My husband's people were here [1924], and we used to come visit and it was in 1927 when we brought the cows up and leased a place out on Red Mesa. And that's when he later took the mine. There was no mine here at that time. Our first son, Floyd, was just 17 days old when we moved up here.

We started in here the first day of October in 1935; we had some partners then, bought them out in 1948. We worked the ranch during the day and mined at night.   I used a coal car for Floyd's bed while we mined, parked it in a side drift. We thought we could handle the cattle and a garden and hogs and chickens and the mine, but it was too much for us. So we had our sale and got rid of farm life and moved down to the coal mine.

We really loved coal mining, and I always felt a thousand percent safer there than out on the highway. I can go up there now and just enjoy it. A lot of people wouldn't have anything to do with a coal mine, especially a woman.

[Discussing coal mining] Well, we just had to get down on our hands and knees and take a pick and take a four-inch dirt out. Have to go back the length of the pick handle then bore holes with a hand drill, and then load them with power and shoot it out. It would come down in big chunks, but you had to do this to get it. Then we'd just load 'er up and take it out. In those days, we didn't grade the coal. People just bought it mill run or else. Then we finally got to the cutting machines; you had to hold your knee on it and keep it cutting. We used a mule or donkey for years to move the hoist to take the cars in and back. Then we finally got away from that and got to the electric motors
It was not very often that him [her husband] and I ever had anyone in with us because I had to work the odd hours with him and we'd work until late at night. Eventually he got some men to work.

[She also delivered coal] I would pull in up there at Mesa Verde with the truck all loaded, and you know they just couldn't get over that. The old Knife Edge road was pretty scary. That was the time that I had pretty much of an experience. I dumped the coal off there and turned the truck around and was coming back down and right there was the cutest little cub bear right in the road, not much bigger than that cat. I thought, I'm going to get that little bear and take him with me. So I jumped out of the truck and was trying to catch it when that old mama bear went "Rrrrr." I want you to know I just damn well made it to that truck.
The Queen of King Coal
Violet Smith a Woman Who Worked in a Man's World
By Duane Smith
Violet Smith is near the Smiths' King Coal Mine in Hay Gulch. Before John and Violet Smith owned teh mine, they lived in Animas City and their children attended the Animas City School.
        A generation ago, Violet Smith was one of the best known people in La Plata County. This outspoken, and somewhat rough-edged, coal mine operator took on one and all if she thought they, in some way, threatened her livelihood. Federal and state coal mine inspectors particularly received her scorn and occasionally her wrath.
        Despite that persona, she was a kind, knowledgeable, and generous person  beyond her public image. This author had the pleasure of interviewing Violet on several occasions in the 1970s, including enjoying one of her delicious home-cooked meals, during which she freely talked about herself. Violet and her husband owned and operated the King Coal Mine, but it was Violet who was boss of the operation.
        The following, excerpts from those interviews, say much about the woman who worked in a man's world. She would have been the perfect wife to come west a century and a half before, because nothing daunted her. The interview segments provide a glimpse of a remarkable woman.
[Violet did not get along well with federal coal inspectors and recounted what happened one time when she ran them off with a gun.] They went in town and had me arrested, see, because I had a gun - I did - dadgum I told 'em to stay off this land. There were six of them. When I got to court the judge said, "Do you mean to tell me that you six big men have went out there and tried to manhandle this poor little old woman? [Violet was not particularly little!] No wonder she got her gun after you. She should have shot every one of you right through the rear, and, listen, I never as long as I live want to see one of you back in court again. Anybody that'll do like you've did to this little woman ought to git."  [Or, at least, that was how Violet recalled it]
On another occasion, an inspector went past Violet's "keep out" sign which specifically referred to such individuals in no uncertain words. She met him with a gun and so scared the man, she laughed, "he p_____d in his pants and ran for the gate."
Photo Courtesy Duane Smith
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