Albuquerque, NM.- by Nicolette Psyllas Panagopoulos
Off a dusty, rocky road 15 miles from well-traveled Interstate 25 in northern New Mexico, one will find the ghost town of Dawson. At the turn of the 20th century, Dawson was a bustling and thriving mining town, like many other towns scattered across the American landscape. And like other abandoned towns of the Southwest, there are quieted voices of those who lie in eternal rest in the Dawson Cemetery – the only remaining section of the town open to the public.
Many of the men who worked and died in these mines were immigrants from Greece. It was strenuous work and long hours.
Some men came to the mines for a short time to send money back home to earn a dowry for a sister’s marriage, support aged parents, or to earn enough to re-establish themselves in their village. Others brought their families, determined to make a fresh start in their new homeland.
Disaster struck Dawson, not once but twice. On Oct. 22, 1913, 263 miners and two rescuers were killed when Dawson’s Stag Canyon Mine 2 was rocked by an explosion, resulting in the second-worst mining disaster in the United States. Almost 10 years later, on Feb. 8, 1923, another explosion killed 120 men.
Dawson Cemetery is filled with iron crosses painted white, marking the graves of many miners who died in the mines. About 70 miners lie in unmarked graves.
Although faded and battered by the elements, visitors can walk among the graves and make out the familiar names: John Adrianakis. Theofanis Adrianakis. John Anastasakis. Nick Arvas. Nick Bouzakis. Mike Cachulakis. George Cachulakis. Manusos Castianakis. Evagelos P. Chiboukis. Geo Cotrules. Mihail Fanarakis. Geo Gelasakis. Demetrius Iconome. John Janakis. Giorgis Kallas. John Karamcugis. Gust Katis. Mihail Lupakis. Vasilio Maglis. Costa Markis. George Makris. Michael Mechelestos. Nicolaos Nicolukis. Cost Papas. Markis Papas. Nick Papas. Strat Papas. Manon Parashas. Kros Peno. Antonio Scantalis. Criss Scopelitis. John Sekrotes. Polikronos Stavakis. Paul Stamos. Antonio Vidalakis. Nick Volanis.
On Sunday, Oct. 20, a coalition from the AHEPA Chapter 501of Albuquerque, St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Albuquerque, and St. Elias the Prophet Greek Orthodox Church of Santa Fe are planning a “100 Year Anniversary Day of Remembrance” for all those who perished in the mine explosions in Dawson.
Immediately after Divine Liturgy at St. George, the Rev. Conan Gill will celebrate a memorial service for the miners. The AHEPA will host the fellowship hour with a program about Dawson and its history.
On the following Sunday, Oct. 27, religious leaders from various faiths will conduct a graveside memorial service in Dawson. It will be followed by the reading of the names of all 395 miners. Information has been distributed to the National AHEPA and to Greek Orthodox churches throughout the country.
When the Phelps Dodge Corporation bought the mines in 1906 from the original owners, it transformed the town in order to attract its workforce. There were schools, a theater, bowling alley, newspaper, modern hospital, golf course, and even an opera house. The high school football and basketball teams won regional awards. Through vast advertising in areas such as St. Louis, Missouri, and others, miners from the U.S. and immigrants from Greece, Italy, China, Ireland, and Mexico flooded the town. It was a thriving company town. At one point, coal mined in Dawson fueled an area equal to one-sixth of the United States.
For a while, Dawson had been truly forgotten by New Mexico until two brothers went on a metal detecting expedition in 1991. Dale and Lloyd Christian were shocked when they saw the uncared for and abandoned cemetery. When Dale Christian returned home to Albuquerque he petitioned the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Division to place the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places. The New Mexico Office of Cultural Affairs was unaware that the cemetery even existed and asked Christian to provide measurements of the site. Not only did he provide the measurements, but he also provided pictures and an accounting of the number of graves and pictures. The Office of Cultural Affairs was amazed and although very few cemeteries are placed on the National Register, the Dawson Cemetery was added on April 9, 1992.
During its operation, Dawson experienced two mine large tragedies, one in 1913 and another in 1923. The first occurred on October 22, 1913, when an incorrectly set dynamite charge resulted in an enormous explosion in Stag Canon Mine No. 2 that sent a tongue of fire one hundred feet out of the tunnel mouth. Rescue efforts were well organized and exhaustive; Phelps Dodge sent a trainload of doctors, nurses, and medical supplies from El Paso; and striking miners in Colorado ceased picketing and offered to form rescue teams. But there was little need for anything except caskets. Only a few miners escaped. A total of 263 died in what was declared one of the worst mining disasters in U.S. history. Almost ten years later, on February 8, 1923, a mine train jumped its track, hit the supporting timbers of the tunnel mouth, and ignited coal dust in the mine. Approximately 123 men perished. Despite the disasters, Dawson success continued for many years.
The only significant remaining landmark in Dawson is the cemetery, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The cemetery is filled with iron crosses painted white marking the graves of many miners who died in the mines. Other markers show the burial locations of other residents of Dawson. Dawson can be reached by proceeding approximately 12 miles east of Cimarron, NM (on Route 64), then turning north at the sign, for another 5 miles to the site of the Dawson cemetery.
Following the close of World War II, natural gas and diesel fuel overtook the market, driving out the coal industry. Once the coal market faded Phelps Dodge sold the property and company town to National Iron and Metals Company, who agreed to dismantle it. Phelps Dodge had sold the whole town, buildings and all, to be carried off to other locations. In April 1950 the people of Dawson were given 30 days to abandon their homes in order to raze the town. Today, the Dawson Cemetery remains the only portion of the former town open to the public. The remaining property operates as a private ranch.