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COBWEB CORNERS: A Cripple Creek 'coal rustler' dies as he'd lived

By Mel McFarland

        Now what was that? As I read an old Cripple Creek newspaper, the headline really caught my attention. It was about a man who died while “coal rustling.”
       According to the story, George Brewer, alias George Brown, about 70 years old, was caught between a moving gondola car and a coal chute in the Midland Terminal yards in Cripple Creek and was instantly killed. Brewer had been out on the track gathering coal. He stepped in front of the railroad coal chute and, seeing coal on the ground, crawled between the chute and the gondola car. He was at work gathering the coal in a sack when the accident occurred.
       The Cripple Creek newspaper article states that E. Kennison and H. Gregory had just finished unloading a car of coal at the Colorado Trading and Transfer building and had gone a short distance above the chute to move down another car of coal, which they were preparing to unload. They started the second car down the track, and it bumped into the car behind where Brewer was gathering coal. Both cars were set in motion by the jar and Brewer was crushed.
       Brewer, said to have been a wealthy plantation man of the South at the time of the Civil War, lived in a cabin near the Short Line depot. Coroner Hamilton searched the cabin for clues to his family, but there was not a scratch of paper to be found that would lead to his relatives. Brewer had lived in seclusion, serving a number of terms in the county jail for stealing coal from the Colorado Trading and Transfer company, the railroad company and private residences. It was by stealing coal that he made his living. He had moved to Cripple Creek from Leadville about 10 years previously, where he was said to have had the same habit.
       There used to be coal yards all the region, even home delivery. Maybe some of you remember the coal mines up north. Out on the plains there were many types of rustlers. We hear about cattle rustlers, but a coal rustler? In the camp, those who stole gold ore were called "high-graders." I guess coal high-grading does not quite fit. I looked in older Leadville newspapers, and indeed, there were stories about coal rustlers, but I did not find his name in any of them.
       In the Colorado City area, there were several coal yards around Midland School and one was on Bott Avenue, not far from the Midland yards.

(Posted 8/22/14; Opinion: Cobweb Corners)

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