Date of visit:
June 19, 2001
For location of this site in NM, click on the map:
We rate this site a:
Closed to public
On private ranch
Off the beaten path
Haunting and serene
Headstones tell story
Buildings in ruin
Site fenced off
Small and photogenic
Not much remaining
The Dawson Cemetery
|You will never forget it.
Standing in the dried grass are crosses, some with no names. Often an individualized cross supplements the small one, and its message, in one of several languages, says the same thing as the others: "Emmanuel G. Minotakis, died Oct. 1913 in mine explosion" and "Vincenzo Di Lorenzo ... Morto Nell' Esplosione 8 Febb. 1923."
|Dawson, New Mexico was to be the ideal company town. It featured schools, a theater, a bowling alley, a modem hospital, a golf course, and even an opera house. Miners from countries like Greece, Italy, China, Ireland, and Mexico worked together to dig the coal that fueled an area equal to one-sixth of the United States. And yet it was as though Dawson had been born under a bad sign.
J. B. Dawson purchased a piece of the Maxwell Land Grant in 1867 for $3,700. He thought he had obtained approximately one thousand acres, but it turned out to be a parcel of over twenty thousand acres. Dawson supplemented his ranching income by selling coal to his neighbors since a nearby seam more than provided for his needs. In 1901 he sold his property for $400,000 to the Dawson Fuel Company, who a few years later sold it to Phelps Dodge. This was the company that determined to make Dawson an ideal coal town by providing the previously mentioned amenities. At one time, nine thousand people lived in Dawson, and its future seemed extremely promising.
Then, on October 22, 1913, an incorrectly set dynamite charge resulted in an enormous explosion in Stag Canon Mine No. 2 that sent a tongue of fire one hundred feet out of the tunnel mouth. Rescue efforts were well organized and exhaustive; Phelps Dodge sent a trainload of doctors, nurses, and medical supplies up from El Paso; and striking miners in Colorado ceased picketing and offered to form rescue teams. But there was little need for anything except caskets. Only a few miners escaped, and 263 died in one of the worst mining disasters in the history of the United States. The dead were buried in a special section of the cemetery, each with a small iron cross.
Almost ten years later, a mine train jumped its track, hit the supporting timbers of the tunnel mouth, and ignited coal dust in the mine. Although it was not the same shaft as before, the effect was horrifyingly similar. Many women who lost husbands in the earlier disaster waited anxiously for their sons to appear out of the smoke. But 123 more men perished in February of 1923, and the crosses in the special section then numbered 385.
Ghost town enthusiasts love to wander about mills, peer down shafts, and browse through cabins; it is rather easy to romanticize the lives of the men who worked the mines or at least to feel rather detached about them as individuals. It's as if we are less concerned with their lives than their leavings. A trip to the Dawson cemetery, then, should be obligatory, for we can see the importance and the value of their lives as it is mirrored by their graves. It is a hard person who is not deeply moved by the sight.
The cemetery at Dawson is the only part of the town open to the visitor. The town site is again part of a working ranch, just as it was prior to 1901. Not too much remains, anyway.
|Site Gallery - Dawson Cemetery
|New Mexico has mining ghosts, railroad ghosts, military ghosts, fanning ghosts, and even mineral water ghosts, but Colfax is the only "land promoterís ghost".
Colfax County was created in 1869 and named for the then vice-president of the United States.
| The town of Colfax was promoted by developers of the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Railroad near the turn of the century.
They advertised Colfax as a good farming opportunity that was close to Cimarron and, more importantly, the expanding coal operations at Dawson. A post office opened in 1908. Although a modest community with a school, a church, a hotel, general merchandise, and a gas station survived into the thirties, the post office closed in 1921. Apparently the town was simply too near Dawson and Cimarron to keep its own identity. Land promoters, however, have sporadically attempted to sell the place again and again, despite pretty good evidence that the town is dead. Perhaps the interest Kaiser Steel has shown in the coal in York Canyon will perk up the land agents and have them scurrying for Colfax once more.
At least four books exhibit the two-story Colfax Hotel (also once known as the Dickman Hotel). Norman Weis featured the building on the cover of Helldorados, Ghosts and Camps of the Old Southwest. The hotel, alas, is gone, and others in the small town are also gone or faring badly. The 1909 schoolhouse, closed since 1939, that also served as a church is gone. It was also the only building more than a few yards off the main highway. A few foundations, walls, and a couple of railroad cars (one a decrepit passenger coach) comprise the rest of the site.
|Text source partially exrtracted from:
Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico, James E. Sherman, 1975
New Mexico's Best Ghost Towns, Philip Varney, 1999