Black Diamonds

The coal mine that never was. From the 1873 Bird’s Eye View of Council Grove drawn by E. S. Glover.

In 1903 coal was discovered near Council Grove while men were drilling a well.  They kept things quiet until there was some certainty that it might be a profitable mine.  The vein was six feet thick and supposed excellent quality coal.

This was not the first time coal had been discovered in the county and certainly not the first attempt to develop a coal mine.  In 1871 W. B. Wilson, P. S. Roberts and several others had been boring for coal west of Council Grove.  The site of this ‘mine’ is located south of highway 56 approximately opposite the highway department.  Folks were made to believe it was a sure thing and so the new city council was persuaded to donate $500 to the project.  John Maloy said, “The five hundred dollars went like a comet glimmering into the dream of things that were.”

In the December 7th 1871 Council Grove Democrat there was a report on the development of the coal mine.  The shaft was down to about two hundred feet and a vein of white marble eight feet thick had been struck.  By January 1872 work had ceased at the mine due to lack of funds and or equipment breaking down, but sometime later drilling started up again.  E. S. Glover, who drew the 1873 Bird’s Eye View of Council Grove, included an inset depiction of what he (as well as others in town) believed the coal mine would become.  He shows a large factory with several buildings situated next to Elm Creek while a steam locomotive pulls a presumptuous string of coal cars off into the west.  This of course was never realized.

Maloy tells us how the coal mine came to its end along with abundant utterances of anathema for the swindlers.  “On the 28th day of January (1874) a proposition to loan or donate to the coal company the proceeds of $65,000 of County bonds which had been received in lieu of $165,000 of our County’s stock in the M. K. & T. R. R. Co. was by the people voted down, after a most exciting and vigorous canvass. This put a settler on the enterprise, and sealed the fate of some of our business men who had conscientiously put every available dollar into the project.”

Maloy goes on to say that W. B. Wilson was a “sanctimonious old fraud” who, through “his knavishness,” soon attracted a professed coal miner by the name of A. B. Stitts who also proved to be a “self-convicted fraud and thief.”  After these two men had got a good amount of investors in their coal mine, they kept their dupes encouraged by salting the mine with coal they had stolen from Strieby and Columbia’s blacksmith shop, and gained a few more investors!  Wilson and Stitts absconded taking about $35,000 of the townsfolk’s money.  The heaviest loss in the town was suffered by Shamleffer, Armstrong and Company.

Maloy ends his narrative on this “nefarious business” thus; “Out of all this was left a shaft several hundred feet deep-too wide for a well and too deep for a cellar.  The only things that could be found to any way relieve the dismal dreariness of the outcome was a vein of excellent salt water, enough of which was manufactured to ascertain that it was of the best, and an eight foot vein of the purest gypsum.  So perished our dream of becoming a mining and manufacturing city.”

One would think after having this magnificent lesson in hoodwinkery and humility that no one would ever entertain the thought of mining coal again.  But alas, coal was a big deal and many individuals continued to find coal and dream of the possibilities for industry in the area.  In December 1880 Frank Parker discovered a good outcropping of coal on Shaffer Creek in Chase County.  Then in January 1882 a Mr. Stump found coal on Humboldt Creek in Davis (Geary) County.  Osage City was leading the way in mining in the area and no doubt Morris County had an itching to get in the running and produce its own cheap fuel.  In 1889 there were 118 coal mines in Osage County employing over 2,200 people.

Parkerville had their own Coal and Manufacturing Company, however there is no evidence that they ever produced or manufactured anything.  In November of 1887 Charlie Parker decided to begin mining on his land.  He had been certain for years that there was coal beneath and so hired an experienced miner and a couple assistants to dig for it.  The Parkerville Times reported that indications were good for a vein of coal, and in fact they eventually hit a small vein.  But, it does not appear that the men had great expectations of their find for we hear no more about coal at Parkerville.  What a boon coal would have been for Parkerville.  It may have changed everything as we know it today.

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