merger of Osgood's Colorado Fuel
Company and the Colorado Coal and Iron in 1893. During this decade
CF&I grew from ten thousand to fifteen thousand employees, about 40% of
whom worked in the Pueblo steel mill.5 By 1903 the industrial
infrastructure required to efficiently mine, process, and transport southern
Colorado's coal was firmly in place. In Las Animas County, the towns of
Primero (1901), Segundo (1901), and Tercio (1902) were founded in the
Purgatoire River Valley. Rugby (1900), Tabasco (1901), and Delagua (1903)
joined the expanding operations in Berwind Canyon. In Huerfano County,
Maitland (1898), Pryor (1898), Hezron (1902), and Walsen (1902) were also
established in this period of growth6 (see Figures 3 and 4).
About half of southern Colorado's coal camps were "closed,"
meaning that the operating company owned virtually all the property and
the buildings. The other half were considered "open" or "partially open."
These towns were close enough to Trinidad, Walsenburg, and other,
smaller towns like Aguilar, that the operators did not have to supply all the
necessities of life. Geography dictated whether a town was open or closed;
the remote camps of Morely, Tercio, Primero, and Segundo were closed,
while the Rouse, Walsen, Robinson, and McNally camps, all of which were
within a couple of miles of Walsenburg, were open.
The towns built at the turn of the century, especially those
constructed during CF&I's period of expansion from 1899-1903, were
markedly different from those built earlier. To a great degree, the early
towns were ad hoc operations, as the company had no comprehensive
strategy for managing growth or providing consistent services. The quality
of life often depended on the demeanor of the town superintendent, the
company manager responsible for overseeing the mine and the town. A
good superintendent, for example, might have enforced high standards of
sanitation and ensured that home repairs and general upkeep be given
priority. To many supers, though, the town was an afterthoughta
distraction that took valuable time and money away from operating the
mine. Given that production and profitability were the measures of
success, the well run, sanitary town was likely the exception prior to 1900.
Figure 3. The coal towns of Las Animas County. The line running north-south represents the
main transportation route, which eventually evolved into Interstate 25.
Figure 4. The coal towns of Huerfano County
Historian Crandall Shifflett believes that the American company
town went through three phases of development. The first was a pioneer
or frontier stage beginning in the 1880s and lasting until roughly World
War One. The second was a paternalistic phase that lasted until the Great
Depression. The third phase was marked by the decline of the company
town, ending sometime in the 1950s. Southern Colorado's coal towns fit
nicely into Shifflett's model, although the beginning and end of the various
phases are slightly skewed compared to the Appalachian region on which
In southern Colorado, the frontier phase was clearly coming to an
end at the turn of the century. This phase was characterized by a stark,
untamed environment. Many of the early miners were of northern
European extraction and had little stake in the community. These miners
were "single or unattached males who had been uprooted from definite
expectations of social behavior," who "sought relief in exaggerated and
sporadic outbursts of unbridled" activity8 The profile of the average miner
began to change in the late 1880s and 1890s, as southern and eastern
Europeans entered the coal mines in large numbers. Many of these either
brought family with them or worked to raise enough money to bring
Paternalism came early to the southern Colorado's coal fields. We
can date its arrival to July 25, 1901, the day CF&I created its Sociological
Department. Born in the wake of the 1901 strike, the Sociological
Department operated until 1915 when camp management was reorganized
under the Rockefeller Plan. The Department was a remarkable attempt to
redress the social problems that contributed to discontent and labor unrest.
CF&I management gave the Sociological Department a sweeping, open-
ended mission; it had "general charge of all matters pertaining to education
and sanitary conditions and any other matters which should assist in
bettering conditions under which our men live."9 Dr. Richard W. Corwin,
who had long been the director of CF&I's medical programs, was given the
position of Sociological Department Superintendent. The Department
initially employed a full staff of about two dozen people, approximately
half of whom were kindergarten and grade school teachers. From 1901 to
1904, the department published Camp and Plant, a biweekly company
newspaper that informed employees and their families about company
operations and various social and cultural activities in CF&I's camps. Camp
and Plant also reported on the Sociological Department's progress in the
five areas for which it was responsible: education, social training, industrial
training, housing, and communications. In his introduction to the
Department's first annual report, Director Corwin discusses the specific
programs launched in the first year:
Reading and night schools
Social organizations, boys' and girls' clubs
CF&I's specific activities in these areas will be addressed in
The Sociological Department had an erratic history. Between 1901
and 1908 the Department made substantial progress in improving camp
life. A remarkable level of consistency was achieved in camp management
and quality of life, and a regimented, uniform approach to
schoolingclearly the Department's highest prioritywas implemented
company wide. But in 1908 the Sociological Department experienced a
reversal of fortune when Lamont M. Bowers was appointed the manager of
CF&I's Colorado operations. Bowers would eventually gain a certain level
of infamy as the implacable corporate executive largely responsible for the
Great Strike of 1913-1914 and violence that it precipitated. Upon his
appointment to the top spot in Colorado, Bowers greatly curtailed the
Sociological Department's activities; he believed that the services it offered
to the camp dwellers were unnecessary frills. As a result "industrial-
sociological programs were underfunded, if authorized at all,"11 and camp
conditions declined steadily, ultimately contributing to the upheaval of the
Great Strike. In the strike's wake, the YMCA took over many of the
Sociological Department's responsibilities under the Rockefeller Plan,
reinvigorating to some degree the corporation's commitment to employee
CF&I's Sociological Department was a curious experiment in
industrial-labor relations, and stands as evidence that CF&I was genuinely
concerned about employee well being. The Department sprung from a
marriage of altruism and expediency. CF&I management realized that
geography had made it "the dominant influence that shaped the lives,
habits, and attitudes of all who lived in the communities." The Sociological
Department was driven by this reality, which the company saw as an
opportunity to mold its work force. The Department was to "arouse
[employee's] ambition and make them desirous of doing the best they can
for themselves as well as for their employer."12
The Sociological Department stands as the most tangible example of
corporate paternalism, a concept that conjures the conflicting images of a
guiding benevolence and calculated control. The operators of southern
Colorado's coal camps had to provide servicessocial institutions,
recreational facilities, health care, schooling, housingthat would normally
fall outside the corporate domain. In providing these services, though, they
gained an unprecedented level of control over miners and their families, for
these basic necessities could be denied on a whim. Paternalism was a
carrot, a requirement to lure and maintain a stable work force. It "was
simply another cost of doing business. It had to be paid if a company
wanted to remain competitive."13 And paternalism was a stick. One report
published shortly after the Great Strike shows how paternalism could be
easily abused for political and economic ends:
...it raises the question of whether or not political liberty [is]
possible in a community where every man's livelihood
depends on the good will and the favor of a handful of men
who control his opportunity to work. Experience in the
Colorado coal camps...proves that all the safeguards yet
devised for the free exercise of the popular will are futile to
prevent political domination when corporations or individuals
control absolutely the industrial and economic life of the
The way in which law and order were handled exemplifies the
paternalistic contradictions inherent in camp administration. Camp
marshals were deputized as sheriffs "to have the authority to act as peace
officer if there is a disturbance,1,15 and in the rugged camps of southern
Colorado this was a necessity. But these marshals were paid directly by
the company. Rather than exercise their authority according to the set
procedures of the state and local law, they would do so according to the
best interests of the men who cut their paychecks. This method of keeping
the peace was most twisted during labor unrest, when hired mine
guardsoften the employees of a detective agency under contract to the
operatorswould be deputized as officers of the law.
Company housing also serves as a model to show paternalism's two
sides. The companies provided housing to the miners and their families,
and by the turn of the century much of this housing was comfortable,
sturdy, and reasonably priced. But this ostensibly altruistic act of
providing a decent place to live was also a primary source of instability in
the miner's life. The shelter of a home could be denied almost
instantaneously if the miner engaged in activityeither on the job or in his
personal lifethat was contrary to the interests of the company. The miner
and his family could be turned out on the street in a matter of days. A
government study conducted in 1925 clearly identified this as the miners
...the very exigency of mining in remote places requires that
when a miner ceases to work in a company's mine he must, as
a rule, cease to live in the company's house. So essential is
this rule that the leases covering occupancy of company
houses stipulate that when a mine worker ceases to work for
the company for any cause whatsoever the right to occupy the
company house terminates automatically.
...[The miner] loses his right to the home both for himself and
his family when he loses or gives up the job. In times of
industrial disturbance especially, men have not dared to look
elsewhere for work, fearing that their families would be
evicted if the companies discovered that the tenant miners had
gone in search of other employment.16
Twenty-two years after these words were written another
government study also saw the unique power the company, as landlord,
had over its tenants:
The company house lease differs radically from that
customary in rental agreements affecting privately owned real
estate. Its disavowal of the normal landlord-tenant
relationship is more reminiscent of feudalism than
characteristic of the mutual dignity and independence in
This report listed specific elements of the lease agreements that gave
the company an advantage over the miner and his family: the miner was
given no more than 5 days to vacate after dismissal; the company's
responsibility as landlord was nebulous in the contract; rents were often
excessive compared to local conditions; and maintenance responsibilities
were not specified in the lease.18
Regardless of the lopsided leasing agreements, housing in southern
Colorado's coal camps stabilized at the turn of the century. CF&I's four-
year expansion and the creation of the Sociological Department fortuitously
coincided and resulted in the construction of camps that were better
designed and built than existing camps. The camps built in this period
were some of CF&I's largest; more than 500 homes were constructed in
CF&I camps, including Primero (200 homes), Segundo (75 homes, see map
on page 11), Hezron (75 homes), Tabasco (40 homes), and others.19 These
camps had modern conveniences including electricity and piped-in water
available from hydrants for fire protection and domestic use.20
The coal towns were extremely homogeneous. Historian James
Allen's stark description captures their gray uniformity:
...Certain general features usually stood out. First to be noted
would be the standard, uniform architecture of the company
owned houses. In a prominent location, however, would
stand a larger, more imposing structure: the home of the
superintendent....the town seemed to center around a focal
point where a store, community hall, school, and other public
buildings were located. The company store usually
dominated the group. It would be noted that the settlement
had no "suburbs," or no gradual build up from a few
scattered homes to a center of population. Rather, one would
note the complete isolation of the community and the
definiteness of it boundaries. Finally it would be apparent
that the existence of the community was completely
dependent on a single enterprise, because a mine...would
seem to dominate the entire scene.21
Historians writing on labor-management relations have a tendency to
criticize these camps for their monotonous appearance, with the same home
design repeated in row after row. The communities were for the most part
unattractive, but this monotony was to some degree dictated to the
company by simple economies of scale. The quickest, most cost-effective
way to provide housing for a growing population was to repeat a few basic
designs, thereby simplifying the planning and construction process and
reducing design and materials costs.
