In 1869, John Barkley Dawson purchased 20,000 acres of the Maxwell Land
Grant for $3,700. (He thought he had obtained one thousand
acres, but it turned out to be a parcel of over twenty
thousand acres.) Following the purchase, he settled about 5
miles upstream from Colfax on the Vermejo River. In approximately
1895, coal was discovered on the property and Dawson began
selling the coal to neighbors in order to supplement his ranching income.
In 1901, Dawson sold the property to the Dawson Fuel Company for $400,000.
The Dawson coalmine subsequently opened, a railroad was constructed from Dawson
to Tucumcari, and the town of Dawson was born. The company worked the mine for
several years, before selling the mine and town to the Phelps Dodge Corporation
in 1906. Upon purchase, the Phelps Dodge Corporation was determined to transform
the town and developed amenities to draw miners. It featured schools, a theater,
bowling alley, modem hospital, golf course, and even an opera house. Through vast
advertising in areas such as St. Louis, Missouri, and others, miners from the U.S.
and immigrants from Greece, Italy, China, Ireland, and Mexico flooded the town.
(During its height, coal mined in Dawson fueled an area equal to one-sixth of the
During its operation, Dawson experienced two mine large
tragedies, one in 1913 and another in 1923. The first occurred on October 22, 1913,
when 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 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. A total of 263 died in what was
declared one of the worst mining disasters in U.S. history. Almost ten years later,
on February 8, 1923, a mine train jumped its track, hit the supporting timbers of
the tunnel mouth, and ignited coal dust in the mine. Approximately 123 men perished.
Despite the disasters, Dawson success continued for many years.
Following the close of World War II, natural gas and diesel
fuel overtook the market, driving out the coal industry. Once the coal market faded
Phelps Dodge sold the property and company town to National Iron and Metals Company,
who agreed to dismantle it. Phelps Dodge had sold the whole town, buildings and all,
to be carried off to other locations. In April 1950 the people of Dawson were given
30 days to abandon their homes in order to raze the town. Today, the Dawson Cemetery
remains the only portion of the former town open to the public. The remaining property
operates as a private ranch.