by Nancy Christofferson
HUERFANO — On Jan. 20, 1902 – or 110 years ago tomorrow – Huerfano County gained a new post office. It was for the coal camp of Hezron, where the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company had just developed a new mine.
Located about halfway between Old Rouse and New Rouse, or about seven miles south of Walsenburg and just two miles west of today’s Interstate 25, Hezron mine was originally connected to the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad’s Santa Clara branch via short line. Later the mine got its own branch on the Colorado and Wyoming railway line.
Once the mine was operational, in October 1901, construction of the camp and its amenities went quickly. J.E. McLaughlin, mine superintendent, oversaw the building of the company’s Colorado Supply store, where the post office was located. The store was opened in March 1902, though not completed, and veteran store manager Henry Grant Lamme was transferred from Pictou to the new camp to take charge. Lamme had been with the Colorado Supply Company in Huerfano County for nearly a decade at the time, having started in 1893 in Old Rouse. Previous to this, he had managed several stores in Fremont County. In 1922 he was honored by the firm for 30 years continuous service, and he might have served longer had he not resigned to assist in his sons Dr. S. Julian and Dr. James M. Lamme’s drugstore, the Star, in Walsenburg.
Besides the company store, which was built by Walsenburg’s ultra-industrious J.B. Gittings, the little community soon had two livery stables, a dairy, stage line and school. There was no doubt a saloon either in camp or nearby (some camps did not allow saloons on company property, but there was always liquid relief for the miners within walking distance).
The store was opened officially and festively with a public dance in June 1902, though it had been in business since winter. The Walsenburg World announced the dance had been attended by 100 couples, so it must have been a pretty good sized building.
One Jack Boyd was mail carrier for the post office. He met the train at Mayne Station on the Colorado and Southern Railroad and carried the mail back and forth from there to Hezron, a distance of about three miles. Boyd also ran a hack twice daily for those traveling between the two points.
Before the little camp was even finished, the mine claimed its first victim in January 1902. He was unnamed, but the following week Vincino Chippinio was killed. These were followed by two more deaths, caused by falls of rock, in April and May.
Supt. McLaughlin was replaced by John Breen in late 1902. Breen was a big name in mining circles, having served as superintendent at Walsen, Old and New Rouse and Pictou during the early years of the 20th century. He was also developer and half owner of the Breen mine just south of Walsenburg, with his nephew Martin Brennan.
In 1903 a one room school house, 12 by 18 feet in size, was built for Hezron’s children. The school was in District #22, which later included Ideal. Ideal was another CF&I mine but had not yet opened in 1903. Total enrollment in the Hezron school the first year was 11. Teachers included the Misses Edith Anderson in 1903-04 and Rose Lillis in 1909-10. In 1905 the little school was improved and enlarged. By this time, there were 37 students enrolled, quite a few for a 12 by 18 foot room.
CF&I initially manned its Hezron mine with trainloads of miners brought in from Tennessee. By February 1902 there were 100 employed.
A coal strike in the fall of 1903 affected many of the CF&I mines, but the Hezron was the only one with 100 percent miner participation, and the mine was closed for the duration.
1904 saw the company store getting a telephone – the only one in camp at the time.
The development of Hezron coincided with the CF&I’s construction of Primero, Segundo and Tercio mines in Las Animas County. Much of those mines’ production was a coal superior to Hezron’s, and was sent to the coking ovens of Segundo for use in the steel plant in Pueblo. Hezron’s five slopes produced a bituminous coal used by the company to supply the Denver and Rio Grande’s locomotives, and for local use.
Hezron probably got its medical attention from the CF&I’s company physician at New Rouse, Dr. W.S. Chapman. The company physician of the day was responsible for delivering babies, giving inoculations and medications, treating burns and minor injuries, setting broken limbs and other ordinary mishaps and illnesses. In case of serious injury in a CF&I mine, such as those deadly falls of rock, the victim was put on the earliest northbound train, passenger or freight, and transported to the CF&I hospital in Pueblo, the Corwin, now known as St. Mary Corwin.
The Hezron mine closed in early 1912, and the post office was discontinued Feb. 14. The mine closure may have been caused by inferior product, a lack of more coal or by the mine filling with gas or water – all reasons a company would abandon established workings. However, Hezron was reopened when America joined World War I in 1917 and the demand for coal increased. According to the official CF&I magazine of the time, “Camp and Plant,” the camp sent two of its own, Leandro Gallegos and John L. Lasec (possibly Lisac), to the European killing fields in 1918.
After the war, much of Hezron camp was demolished by the CF&I, but the community lived on. Robert Caddell, a veteran coal miner, operated the mine after the CF&I pulled out. The school remained open until at least 1925 when 19 were enrolled, and some of the mine buildings remained. In 1922 a disastrous fire destroyed two railroad bridges (one of the D&RGW, and one of the C&S, said to be 125 feet long) and the tipple, which basically sealed the mine’s fate.
At its peak, the mine had employed as many as 180, and production totaled nearly 900,000 tons.
Nowadays the site is nearly forgotten, its memory marked only on topographical maps by Hezron Gulch.