Updated: Jul 23, 2020
In the spring of 1906, a coal mining camp opened in Koehler, New Mexico, which was named for Henry Koehler, the President of the American Brewing Company of St. Louis, MO and Chairman of the Board of Maxwell Land Grant Company. Located 22-miles southwest of Raton and the nearby communities of Dawson and Trinidad, New Mexico, Koehler and the other company towns (Gardiner, Sugarite, Blossburg, Brilliant, Swastika, and Van Hooten) offered coal mining jobs to immigrants with limited skills. By 1908, the mining company (St. Louis, Rock Mountain and Pacific Company) built and rented 150 frame houses (one-story with 3 - 6 rooms) and 3 frame boarding houses (two-story with accommodations for 40 people). Electric power for all mining machinery, company housing, and stores was provided through the company power house (Young, 1908; Twitchell, 1917, p. 84). Water was available through a system of above-ground pipes and laterals that lead to hydrants. And, a 60’ X 120’ building housed a well-stocked company store located in the center of town. In 1907, a 2-story, 4-room school was constructed and included both electricity and steam heat. Within this building the miners’ children were taught by “competent teachers” (Young, 1908). On Sundays, church services were held in the school house, which was destroyed by a fire in 1923 and never rebuilt.
By 1910, the community of Koehler had approximately 1800 residents, who rented rooms from the mining company, purchased their provisions from the company store, and bought their whiskey and cigars from the company-owned saloon (Young, 1908). Like the old Tennessee Ernie Ford song, “Sixteen Tons,” these workers “owed their souls to the company store.” The mining company paid their workers once each month. From that paycheck, a miner allotted money back to the company for lodging, food, and drink. Whatever discretionary money remained was saved or sent back to Italy, where most men had wives and children living under difficult and squalid conditions.
Life as a coal miner was difficult and dangerous! Besides spending hours in dark underground caves digging for coal and breathing coal dust, miners were subjected to hazardous conditions such as explosions from the presence of gas and/or dust, and mine cave-ins due to improperly constructed wooden tunnel supports (Twitchell, 1917, p. 86). Unfortunately, some men from Pacentro died in mine explosions in New Mexico and Colorado. These Pacentrani men included:
Carlo Ramunno (34), and his brother-in-law, Nicola DiCicco (24), who both died on Oct. 22, 1913 during a mine explosion that killed 243 of 286 miners in the Stag Canyon Mine in Dawson, NM (146 of these dead miners were Italians and two were Pacentrani men). Michelina DiCicco Ramunno, who was the wife of Carlo Ramunno and the sister of Nicola DiCicco, had emigrated from Pacentro in 1913 to be with her husband. This 21-year old widow had a 6-month old infant, Ernest Ramunno, and was pregnant with her second son at the time of her husband's death. On 6 Jun 1914, she gave birth to her 2nd son, whom she named Carlo after his deceased father. Nicola DiCicco left his 21-year old widow, Angela Ciccone, who was from Pacentro, as well.
On 22 Oct 1913, Giuseppe Cericola, age 43, an Italian who was not from Pacentro, died in the Stag Canyon Mine explosion. However, he was the husband of Maria Carolina Ramunno, a woman from Pacentro. Maria Carolina lost not only her husband but also her brother, Carlo Ramunno, in the mine accident. Giuseppe left four (4) children, ages 2, 4, 8, and 12, and a pregnant wife, who bore their 5th child, Domenico Cericola, on 10 April 1914 in Dawson, NM.
Pasquale Pompeo (42) was killed in an explosion of the Dawson Stag Canyon Mine in Sept of 1912. His pregnant wife, Maria Rosaria Gentile, and 3 children were still in Pacentro. Baby Bambina Pompeo was born 18 Dec 1912 in Pacentro and never knew her father.
Teodoro Fabiilli, the 16-year old son of Pasquale and Rosaria Fabiilli, died in a mining accident in Colorado in 1910.
On 5 March 1914, 21-year old Gaetano Lalama (the son of Carmine LaLama and Filomena Silvestri of Pacentro) , a leveler in the coal mine at Segundo, Colorado, was crushed under a coal car.
Various children of Pacentrani miners born in Koehler, New Mexico included the following:
Peter DeChellis (18 Feb 1918), son of Giovanni DeChellis and Angelina Mancini
Jimmy DeChellis (18 Dec 1918), son of Giovanni DeChellis and Angelina Mancini
Louisa DeChellis (19 Jul 1921), daughter of Giovanni DeChellis and Angelina Mancini
John DeChellis (15 Dec 1924), son of Giovanni DeChellis and Angelina Mancini
Florence Rose Mancini (18 Nov 1915), daughter of Nicola Mancini and Anna Piccirilli
Nicholas Mancini (15 Feb 1921), son of Carlo Mancini and Anna Veltri
Roger Marsolo (12 Aug 1912), son of Carlo Marsolo and Maria Antonia Angelilli
Edmund Richard Marsolo (7 Aug 1916), son of Carlo Marsolo and Maria Antonia Angelilli
Averina Pacella (25 Aug 1912), daughter of Giovanni Pacella and Giulietta Silvestri
Orlando Pompeo (11 Dec 1910), son of Carlo Pompeo and Agata Tollis
Workers did have free time on Sundays and holidays, when activities included dances, picnics, and baseball games, the latter of which was very popular. Miners formed baseball clubs and played rival teams from other coal towns. For 18-years, Koehler continued as a mining community. In 1914, miners at Koehler produced 2800 tons of coal each day, which was the highest daily tonnage among the 5 mines located within Colfax County, New Mexico (Twitchell, p. 86). Then, in 1924, the mine and the town closed. Koehler remained a ghost town until 1936, when the mine re-opened for operation. In the 1940’s, the property was purchased by Kaiser Steel Corporation, but in 1955, most of the town buildings were razed and the town was deserted. What remains of the town is on private property and is unaccessible (Sherman & Sherman, 1974).
Based on the 1910 U.S. Census records for Precinct No. 23 in Koehler, New Mexico, the names of 38 Pacentrani (31 men, 2 women, and 5 children) were found within tight-knit neighborhoods of this mining community. Below is a chart compiled from 3-pages of the census record from 1910. Only the names of Pacentrani are provided to demonstrate the significant number of Koehler residents who emigrated from one Italian village to work in the mines. Misspelled names are provided as found on the census record and shown with [sic].
Sherman, J.E., & Sherman, B. (1974). Ghost towns and mining camps of New Mexico. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press
Twitchell, R.E. (Ed.) (1917). Colfax County, Chapter 2, pp. 81- 86. Leading facts of New Mexican history, Vol 3. Cedar Rapids, IA: The Torch Press.
Young, F.A. (June, 1908). The Koehler coal mine. Collery Engineers: Mines and Minerals, Vol. 28 (Aug. 1907 – July 1908), 520-. Scranton, PA: International Textbook Co.
1910 – Thirteenth Census of the United States. Bureau of the Census, National Archives, Washington, DC. Ancestry.com, Provo, UT, USA.