Keeping the Spirit AliveSopris, ColoradoBill Burnelli

Book Excerpts


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Ghost Towns by Kenneth Jensen


Elbridge B. Sopris was a Trinidad businessman who initially owned the coal deposits southwest of town. The Denver Fuel Company purchased these deposits in 1887 and named the mining town Sopris. In 1889, Denver Fuel sold the mine to the Colorado Fuel Company, which later became Colorado Fuel and Iron. At this point, Sopris became one of 38 towns run by the company in New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Sopris and it's suburbs grew to become the largest mining town complex in the Trinidad area.

All of the coal mined at Sopris was converted to coke for use in many Colorado precious metal smelters, as well as the steel mill at Pueblo. The first 100 ovens were constructed in 1888, and another 100 were added in 1892.

R. C. Hills, a Colorado Fuel & Iron geologist, invented a far more efficient oven that could precisely control the amount of air introduced during the coking process. In 1893, Colorado Fuel & Iron constructed 120 of these new ovens at Sopris, and in 1900, added 50 more ovens. The coke ovens at Sopris could produce 3,000 tons of coke per day.

A washer, to clean the coal prior to coking, was constructed in 1894. A crusher also was added near the tipple structure. Daily production from the mine reached 1,000 tons, and more than 300 men worked at the Sopris facilities.

The town had neat rows of two-story duplexes, a number of single family dwellings and a large clubhouse for social activities.

Sopris also had its own public school and a circulating public library. Rent was the company's standard $2 per room per month. Sopris got its own post office in 1888, which remained open until 1969. It was served by a trolley line, the Trinidad Electric Railroad. At its peak, Sopris had over 80 cottages.

Camp and Plant, published by Colorado Fuel & Iron to paint a rosy picture of life in its mining towns, reported from Sopris, "Thanksgiving found our bright little camp full of good cheer and happiness ... Nature was never sunnier and the dear old flag on school and storehouse carried joy to all..." The reporter added that company cottages were, " ... neat and comfortable."

The mine at Sopris had three drifts of bituminous coal and was located to the south of the town in Sopris Canyon. It was ideal for steam, gas or coke. A rope system was used to pull the cars out of the mine.

In 1928, when the mine closed, nearly 9 million tons of coal had been extracted. In 1968, plans were made for a large reservoir at the Sopris site. The following year the town was vacated, the post office closed and all structures removed. Now the site is under the Trinidad Lake.

There were other communities in the same general area that also disappeared under the Trinidad Lake including Sopris Plaza, St. Thomas, Piedmont and Jerryville. Longs Junction is located at the southwestern end of the reservoir above the water level at a wildlife viewing area. It sits in the foothills and technically is not part of Eastern Colorado. There are quite a few structures left standing plus a small cemetery.

Sopris Plaza:

Sopris Plaza, located north of the Purgatoire River opposite Sopris, was originally called Laveses. According to historian A. Gene Vigil, brothers Manuel and Miguel Lave came from Taos, New Mexico in 1860 and settled the site. They were joined by Horace Long and Uriel Higbee and their families. Long elected to settle at the mouth of a canyon that would be named Long Canyon.

St. Thomas:

This was a coal mining town adjacent to Sopris and now under Lake Trinidad. There was an Upper St. Thomas and a St. Thomas, neither of which had a post office. The upper town had about 40 structures while St. Thomas had over 80 structures. To the south was Sopris Canyon and the largest mine in the area.

To order a copy please contact,

J.V. Publications L.L.C.
2212 Flora Court, Loveland, CO 80537

Reprinted with permission from "Ghost Towns" by Kenneth Jessen Copyright 2009.

