Coal lands in the public domain were governed by special legislation and were not subject to the same right of location as hard rock and petroleum deposits. In 1866 Congress determined that tracts of land embracing coal beds were to be sold to the highest bidder at $20 an acre. In 1873 Congress limited purchase amounts to 160 acres for individuals, 320 for associations, and 640 for associations who had already spent at least $5,000 in improving a coal mine. This law set the stage for railroad ownership of Utah's coal lands. This in turn led to the development of mining camps where mine safety and labor unrest became issues of ongoing concern for State government. (See sources used in compiling this research guide. See series holdings.)
Coal was not commercially mined in Utah until after the coming of the railroad because of the difficulty of transporting it by wagon. The first commercial company, Pleasant Valley Coal Company, opened a mine at Winter Quarters in 1875. Since coal mining and the railroads were highly interdependent, the Union Pacific and the Denver and Rio Grande Western competed to own the tracks and control the rich coal fields of eastern Utah. Through 'dummy' entries the Denver and Rio Grande Western was able to purchase extensive coal lands, and in 1887 their subsidiary, the Utah Fuel Company, consolidated with the Pleasant Valley Coal Company to form a monopoly on coal mining in Utah. Nineteen years later (1906) successful litigation over the Denver and Rio Grande Western's illegal purchase of coal lands broke up the monopoly and allowed new companies to enter the market.
The Pleasant Valley Coal Company, Utah Fuel, and subsequently incorporated independent coal companies built mining camps such as Scofield, Clear Creek, Castle Gate, Sunnyside, Kenilworth, and Hiawatha. The coal companies held paternalistic control over the mine workers, not only by dictating wages and working conditions, but also by forcing mine workers to live in company housing and shop at the company store. Most mine workers were immigrants from countries such as Finland, Italy, Greece and Mexico. Coal miners faced numerous challenges, but the coal company's disregard for safety was a chief complaint. In 1896 the Territorial Assembly addressed this issue by passing laws to regulate mine safety and appointing a coal mine inspector to see that safety regulations were carried out. Problems with mine safety persisted. In addition to numerous accidents involving one or a few individuals, mining explosions killed 200 at Winter Quarters in 1900, and 172 at Castle Gate in 1924. While no statewide effort was organized to assist dependents of Winter Quarters disaster victims, Governor Charles Mabey organized a relief effort to assist the families of Castle Gate victims. (See online exhibit documenting the Castle Gate Relief Fund Committee.)
During the early 1900s the labor movement in the United States experienced significant growth. Labor conditions in Utah's coal mines provided fertile ground to support that growth, and national labor organizers helped give Utah's immigrant coal miners a voice. Strikes and threats of strikes plagued the mines for decades. The United Mine Workers of America provided funds and organizers for a strike in 1903, which lasted more than a year. The Utah Fuel Company argued that miners had no real grievances, but were just following outside leadership. They evicted striking miners from company housing and refused to recognize the union. Conflict between miners and the company was exacerbated by prejudice against immigrant groups. The threat of violence prompted Governor Heber M. Wells to call out the National Guard to keep peace in the coal fields. During a similar strike nineteen years later (1922), Governor Charles Mabey once more called out the National Guard to keep peace.
Several record series at Utah State Archives document the coal mining story. These include:
|Bureau of Immigration, Labor and Statistics|
|Letterbooks, 1906-1917||Series 1267|
|Reports, 1895-1915||Series 1268|
|Castle Gate Relief Fund|
|Committee case files, 1924-1936||Series 19626|
|Correspondence, 1924-1936||Series 19423|
|Financial statements, 1924-1936||Series 19625|
|Minutes, 1924-1936||Series 1207|
|Reports, 1924-1936||Series 19624|
|Inspector of Coal and Hydrocarbon Mines|
|Administrative records, 1898-1915||Series 23010|
|Biennial Reports, 1896-1916||Series 83919|
|Correspondence, 1898-1916||Series 1283|
|Letter books, 1896-1915||Series 23009|
|Record book, 1896-1912||Series 1284|
|Reports, 1898-1904; 1914-1916||Series 23008|
|State Board of Equalization and Assessment|
|Mine net proceeds returns, 1900-1918||Series 2439|
|State Planning Board|
|Mining Studies, 1929-1941||Series 1175|
|Utah. Governor (1917-1921: Bamberger)|
|Coal shortage investigation records, 1917||Series 21962|
|Additional records may be located in Governor's papers at the time period in which events occurred.|
|Utah National Guard|
|Adjutant General's records, 1895-1965||Series 6308|
|Carbon County coal strike records, 1903-1904; 1909||Series 6306|
|Carbon County Firearms Confiscation Correspondence, 1922-1931||Series 10113|
|Utah State Tax Commission. Property Tax Division|
|Natural resources annual property returns, 1910-ongoing||Series 2476|
|Natural resources assessment records, 1909-||Series 2496|
|Occupation tax and net proceeds returns, 1938-1986||Series 14266|
Alexander, Thomas G. "From Dearth to Deluge: Utah's Coal Industry," Utah Historical Quarterly. Vol. 13, No. 3 (Summer 1963). Pp. 235-247.
"An Act for the Disposal of Coal Lands and of Town Property in the Public Domain" (July 1, 1864). The Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations, of the United States of America, vol. XIII. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1868.
"An Act to provide for the Sale of the Lands of the United States containing Coal" (March 3, 1873). The Statutes at Large, Treaties, and Proclamations, of the United States of America, vol. XIV. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1873.
Laws of Utah, 1896. "An Act for the protection of the Lives of Coal Miners, the Appointment of a Coal Mine Inspector. . ." Chapter 13, pp. 346-352.
Papanikolas, Helen Z. "Utah's Coal Lands: A Vital Example of How America Became a Great Nation," Utah Historical Quarterly. Vol. 43, No. 2 (Spring 1975). Pp. 104-124.
Powell, Allan Kent. The Next Time We Strike; Labor in Utah's Coal Fields. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 1985.
Watt, Ronald G. A History of Carbon County. Utah Historical Society, 1997.
Page Last Updated August 26, 2002.