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There was more to Morley

MORLEY — The Morley post office south of Trinidad was established Jan. 11, 1882, almost 134 years ago. It was closed Aug. 3, 1882. “What?”, you say? Well, luckily, there was more to Morley’s story. The first easterners to take note of the vicinity of the future Morley were those traveling off to war – the War with Mexico to be exact – in 1846 when passing officers and troops recognized the outcroppings of coal. Nearly 20 years later, the famed frontiersman “Uncle” Dick Wootton chose a site quite near Morley for the toll gate for his famous road over Raton Pass. Morley was located not far south of Starkville and about 10 miles south of Trinidad beside today’s Interstate 25. It is almost to the New Mexico border – the last camp to be seen on the west side of the highway. William Raymond Morley is credited to be the one for whom the settlement was named, but a man named Clarence J. Morley is also in the running. The former was the construction engineer who located the grade for the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe Railroad route over Raton Pass, while the latter was an early coal mine operator. The community began life in 1879 as a railroad town with a population of around 60. It was later called Katcina, and a post office of that name operated briefly in 1907 before reverting to Morley. W.R. Morley was also a manager and executive officer of the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Corporation and editor of the Cimarron News. His work with railroads took him to Mexico where he accidentally shot himself and died of his wounds. The company town was the reason for the 1882-1882 post office named Morley, which reopened in August 1884 until Feb. 16, 1885. At this point, the railroad had more important stations and most of the residents had been transferred. An 1885 guidebook explained, Morley “is a coal mining camp and nothing else.” The mine produced coal for the use of the Santa Fe railway. In September 1888, the post office again was re-established, and this time stayed in operation for nearly 20 years, until August 31, 1907. By then, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company had acquired the property. The CF&I built Morley as a model company town. It contained 109 homes, a club house, a grade

school and a Catholic church. Drainage was achieved by a system of ditches and water came from the system at Trinidad. The town’s residences were identical one story, cement block structures made to look like stone, with hip roofs and laid out on tidy straight streets and alleys. Even the outhouses lining the alleyways were identical. The superintendent’s house was of course the most pretentious, with two stories above a full basement, sited grandly above the miners’ houses on the hillside. The grade school was built shortly after the camp was built. It was vaguely Spanish, with four large rooms and a cement stucco exterior. It too was high on the hill. The clubhouse was a later addition, and was by far the most spacious and noticeable building in camp. It was high on the hillside and was added around 1910. It was combined with the company physician’s office as well as a boardinghouse, which explained its large size. Like the school, it was designed to imitate Spanish style. Probably the most famous building in camp was the Catholic church, built to resemble the structures at Acoma Pueblo. It was called St. Aloysius and its construction was made possible through the donations of the camp’s residents. As the fund drive ground on, CF&I owner John D. Rockefeller pitched in to help complete the church. It cost somewhat more than $2,000, and was completed and dedicated in June 1918. Like the other buildings, it was made of concrete blocks and stuccoed. St. Aloysius was built about the same time as the Our Lady of Lordes Catholic Church in the Berwind-Tobasco area. The two were quite similar in construction and features. It is said the parishioners kept the grounds immaculate and well landscaped with flowers and bushes. The remains of the church and its environs were featured on a recent television program on the National Geographic channel in which men with metal detectors explored the grounds for relics of the coal mining days. They found both mining and religious mementos. By the time the church was completed, America had joined the Great War, or what we call World War I. Though Morley camp was still of modest size, its citizens nevertheless donated $24,750 to the Liberty Loan campaign before April 30, 1918. At the time the mine superintendent was Charles Chambers and the company doctor was D.E. Ford, M.D. Four of the town’s young men had volunteered for the war. Morley mine yielded both excellent coal for the railroad and steel plant as well as for coking. Much of the high grade coal went directly to the Santa Fe railroad. The mine produced about 1,000 tons per day. During the infamous coal strike of 1913-14, the people of Morley formed their own tent colony near their homes. Shortly after the strike began, strikebreakers, or scabs, took over production. On Oct. 10, two of these men were killed by falls of rock. Just 12 days later and not so many miles to the southwest, 260 men were killed in an explosion of the Dawson mine in New Mexico. Coincidentally, both mines had opened in 1906. Morley was one mine that never suffered the disastrous gas explosions of its brothers. That was because the mine was known to be gassy, especially with methane, and all precautions were taken to keep sparks away. For this reason, the mine was never electrified for fear of sparks, and no explosives were used inside. Work was done the old fashioned way, with pick and shovel wielding miners, and mules and rope pulleys powering the coal cars. Still, in its peak year, 1928, the Morley produced some 500,000 tons. Employment was at a high too, with about 500 miners, some of whom commuted from New Mexico. The Morley mine consequently had a large herd of mules and they became well known. One of the best known photos of the mine is of those mules at work underground. Morley, along with most other coal mines, shared the slump of the coal industry in the 1930s. Because of its value in producing coal for the railroad and coke for the steel plant, however, it carried on. During World War II, it was one that was re-energized for defense purposes. The mine began shutting down in 1954 when steel production in Pueblo slowed. By 1956 there were only about 20 families remaining in camp and less than 30 children attending the school. The mine closed officially on May 4, 1956, the second to last of CF&I’s old-time big producers in Las Animas County to cease operation. Total production of the mine in its 50 years of existence was 11 million tons. Though no longer on the map, Morley was not forgotten. The ruins of St. Aloysius became a much photographed attraction for all these years since 1918. It was said by locals that some of the hollyhocks in its churchyard bloomed for decades more than the camp did.

Bertha Trujillo

  Bertha Trujillo, 97, from Gardner, Colo., entered her eternal home on Feb. 12, 2024. She was born in Gardner, Colo., on Sept. 30, 1926,

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