22.11.04

Book Review: When coal was king: A history of Crested Butte, Colorado 1880-1952

It's time to review the second book in my Colorado mining camp series (I'll be moving along to a different topic soon so don't despair) When coal was king: A history of Crested Butte, Colorado 1880-1952 proved to be quite a contrast to our last offering. The author of this book apparently did very little original research and seemed to have only one period newspaper as his source of information. When you combine this with the fact that a subsidiary of CF&I paid for the book, you get a book that is slanted considerably to the views of the company.
For those of you that don't know much about Crested Butte, a gorgeous mountain town about 20 miles south of Aspen in central Colorado, allow me to provide a little insight. The town was essentially a one horse economy, coal. This gave the mine owner, Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I), a tremendous amount of power in the community. They used this power in the typical manner of late 19th century corporations, to increase their profit regardless of the effect on others or even themselves. They only paid their workers by the ton of coal they mined, not for the time they had to spend cribbing the mine for safety. This pay came in the form of company scrip that was only redeemable at the inflated prices of the company store. These reasons combined with the pitifully small amount the company paid per ton for coal, caused frequent labor disputes. Rather than negotiate a reasonable wage with the miners that would cut into the company profits even slightly, CF&I allowed the strikes to close the mine for months, or in one case, years at a time. Obviously, this approach allowed the company to make no profit during that period. This approach, however ridiculous it may seem to us today, was common in the 19th century. The mine owners felt it was better to sacrifice profit than to allow the miners to gain even slightly.
This book, as poorly done as it is, is really the only book on the subject that I could find. If you are interested in the history of Crested Butte, I would recommend visiting the town and exploring it for yourself, you'll likely learn more than this book is able to provide.

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