The camp houses constructed in this period and after were mostly
three- or four-room structures, although a number of six-room dwellings
were also built (see Figure 5). The majority of these structures were
constructed of concrete blocks or wood frames, with the typical four-room
house costing the $700 to build. The company rented homes for $2.00 per
room per month with water furnished free except at Frederick and
Segundo, where a charge of 25 cents per room was levied. The miner paid
35 cents a month for each electric outlet in the home, and $1.50 to $2.00 per
ton of coal for heating and cooking.22
The Sociological Department had a say in making these dwellings as
attractive and comfortable as possible. Dr. Corwin writes in the
Department's annual report that "Not only have the inside comforts of the
buildings been considered but as well the outside appearance, and the
moral effect of architecture and paint not overlooked."23 The Denver Post
reported the progress of construction optimistically:
The houses are three, four, and six-room structures, built on
stone foundations, lathed and plastered, each having porches
and all painted and quite neat and attractive in appearance.
The occupants are all furnished pure mountain water at their
doors free of cost...24
While the input of the Sociological Department did improve housing,
the harsh realities of mining camp life could not be mitigated with "moral"
architecture and a fresh coat of paint. These homes were built in a tight
radius around the mine and the industrial operations associated with it.
The gases emitted from the coke ovens and other processes not only
smelled bad but were probably harmful. Given southern Colorado's semi-
Figure 5. Company houses in Cokedale, Colorado, as they look today. When mining
operations ceased in the 1940s, the company sold the homes to the miners. The
town has been preserved and has been designated a historic site. Today, Cokedale
looks much like it did in its heyday.
arid climate, most of these communities were devoid of any trees and
landscaping, and the streets were unpaved. Keeping a house was a
constant losing battle against mud, grime, and coal dust.25
The quality of life in coal camp housing was not solely dependent on
the operators, although large operators were often in a better position than
smaller companies, from the standpoint of capital costs, to build and
maintain housing. The personal habits of the tenants and the
superintendents often influenced livability more than any other factor:
There is patently a close relationship between maintenance
and house keeping by tenants. Houses kept in good repair by
Management are likely to be well-kept and neatly furnished
by the tenants. Such a generalization must, however, be read
cautiously, for too many exceptions have been noted, where
dilapidated structures were handsomely equipped with
furniture and modern electrical appliances...[In] other
instances virtually new houses were almost bare inside, with
beds in apparently permanent disarray, unwashed dishes on
tables, garbage on the floors, and foul odors permeating every
Bob Tapia, who had worked in a half dozen camps in Las Animas and
Huerfano counties, liked American Smelting Company's camp at Cokedale
the best because the superintendent ensured the place stayed livable:
They kept it real nice. We had a superintendent that was
really rough on people if they didn't keep it nice. He went
around and inspected the yards and if they were full of weeds
he'd tell them to cut them, and if they didn't cut them he'd
send a man to cut them and then he'd charge it to the people.
Well, he wanted a clean camp and...he had a nice beautiful
More than any other single element in company towns, the company
store has come to represent the pervasive power of the operator and the
vulnerability of the miner and his family. "I owe my soul to the company
store" has become part of American folklore; the phrase is appealing
because it captures in eight simple words the archetypal struggles of the
minerthe faceless corporate oppression, the spiritual fight of the
individual to maintain his identity, and the toil for a better life. The oral
histories are replete with references to "that Tennessee Ernie Ford song"
and how "it was just like that," but this is an instance of life imitating art.
The subtle heroism implied by the song is easily embraced by those who
experienced camp life, but it oversimplifies the economic complexities of
giving miners access to the goods necessary for survival on the remote
The basic operating procedures of the company store are well known
and have been repeated in labor histories ad infinitum. Historian Price
Fishback concisely describes why companies had to operate stores:
Population density in mining regions was generally very low,
with few if any existing stores or homes. Opening a mine was
a risky proposition; mines expanded, contracted, and closed
with fluctuations in coal demand. But opening an
independent store was even riskier because determining
future actions of a mine company was costly. Further, most
early mining towns were small, probably below the necessary
size to open a profitable independent store...28
The company store typically contained everything the miner and his family
needed, from gunpowder, picks, and shovels to dry goods, furniture, and
animal feed. Labor historians have frequently portrayed the company store
as the nefarious vehicle of corporate oppression. The companyaccording
to most versionswould pay the miner in scrip redeemable only at the
store, forcing the miner to pay grossly inflated prices. The miner could
draw credit at the store against his next paycheck, invariably getting deeper
and deeper into debt. The company recognized great profits from this
arrangement and kept the miner in debt and in poverty, consigning him to
a life of indenture, so the story goes.
Figure 6. The massive company store still stands where the town of Tercio once
Evidence indicates that the relationship between the miner and the
company store in southern Colorado's coal fields does not readily conform
to this version of planned economic enslavement The store was part of an
economic package that included wages, living conditions, and other
amenities. With well over two dozen mines operating in southern
Colorado and northern New Mexico, the operators were constrained by
competition amongst themselves; as will be discussed in Chapter 4, there
was a high degree of transience in the fields and a general shortage of labor
at most times. The operators could not afford to squeeze the miner at the
company store because the miner usually had the option of picking up and
moving to another mine. Limits on store prices "were imposed by
competition among mines to attract laborers to their towns."29 During
periods of labor-management tension, the store became one of the many
weapons used by the operators to influence residents' behavior. Credit
could be rescinded, and miners could be fired or blacklisted for shopping
in non-company stores. But such draconian measures appear to be the
exception and seem to have been invoked during pre-strike periods, when
both the union and management were maneuvering for maximum control
of the miners.
The company stores faced competition from independent stores in
the "open" towns. About half of CF&Fs company stores, which were
operated by the company's Colorado Supply Company subsidiary, had
independent competitors.30 In 1914, John C. Osgood, the president of the
Victor American Fuel Company, testified to the effect that competition had
on his operations:
...most of our mines are near enough to some town, so that
once a week or so the men can go to town and trade, and that
the maximum amount of our sales at any time has not
exceeded 25 per cent of the payroll, so that it does not look
like we are forcing our men to make all their purchases at our
While competition cut into the operators' market in the open camps, they
could still operate at a profit as whole throughout the region. Both Osgood
and Jesse Welborn, the president of CF&I, testified that their store
subsidiaries earned about 20 percent on their capital investmentsa profit
margin any businessman would covet.32
Conditions could arise in the southern field that would strengthen
the operators' hand in compelling miners to shop at company stores,
including over production of coal, the occasional labor glut, and periods of
labor-management tension. The remote, closed camps were obviously more
susceptible to these pressures than the open camps. "You trade [at the
company store] or else...down the canyon you would go."33 Being "sent
down the canyon" was local parlance for being discharged.
Beatrice Nogare's father worked in numerous mines around Trinidad
from the turn of the century until the Great Strike of 1913-1914. She recalls
the pressure to buy at the company store was particularly intense just
before the strike:
We had to buy everything at the store. The pay was in scrip
money, this was before the strike...You couldn't go to Trinidad
to buy anything....If anybody would go down...and buy
something in Trinidad, if the superintendent found out next
morning they would have their check time hanging on the
hook, instead of the check number they carry into the
mine....They would have to move away from there, no more
work for them there. That was pretty tough for it was hard to
get another job right away.34
Miner Frank Gutierrez also says that much depended on the temperament
of the superintendent:
...a lot of fellas had farms close to the camp and they raised
vegetables....They sell goats, they sell cheese....If the
superintendent wanted to buy cheese, he buys it [and the
peddler] could go in there day and night if they wanted to.
But some superintendents didn't like that...They wanted you
to trade at the company store.35
Frank remembers one miner would spend his day off picking blueberries
and raspberries in the surrounding hills to sell to the superintendents.
The pressure to shop at company stores fluctuated depending on the
state of relations between labor and management, and could greatly affect
the miner's quality of life. Another influence on the quality of life in the
camps was the sanitary conditions. A number of government studies
conducted during this period show that sanitary conditions varied greatly
in camps nationwide and even within a specific region. One report states
that the "water supply is a more serious problem in the far west than in
eastern or central mining regions..." simply because there was so little of it:
Rivers in the bituminous-coal-producing areas are heavily
polluted with sewage, impurities, and mine wastes of all sorts.
Mine water...has introduced a relatively high percentage of
sulfur, plus calcium, iron, and other minerals. Animals kept
on the watershed have contributed to the problem.36
Tributaries of the Purgatoire and Cucharas rivers, which supplied
many of the mining communities around Trinidad and Walsenburg
respectively, were hardly suited to the region's domestic and industrial
needs. Barely more than creeks, these rivers were taxed to the point where
human health was affected. Camp and Plant, CF&I's employee newspaper,
advised its readers on a number of occasions to boil drinking water taken
from these rivers. "Typhoid fever is putting in its appearance," one issue
warned, "and everyone ought to drink boiled water."37
Sewage disposal was the most acute problem affecting sanitary
conditions. In 1920, a sample of 811 coal mining camps nationwide found
that 20% had running water, 3% had bathtubs, and less than 4% had flush
toiletsouthouses were the norm in 60.7% of company towns. Twenty-six
years later, a similar study showed that little had changed; this larger
sampling found that 88.4% of company-owned homes still relied on
outhouses and only 5.2% had integrated sewage systems.38 The problems
caused by this primitive state of sewage management could be severe:
One privy more or less faulty in construction or lacking in
care is neither a pleasant nor healthful adjunct to a farmhouse,
but hundreds of such marplots within and area of a few acres
will well-nigh submerge all other assets of home and
community livability, to say nothing of imperiling the health
of every person who lives or labors within reach of privy
Based on today's knowledge of disease and toxicity, the health of the
people living in the camps must have been affected. The by-products of
the mining and coking coal only exacerbated the situation. One resident of
Cokedale remembers that how bad the town smelled depended on which
way the wind was blowing the gases from the coke ovens. "We didn't call
it smog in those days; we just called it bad smoke..."40 In shades of
Orwellian doublespeak, Camp and Plant described the situation in Starkville:
"The coke ovens, which have been closed for sixty days, are again running
at full capacity, and our citizens really enjoy the clouds of smoke which
cover our town."41
Even at the turn of the centurylong before the Great Strike and the
Rockefeller Plan that was the high-water mark of corporate
paternalismCF&I knew that life in the camps presented a public relations
challenge. This was the era of progressivism, and Sinclair-like exposes
were uncovering the darker side of all American industries, including coal.
Camp life was not the living hell some labor historians have claimed, but it
was also far from ideal and hardly democratic. Even the sunny prose of
CF&Ts Camp and Plant can't hide this reality. Feeling driven to respond to
criticisms of camp management, CF&I inadvertently acknowledges that
serious problems exist:
The statement made in the Denver Post Saturday of last week
by some "hot air" artistviz: that the miners of southern
Colorado were making only starvation wages and never saw
any cash, receiving all their earnings in scripsounds
laughable to those on the ground who know the conditions as
they really exist. Nothing was ever gained by misrepresenting
This defensiveness creeps into corporate prose even when no specific
charges have been leveled:
...so we of Sopris think we have the most picturesque location
of all the Colorado Fuel and Iron camps....The person who
only knows "camps" by hearsay...would be surprised. A
reporter for a yellow journal and a photograph fiend would
find their mission objectless if they came here for the
traditional newspaper mining camp. Their imaginations
would have to supply the requisite lurid "copy" for the facts
show an entirely different state of affairs from that published
in the "penny dreadfuls."43
The realities of working and living in the company towns of
southern Colorado differ somewhat from the bleak portrait sketched by
many labor historians. The founding of CF&I's Sociological Department
demonstrates management's awareness of the ties between a content work
force and profitability. More than any other single entity, the Sociological
Department improved living conditions and set the standard for other
companies to followif they were to compete successfully for labor.
