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How Wyoming’s Black coal miners shaped their own history

Many early Wyoming coal towns had thriving Black communities.

Today, the sage and sandstone of Wyoming’s vast Red Desert show little evidence of the coal-mining town of Dana, which once stood about 150 miles west of Cheyenne. No photos of Dana have ever been found, but in 1890 it probably looked much like southwestern Wyoming’s other Union Pacific Coal Company towns: a few boardinghouses, a company-contracted general store and just enough basic amenities to keep the town functioning. The main feature likely would have been the tipple, where coal was processed. Though largely forgotten, Dana was once home to a significant population of Black miners, originally recruited by a well-known Washington state politician and community leader, James E. Shepperson.

In 1890, the UPCC hired Shepperson to recruit the first Black miners specifically enlisted to work in the company’s Wyoming mines. He was a Black man who had migrated from Virginia to Roslyn, Washington, where he led the charge to bring more Black citizens to town. Working for the Northern Pacific Railway, he brought roughly 300 miners to Roslyn, where they forged a strong community. Shepperson had made a name for himself as a successful recruiter of Black miners, and so the UPCC hired him to bring workers to Dana. In early February 1890, about 200 Black miners from the Ohio area, accompanied by their families, stepped off a train in Dana — completely unaware that the company wanted to use them as strikebreakers.

Read more: https://www.hcn.org/issues/53.2/north-people-places-how-wyomings-black-coal-miners-shaped-their-own-history

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High Country News

Working to inform and inspire people — through in-depth journalism — to act on behalf of the West’s diverse natural and human communities.