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Collection M 009:

Porter / Hesperus/ Gifford records inventory

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scope and contents
Historical note

Administrative info

Series descriptions
Container list for Series 2.1.8
Center of Southwest Studies collection inventories

Introduction/ Scope and contents

Collection M 009
PORTER/ HESPERUS/ GIFFORD RECORDS, 1879 - 1948 (bulk 1890-1920)
approximately 180 linear shelf feet (approximately 180,000 items, in record storage boxes and document cases)

This collection contains the historically significant records retained from the operations of the Porter Fuel Company, its successor company in mining the Hesperus Fuel Company, and related companies and activities of John Porter (in the early years), William I. Gifford (in the later years) and others.

A considerable amount of incidental information is contained in this collection.  The Porter Fuel Company letterpress copybooks alone contain correspondence from William Irwin Gifford to various officers of the Porter Fuel Company and parent company Union Pacific Coal, to customers, to prospective employees and customers, to suppliers of mining and office equipment, and to stockholders of the Pine Ridge Ditch Company, as well as copies of legal documents pertaining to mining, agricultural, and timber leases.

This collection is useful to persons studying the history of business and commerce, socio-cultural change, ethnic conditions, mining, water rights, and numerous other topics.  It contains a wealth of information documenting the life and multifarious activities of William I. Gifford.

A portion of the records and correspondence in Series 2.1.8 should be useful to researchers studying civilian response to the World War I emergency, 1918-.  These include a U.S. Department of Agriculture retrospective survey, Office of the Chief of Staff site photograph request, U.S. Public Health Service diseases alert, and various materials issued from the U.S. Treasury Department including stamps, certificates, printed materials about war loans/ savings/ investments, Red Cross campaigns, other War ephemera, and papers of W. I. Gifford including his Treasury Agent certificate in the oversized materials folder in the map files.

Handling note: the volumes of letterpress copybooks must be handled carefully so that the thin pages are not folded when the book is closed.

Historical note

A brief history of The Porter Fuel Company from its antecedents to its demise

Coal mining has been important to Durango since the city's founding, and for a time it was the largest industry in Durango.  John Porter, a mining engineer, first came to Durango in 1875. In his history of Durango, Rocky Mountain Boom Town (1980, p. 28; it and the collection itself are the source for this historical sketch), Duane Smith relates Porter's story of "coming to the Animas Valley in 1875 with two saddlebags full of coal to use in assaying, only to find huge outcroppings as he rode down Horse Gulch.  Dismounting, he threw his coal into the arroyo in disgust."  Age 30 at the time, the Connecticut-born metallurgist and smelterman then moved on to Eureka, Nevada, later returning to Silverton to manage its smelter -- but instead, recommending it be moved to Durango.  The move from Silverton made sense, as Silverton's La Plata Miner of October 16, 1880 noted:

The great cost of fuel [in Silverton], which is at best a poor material, and the disadvantage attending the operation of the smelter during the winter months, render it imperative, in the opinion of those interested to move the works to a point lower down, and further south, where cheap fuel, cheap labor, and a good climate will make smelting operations less expensive. (Quoted by Smith, Rocky Mountain Boom Town, p. 10) The Durango Smelter, opened in 1882, prospered under Porter's management; by 1887 it smelted over $1 million in silver, lead, gold and copper. After the company owning the smelter was reorganized in 1888, Porter eventually gave up his position as manager, although he retained a role as "executive adviser" for several years.

Porter was among those who organized the Durango Trust in late 1879 for purchase of the townsite and 2300 acres of coal and agricultural land in the area (Smith, p. 8). In 1884, the Trust was converted into a company, the Durango Land and Coal Company, with Porter as Vice President. Durango's first entrepreneur, Porter owned shares in the Durango Railway and Realty as well managing the smelter, serving on the Durango Board of Trade, and acting as the Durango Land and Coal Company’s local representative. Porter's financial involvements also extended to the Durango Railroad, the Durango Electric Company and agricultural and timber leases.

As Duane Smith has noted, John Porter's skillful management is what established Durango as the region's smelting center, which led directly to his pioneering of coal mining close to the city of Durango.  This collection contains records showing John Porter's involvement in mining and land development throughout the San Juan Country, as well as information on related businesses and developments in later years.