An examination of company housing and the company store show
us that the power of the company could indeed eclipse the power of the
law, and in times of labor unrest these excesses were severe. But the
requirements of maintaining a stable work force prohibited the company
from going too far in the normal course of operations. The majority of the
time the miner had the option of moving to another camp in the region. A
subtly tense balancebuilt on the damp foundation of corporate
paternalismexisted between the operator and the miner, and it allowed
the miner and his family to pursue a relatively normal industrial-era
1. United States Coal Mines Administration, A Medical Survey of the
Bituminous-Coal Industry, report of the Coal Mines Administration, 1947, p.xiii.
(Commonly referred to as the Boone Report.)
2. Scamehom, H. Lee, Pioneer Steelmaker of the West: The Colorado Fuel
and Iron Company, 1872-1903, Boulder: Pruett Publishing Company, 1976, p.30.
3. Bauer, William H., James L. Ozment, John H. Willard, Colorado Post
Offices, 1859-1989: A Comprehensive Listing of Post Offices, Stations and Branches,
Golden: The Colorado Railroad Museum, 1990.
5. Scamehorn, p.149.
6. Bauer; Scamehorn, p.155.
.7. Shifflett, Crandall A., Coal Towns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company
Towns of Southern Appalachia, 1880-1960, Knoxville: The University of
Tennessee Press, 1991, p.48.
8. Shifflett, p.52.
9. Annual Report of the Sociological Department of the Colorado Fuel and
Iron Company, 1901-1902.
10. The Annual Report of the Sociological Department. 1901-1902.
11. Scamehorn, p.85.
12. Scamehorn, p.149.
13. Shifflett, p.66.
14. West, George P., U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations Report on the
Colorado Strike, Chicago: Barnard and Miller, 1915, pp.6-7.
15. Conditions in the Coal Mines of Colorado, Hearings Before a
Subcommittee on Mines and Mining, House of Representatives, Sixty-Third
Congress, Second Session. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1914,
16. United States Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Home
Environment and Employment Opportunities of Women in Coal-Mine Workers'
Families, Bulletin of the Women's Bureau, No.45, Washington D.C.:
Government Printing Office, 1925, p.27.
17. United States Coal Mines Administration, p.62.
18. United States Coal Mines Administration, p.63.
19. Denver Times, December 15, 1901.
20. Scamehom, Pioneer, p.155; Scamehorn, H. Lee, Mill and Mine: The
CF&I in the Twentieth Century, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992,
21. Allen, James B., The Company Town in the American West, Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1966, p.79.
22. Conditions in the Coal Mines of Colorado, pp.491-492; Scamehorn,
23. Annual Report of the Sociological Department of the Colorado Fuel and
Iron Company. 1901-1902, p.7.
24. Denver Times, December 15,1901, p.2.
25. Scamehorn, Mine and Mill, p.87.
26. United States Coal Mines Administration, pp.30-33.
27. University of Colorado Institute of Behavior Sciences's Coal Project.
Transcripts of interviews with miners conducted by Eric Margolis. University
of Colorado at Boulder. Interview with Bob Tapia.
28. Fishback, Price V. "Did Coal Miners 'Owe Their Souls to the
Company Store'? Theory and Evidence from the Early 1900s," Journal of
Economic History, 46, December 1986, p.1012.
29. Fishback, p.1012.
30. West, p.68.
31. Conditions in the Coal Mines of Colorado, pp.403-404.
32. West, p.68.
33. University of Colorado, interview with Steve Surisky.
34. Huerfano County Ethno-History Documentation Project. Elaine Baker,
Project Director. Huerfano County Library. Interview with Beatrice Nogare.
35. Huerfano County, interview with Frank Gutierrez.
36. United States Coal Mines Administration, p.41.
37. Camp and Plant, July 11, 1903, p.20, and September 12, 1903, p.211.
38. United States Department of Labor, p.6; United States Coal Mines
39. United States Department of Labor, p.23.
40. University of Colorado, interview with Frank Harenberg.
41. Camp and Plant, October 17, 1903.
42. Camp and Plant, October 17, 1903.
43. Camp and Plant, January 11,1901.
Although the "typical" company town is difficult to characterize, it
would be imprudent to disregard its emblematic features of life. In
spite of idiosyncracies of individual settlements, nearly all residents
of coal towns shared some common modes of thought, habits,
prejudices, values, aspirations, and experiences.
Crandall Shifflett, historian1
...once youre a coal miner, you're just as friendly with one guy as
the other one.
John Valdez, coal miner2
...it's the closeness of the people, closeness of the miners. And
something about camp life...after you moved out you miss what you
had there, because people were so close.
Caroline Tomsic, camp resident3
The circumstances under which communities were forged in the coal
camps of southern Colorado differed dramatically from those found in
typical American small towns. Coal towns were isolated, populated largely
by immigrants, and driven by a dangerous activitymining coal. These
characteristics colored all relations that developed within and contributed
to the community. The unique set of circumstances did not prohibit the
formation of a community, but it created communities very different from
what one might consider typical for rural America at the turn of the
century. The omnipotent corporate presence, the geographic isolation, and
the ubiquitous danger of mining coal combined to give the coal miner and
his family a very different experience from their relatives who settled in
large cities or established smaller towns. To the miners, the company
townwith all its extremeswas America.
Ethnic diversity was the most conspicuous characteristic of the coal
communities, and the pressures unique to camp life had a positive
influence on ethnic relations. The environment created in the camps
allowed ethnic groups that had a long history of animosity to live and
work together peacefully. Greeks and Bulgarians, Croats and Slovenes,
Italians and Tyrolians buried their hatreds and were able to forge
communities. And community was a necessity. The extremes of mining
coal and coal town management required that miners and their families
develop a support system independent of the company. In the periods of
labor strife, the union performed this function, but as noted in Chapter 1,
these periods were relatively short, and the union was absent from the
miners lives the majority of the time. The church could have been the
common communal bond, but like so many other elements of town life, the
church was closely tied to the company. Miners and their families tended
to worship individually or associate with independent churches outside of
Communitythe soul of the mining campscould not be imposed
from above. It was created and maintained by those who relied on it for
defense against the company, against isolation, and against the traumatic
nature of mining coal. An examination of ethnic relations, health care,
religion, and leisure activities demonstrates that community was the one of
the few elements of camp life that the residents themselves could control.
As noted in Chapter 2, the ethnic composition of Colorado's
southern coal fields changed dramatically between 1890 and 1910. Prior to
this period, English and Welsh minersmen who had been trained as
miners in the old countryhad made up a large portion of the work force.
Hispanics, from the villages around Trinidad and Walsenburg and those
who migrated seasonally from northern New Mexico, also comprised a
large percentage of mine labor in this early period. A smattering of
southern European and Slavic miners were also present, but in relatively
The accompanying graphs (Figures 7,8, and 9) compiled from census
data taken from 1880 to 1920 show the dramatic demographic changes that
occurred in Huerfano and Las Animas Counties around the turn of the
century. Between 1890 and 1910 southern and eastern Europeans arrived in
droves, markedly changing the composition and atmosphere of the camps.
By 1910, an incredible 17.6% of the population in these counties were bom
in southern or eastern Europe. The vast majority of these immigrants
settled either in or close to the coal camps.5
I i Total Population Total Foreign Bom
Figure 7. The combined population of Las Animas and Huerfano Counties.
1880 1890 1900 1910 1920
Foreign Bom Eastern and Southern Europeans
Figure 8. The influx of Eastern and Southern Europeans into Las Animas and
Huerfano Counties increased dramatically between 1890 and 1920.
1880 1890 1900 1910 1920
Eastern and Southern Europeans Italians
Figure 9. Italians were the single largest nationality among the foreign born in Las
Animas and Huerfano Counties from 1900 to 1920.
By 1900 two-thirds of CF&I's 9000 coal miners were immigrants from
southern and eastern Europe. In all, 32 nationalities were represented on
the company's payroll, and 27 different languages were spoken in the
camps. Well over half of these nationalities hailed from the crumbling
Austro-Hungarian empire, and they were often lumped together under the
catch-all title of "Austrians." That they considered themselves distinct
nationalities is without question. Magyars, Slovenes, Poles, Croatians,
Bosnians, Ruthenians, and Moraviansto name just a fewpoured into the
region, and they were joined by Greeks, Russians, Spaniards, Germans,
Japanese, and Irish. As Figure 9 shows, Italians were by far the largest
single ethnic group in the field, out numbering "Austrians" four to one by
the time the First World War began.6
The ethnic mix in the camps also included blacks and hispanics, both
Americans and Mexican nationals. Blacks were on the payroll in numerous
camps. At one time, the mine at Morely employed 39, and Berwind had 8
to 10 black families. Hispanics had worked the mines since operations
began in the 1870s, and composed 15.63% of the total work force in Las
Animas in 1915/
The change in the ethnic makeup of the camps was accompanied by
other demographic changes. Prior to 1890, miners tended to be single,
rugged individuals with little interest in community or putting down roots.
Later immigrants, though, either brought their families with them or sent
for them as soon as financially possible. John C. Osgood, as president of
the Victor-American Coal Company, testified to this trend in 1915, saying
"In years gone by most of our men were English-speaking men. Now they
are mostly foreignersalmost from every land...they have relatives in the
camps...The majority of these men come out here to stay..."8 By 1900, a
high percentage of the population in coal towns were women and children.