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Legacy of an Italian Coal Miner by Lou Fantin

Stories have it that Sopris was the name of a Civil War General, Eldridge B. Sopris. That may be the case before he came to Trinidad but I found out that he was a Trinidad business man and the town was almost certainly named after him. He acted as agent for the purchase of coal lands for the Denver Fuel Company. The origin of the town is a tangled story but I have been able to piece it all together fairly accurately from the beginning. It starts with A. M. Holt who was deeded the land by entry men under the terms of the Preemption and Homestead Acts that had its origin just after the Civil War. He secured 2,229 acres west of Trinidad which is the area that became Sopris. The land passed from Holt to George M. Converse, a local gambler nicknamed "Texas George." How this took place is unavailable to me. The land then passed on to Charles D. Chase and if there were any interim owners between Converse and Chase I don't know. Now the Denver Fuel Company enters the scene. One of the directors was Dennis Sullivan who on April 1887, acting as agent for the company, purchased the land from Mauricio Lindsay after his partner Chase executed a quit claim to Lindsay. Eldridge B. Sopris, the Trinidad business man arranged the sale from Lindsay to Sullivan for which he received a sizable commission plus a share of all profits from the property. This was recorded on August 11, 1887. The actual price is unknown but it is reported between $40 to $50 dollars an acre. Five months later Sullivan conveyed the "Sopris Lands" to the corporation in return for stock in the corporation. 550 shares of preferred and 5,500 shares of common stock. As agreed previously, these securities were distributed among the board of directors of the Denver Fuel Company.

Now the U.S. Government enters the picture challenging the validity of the titles. In the local newspaper the Trinidad Daily Advertiser of December 7, 1886, and for some time after, the General Land Office published a notice of it's intention to bring suit through the Department of Justice to cancel patents for the so-called "Sopris Lands." The Denver Fuel Company probably knew that the government was challenging the acquisition according to Henry Hobson, the federal prosecutor and in the petition filed on July 27, 1887 charged that the participants conspired to obtain by fraud some 14 tracts known to contain coal deposits. Apparently the parties who sold the property to the Denver Land Co. had claimed to have obtained it from people who did not exist or at least could not be found. This fact was cleverly hidden and the government was unable to prove that the present purchasers were aware of that fact. The court later ruled that since the buyers were not aware of this fact they had done nothing illegal. The prosecutor continued to believe that Sopris was a shrewd manipulator and had covered his tracks well. As a result the case died right there. It sounds to me from what I have read that Eldridge B. Sopris stole the Sopris lands for Denver Fuel Company and got away with it.
The first mine was opened in Sopris on November 1887 with the completion of 100 beehive coke ovens on September 1888. A man named Kebler was the first supervisor of the mine. The Sopris mine remained in the possession of the Denver Fuel Company until April 1889 and was then sold to the Colorado Fuel Company for $1,091,000 including other lands in Las Animas County.

The town was nestled in the valley along side of the Purgatory river five miles west of Trinidad. The streets in Sopris were lined with trees on both sides. All the trees were the same size and it is obvious that the town was systematically planned. Remembering those tree lined streets leaves me with a deep sense of nostalgia. There was no ring nor sidewalks but the space between yards and trees was, in effect, a wide shaded promenade. For its day it was an exceptionally active town. Outlying areas such as Jerryville and St Thomas were developed haphazardly along the river with no rhyme nor reason that I could tell. Today these areas would be a planning commission nightmare. We had no town officials and no one ever indicated that the town was incorporated. I have since been led to believe that incorporation papers did exist. Everything was run by the county. For all intent and purposes Pete Salvatore was the mayor without portfolio. I still wondered why we didn't have a town council. We certainly had enough people, probably close to a thousand..........................

At the suggestion of his granddaughter, Lou Fantin started to write about growing up in Sopris. After ten years he published: "The Legacy of an Italian Coal Miner". Although copies are available from him at cost, a circulating copy will be available at the Trinidad public library.

To order a copy please contact,

Lou Fantin

Reprinted with permission from Lou Fantin.


Echoes of Yesteryear

"Coal camps have come and gone, and each was unique in its own way. The days of laughter and tears too soon fade into memories. As it was then it is now; time will take its toll, for none of us were promised a rose garden. Sadly ---so be it for Sopris."

To order a copy please contact,

Pat Donachy
Echoes of Yesteryear
P.O. Box 966
Trinidad, Colorado

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