by Carol Stevens
HUERFANO- The old Rouse Mine, located six miles south of Walsenburg, has had its share of tragic stories about work-related fatalities, health epidemics, underground water flooding the mine and even a murder involving fugitives running from the law.
Old Rouse opened in 1888 and was the fourth mine operated by Colorado Coal and Iron Company (CCIC). At that time, Rouse was also the biggest coal mine in the state, and was the leading producer of coal for Huerfano County in 1889. It averaged approximately 70 rail cars of coal a day. It was named after Stanley F. Rouse of the CCIC.
One of the first of the Rouse tragedies occurred in October 1892, when a rock fall killed John Mullitz. It was reported that Mullitz was the fourth of six sons to die in coal mines that year. In December of that same year, a strange epidemic struck, affecting a number of small children in the camp. A cholera epidemic also sickened many in July 1893.
The most sensational story associated with Old Rouse, however, was the “Italian Massacre” in March 1895. It seems that Abner J. Hixon, 36, had stopped at a local bar to have a drink with nine Italians. Trouble broke out, and Hixon was found the next morning, beaten to death. Bloodhounds tracked the Italians to a saloon north of camp. The apprehended Italians told authorities that Hixon had shot at them, causing the fight. Authorities claimed to have found no gun on the dead man.
Deputies were sent to bring the prisoners to jail. Just south of Walsenburg, at the old Bear Creek Bridge, masked men attacked the wagon. Several prisoners were killed as was Joseph Wellsby, a young man who was holding the horses during the attack. The surviving prisoners were placed in the old Walsenburg jail, which was little more than a shack with bars.
One night, masked men broke into the jail and started shooting. Among the dead were Lorenzo Danimo, Francisco Rochetto, Stanislaus Bittone, Antonio Zapetta, Pietro Giacabino, and a few unknown men. All buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery.
The Italian Consul, located in Denver, began an investigation, which included a local lady, Mrs. Bunker, who had photographed the dead as they lay near the bridge. The Consul never did learn the identity of the killers, nor get the satisfaction of having them punished. In 1895, however, Congress paid Italy $10,000 for damages because some of the dead were Italian citizens.
May of 1897 marked the beginning of the end for Old Rouse mine, when approximately 500 feet of water entered the mine, in approximately 10 hours. The water hampered operations. By spring of 1899, it was obvious the pumps were not adequate even though they were removing approximately 1,500 gallons of water per minute. The company closed the mine. The camp and equipment were moved several miles south to the old Santa Clara mine. The Santa Clara mine had been originally opened by CCIC in 1889, but was abandoned in 1893. After much work was done, the New Rouse mine opened there in 1899. When Old Rouse was in operation, from 1888 to 1899, it had produced 2,095,239 tons. New Rouse produced 3,461,932 tons of coal from 1889 to 1920.