Van Houten Mining Camp, Colfax County, New Mexico Genealogy

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Location:                      18 miles southwest of Raton

GPS:                              Latitude: 36.7923 N;    Longitude: -104.5658 W.

Elevation:                       6,742 feet (2,055 meters)

Map:                             Interactive Map. , map 2.

Photos:                         Number 5 mine tipple, c. 1915; Upper tipple, c.1910. pp. 221 in Ghost Towns       and Mining Camps of New Mexico by James and Barbara Sherman; The town of Van Houten c.1915-30;  A two story large building in Van Houten, c.1915-30; Pit Mouths, Van Houten Mines No.1 and No.2, page 42; Partial view of Van Houten Coal mining camp producing 2700 tons of coal daily, page 43;  Swastika Fuel Company advertisement, p.155; 

Post Office:                   Established as Willow in 1902, discontinued 1902.

                                    Name changed to Van Houten in 1902, discontinued in 1952.


Census Data:                No enumeration on 1900 US Census.


The original name was The Willow Coal Mine Camp, because Jan Van Houten saved the camp from folding up, the name was changed in his honor, in 1902. It was one of the oldest mining camps in Colfax County, being a just a little older than Dawson, although not officially recognized. The Maxwell Land Grant Company knew of the existance of coal in this seam before 1900.

 At the end of 1903 and the beginning of 1904, all the local mines were involved in strikes. The Blossburg mine completely closed. In Van Houten, only 18 men reported to work. Jan Van Houten brought in 50 experienced miners from Chicago, at the end of the year he had 145 strike breakers working for him. The same year, 1904, Judge W.J. Mills, issued an injunction against the strike breakers. The strike was not over until October, 1904. The St. Louis. Rocky Mountain and Pacific Company was formed 9 months later by Frank and Charles Springer and Jan Van Houten. By 1906 the mines were producing at full capacity, 275 miners and 5 boys worked underground, with 20 men and 5 boys working at the tipple (the place where the coal mining cars are tipped and emptied). By 1910, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad had extended a branch line to Van Houten from Hebron and connected with the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Railway at Preston. The mine efficiently operated with the latest electrical haulage and ventilation equipment. Some of the product was shipped to coke ovens at nearby Gardiner, and some was sold to railroad companies such as the Colorado and Southern, Chicago and Rock Island, and the El Paso and Southwestern. Van Houten, never experienced explosive accidents like those in Dawson.

The mine comprised of 5 openings, known as Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6. The coal from all of them, except for No. 5, was dumped over the same tipple. No. 5 had a separate tipple, about 1-1/4 miles away. The seam is 4 to 15 feet thick. The length of No.1 mine was 2,850 feet. Its 1st and 2nd left entries were 3,400 feet. Other of its entries reached 1,000 to 1,500 feet. The main entry for the No.2 mine was 900 feet, two of the longest entries reached 3,100 ft. The No.4 mine entry length was 5,100 feet, with 5th and 6th right entries  2,700 feet in length. The No.5 mine entry was 1,200 feet long with severalother long entries. The No.6 mine's entry was 900 feet long with 3rd and 4th entries at 1,800 feet in length. The loaded mine cars were gathered by mules and hauled from mine partings to the tipple by 4, 15 ton motors, and 1 - 10 ton motor, which gave a total capacity of 4,000 tons a day. Total output was 659,324 tons a year. In addition, 45,079 tones of coke were produced. They employed on the average 324 miners, 99 company men and 6 boys underground; and 34 men and 3 boys on the outside.

The camp gradually increased in size to a peak of about fifteen hundred residents in 1915, when the town businesses included 2 hotels, the Blossburg Mercantile company, a barber, billiard hall, and a stage line. The Community consisting of many nationalities, primarily Germans, Austrians, Italians, and no Chinese. They were fond of gala affairs and celebrations. The local 22 member band entertained at concerts and dances. Movies were shown at the amusement hall, and baseball was a popular past time. During WW I, this Red Cross Chapter raised the largest per capita investment in War Bonds of any town in the nation ($111,000). It was a rule during those war months to sew for the Red Cross and carry out other fund raising activities. Pro-German expressions were not tolerated, especially by young men who had designated themselves as a vigilante committee for the suppression of disloyal talk, causing a national scandal. Patriotism ran high in spite of the large percentage of immigrants.