Jesse F. Wellborn, President of CF&I, indicated in his testimony before a
federal commission in 1914 that the ratio of family members to miners was
about three to one. He stated, for example that the camp at Primero has
225 to 250 men, which "would mean 600 people" in the camp. At Tercio
CF&I had "100 people working for [the] company" with 300 total in the
The operators believed that the diverse ethnic mix worked in their
favor, and evidence indicates they encouraged a certain amount of ethnic
tension. Lamont M. Bowers, CF&I's Colorado manager in the early 1900s
admitted the company consciously mixed nationalities, so that "when too
many of one nationality get into a given district...[CF&I] would go adjust
their men that no very large percent in any mine could communicate with
the others." This was the traditional method of inhibiting miner solidarity
with the barrier of language.10 As we shall discuss later in this chapter, the
operators attempts to use ethnicity to drive miners apart was largely
Segregation was the norm in the camps, with the best housing going
to Anglo-Americans and northern Europeans. Blacks and Hispanics had
designated areas, as did southern and eastern Europeans who usually
choose to live in neighborhoods with their own kind.11 Martha Todd grew
up in the camps and remembers most camps being segregated by ethnicity
and nationality: "People segregated themselves, nationally...The Germans
stayed with the Germans. The Italians stayed with the Italians. The
different Slavic people stayed with their own..."12 These various ghettos
were given distinctive names. In Dawson, just over Raton Pass in New
Mexico, blacks lived in "Coontown," Greeks lived on "Number 4 Hill," and
Italians lived in "Laredo." The camp at Delagua was also separated by
race and nationality, with blacks living in "Uptown," Austrians in
"Bricktown," Italians in "Cast Town," and Japanese in "Japtown."13
The segregation that existed in the camps does not appear to have
been of a militant nature. Camp segregation was largely a function of
immigration and the desire of people in a strange land to seek their own
kind. The trend was perpetuated to some degree by word of mouth. An
Italian, for example, would send word of employment opportunities back
home to relatives and friends, who would come join him. In this way,
some nationalities became prevalent at specific camps. Walt Laney recalls
that Welshman and the Irish would gravitate to Pictou and Maitland
outside of Walsenburg, while Germans clustered at the Denaley mine and
Slavinians were dominant at Gordon.14
For a new immigrant, southern Colorado's coal fields were a stark
and daunting place. The immigrant, male or female, often made the two-
month trip from Europe alone and faced a strange land, language, and
customs. Those who came over at the urging of a friend or relative already
established in a camp had it a little easier; the established acquaintance
served as a mentor of sorts. Regardless, the trauma of immigrationthe
loneliness, the homesicknesswas wrenching. Initially, many hated their
Unlike many of his fellow immigrants, Ed Tomsic did not come over
for political or financial reasons, but his sense of detachment was just as
...I left Europe because my folks wanted me to become a
priest, and I run away from there. It took me 38 days on a
boat until we get to Trinidad and Engleville. I started work. I
was a little over 18. Believe it or not, I cry many, many times,
why did I come? My hands was full of blisters....They wasn't
poor my folks. [They] want to send me the money to go back,
but I had too much pride to go back.15
Maria Batuello came by herself from Tyrolia in 1920 at the age of 17.
Her aunt and uncle had arrived a year before and urged her to come,
luring her with the good marriage prospects in the camps. She found it
difficult to adjust to America:
I was hurt. I don't like it here. I cry and cry. I don't know
nobody except my uncle and auntie, but even them I don't see
them for a long time...and I cry and I tell you one thing, if the
way wasn't with the sea, with the water, I walk home.16
Many women followed their husbands to southern Colorado, usually
coming separately after enough money could be saved for the trip. In
addition to the upheaval of leaving home and an arduous voyage by steam
ship and train, the women arrived with no knowledge of the local customs,
which seemed often to be just as stressful as the physical dislocation. A1
Berte remembers his mom insisting that his father put curtains in the back
of his 1920 Chevrolet when he picked her up at the depot in Walsenburg
because she was worried that her only dress was too old fashioned.17
Angela Tonso's fiance' worked for a time in the coal fields and
returned to Tyrolia in 1913 to marry her. The newlyweds arrived back in
Walsenburg on September 10, just 10 days before the Great Strike began.
After working for a week at Rouse, he struck with the rest of the miners,
was arrested on a picket line, and spent 4 days incommunicado in the
Trinidad jail. Angela, who spoke no English, had no idea what had
happened to her husband during those 4 daysas far as she knew he had
simply disappeared. After two weeks in the new land she'd had enough.
"Oh, I was ready to go back home. I says, if this is America, I don't want
any part of it."18
The barrier of language had to be overcome to function and survive
in the camps. Gertrude Ferraro claims she learned English in 6 months by
"looking at the funnies and reading the Denver Post." Some had an easier
time of it than others, and children tended to pick up English more quickly
than the adults. Nick Halamandris grew up in the camps during the 1920s
and was able to pick up "a little Japanese, Italian, Spanish, French, and
Slavish...and of course Greek too." His introduction to a language usually
began with the cuss words because "that's what a kid learns first." Italian
immigrant A1 Berte recalls learning English much quicker than his two
older sisters, and his parents struggled for years with the language: "...they
had an awful hard time trying to go out to the store, and trying to buy
things, trying to express what they wanted. They mostly had to point at
Once immigrants overcame the trauma of adapting to life on the
rugged industrial frontier of a foreign country, they found the coal camp
community to be full of support, sympathy, and sharing. A large portion
of the oral histories collected from people who populated the camps shows
a consistent theme of ethnic harmony and collective support. Two factors
strengthened the glue that held these communities together: the shared
immigrant experience and the homogeneous rhythms of life in a coal camp.
Many immigrants were subjected to political or economic oppression in
their native lands, a long voyage to an unknown land, and the harshness of
laboring in the burgeoning industrial era. "We were all in the same boat,"
remembers Angela Tonso, "poor the same. There wasn't any jealousy or
hatred."20 The shared odyssey combined with the exigencies of mining
coalthe danger, the toil, the exploitationgave camp populations a strong
sense of commonality. The community had both respect and sympathy for
its individual members, and these mitigated the nationalism and
ethnocentrism that so sharply divided many Europeans.
Many of the labor histories imply that the combined effect of strikes
and the union's avuncular hand inspired miners to put aside their
ethnocentrism. Zeese Papanikolas, in his biography of strike leader Louis
Tikas, lyrically extols how former enemies, specifically Bulgarians and
Greeks, could live side by side:
A few months before, the countrymen of these frightened
miners were exchanging lead and atrocities with the Greeks in
the hills of Macedonia. Now in the tents of Ludlow, it was
the Greek Louis Tikas who took [the Bulgarians] in and fed
them and parleyed with their chief.21
Certainly, immigrants carried varying degrees of nationalism to the New
World. The camps were far from an ethnic utopia, but a strong air of
tolerancestronger than in towns and cities outside the campdid exist.
Ann Laney recalls:
We were closely knit, far more than you are .in town.
Everybody knew each other and got along real well...It was
more social in the camps...it seems like they accepted you
when you moved in. There was no difference. And really, I
think all nationalities got along real good there in the coal
Louis Guigli has similar memories:
Where we lived there were Italian and Polish people.
Everybody was real friendly. Everybody would go and visit
one another. If they weren't at one home one night, they
were at the other. Everyone pitched in and drank wine,
whiskey, and pitched food together and had a good time.
There was no enemy living in those days...Everyone
appreciated one another.23
Hispanic miner Gerardo Tovar believes that the sense of camp unity
often superseded nationality. He recalls how his Anglo buddies in the
Dawson Camp would stick with him in a fight, even against other Anglos,
because they were all from the same camp.24
Tolerance and harmony were not solely a phenomenon of the
immigrant community. Alfred Owens, a black miner who spent his entire
life in the Walsenburg area, never experienced prejudice in the camps:
You know, I was raised up around white people and I can't
remember no prejudice...we played ball together, we went
together...in all the mining camps practically everybody's the
same...we didn't have no Jim Crow stuff like that. Everybody
was just what you are, that's what you was.25
Dan Desantis had black neighbors in Berwind. "We didn't see no
difference....They was good people."26
One element that greatly influenced the general, tolerant attitudes
found in the camps was the nature of mining coal. All professions develop
a sense of brotherhood or sisterhood, but the dangerous nature of mining
created an extremely strong bond among miners, regardless of race and
[Miners] are so close together in the mine...one was watching
the other one, protecting the other guy all the time...and any
danger that would come up...it just drawed the men right
While racial and ethnic tolerance generally prevailed in the camps, it
would be wrong to think of the environment as overflowing with brotherly
love. The tense, dangerous work of mining coal, the economic hardships,
and the on-again off-again attempts to unionize the miners gave plenty of
opportunity for racial animosity to boil over. One Huerfano County
deputy sheriff remembers that the majority of the miners' problems with
the law sprung from ethnic-related disputes. Many of these fights had
were caused by nationalistic grudges brought from Europe.28 John C.
Osgood, president of Victor-American, touched on this problem when
testifying about the difficulty of assigning miners to weigh their colleagues'
The difficulty about checkweighmen is this: we have a very
large number of nationalities at our mines. It is right difficult
for these men to agree on a checkweighman; if they agree on
an Italian, the slavs believe he is stealing from them and
giving to his Italian friends, and if it is a slav it is vice versa.29
Although the combined pressures of camp life might diminish
ethnocentrism, they did notand could noteradicate it. Racism seemed
to be the norm in Cokedale, the American Smelting Company town 10
miles west of Trinidad. Cokedale had a very active chapter of the Ku Klux
Klan in the 1920s that staged numerous cross burnings on the hill above
town. The Klan's activity may have had the tacit support of American
Smelting Company; a number of miners recall that it was the unwritten
company rule that blacks were not to be hired. "They just wouldn't hire
them. You never saw a colored man working here in this mine. You did
at Valdez....They work in CF&I [mines] and Sopris and places like that," but
not at Cokedale.30
Asians, mostly Japanese, were rarely accepted as equals in the
mining communities. In addition to the obvious cultural differences that
fed the fires of racism, the Japanese were often introduced in to the
southern Colorado fields as strike breakers, and hard feelings remained
long after the strikes ended. Thirty-two Japanese strikebreakers arrived in
Walsenburg in during the 1901-1903 strike after being "roughly handled" in
Freemont County coal mines. The United Mine Workers Union perceived
that their presence inhibited the union's strength because other miners
refused to join a union that had Asian members. Cokedale had a large
Japanese work force that was kept completely segregated both above and
below ground. They had their own bathhouse and a separate entry into the
mine: "there was just Jap people working in there and a Jap boss."31
The Hispanic miner and his family also had a different ethnic
standing in the community. While the Hispanics were not ostracized to the
extant that the Japanese were, they were not fully accepted into the
European-dominated community structure. Like the Japanese, the
Hispanics were seen as strike breakers and a cheap source of labor, and the
operators sought to take advantage of this tension. That Hispanics were
drawn to coal mining's relatively good wages is without question. As a
farm laborer a Hispanic could earn about one dollar a day; a miner could
more than double that income, earning about $60 a month. Over the span
of four decades, 11,000 New Mexicansmen woman and
childrenmigrated to southern Colorado to mine coal or provide support
services to the growing industrial population.32
Hispanics were partially integrated into the mining communities. In
some camps Hispanics and Europeans coexisted peacefully. At the
Tollerburg, Valdez, and Ramsey mines, which were not solidly Hispanic
communities, Hispanics were elected as union delegates, and Hispanic
committeemen served during the Great strike at Pryor and the Ludlow tent
colony.33 In other camps the populations did not mix:
All could go to dances in those days, Slavs, Polish, English,
and Irish people. But they would never let a Spanish inside
the dance hall...because they didn't want the Spanish people
to mix with the Italians because every time they came in there
was a lot of trouble and fighting. Guns were pulled and
everything else. They couldn't mix with them because they
couldn't get along with them.34
As a child Clarence Cordova remembers being shunned by other Hispanics
because he hung around with Slavic kids:
See, the little Mexican town was from up the creek and the
American one was this way, and when they came together
they always fought. Well, I lived in the company's house and
I went with George Duzneack and the Mexican kids didn't
Some Hispanics lived in company housing, while others lived in the
numerous adobe plaza villages that dotted the southern Colorado
landscape. The operators found this autonomy somewhat disconcerting
and thought of the Hispanics as "clannish." The plaza village served to
some degree as an indigenous support structure, and it reduced company
control over this large portion of the work force.36 The complex Hispanic
culture was often misunderstood by the Anglo power structure. The
Hispanic population at Forbes, for example, had a day of mourning for an
infant that had succumbed to disease. When the Hispanics did not show
up for work, the superintendent thought they were on strike. After the
circumstances were explained to him, the super derisively asked "...what
am I to know of your heathenish customs?"37
While Asians and Hispanics were kept out of or only partially
integrated into the coal camp community, the majority of the European
ethnic groups lived in relative harmony, supporting each other in their
larger struggle for survival and economic prosperity. Another aspect of the
camp communities crucial to survival and prosperity was health care. And
once again, the singular activity of coal mining dictated how health care
was provided and received.
