COBWEB CORNERS: When coal was beneath our feet

By Mel McFarland

       We look at our utility bill and wonder how the rates can just keep going up. In the early days, how did THEY do it? It certainly was no easy feat for them. Water came from a well, if they were lucky. There was no electricity to speak of; even during the day lanterns and candles illuminated dark spaces. The candles were often homemade. Heat came from a fire, but what did they burn? Buffalo chips! I learned that in school. That lasted only a short time. Wood was cut from forests. In town there were several places you could go get wood or coal.
       Jimmy Camp was the earliest settlement in this area. It had running water most of the year. A stand of trees provided something to burn in the winter, as well as protection from the wind. As the earliest settlers poked around in the hills they found interesting things. Up near Jimmy Camp one of these wanderers found something that looked like coal. North of Colorado City, the "new" town in the area, there was coal, but no one knew it was there yet!
       It is unknown just who found the coal first, but at first tunnels were dug into hillsides. Soon people found most of the coal was under their feet. The mineral rights to the area were quickly scooped up by developers. One of these was Matt France (also sometimes mayor of Colorado City). Mule-drawn carts were used to get the black energy into town. A hole less than 50 feet down put you in a solid seam of coal. Each mine staked out its area. Some of the mines had been built over pockets of coal. Once it was gone, that was it. Additional digging often proved to no luck.
       The bigger mines, such as the McFerran and Franceville, worked the main bed. The good coal often ran as thick as twenty feet. Coal was needed by the railroads once they arrived. The mines were worked starting in the late 1860s, and the best years lasted until the early 20th century. A few of the mines hung on with meager business until the 1940s. The carts, trains and tracks are all gone now. Here and there, you can see dark spots on the ground where the mine stood. There is still some coal under this area, but it is not worth digging for. In the 1870s coal was found north of Colorado Springs too. Then there are the oil and gas wells!