A favorite spot for young people was the Devil's Kitchen, about a 1 1/2 miles away. At this spot a slow glowing fire supplied by natural gas seepage had been burning for several years. When the fire was low and visitors wished to do a bit of cooking they would vigorously scratch the charred ground surface and the flames would burst through. The local old timers told how early pioneers scared off attackers when a discharged rifle ignited the gases, causing a large explosion and a mass flame which scattered the attackers.

The new amusement hall opened on May 16, 1920, with an attendance of 3,000. The Van Houten baseball team was known as the Swasticas. They played against the teams of all the local communities. The name and signs disappeared in WW II. Evan the large beautiful Swastica Hotel in Raton , changed its name to Yucca. Movies were shown in the amusement hall on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The declining economy brought uncertainty to Van Houten. A series of railroad strikes temporarily slowed coal production, and the development of new oil and gas deposits competed with the mines. In 1940, the mine closed, but it was reopened a year later, because of World War II. Most men working in Van Houten  lived in Raton. There were only 8 to 10 houses left in the camp.  In 1948, a 24 day strike critically damaged the St. Louis, Rocky Mountian Company, forcing them to increase employees' pay. The fatal blow was dealt with the loss of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation.

The drastic reduction of coal demand affected all of the coal camps in the region, forcing many mines to discontinue operation. On May 27, 1954, all mining activity ceased at Van Houten, putting about 100 men out of work. Families moved, buildings were torn down, and the company records closed. Most of  the buildings have disappeared.  By 1964, the only buildings standing are, one house and the old Mule building. Ruins including the mine entrance are clearly visible. The property was owned by Kaiser Steel Corporation then most recently by the National Rifle Association, and is part of its Whittington Center.  

Family History Links:

1. Felix Dominick Bertino and Ellen Antoinetta Girrott Bertino and daughter Alice Bertino, History of Arizona, Volume 3, by Edward H Peplow, 1958, page 220 under Joe Woods.

2. Agustin R. Brunelli, Atlantica, 1931, Volume 11 by Filippo Cassola, page 283.

3. Bernard William Collins, Who's Who in Latin America, 1946, M=Alvin Martin and Manuel Cardozo,   Part 1 Mexico page 28. Google Books

4. Tillman Daley, family tree.

5. Allan P. French, American Mining and Metallurgical Manual, page 282.
6. Dr. A James French, University of Michigan Medical Bulletin, 1950, Volume 22, page 483, Google Books.

7. Gatti family, Rose Gatti.

8. Andrew Gracie, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources Report of the Inspector of the Mines 1945-1949, 1947 page 47. Google Books

9. Laura Heck, A History of New Mexico Volume 2 by Charles Coan, page 507. Google Books

10. Mary Jane Jelaco Yelonek obituary March 29 2008, East Carbon, Emery County, Utah.

11. Nancy Kimball, The Journal of the National Education Association, 1933, Volume 22, page 265, Google Books.

12. Andrew H. Lloyd, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources Report of the Inspector of the Mines 1945-1949, 1947 page 47. Google Books

13. William H.Lloyd, 34th Annual Report by the Inspector of Mines, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, 1946, page 49. Google Books.

14. James McDougall, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources Report of the Inspector of the Mines 1945-1949, 1946 page 39. Google Books.

15. John Perovich, UNM Regent.

16. Helen Scoope, family interview. Raton War Years 1940-45. by William Carroll page 1. Google Books.

17. Charles "Chuck" Augustus Stevens, Jr., baseball player for St. Louis Browns. Wikipedia. Biography

18. Ivan Tomac and Mary Milich Tomac, son John Tomac. Tomac Clan

19. Manda Yeko Corbeil, obituary Bountiful, Utah, Deseret News January 25, 2005.

20. For an alphabetic list of 188 persons mentioned in The VanHouten, New Mexico Story. A pamphlet by Father Stanley, click here.

1. Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico, by James E. and Barbara Sherman. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 1974. Google Books

2. The Grant that Maxwelll Bought by F. Stanley, page 223 

3. New Mexico, the land of opportunity: Official data on the Resources by New Mexico Board of Exposition Managers.Swastika Fuel Company by L.C. White, pages 40-43. Google Books.

4. Report of the Secretary of the Interior for the fiscal year 1912, by US Dept. of the Interior. Volume 2 pages 751-753

5. Congressional Serial Set, Issue 6223, by the US Government Printing Office. pages 751-763. Record if inspections, pages 759-760. Google Books.

6. The VanHouten, New Mexico Story by Father Stanley, October 1964.