Coal Country

coalgate

(Library of Congress)

A geological map of coal claims around Coalgate, Coal County, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) from ca. 1900 shows that following companies contracted with the Choctaw Nation and the federal government for lease rights: Atoka Coal and Mining Company (16), Southwestern Coal & Improvement Company (22), and the McDougall Company (28). The Perry Brothers’ national lease (i.e., before leases with the Indian nations) is designated by the encircled C.

From what I gather, none of the companies were owned by Choctaws or Chickasaws. The companies were subsidiaries of railroads – for example, the Atoka Coal & Mining Company was an off-shoot of the Missouri Pacific Railway.

I am not a historian on mineral rights or resources, but from what I’ve learned, most of Indian Territory’s natural resources did not do much to enrich the majority of tribal members.Several immigrants moved to Indian Territory to work as miners, and unsafe working conditions led to hundreds of deaths. The coal mines in Indian Territory were considered some of the most dangerous in the U.S.

Interestingly, early attempts at unionization in Coalgate were not met with much violence from either side. A strike by the majority of white coal miners, who wanted wage increases, lasted five years. During this time, black “scabs” from Alabama and other southern states were hired instead, which increased racial tensions rather than class tensions between the labor and owning classes – but not much inter-racial violence was recorded.

Though the tribal governments tended to side with the employers, the United Mine Workers finally successfully organized in 1903. Coal mining became a major industry in the decades after Oklahoma became a state,  but by the 1980s, the mines closed after an episode of violent attacks against Union officials.

Coalgate tourist court cropped

Abandoned tourist court on the outskirts of Coalgate, Coal County, Oklahoma.

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Published in: on May 15, 2018 at 12:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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