Remembering the Miners of Dawson

Coal mining in the early 20th century was dirty and dangerous and the pay was shitty—as such, most miners were immigrants. Regulation was lax (it was the free market, after all) and efforts to unionize or get better treatment were often met with violence. Illegal deportations, even.

But communities grew up in the mine towns. Sometimes “making a better life for my children” became “he’s following in my footsteps”—the ones who made it to age 14, at least. It seems that was the case in Dawson, NM. In 1913, Phelps Dodge Stag Canyon Mine #2 blew, killing 263 men. In 1923 Mine #1 blew, killing 122—many of them descendants of fathers killed in #2.

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But the company had 8 more mines on site and work continued. That’s not to say they forgot those who died—they got them these lovely grave markers.

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No, it was business that killed Dawson. In 1950, Phelps Dodge was a behemoth conglomerate and turned its attention toward other sources of revenue—if a thought was given for the miners and families of Dawson it wasn’t documented. Phelps Dodge shut down the mines, razed the buildings, and the cemetery is about all that’s left: go down 20 miles of lonely highway and 5 miles of dirt road to find markers planted in the ground, identifying men who died under ground and thousands of miles from home. And their children, who maybe never left this valley before dying the same way. 385 poor men who died making rich men richer.

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It’s not for me to say what it all means. But I thought they should be remembered.

Oh, and a footnote: more than miners were buried at the Dawson Cemetery, but it closed to all new interments in 1950 or soon after.

Except in this case.

Family and community can outlive a city.

Family and community can outlive a city.