The coal mines near Durango have a complex and intertwined history of ownership.  John Porter and other Durango Land Company stockholders were involved in the ownership and operation of several mines under the name of Porter Coal Company (August 1890 through December 1892) and then as Porter Fuel Company (January 1893 through January 1906.)  Porter Fuel Company's largest coal mine was the Porter in Wildcat Canyon, a 2000-foot tunnel begun in 1889.  The Hesperus Mine was opened in 1892, and in 1894, the Porter and Hesperus produced half the coal mined in La Plata County.  Samuel E. Herr was superintendent of both mines from 1890 to the early 1900s; E. E. Schalles succeeded him.  In 1901 the Standard Mine was opened east of Durango; the latter was not sufficiently productive and was closed within two years.  Porter sold the Porter Fuel Company in 1906, but continued as Vice President of the Durango Land and Coal Company, which also had interests in other parts of the state.  Porter himself moved to Telluride and eventually to California (Smith, p. 91).  He died in the 1920s.

On February 1, 1906, the Union Pacific Coal Company purchased the Porter Fuel Company properties and moved the main offices to Omaha, Nebraska. William I. Gifford was named Superintendent of the Porter Fuel Company, and his business correspondence and personal diaries constitute a significant part of the collection.  By 1910, the Porter and Hesperus Mines were the two leading mines in the area[A later holding was the Ute Mine, which was bought by the Durango Land Company.  The Durango Trust purchased the Ute Fuel Company in the fall of 1909?].  The collection contains references to smaller "wagon mines" operated sporadically around 1910 by Bays, Davis, and others.

This collection contains mention of several legal actions against the companies and individuals named in the collection.  In June of 1907, John Porter, Samuel E. Herr, Dyer O. Clark, et al. were indicted in Denver on charges of land fraud during earlier years.  Suits against the Porter Fuel Company by the federal government relative to purported land fraud were apparently ongoing; most of the time the Company won the lawsuits, but they expended much of the company's time and expense.

Mention of William I. Gifford first appears in the records around 1905 as Superintendent of the Porter Fuel Company, and then as assistant treasurer of the company.  Gifford was a major stockholder of the Porter Fuel Company, as were the Continental Trust Company and Joseph A. Coppinger.  Gifford also served as President and Secretary of the Pine Ridge Ditch Company, which carried water for around 1100 acres of agricultural land in La Plata County (letterpress April 1918-March 1921, #472), and also held stock in other companies.  The collection includes records pertaining to various ditch companies associated with Porter mines through the key individuals who were officers in both mines and ditch companies.

Original stockholders of the Pine Ridge Ditch Company (Record Group 6 in this collection, one document case) included the Goulding Brothers (17 shares); Joseph Coppinger (7 shares); S. W. McGuire, Wood & Morgan (6 shares each); O. F. Boyle, C. H. Lantz, Jacob Cooper (4 shares each); Thomas M. Petty (3 shares); Bertha B. Thompson, T. P. Williams, T. A. Thompson, Nathan Dickinson, Maggie C. Wurtz (2 shares each); Frank Gross, Joseph Powell, and Y. I. Edwards (1 share each). Series B shares were owned by Wood & Morgan (8 shares), J. A. Coppinger (2 shares), Bertha Thompson, Thomas M. Petty, Joseph Powell, C. H. Lantz, John Wurtz, and S. W. McGuire (1 share each).  By February of 1906, the Porter Fuel Company and Wood & Morgan owned all but 15 of the 80 shares.  Each share entitled its owner to 1/4 foot of water.  By 1911, the Porter Fuel Company and the Durango Land Company owned 64 of the 80 outstanding shares.

1907 and 1908 were the peak coal production years for the Porter Fuel Company.  The Porter Mine was ultimately done in by numerous natural disasters.  The trestle to the coke ovens was blown down on April 25, 1908, putting the coke ovens out of operation; the tipple also was in poor shape.  Then, on the night of June 5/6, 1908, all the Porter Mine buildings except the blacksmith shop and the power house were destroyed by fire (possibly of suspicious origin.)  The fire also destroyed two loaded coal cars still at the tipple.  The Mine's reserves were far from exhausted, however (Porter Fuel Company letterpress copybook U, April 18, 1915-January 5, 1916 #390), and attempts were made to reopen it between 1915 and 1917; chronic shortage of miners, weather, and other difficulties kept the mine closed.