Health care in the camps came in two forms: formal medical care,
which was provided by the company, and informal medical care, consisting
of folk medicine that the different ethnic groups brought with them to
southern Colorado. Both forms were important to the well being of the
community, but the population seems to have relied on the informal folk
medicine to meet most of the health care needs. Formal medical care seems
to have been focused more on industrial medicine, treating injuries and
ailments resulting from mining activities.
Most mining companies in the west provided some level of health
care to their employees. Given the inherent dangers of industry during this
era, the larger companies had to provide this service to attract and maintain
their work force. In the coal industry, this service was funded through a
prepayment plan where a small sum, on the order of one dollar per month,
was deducted from a miner's pay. A survey conducted in the 1940s
showed that 81% of the miners working in the coal fields of southern
Colorado were covered under this type of plan, which is a much higher
percentage than other mining regions. What made southern Colorado
different from other coal regions around the country is that this single
monthly check-off also covered hospital services.38
The relatively advanced state of industrial medicine in the fields can
be attributed to a great extent to CF&Fs Medical Department under the
guidance of Dr. Richard W. Corwin. As discussed in Chapter 2, Dr.
Corwin was also the head of the company's Sociological Department, and a
fair amount of overlap existed between the two departments. Corwin
established the company's first medical services in 1881, when it was still
the Colorado Coal and Iron Company, and remained in charge of medical
services for 48 years until his death in 1929.39
Corwin began assigning physicians to the coal regions in 1882.
Initially one doctor was assigned to Trinidad and one to Walsenburg, but
as operations expanded each camp was assigned a doctor. Most camps had
dedicated medical facilities consisting mainly of a well equipped doctor's
office. The camp physicians were paid a salary and usually received
housing and domestic coal free of charge. Their duties were broad; they
provided "gratuitous services for all cases except those of confinement,
venereal diseases, and fight bruises."40 The physicians would treat these
ailments, but the patient was required to pay a fee above the monthly
The camp physicians were given a monthly allowance for
pharmaceuticals of 3 cents for each miner and dependent under their
charge. Most of the time this fell far short of what was needed. In the
typical camp, the doctor received about $12 per month for drugs, but he
usually distributed $25 worth of medication during any given month. The
balance had to be made up from the for-fee services he provided or from
private practice conducted on the side.
Camp residents speak highly of the company doctors and their
dedication to duty. Ann Laney, who grew up in the camps, remembers the
doctor "used to come out to the mines, and he would make his calls at the
mines, and then he would go out in the different neighborhoods."41 Miners
would report sick family members to the mine office in the morning, and
the doctor would usually make his rounds by early afternoon.
In addition to the medical services in the camps, CF&I operated a
large medical center in Pueblo that served the workers in the Minnequa
steel mill and the severely ill and injured sent from the company's camps.
Camp residents with ailments that could not be treated locally were
shipped to the hospital free of charge. Opened in 1882, the hospital was
initially a modest 30-bed facility. In 1902 the company expanded this
complex to be a state-of-the-art medical center comprising 13 buildings on
20 acres of land. Known as Minnequa Hospital, the facility was staffed by
9 physicians and surgeons and 5 interns, which testifies to just how
hazardous the coal and iron industry was. CF&I also established a nursing
school in 1899 as part of the hospital services.42
The formal medical programs established by CF&I and the other
large coal companies were only part of the health care picture. Many of the
mining communities' medical needs were met by folk medicine such as
herbal remedies and home cures. Folk remedies were used for everything
from preventing the common cold to setting broken bones and delivering
babies. The frequency with which references to this type of medicine
appear in the oral history record show that its use was common and
widespread. As to the variety of home remedies that were common
knowledge, one former camp resident states "There was so many I can't
remember them all."43
Miner August Andreatta recalls that the remedies the immigrants
brought from the old country were augmented by the local folklore of
...there was some herbs, you know that come from the old
country, teas and stuff like that. But when [my mother] came
here, there was an old lady, I guess she was part Indian, and
she showed my mother a lot of these herbs that were out in
the prairie...I remember she used to pick a weed that was
called La Aranja De San Jose in Spanish. The branch of St.
Joseph, and you boil a couple of little branches in water, and
drink the water and it physics you like that. If you need a
physic, see, everything would come out.44
Herbal remedies were common in the camps. Alfred Owens' mother
seems typical of many, "she used to get different herbs from the hills and
make teas...She used to get weeds and things like that and make some kind
of medicine tea." Camomile tea was used as a cure-all for minor ailments,
and Cora Hribar remembers drinking a terribly bitter wild sage tonic for
three weeks every spring "to purify the blood." Garlic was also used in
various ways to cure many problems including worms, and according to
Louis Guigli was a sure-fire way to prevent the flu: "My mother made a
necklace around our neck with pure garlic... and we never did get the flu in
our family, and in later years we learned why, because nobody wanted to
sit by us."45
In addition to herbs, a variety of other home remedies were used,
including a strong dose of whiskey and a variety of snake oils delivered to
remote locations by "the Raleighman." Lard, in various forms, could
perform minor miracles:
My mother had old lard rendered and let it get real old, so it
would get good and green and real old, and it would take out
splinters. She would put it on our chests so we wouldn't
catch cold. And beat up wine and eggs and drink it, and also
boiled wine and cloves and take it and go to bed, and in the
morning we got up as good as new46
Just as miners and their families maintained their physical health
through a combination of institutional medicine and home remedies, so
they looked after their spiritual health through a combination of formal
religious institutions and independent worship. Religion was an important
part of a mining family's life. Although the operators
attemptedsomewhat meeklyto provide for the spiritual needs of camp
residents, company-sponsored religious activities generally failed,
frequently, residents had to seek religious guidance in Walsenburg or
Trinidad or provide for their own spiritual needs.
Italians and Hispanics were generally devout Catholics, and the
eastern Europeans were Catholic, Protestant, and Russian and Greek
Orthodox. The diversity in religious beliefs paralleled the diversity in
ethnicity, and religion was a major influence in the mining communities:
"Church was first. Then school. But church, on a Sunday, before noon and
afternoon...Most people was awful religious...Sunday was church."47
Undoubtedly driven by the population growth that began in the
1890s, church activity boomed in the mining region at the turn of the
century. The Denver Times believed this to be for the best, enthusiastically
reporting that "It is doubtful if there is another coal mining region in the
United States, if in the world, in which the same high order of morality
exists as in the camps of this territory."48
The operators either built dedicated houses of worship, which were
available to all denominations, or opened other camp facilities, such as
schools and recreation halls for religious uses. Primero, which was
established in 1901 at the height of CF&I's experiments in industrial
sociology, had a dedicated church built in 1903. Protestants and Catholics
used the structure, and in the interest of making the most of a building, the
basement was used as a "club room, reading room, lodge room, etc."49 The
morality of the young was also taken into account, and CF&I ran Sunday
schools, "particularly [in camps] that are located at a distance from
communities that are provided with those facilities."50
Although most held religion to be an important part of their lives,
religious practices had to be adapted to the special conditions that existed
in the camps. Historian David Corbin, writing about the coal camps of the
East believes that "traditional religious identifications" were upset by the
"industrial capitalism of the coal fields and company towns...while the
religious traditions that the immigrants brought with them were quite
strong, their traditional religious institutions were weakened or altered..."51
Corbin's thesis holds true for the coal towns of the West as well. The
corporate influence in church affairs greatly altered the relationship
between the clergy and the parishioners.
Just as the company could supersede the law through its control of
housing, mail, and the availability of products, so could it eclipse the clergy
in religious matters; this was particularly true in the closed camps. The
church obviously had a powerful political element to it, adjudicating
regularly on issues of morality. Religious orders often espoused political
beliefs far to the left of what was acceptable to the company.52 A preacher
could polarize a congregation with a sermon. The operators, while wanting
to meet the spiritual needs of their employees, could simply not allow the
church to serve as a rallying point for dissent, and, therefore, they kept the
church on a short leash. With regard to religion, the miners had "...just
what the Company furnished them. No one can go in there without the
consent of the company...religious or otherwise."53 The church at Primero,
for example, was paid for and maintained by CF&I, and management
refused to see it be used for potentially inflammatory activities.
When spiritual and corporate opinions conflicted, the company,
having the political and economic upper hand, prevailed. This corporate
hegemony over matters of faith was most apparent during periods of labor
strife, as this passage from the Federal Council of the Church of Christ
bulletin, published during the 1927 Wobbly strike, shows:
The rank and file of churches, ministers and church members
seemed to be largely uninformed [about strike issues] and
lacking in conscience on industrial problems. In many
churches, the employers' point of view is the dominant
influence...In the closed camps the activities of church
representatives are entirely subject to the wishes of the mine
The level of control that the company held over religious matters
created a credibility gap between the camp residents and the church as it
existed in the camps. Residents sought affiliation with churches outside the
camps or tended to their own spiritual needs. Female friends and relatives,
for example, performed the baptism rights on Emma Zanetell's new born
children "in case of and emergency." High infant mortality rates prohibited
waiting for the formal service administered by a priest in town.55
CF&I's Sociological Department, professing to be "perfectly non-
sectarian in dealing with people of various faiths,"56 recognized the tenuous
relationship between corporate-sponsored religion and camp residents and
consciously washed its hands of church matters. Recognizing the
inevitability of conflict, the department conveniently backed away from
involvement, letting local CF&I managers handle church matters as they
The Sociological Department, as such, conducts no direct
religious work, not because we undervalue the importance of
such work in any community, but because we feel that this
branch of welfare work can be much better left to
In addition to ethnicity, health care, and religious practices, leisure
and recreation also contributed to the creation and maintenance of camp
communities. Camp administrators tried to provide residents with leisure
and recreation options, but these were often activities in which the
company wanted the miner to engage. Although the operators provided
some recreational diversions, these were an additional expense and were
the first to be eliminated during economic downturns.
In the CF&I camps, the company administered a number of simple
recreation-oriented programs, including libraries, reading rooms, traveling
lecturers, and night schools. In the various camp descriptions that
appeared in the employee periodical Camp and Plant, these amenities were
consistently highlighted. These company-supported leisure options had a
strong assimilationist undertone, often focusing on "mainstream" American
values. The reading room at Sopris, for example, stocked the following
North American Reviews
Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly
Ladies Home Journal
It was very much in the company's interest to mold a compliant.
passive work force, and the corporate-sponsored leisure outlets promoted
this goal. According to the company's perspective, miner's should be hard
working and loyal, wives should be supportive, which entailed running the
home efficiently and making it a pleasant place to be, and children were to
be groomed as the next generation of miners and miner's wives. The night
school program reinforced these values, with classes on civics,
homemaking, English, and hygiene. Children's schooling, discussed in
Chapter 6, also reinforced this idealized view of industrial life.
