by Nancy Christofferson OUT ON THE FRONTIER — The 1950s were the time for many peculiar things, like chunky
by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO/LAS ANIMAS — One hundred years ago the United States was involved in its first foreign war, and hundreds of young men from our area joined the armed forces to protect democracy and the American way. Perhaps what we forget is that there also were hundreds of men back here at home taking care of business.
The business was coal mining. Huerfano and Las Animas counties were in what was known as Colorado‘s southern coal fields, where the largest employer was the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company. In fact, it was one of the state’s biggest manufacturing companies, dividing its holdings into seven districts. They were the Trinidad, Walsenburg, Canon (City), Western (Crested Butte and Floresta), Sunrise (two mines in Wyoming), the quarries in Lime and Calcite, and the Minnequa Steel Mill.
In 1918, CF&I literally ruled Las Animas and Huerfano counties. At the time, Huerfano’s seven largest mines of the 29 in operation locally belonged to CF&I. These seven – Rouse, Ideal, Lester, Walsen, Robinson, Cameron, and Pictou – employed more than one-third of the nearly 3,000 mine employees in the county. Their output of about 670 tons of coal DAILY represented nearly half of the county production.
Tonnage produced in 1917 amounted to nearly two million tons. By 1920, this was increased to nearly two and a half million.
Las Animas County was a larger producer. In fact, it more often than not led every other county in Colorado in production, which was in the millions of tons each year for decades. In 1918 it had nine CF&I mines, Morley, Starkville, Engle, Sopris, Primero, Frederick, Berwind, Tabasco and Segundo. Many of these also had hundreds of coke ovens.
Hundreds of the employees of 1917 joined the armed services. By December there were 33 from Las Animas and 14 from Huerfano serving in the military. By October 1918, the former county had 79 serving, and the latter, 27. The company published the names, but admitted the list was not complete because many who had resigned had not reported back with their current status or whereabouts.
The camps were depopulated but by no means abandoned. Lives continued underground as well as above. For instance, in Sopris the new school building opened January 2, 1918, and it was dedicated February 11. Sopris claimed around camp it had 31 “boys” in the army and navy, and the Sopris Ladies’ Club reported it had sent “comfort” packages to each serviceman for both Thanksgiving and Christmas before members turned their attention back to supplying the Red Cross.
In fact, in all the camps, ladies were working to assist the Red Cross in supplying clothing, sweet treats and other edibles, cigarettes, playing cards and reading matter for the soldiers and sailors.
First Aid teams were busy as well. Although it seems odd, these teams that represented their camps and companies had to furnish their own uniforms and equipment. To do this they would sponsor the ever-popular public dance, and somehow prepared themselves mentally and physically to go forth and compete. Other dances and entertainments were staged to earn funds for the camp schools, the local baseball teams and bands and orchestras. It was also common to have benefit dinners and dances for the widow and children of men killed in the mines, in those days before compensation.
The CF&I at the time had a regular news magazine called the Industrial Bulletin. Published four times a year, it carried social news plus highlighted events within the company. The CF&I logo on the cover indicated the initials stood for “Co-operation Friendship & Industry”. During WWI, the bulletin’s columns were filled with recipes for feeding families without using meat or wheat, the importance of raising home vegetable gardens for food, the necessity of dental hygiene, and accident prevention in the mines. Often an article appeared about the grandness of the company hospital, the Corwin in Pueblo, and the efficiency of its nurses. CF&I writers usually managed to include information about a certain branch of their business, such as the nail factory or the electrical plant at the steel works.
The first issue of the Bulletin in 1918 was January 31. All the officers of the company and each mine superintendent was listed individually, as were the miners’ representatives who shared the miners’ needs and wants with company men.
In the chapter “Fighting for Uncle Sam”, heading the names of each camp and its servicemen was the fact that 768 of former company workers had entered the military in some branch. CF&I stated it was proud of every single one of those men.
An article entitled “Making Our Dollars Fight for Our Country” warns against the temporary desires for “luxuries”. It was necessary, according to the story, to put away those desires for niceties and to buy war bonds and war savings certificates instead. Pay your taxes promptly. This advice is to remind the working man that income tax had been introduced to Americans, and if a single man earned more than $1,000 in 1917, he must pay his tax before March 1, 1918 or face a hefty fine ($20 to $100) plus 50 percent of the tax. For married men, the minimum was $2,000.
Far lighter reading was also included. There is a photograph of the cast of the Rouse school “pageant” called “Civilization”. Pictured are teenage boys and girls garbed in costumes ranging from a woodsman in coonskin cap, through bearded boys in white breeches and girls in Indian dresses. One young woman stands alone in a long white robe – no doubt she was the Lady Liberty so popular in school performances of the day. It was noted that “Much dramatic talent was shown and the affair was a distinct success”.
Of course the munificence of the company to the workers’ children at Christmas time was mentioned. Several photos show the impressively decorated holiday trees provided to schools by the CF&I. Special attention was given to the employees of the Open Hearth department of the mill who paraded through Pueblo in decorated cars, complete with several Cossacky-looking thin Santas with even thinner beards. These men, we learn, collected about $240 to spread among the children of needy families in the vicinity of the steel mill.
Another item is about the new Y.M.C.A. building then under construction in Cameron. Formal opening was scheduled for February. Y.M.C.A. clubs were also being built in Ideal and Rockvale (Fremont County), and the ones at Morley, Frederick, Segundo and Rouse had just been completed. To prove the importance of the clubs to camp residents, the coverage includes a summary of the activities in the club houses prior to 1918, such as 158,238 pool and billiard games played, 2,566 library books loaned, 1,275 paid memberships and $49,390,43 as the gross sales of refreshments from soft drinks to tobacco.
News from the camps told of the modernizations or additions, like the grading of the main road and laying of water mains in Morley. The Primero correspondent drew attention to the beauty of the community outdoor Christmas tree. In Berwind-Tabasco, there was a new Italian band that appeared in concert, and the report that some 800 people had attended the school holiday entertainment. The death of a recently retired 23-year company veteran, Henry O’Neill, was announced in Berwind.
At Rouse, the First Aid team had presented a dance to raise funds for their upcoming competitions. The amount realized was “sufficient”, the Knights of Columbus had raised $100 for a war bond. Lester mine had a new 10-ton motor inside the mine for hauling. Ideal residents were watching the construction of not only their new Y.M.C.A. building but 10 new houses, and the membership of the camp Red Cross chapter had reached 225. Cameron was proud of its new steam heated boardinghouse, bank of garages under construction and new fences around the homes. Walsen had a new tipple, hoist and washer capable of handling 100 tons per hour. The school Christmas program had drawn 450.
The quarry district information was much the same but with two “stag” parties at Lime and for Calcite, that the 25 children of camp were now being taken “by motor” to school in Howard.
Such was the news of the home front – business as usual.