Pocahontas Coal Mine had economic, social impacts | PostIndependent.com

Pocahontas Coal Mine had economic, social impacts

Frontier Diary
Willa Kane
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Photo Courtesy Frontier Historical SocietyRobert Caffrey leans against the only remaining cabin at the Pocahontas Coal Camp, 1926-28. The Pocahontas Coal Mine never received the same recognition as its sister mine, the Sunlight Mine. However, the mine played a vital role in the economic stability of the Roaring Fork Valley.

In contemplating the beginning of all of these mines it reminds us of the great investments made and high hopes new projects bring. Too often these expectations and hopes become elusive dreams.

– “The Elusive Dream,” by Anna Johnson and Kathleen Yajko, 1983

The Pocahontas mine appears as a footnote in coal mining history. However, this mine, described as being located about one mile north of Sunlight, played a large role in the economics of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Coal smelted silver, built railroads and created communities. Coal was vital to the financial stability of the region. Any mine, whether large or small, created jobs and payrolls, impacting countless businesses and families.

The birth of the Pocahontas Mine occurred on or about July 1, 1899, when William S. Smith, Frank Goddard, P.O. Mahoney, and John A. Ewing formed the Pocahontas Coal Mining Co. For a $30,000 consideration, the company purchased the mine property from William C. Smith. The consideration also gave William C. Smith enough coal from the mine to fulfill all of his cooking and heating needs.

From the perspective of Colorado coal camps, the Pocahontas was typical. Small log cabins served as miners’ quarters. A tipple building contained the scales, which weighed the coal, and provided a place of storage, as well as a way to load the coal into rail cars for transport. A one-mile long tramway, possibly electric, connected the camp with the mine. Coal was transported by the Colorado Midland Railway’s Coal Branch, a rail line that ran on the west side of Four Mile Creek.

By August 1901, the Pocahontas Coal Mining Co. was $25,000 in debt to its creditors. C.C. Parks was appointed receiver and was charged with operating the mine on behalf of its creditors. In early 1902 rumblings of labor unrest further complicated the mine’s operations. Finally, in late June 1902, the financially troubled mine was ordered sold in a receiver’s sale. In time the Pocahontas would be operated by the Rocky Mountain Fuel Co., Colorado’s second largest coal company.

Labor unrest never dissipated. Miners in coal camps across Colorado demanded increased wages and union recognition. In late February 1903 miners at the Pocahontas mine joined forces with their brethren at the Sunlight mine to demand these same conditions. Mr. Cummings, superintendent of both mines, refused their demands. He would meet with the miners individually or collectively without the union, but would not be forced to meet their demands. By early March, no agreement was reached, and the Rocky Mountain Fuel Co. suspended operations of both mines. The loss of $10,000 in payroll and the production of 11,000 tons of coal per month was an economic blow felt throughout a majority of the year. The miners eventually returned to work without winning any of their demands.

The post World War I economy changed the face of coal mining. Sometime before World War I the Pocahontas ceased operation. The Sunlight Mine, additionally hampered by the failure of the Colorado Midland Railway, followed suit by 1920.

Remnants of the Pocahontas camp could be seen until the early 1930s. Now, only brief and occasional references in newspapers remind us the small but significant contribution this camp made to the valley, both economically and socially.

Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary” is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448. “Frontier Diary” appears the first Tuesday of every month.

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