Camp school houses often doubled as community centers, where
dances were held on Saturday nights and movies were shown on occasion.
The company also operated saloons in some camps, but these did not fit in
with the sanitized lifestyle it was trying to promote. As is shown in
Chapter 4, the issue of alcohol use was a ongoing problem for the
operators, and one they could never really control to their satisfaction.
Camp residents seemed to have engaged in the company-provided
leisure activities with a moderate level of interest. CF&I's Sociological
Department recognized that "there is little in the way of diversion" in the
camps and experimented with an "entertainment course" in 1902 and 1903,
where regional entertainers toured six of the company's camps. These
included a lecturer and impersonator, a contralto singer, and a pianist from
Pueblo. The response to this was encouraging, and the department
recommended "a more extensive series of entertainments for the coming
year, covering a greater territory and including a greater variety of talent."59
There is no evidence that the company adopted this recommendation.
Saturday night danceswhether on company property or in private
hallswere extremely popular. In Pictou dances were held on the top floor
of the school house, and the residents of Cokedale turned the town bar into
a dance hall when prohibition was passed in 1918. Various miners'
benevolent societies often banded together to sponsor these events. And
they were an important diversion that residents, after the toils of the work
week, enjoyed immensely, as this report from Camp and Plant indicates:
The Knights of Pythias, Redman and Oddfellows went
together and gave a masquerade ball at [Starkville] Saturday
evening of last week. The music was furnished by Areta's
orchestra from Trinidad, and a glorious good time was had by
all. A good crowd was present, including many from
Trinidad. The hall was crowded to its fullest capacity. At
midnight the lodge members wives served delicious
refreshments. It was an early hour when the crowd
Often the whole camp would attend, "from the brass up to the cokeblower."
Music at these events was supplied by bands from Walsenburg or
Trinidad, and often consisted of the traditional folk music of the various
ethnic groups played on guitar, violin, and accordion, which was
colloquially known as a pushy-pulley: "We'd say 'lets hire the pushy-
pulley' and he played all night...he played polkas, waltzes and cuna's...We
all had a lot of fun, old people, young people."61 Many former residents
fondly recall a black piano player from Trinidad named Sony "Sunshine"
Williams who was always in demand for dances. "He never had a music
lesson in his life, but he could play the piano for dancing..."62
Baseball was another major recreational diversion for camp residents.
It was the main pastime during the warmer months and was played at
different levels in the camps, from children's pick-up games to semi-pro
traveling leagues. Many recall it being an important part of camp life.
"Baseball was the only entertainment there was. Oh, a circus would come
once in a while. But baseball, that's all there was going on every Sunday."
"[It] was the most popular [game] and. everybody would play. The whole
group would come togethermen, women, children, boys, and girls".63
Each camp in the region had its own team, and many had twoa
first and second string. And being able to play ball often improved a
miner's chance of employment. "Well, if you was a ball player you'd get a
job. They always wanted good ball players."64 The residents would gather
on Sundays to watch the games, and local rivalries could be fierce.
Wagering on the outcome was common. Given the local topography,
baseball diamonds were difficult to build and maintain. Camp and Plant,
CF&I's employee journal, dedicated up to 25% of it pages to reporting on
the weekend games, giving fairly extensive line scores and statistics. The
descriptions could be quite colorful, capturing the excitement and
enthusiasm camp residents held for the game:
On account of an error in the first inning the visitors
succeeded in running in one score. Had it not been for this it
would have been a shut-out, as their stick work was sadly
deficient. They had the bases full, and had a good chance to
make a few runs, but the man at bat wasn't there with the
The evidence indicates that immigrants picked up the enthusiasm for the
game and formed ethnically based teams. Clarence Cordova organized a
Hispanic team at Pryor and laments that he had to include "a couple of
slavish kids" on the roster "in case somebody got hurt." He recalls walking
all the way from Pryor to Walsenburg to see a supposedly all-girl team
called the Bloomer Girls play the Walsenburg team: "Everybody wanted to
see the Bloomer Girls play and come to look at it, they was all men. You
could tell they had wigs on. There was only two women, the rest was all
men. But I'll tell you they sure made fools out of Walsenburg."66
The superintendents actively recruited good ball
playersringersfrom other teams and throughout the region. These
players were given the best or easiest jobs at the mine, being kept on the
payroll to play ball. "...CF&I ball players, they got good jobs. They'd send
off and get them good ball players and they'd give them good jobs."67
American Smelting Company "shipped in" a ringer for their Cokedale team
and gave him a house"painted and cleaned and everything"that two
families had been living in. This type of special treatment could obviously
be the source of hard feelings, and Cokedale's ringer "couldn't get along so
good with some of the men" in town.68
By today's standards the coal camp leisure activities may seem
banal, but in the era before the widespread availability of automobiles and
radios, simple socializing was an economical and pleasant way to spend
time and an important element in strengthening the sense of community.
"You could have more good times in the camps than you could coming into
town."69 Through visiting, residents got to relax, exchange news and
gossip, and got to know each other better. Historian Crandall Shifflett
believes that simple visiting was crucial for maintaining the "instrumental
relationships" that helped residents survive in the this tension-filled
Many southern Colorado camp residents indirectly support Shifflett's
thesis. A1 Berte fondly recalls the social aspects of camp life:
But what people did mostly...is visit one another. This was
really wonderful. It was nothing for my mom to buy a ham
and in the evenings go and visit this family...and then maybe
two or three nights later go visit somebody else and they'd
come to your home. And this is the way we used to pass the
evenings. More visiting than anything else...71
Visiting was clearly one of the most enjoyable activities in the camps:
On Saturday, first thing we go in one house or another house,
roll the linoleum and move the furniture and start pulling
[i.e., drinking] and dancing. That was in the camps all
over...have a couple of drinks, and everybody had a good
Gertrude Ferraro recalls:
And there's some people that had ovens...outside ovens...they
make these great big nice loaves of bread and people were
very friendly and very easy to get along with...no matter what
kind of nationality you was...and somebody'd know how to
play accordion. [We would] take the furniture out of one
room and we'd dance all night...73
Picnicking was the warm-weather counterpart to visiting. The
terrain and climate of Las Animas and Huerfano counties are well suited to
outdoor activities, with mountains, streams, and forests within easy access
of most of the camps. A number of springs and camp grounds were
located in the vicinity of the Spanish Peaks:
We would take the whole family up to the mountains on
Saturday and Sunday all in one bunch and we'd have a good
time playing boccie, cooking, and having a good time with all
the rest of the Italian people in the neighborhood.74
Sulphur Springs, a camp ground up the Cucharas River valley, was
particularly popular. In addition to family outings, large community-scale
events were frequently organized:
Well, while we was in the union, we had quite a few picnics.
They told us we couldn't use the Local money [i.e., union
funds] for the picnics, we did just the same. I always said
that nobody can stop us. That's our money, and we are going
to have it. Sure, all the kids, children, miners, everybody
went, and we had a very nice time.75
When not attending dances, ball games, or picnics, camp residents
would gravitate to Walsenburg and Trinidad, which were likely to have
been colorful and exciting compared to the general monotony of camp life.
On Saturday nights neither town slept. The amenities of city life attracted
camp residents in droves to both towns. Simply "going into town" became a
social event in itself. Shops stayed open late, and people would take the
streetcar, car pool, or walk to be part of the action. Residents of the camps
in the Purgatoire Valley could catch the "Dago Flyer" train that ran twice a
day from Trinidad, and for 25 cents there was "the interurban" trolley that
ran from Cokedale to Trinidad every two hours from 8:00 am until
midnight.76 "Everyone came in for groceries, a nip, and a dance." Mining
camp residents were joined by ranchers and the townsfolk. Glen Aultman,
life long resident of Trinidad, remembers when Trinidad was humming:
[It] was a hustling, bustling hub of activity around the
wholesale district. Well, on Saturday evenings the sidewalks
were so full that you could hardly walk. It was just like
during a parade, pretty near every Saturday afternoon, winter
Miner Don Mitchell has similar memories of Walsenburg: "Couldn't walk
the street on a Saturday night it was so crowded. Had more people in the
middle of the night than they do now."78
The communities of southern Colorado's coal towns were hardly the
oppressive, draconian work camps portrayed in many of the labor histories.
The general sense of ethnic harmony and residents' need for a support
system to face the collective dangers of mining created tightly knit
communities. Many recall the camps being pleasant places to live
andafter moving outmissed the closeness that developed among
1. Shifflett, Crandall A., Coal Towns: Life, Work, and Culture in Company
Towns of Southern Appalachia, 1880-1960, Knoxville: The University of
Tennessee Press, 1991, p.110.
2. University of Colorado Institute of Behavior Sciences's Coal Project.
Transcripts of interviews with miners conducted by Eric Margolis. University
of Colorado at Boulder. Interview with John Valdez.
3. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with John and Caroline
4. McClurg, Donald }., Labor Organization in the Coal Lines of Colorado,
1878-1933, Doctoral Dissertation, University of California, 1959, p.41; Deutsch,
Sarah, No Separate Refuge: Culture Class, and Gender on an Anglo-Hispanic
Frontier in the American Southwest, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
5. The statistical data discussed in this paragraph and presented in
Figures 7,8, and 9 were derived from the United States Bureau of the Census,
Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Censuses.
6. Scamehom, H. Lee, Pioneer Steelmaker of the West: The Colorado Fuel
and Iron Company, 1872-1903, Boulder: Pruett Publishing Company, 1976, p.149-
152; Scamehorn, Mill and Mine: The CF&I in the Twentieth Century, Lincoln:
University of Nebraska Press, 1992, pp.86-87.
7. Scamehom, Mine and Mill, pp.86-87. University of Colorado Coal
Project, interview with Dan Desantis.
8. Conditions in the Coal Mines of Colorado, Hearings Before a Subcommittee
on Mines and Mining, House of Representatives, Sixty-Third Congress, Second
Session. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1914, p.406.
9. Conditions in the Coal Mines of Colorado, House of Representatives,
10. Long, Priscilla, Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America's
Bloody Coal Industry, New York: Pergamon Press, 1989, p.277.
11. Scamehorn, Mine and Mill, p.87.
12. Huerfano County, interview with Martha Todd.
13. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Gerardo Tovar,
interview with John and Caroline Tomsic.
14. Huerfano County, interview with Ann and Walt Laney and Jake and
15. Huerfano County, interview with Ed Tomsic.
16. Huerfano County, interview with Maria Batuello.
17. Huerfano County, interview with A1 Berte.
18. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Angela Tonso.
19. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Emilio and
Gertrude Ferraro, interview with Nick Halamandris; Huerfano County,
interview with A1 Berte, interview with Ann and Walt Laney and Jake and
20. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Angela Tonso.