As referenced in W. I. Gifford's business letters (PFC letterpress copybooks), the Calumet Mine was owned and operated by the Durango and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG). Its tipple and power plant burned on June 9, 1909 (the cause was probably arson) but the mine was in production again within 2 weeks, though on a limited basis at first. The Champion and City Mines were owned and operated by the Royal Coal and Coke Company. A number of small "wagon mines" were operated by individuals intermittently over the years. Collection records indicate that in 1917 the American Smelting and Refining Company wanted to lease Porter Fuel Company holdings south of the San Juan Mine (source: Porter Fuel Company letterpress copybook Z, page 356), but was unsuccessful, primarily because Porter originally bought the land in question to keep it out of the smelter company's hands!

John Porter is only incidentally referenced in this collection after 1906; a letter written in 1912 indicates he was visiting in the area at that time. In 1909, Dyer O. Clark became President of the Porter Fuel Company, officed in Omaha, Nebraska; C. C. Dorsey was Vice President. At that time, Clark was also President of the Union Pacific Coal, also headquartered in Omaha. Other names appearing as Union Pacific Coal officers include J. Kruttschnitt, F. P. Briscoe, and Frank Manley.

In 1917, Porter Fuel Company "retired from the commercial coal business" and ceased entirely its mining operations, though it continued to hold extensive land leases. W. I. Gifford took over the Hesperus mine on lease from Union Pacific Coal on July 1, 1917 and the company was renamed the Hesperus Fuel Company. The Porter Fuel Company remained in business until about 1931 (the last checks in this collection date from that year.)

Note: In July of 1998 a copy of the draft of this history was approved by Duane Smith and was sent for comments to Walt Mason; his uncle William Mason was a mine foreman for the Porter Mine and Porter Fuel Company; William and Thomas (father of Walter) Mason were brothers.

Administrative information

Acquisition information:  This collection was a gift to the Center of Southwest Studies from Miss Zelma Bendure: accession 1970:01071.

Provenance:  These mining records were previously located in Hesperus, and were donated to the College after the donor inherited the Hesperus Coal Mine in 1965 and returned to the Durango area to operate the mining operation.

About the organization of this collection:  The materials within most of the record groups in this collection are organized from highest hierarchical level to lowest, or from most general to most specific.  Items within each series (e.g., yearbooks, minutes, and histories) and within each box and folder are arranged chronologically, unless noted otherwise.  The boxes are numbered in one single numbering scheme starting with 1; folder numbers start with 1 in the first box, and begin again with folder 1 in box 2.   Note: during the processing of these records in 1998 it became apparent that in the distant forgotten past someone without archival guidance had attempted to reorganize the records in the series of business correspondence.  This resulted in a loss of original order for those materials which it was impossible to reconstruct.  That series was left in the order in which we found it.  The remaining bulk of the collection had never been processed until our project in the summer of 1998.

Processing informationTwo remarkably gifted and devoted teams of twelve Elderhostel service program volunteers arranged and described this collection under the direct supervision of Archivist Todd Ellison during two weeks in the summer of 1998.  This was the college’s first-ever Elderhostel service program.  The program was supplemented during each week by a visit to the currently operating King Coal Mine in Hay Gulch (near Hesperus, Colorado) and the old Fort Lewis (also near Hesperus).  The Center's student archival assistant Wendy Karchut finished the compilation of the folder listing for Series 2.1.8 from September 1998-January 1999.  This online inventory was prepared by Ellison, beginning in 2003. 

Records sent elsewhere: none
Records deaccessioned: a very few blank forms and duplicate copies

Subject access terms:
Coal mines and mining--Colorado--La Plata County
Mining industry and finance--Colorado--Durango
Hesperus Coal Mine (Durango, Colo.)
Porter Fuel Company (Durango, Colo.)
Gifford, William I.

Doing your own research:
This description of a portion of the collections at the Fort Lewis College Center of Southwest Studies is provided to inform interested parties about the nature and depth of the repository's collections.   It cannot serve as a substitute for a visit to the repository for those with substantial research interests in the collections.

This collection is located at the Center of Southwest Studies on the campus of Fort Lewis College.  Researchers wanting more information about using this material at the Delaney Southwest Research Library at the Center may email the archivist at archives@fortlewis.edu or click here to use our E-mail Reference Request Form (or phone the archivist at 970/247-7126).  The Center does not have a budget for outgoing long-distance phone calls to answer reference requests, so please email if you wish to receive a response from the Center.  To request reproductions/copies, click here for instructions.

© 1999 by Fort Lewis College Foundation, Center of Southwest Studies account


Page last modified: May 03, 2007