A Way of Work and a Way of Life
Coal Mining in Thurber, Texas, 1888-1926
Texas History - Labor History
6 x 9, 192 pp.
17 b&w photos., 11 tables.
Pub Date: 01/23/2006
Texas A&M Southwestern Studies
  paper
Price:        $22.50 s

978-1-58544-539-4

Published by Texas A&M University Press

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T. R. Fehrenbach award, 1992 (presented May 1, 1993)

A Way of Work and a Way of Life

Coal Mining in Thurber, Texas, 1888-1926

By Marilyn D. Rhinehart

The coal mine represented much more than a way of making a living to the miners of Thurber, Texas, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries--it represented a way of life. Coal mining dominated Thurber's work life, and miners dominated its social life. The large immigrant population that filled the mines in Thurber represented more than a dozen nations, which lent a certain uniqueness to this Texas town.

In 1888 Robert D. Hunter and the Texas & Pacific Coal Company founded the town of Thurber on the site of Johnson Mines, a small coal-mining village on the western edge of North Central Texas where Palo Pinto, Erath, and Eastland counties converged. William Whipple and Harvey E. Johnson first established a small community there in 1886 as the railroads' demand for coal enhanced the possibility of financial reward for entrepreneurs willing to risk the effort to tap the thin bituminous coal veins that lay beneath the ground. Where the first comers failed, Hunter and his stockholders prevailed. For almost forty years the company mined coal and owned and operated a town that by 1910 served as home to more than three thousand residents.

In some respects, the town mirrored the work and culture of bituminous coal-mining communities throughout the United States. Like most, it experienced labor upheaval that reached a dramatic climax in 1903 when the United Mine Workers, emboldened and strengthened by successes in other parts of the Southwest, organized Thurber's miners. Unlike others, however, the miners' success at Thurber was not fraught with violence and loss of life; furthermore, in the strike's aftermath good relations generally characterized employer/employee negotiations.

Marilyn Rhinehart examines the culture of the miners' work, the demographics and social life of the community, and the benefits and constraints of life in a company town. Above all she demonstrates the features both at work and after work of a culture shaped by the occupation of coal mining.

Marilyn D. Rhinehart is a member of the full-time history faculty and chair of the Social Sciences Division College at North Harris College in Houston, Texas. She received her Ph.D. in American history from the University of Houston. Her special fields of interest include American labor history, Texas history, and American history in the Gilded Age and the Progressive era. She has written a number of articles on labor and politics.

What Readers Are Saying:

"Rhinehart has gathered valuable material from company payrolls, local newspapers, manuscript censuses, court records, and personal papers. Her well-written narrative made Thurber's miners and managers come alive." --Labor History

" . . . a fascinating, step-by-step account of the jobs and skills required to work the narrow `pencil streaks.'. . . compelling reading." --Western Historical Quarterly

" . . . an impressive book." --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"The approach to labor history from the perspective of worker empowerment is perhaps Rhinehart's major contribution. She shows how workers organized their own work routine in the deep shafts of the mine and dramatically won a union victory through a `mass going away' strike in 1903." --Houston Review

" . . . a well-researched and thoughtfully written monograph that might well serve as a model for future studies of coal company towns, blending the `old' with the `new' labor history." --Journal of American History

"the union's success in mantaining its strength in the face of hostile management and the company's ability to keep the operation functioning at a profit, considering the ethnic diversity of the workers, many of whom did not speak English, were remarkable. Rhinehart makes her most outstanding contributions in her exposition of these aspects of the Thurber experience." --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"This book documents the birth, maturity, and decline of one of Texas' most fascinating communities. . . . recommended highly to those interested in mining, labor, and Texas/Southwestern history." --East Texas Historical Journal

" . . . A Way of Work and a Way of Life is well-written and generally well-researched. . . . [a] useful study of an industrial community in the West." --New Mexico Historical Review

"Rhinehart presents an excellent case study of coal miners in Texas. The case for location specific diversity within the broad spectrum of the work and culture of coal mining is convincingly argued." --Journal of Southern History

" . . . this book contributes to the task of making sense of how identities are formed among the working class. . . . Race, ethnicity occupation, and class all work in tandem to form an individual's sense of personal identity and his or her place within a larger group, indeed, within many larger groups . . . " --Labour/Le Travail

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