21. Papanikolas, Zeese, Buried Unsung: Louis Tikas and the Ludlow
Massacre, Norman: University of Nebraska Press, 1982, pp.153-154.
22. Huerfano County, interview with Ann and Walt Laney and Cora and
23. Huerfano County, interview with Louis Guigli.
24. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Gerardo Tovar.
25. Huerfano County, interview with Alfred Owens; University of
Colorado Coal Project, interview with Alfred Owens.
26. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Dan Desantis.
27. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with John and Caroline
28. Huerfano County, interview with Joe Crump.
29. Conditions in the Coal Mines of Colorado, House of Representatives,
30. University of Colorado Coal Project, interviews with Frank Harenburg,
Bill Massarotti, and Frank Wojtylka.
31. Long, p.215; McClurg, pp.100-101.; University of Colorado Coal
Project, interview with Emilo and Gertrude Ferraro.
32. Deutsch, pp.88-94.
33. Deutsch, p.104.
34. Huerfano County, interview with Louis Guigli.
35. Huerfano County, interview with Clarence Cordova.
36. Deutsch, p.90.
37. Mexican-Americans in Colorado Collection, clippings file, Denver
Public Library, Western History Collection.
38. United States Coal Mines Administration, A Medical Survey of the
Bituminous-Coal Industry, report of the Coal Mines Administration, 1947, p.118.
39. Scamehorn, Pioneer, pp.139-142.
40. West, George P., U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations Report on the
Colorado Strike, Chicago: Barnard and Miller, 1915, p.76.
41. Huerfano County, interview with Ann and Walt Laney.
42. Scamehorn, Pioneer, p.142.
43. Huerfano County, interview with Ann and Walt Laney and Jake and
44. Huerfano County, interview with August Andreatta.
45. Huerfano County, interviews with Ann Laney, Alfred Owens, and
46. Huerfano County, interview with Louis Guigli.
47. Huerfano County, interview with Ed Tomsic.
48. Denver Times, December 31, 1899.
49. Camp and Plant, vol. 4, no. 6, August 22, 1903, p.136.
50. Conditions in the Coal Mines of Colorado, House of Representatives,
51. Corbin, David Allen, Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The
Southern West Virginia Miners 1880-1922, Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
52. "Industrial Relations in the Coal Industry of Colorado," Information
Service, New York: Department of Research and Education, Federal Council of
the Churches of Christ in America, vol.x, no.ll, March 14,1931, p.9.
53. West, p.57.
54. "Industrial Relations in the Coal Industry of Colorado," Federal
Council of the Churches of Christ in America, p.9.
55. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Emma Zanetell.
56. Annual Report of the Sociological Department of the Colorado Fuel and
Iron Company, 1901-1902.
57. Annual Report of the Sociological Department of the Colorado Fuel and
Iron Company, 1904-1905.
58. Camp and Plant, vol. 1, no. 6, January 11, 1901.
59. Annual Report of the Sociological Department of the Colorado Fuel and
Iron Company, 1902-1903.
60. Camp and Plant, vol 4, no. 14, October 17, 1903.
61. Huerfano County, interview with Frank Gutierrez.
62. Huerfano County, interview with Martha Todd; University of Colorado
Coal Project, interview with Frank Harenburg.
63. Huerfano County, interviews with Clarence Cordova; and Ann and
Walt Laney and Cora and Jake Hribar.
64. Huerfano County, interview with Clarence Cordova.
65. Camp and Plant, vol. 4, no. 2, July 25, 1903.
66. Huerfano County, interview with Clarence Cordova.
67. Huerfano County, interview with Alfred L. Owens.
68. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Emilio and
69. Huerfano County, interview with Alfred Owens.
70. Shifflett, p.148.
71. Huerfano County, interview with A1 Berte.
72. Huerfano County, interview with Ed Tomsic.
73. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Gertrude Ferraro.
74. Huerfano County, interview with Louis Guigli.
75. Huerfano County, interview with Ed Tomsic.
76. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Frank Harenburg.
77. University of Colorado Coal Project, interview with Glen Aultman.
78. Huerfano County, interview with Don Mitchell.
A MINER'S LIFE
They feel in digging coal a stirring challenge from Naturea
pitting of human skills against the resistance of the earth.
the Boone Report, 1947
The mine has been good to me and it's been bad to me...my back's
been broke and my neck's been broke from rock falls...I knew the
rock was [loose]...you take chances when you're cutting coal for a
person. If you don't cut his place he goes out therefor nothing.
That I didn't like cuz a man wants to make money just like I do.
Trying to be a good guy, you get hurt.
Alfred Owens, coal miner1
...the family had no picture of him and the body was not mutilated.
And so the family wanted a picture. So the family made
arrangements with the undertaker and the undertaker made
arrangements with my father to bring the body up here to the studio
and then...the undertaker would pose it...and my father would pose
the family around the body and the undertaker would open the eyes,
and my father would take the picture. I remember that happening
two different times.
Glen Aultman, photographer2
Coal mining was a dangerous and physically debilitating occupation.
Tens of thousands of men were killed or maimed digging coal in southern
Colorado. Miners worked in rooms often no taller than the coal
seamsometimes less than 4 feet high. If a miner was fortunate enough to
retire without ever experiencing a crippling accident, he was likely
permanently hunched, or had chronic back problems, and certainly had
lung damage. Debilitating toil and extreme danger were the two hallmarks
of mining coal, and the miner was keenly aware of these realities: "...we
tried to take care of ourselves the best we could in the mine. We all figure
we're going in alive but we don't know if we was going to come back
Death and injury came in a variety of forms in the coal mine.
Explosions caused by suspended dust or pockets of methane gas were the
most dramatic accidentscapturing headlines and shattering communities.
The devastation, tension, and sorrow that covered a camp in the wake of an
explosion is conveyed in this newspaper account of the explosion at the #2
mine at Sopris in 1922:
A hundred silent men and women are gathered at the mouth
of the manway, watching, wondering, and waiting. There is
no wailing, no moaning. The time for that has passed.. All
that can be done now above ground is to waitto wait for the
bell which will signal that another body has been found and is
being brought to the surface.4
The violence of a confined explosion deep in the earth was horrific. Miners
typically carried a numbered brass tag for identification purposes in the
event they might be unrecognizable in the aftermath of an accident.
Although explosions were dramatic, they were responsible for less
than half the fatalities in Colorado's mines. Most mine fatalities came in
small numbers, where a miner or two working a face were crushed or
buried by rock falls. Other killers stalked the minerunaway mine cars,
exposed electrical wires, heavy machinery, cages, shafts, and fires.5 Men
died often and quietly. Their deaths were reported in local papers without
Two Italian coal miners, Carlo Filleppo and Ferdinando
Gandino, were caught in the Engleville mine at 11 o'clock
today by a fall of fine coal. Instead of digging them out at
once, three miners near them ran for help and by the time the
bodies were reached both of them were dead from suffocation.
No bones were broken. The victims were both unmarried.
Their parents live in Italy.6
Coal mining consistently had the highest severity rate of injuries of
any major industry in the United States and usually had the highest
frequency rate as well. As late as the mid 1940s, 900 to 1250 miners were
dying each year nationwide, and 50 times that number were being injured.7
Few could spend a substantial amount of time in a mine without being
seriously injured at some time in their careers, and many were scarred for
life. Beatrice Nogare's brother was a young man working in the Del
Carbon mine when "...the whole top came down on him. And we never
expected him to live. He got a big lump on the back of his spine and the
doctors don't dare operate on him or it would kill him."8 The "Hospital
Bulletin" section of Camp and Plant, CF&I's employee periodical, reports on
the progress of scores of injured miners similar to the following:
Alexander, Robert, of WalsenAdmitted to the hospital last
October, leg amputated. He is now walking about the
hospital on a peg leg.
Zaporello, S., of Berwind, who was sent to the hospital
December 2 with a crushed foot, is now hobbling about the
hospital on crutches.9
Tragically, Colorado's coal mines consistently exceeded national
averages for deaths and injuries. The Table 1 presents the fatality rates for
every 1000 miners employed in Colorado. For comparison, the national
average is also given.
Colorado's high accident rate can be attributed to three factors. First,
the dry climate combined with the low moisture content of the region's coal
created high levels of suspended dust, facilitating explosions. Second, the
region's geology is characterized by severe upheavals, which weakened the
rock around the coal seams. Rock falls and slides were more frequent than
in the mines of the east or midwest. Third, the union came late to the
west. Safety was a major concern of the UMWA, and where the union had
a footholdlike in certain regions in the Eastsafety conditions were
significantly better.10 As discussed in Chapter 1, the union did not achieve
a stable presence in Colorado until 1933.
Table 1. Number of Fatalities per 1000 miners employed.11
1884-1912 1913-1933 1934-1940
Colorado 6.81 5.02 3.00
National Average 3.12 2.96 2.24
The elevated danger in Colorado's mines was statistically apparent
to state inspectors, operators, and miners by the turn of the century. The
UMWA used safety as a major rallying point during the Great Strike of
..."there is something to arbitrate" when mine owners, because
of their criminal negligence, disobedience of the law, improper
management, and inadequate ventilation, killed almost three
times as many men as the average for coal mining in the
The era of the Great Strike wasif not a turning point in mining
safetythe period when legislators began to hold the operators accountable
for death and injury in the mine. Prior to this, a miner or the surviving
members of his family were powerless to seek compensation in the event of
death or injury. If compensation was received it was on the operators'
own volition and usually amounted to no more than a few hundred dollars
for burial or moving expenses. Jesse Wellborn, president of CF&I during
this period, testified that $1000 was the average amount paid to the families
of the miners killed in the Starkville explosion of 1910, but actual amounts
depended on the size of the family.13 According to a mining engineer who
worked for the Wooton Land and Fuel Company, owner Colonel Owenby
spared "no expense" for hurt miners or surviving family, and he "looked
after their interests" as long as they stayed in the camp.14
Camp residents do not recall the operators being particularly
altruistic. Compensation was dolled out meagerly, if at all. And many
remember that human life seemed a relatively low priority for the
Yes, these mines was pretty rough work in them days.
