Mining

The following copy comes mainly from the 1985 Steamboat Magazine story written by Dee Richards.

The discovery of Coal in Northwest Colorado brought early settlers over the mountains and wove them into the history of Colorado. John Crawford arrived in 1876 after hearing rumors of the vast cola reserves on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains. At the turn of the century, small mines were providing coal for Routt County stoves, but no major production could take place without cheap, and easy transportation. The county's "black gold would have to move quickly and in quantity to markets if production w3ere to expand. In 1904 David Moffat announced plans to build a railroad over the mountains from Denver to Salt Lake City and the Pacific Coast. Tracks would cut through the canyons, meadows and forests of Routt County which, at the time, extended to the Utah border.

By the end of 1908, railroad tracks arrived in Steamboat Springs. "Company towns" were appearing to the south and west. Oak Creek incorporated in 1907 and ten years later, Mt. Harris, MacGregor, Pinnacle, Haybro and others were thriving communities. Mining towns required supplies which ranches hastened to make available. Cattle became big business; with the railroad replacing the cattle drives to the big markets. One local industry literally fed upon the other.

Bad news hit the county in the early 1900's. A strike of mine workers in 1913 starting in Southern Colorado quickly spread. Over 400 men in Oak Creek were idled. By October, all coal districts were under marshal law. Although mines reopened under "open shop" policies, few workers responded.

Christmas 1913 was bleak one for the miners. In Oak Creek, a riot broke out and one merchant was injured. Shooting and arson became the norm. Deputies from Steamboat Springs were dispatched and, in late winter, an uneasy truce ensued. At the beginning of 1914, the governor dispatched the National Guard to keep the peace. The advent of World War I probably saved the county and its coalfields from further union confrontation.

Great fortunes were made in Routt County coalfields between 1910 and 1940. But even in the late 1930's, the market for their high-grade coal was declining. Underground mining was expensive and dangerous. Several explosions had claimed dozens of lives. Strip mining in the East killed the western market.

Ghost towns appeared on the Routt County landscape. Mt. Harris became a street lined with empty company houses and a vacant rock schoolhouse on the hill. Oak Creek, once a center of trade and larger that its sister, Steamboat Springs, lost its vitality and shrunk into depression.

For 25 years, then, county economy depended upon agriculture and tourism. It was not unity 1949 that the first local strip mine began operation, ushering in yet another era of prosperity for the area. Coal was again the king.

Today there are three active coalmining companies in Northwest Colorado; Colowyo Coal Company, Seneca Coal Company and Twentymile Coal Company producing millions of pounds of coal each

Local libraries have extensive information on mining, especially coal mining in Routt County. Go to the library link on this web site.

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