Human beings didn't mean anything. See, before they didn't
pay no compensation...A man didn't mean anything. [A
runaway coal car would] come down like a streak of
lightning. Super come down and he said, "Hey, any mules
killed?" That's the first thing he asked. "No." He said, "Any
men killed?"....used to be mules first, mule used to cost $250,
and a man, all we'd do is hire another one. That's about the
way they thought then.15
Angela Tonso recalls that even though miners would get medical attention,
they would not receive any income while convalescing:
But in them days if you get hurt, .they put you in the
hospital...but you don't get no compensation. You didn't have
no income. If you got killed in the mine, that was it. There
was no benefit. If you save a dollar when you was working,
OK; if you don't you was out. You was broke. And you have
to depend on charity or good Samaritans...16
Miner Thomas Ward recalls that the operators could be heartless in
the treatment of an injured miner and his family. A miner he knew broke
his back and crushed his ribs. He laid in his galvanized 2-room tin shack
for 3 days before the company doctor came. He was sent to the hospital,
and the superintendent immediately came by and told his wife "if she
couldn't pay her rent she could take in boarders so she could get enough
money to pay the rent." The following morning "a Mexican came up there
with a little spring wagon and loaded her furniture up and took it away,
and she left the camp."17
Prior to 1914, three common-law concepts protected the operators
from having to compensate for injury and death. The first was the concept
of Assumption of Risk, which simply held that when you accepted a job
you accepted all the risks inherent in the work. The second was the
Fellow Servant Rule. Akin to the Assumption of Risk, the Fellow Servant
Rule stated that when you accepted a job you accepted the risk of careless
fellow workers. Language and ethnic barriers, therefore, worked to the
operators' advantage, insulating them from claims. The third concept,
Contributory Negligence, was the clincher, and it effectively guaranteed
the operators would not be held responsible for accidents. Contributory
Negligence meant "that an injured worker, or his survivors, had to prove
not only negligence on the part of an operator, but also that there had been
no negligence whatsoever on the worker's part in causing the accident,"
which was virtually impossible in the aftermath of explosions, fires, and
In addition to the protection afforded by these concepts, the
operators also had the political muscle to control the coroner's juries that
convened to investigate mine accidents. Huerfano County Undersheriff
John McQuarrie testified to the biased way coroner's juries were assembled:
I was always instructed, when being called to a mine to
investigate an accident, to take the coroner, proceed to the
mine, go to the superintendent, and find out who he wanted
on the jury. That is the method that is employed in selecting
a jury at any of the mines in Huerfano County.19
This method was effective; no personal injury suits were brought against
operators in Huerfano county between 1895 and 1915. Similar techniques
were used in Las Animas County. When the Primero mine exploded in
1910 killing 75 men, the corner's jury needed only 5 days to rule the cause
of the explosion was unknown, shielding CF&I from any blame under the
contributory negligence law.20
The disastrous year of 1910, in which separate explosions at CF&I's
Primero and Starkville mines and Victor American's Delagua mine killed
210 men, saw the first changes in the compensation laws.21 The Colorado
legislature repealed all Fellow Servant Laws and replaced them with a
statute that held employers responsible for injuries caused by fellow
servants, but limited damages to $5000. In theory this was a step forward,
but a well packed coroner's jury, as discussed in the previous paragraph,
could still effectively shield the company. Three years later, in 1914,
substantial progress was made when the state's voters approved a measure
that abolished the assumption-of-risk defense in cases where accidents
occurred from "defective machinery, tools, or plant facilities that the
employer should have corrected through ordinary diligence."22
Many miners associate the Great Strike with the changes in the
compensation laws, and the widespread revulsion that followed the
Ludlow massacre may well have played a part in strengthening the miners'
hand. Miner Don Bonacci, who broke his back in five places when the roof
let go in the room he was working remembers "that strike and the
regulations" forced the operators to improve working conditions and
compensate injured miners. He received $3600 dollars after his accident in
1936, which allowed him to open a bar and restaurant in Walsenburg and
earn a living. Compensation helped Opal Furphy, a miner's widow,
My husband was working at Calumet when I came
here...Then he worked at Pictou and then at Big Four. He was
a rope rider at Big Four and a trip went off the track and
killed him...I had all four children. They were 12,15,18, 21.
They were all still at home. My oldest son didn't marry until
he was 29. With compensation and his help we made it.23
Although the compensation laws passed in the aftermath of the
strike helped injured miners and widows, effective safety laws were still
three decadesand thousands of deaths and injuriesaway. The Federal
Coal Mine Inspection Law and the Federal Mine Safety Code were passed
in the 1940s and paved the way for stricter state codes. By the late 1950s,
fatalities in Colorado mines dropped to 2.05 per 1000 miners, just slightly
above the national average.24
Miners worked 10 to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week with the threat
of death or injury ever present. Today, with our advanced safety laws and
employee assistance services, we can hardly conceive of the perennial stress
the miner and his family faced. Our stress centers around juggling family
and career, and a multimillion-dollar-a-year industry has sprung up to help
us manage the pressures of modern society. The miner daily faced the
prospect of being crushed, burned, or blown apart in an attempt to scratch
out a subsistence income for himself and his family. And outside of his
immediate community of friends and family, no formal mechanisms existed
to help the mineror his familycope. It is no wonder, then, that many
turned to alcohol as an escape.
Liquor was a necessary part of a miner's life. Not only Was it a way
to deal with the stress of mining, but alcohol was also an ingrained element
of many immigrant cultures. One could argue that gender also influenced
the prevalence of liquor in the miners' lives, for saloons were mainly places
for men to go to socialize, commiserate, and escape the additional pressures
of the home. "We have found," testified CF&I President Jesse Wellborn,
"that it is almost impossible to keep a force of men at the mines, unless
they have that privilege [of drinking]."25 Victor American's John Osgood
had a similar lament, testifying that saloons "seem to us to be a necessity of
Liquor was the operators' bane. It affected productivity, inflamed
emotions, and added an element of unpredictability into a largely
disgruntled work force. In periods of labor unrest, liquor, so the operators
believed, made the miners more susceptible to the appeals of union
organizers and helped provoke strikes.27 The proper way to handle liquor
in the camps continually eluded the operators. Dr. Richard Corwin, head
of CF&I's sociology and medical programs, clearly states management's
frustration with the issue:
Saloons and drinking never cease to be a problem for the
sociological worker. Why man created saloons no one
undertakes to say. How best they may be disposed of or
managed we do not feel sure...The saloon is an evil that has
been with us a long time and seems to be here to stay in one
form or another. Hence if we cannot eradicate the evil we
may modify its influences...We [CF&I] have tried "the well
conducted saloon." It is better, much better, than a saloon
poorly conducted. We have tried the club with "no treating
rule." When properly managed it has its advantages over the
"well conducted saloon," but still there is room for
improvement. Prohibition has been tried but failed on
account of blind pigs and wet bread wagons.28
Whether administered by the company or private businessmen,
saloons were readily accessible to miners in virtually all of Southern
Colorado's coal camps. Primero, for example, had no bars on company
property, but a number of privately owned saloons existed just outside of
town. In Valdez and other camps, CF&I leased company-owned buildings
to private saloon operators, but the company kept a close watch on the way
they were run and could terminate the lease agreements at will.29 Victor
American owned and operated saloons in its camps, but closely regulated
the hours of operation and prohibited the "selling of liquor to men who are
already intoxicated."30 In the American Smelting Company's camp at
Cokedale the saloonThe Snakestayed open to 10:00 pm if work was
scheduled for the following day, but "they went all night" when the mine
CF&I's Sociological Department saw saloons as "poor men's clubs"
that served as the camp's social focal point. The company created
alternatives such as reading rooms, recreational halls, and "soft-drink clubs"
that took the focus off liquor. In the closed camps, CF&I tried to modify
the miners' drinking habits with list of 12 rules that governed behavior in
the "hard drink" clubs, such as the aforementioned "no treating rule" which
prohibited patrons from buying drinks for others. Also, company saloons
did not extend credit to patrons.32
Excessive drinking was frowned upon but tolerated by the company,
and often drunks were simply escorted home. The company took
disciplinary action if drinking became a problem. Liquor-induced violence
was not tolerated at all, resulting in expulsion and a lasting stigma that
followed the miner to other camps.33
The operators kept the company saloons under tight control for a
good reason: hard working, hard drinking miners had a tendency toward
rowdiness. Liquor was also the catalyst that could inflame old-world
ethnic tensions. Irma Menghini's dad operated a bar outside the Tioga
camp in Huerfano County, and she remembers it being a rough place:
Well, they had a really tough time. A lot of Greeks were in
the camp, and they were sort of a mean group of men. They
fought a lot...my dad kept a gun, but he always hit men with
the butt, he never fired it.34
Even Camp and Plant would occasionally report on violence in the camp
saloons. One particularly nasty scuffle occurred at a Starkville bar: "At 8:30
o'clock Sunday night of last week several Italians got into a row at
Congvalli's saloon. One man was shot in the groin, while another was
Frank Wojtylka, who grew up in Cokedale, remembers the local
saloon was a very intimidating place. His father would regularly send him
to the bar for a bucket of beer:
I was scared all the time when I was down there. You'd find
a lot of guys at the saloon there, they'd be all over the porch
stretched out drunk, with one laying here and then there's one
laying there. You know, it'd be kind of hard for a kid to go
down there as young as I was. I was scared.36
Although saloons were popular, drinking at home was the normal
routine for a miner working long days. The miner's lunch bucket, which
was packed to the brim with fresh water and food early in the morning,
conveniently served as a beer stein in the evening. Saloons charged 10
cents for a bucket, and many would "go and get 10 cents" on the way
home. Thirsty miners could buy kegs from the saloons as well, getting
about 16 gallons for $3.00.37
Many mining families brewed liquor in their homes, which was a
tradition carried over from Europe. "Everybody made wine...They used to
ship [grapes] in box car loads...All of the Italian people, the Greek people,
and all of them."38 Alex Bisculo's family owned a produce store in Aguilar
and stocked the ingredients for home brewing. They had:
...a lot of grain and fruit and raisins and all that kind of
stuff...And they had these big vats...and copper stills and that
white mule would come out...It was 180 proof sometimes...it
just had a kick like a mule in it, that's all. It was plenty
Home brewing was popular among the residents of the coal camps,
and once prohibition was passed, moonshining spread like wildfire through
Las Animas and Huerfano counties. A large percentage of the immigrants
already had the knowledge to brew. "Most everybody that could made
their own whiskey."40 Distilling beer, wine, and whiskey, was as popular as
growing vegetable gardens. During prohibition in Walsenburg:
...everybody on 7th Street makes [booze] to help them make a
living. And every once in a while...the federal man would
come up and take samples of this wine and fine them $25 or
$30 and leave them alone til the following year.41
There were "big whiskey operations all over [Huerfano] county,"42 and
manyminers and townsfolk alikeprofited from prohibition. When
asked about the availability of liquor during this period, miner Gerardo
Tovar simply stated, "Oh shucks, my, you know a lot of them cops got
In addition to helping miners cope with the stresses and dangers of
mining, liquor also helped them cope with the inconsistent nature of the
work. The ebb and flow in the demand for coal, both locally and
nationwide was destabilizing. Statistics from a 1901 U.S. Industrial
Commission report indicate just how unstable coal mining could be. A
study of one mine showed that 210 men worked during one calendar year
but only 45 worked continuously. An analysis of that company's payroll
showed that only 23% of the company's 685 men worked constantly during
the year. Between 1886 and 1899, bituminous mines operated 171-234 days
per year on average nationwide, which equals 57% to 78% of full-time
employment. The report concludes that "This irregularity of employment
naturally causes instability...[on the] part of the miners. To a large extent
they are a floating population. They pass from one mine to another."44
Coal was mined in southern Colorado primarily for two reasons: to
feed the great Minnequa Steel works in Pueblo and to heat homes and
buildings throughout the region during the winter months. Although a
general boom existed from 1890 to 1920, the pace of production at the mill
in Pueblo was susceptible to many influences, including overproduction,