"Underground Patriots": Thurber Coal Miners
and the Struggle for Individual Freedom,
MARILYN D. RHINEHART*
N JANUARY, 1945, AS ALLIED FORCES PUSHED INTO GERMANY, GOMER
Gower reminisced about his turn-of-the-century experiences as resi-
dent, worker, and labor activist in Thurber, Texas, a coal mining town
owned and actively operated by the Texas & Pacific Coal Company from
1888 through the 1920s. Alluding to resistance fighters in war-torn
Europe, Gower wrote: "We [in Thurber], too, had our underground
forces ... in supposedly free America... ." and, Gower continued, "it
was due to the silent and patient activity of this band of underground
patriots that Thurber was transformed from a 'Bull-Pen' in its early his-
tory, into one of the most . .. pleasant mining communities in the en-
To accomplish this transformation Thurber's miner labor activists
emphasized such traditional forms of collective action as unionization,
work stoppages, and solicitation of funds and aid from local and distant
allies. But it was the employment in 1903 of a device that the company
could not outmaneuver-worker/resident emigration-that forced
officials to recognize that not only were workers dependent on the com-
pany, but the company needed its workers. In the end, this success re-
sulted, as Ruth A. Allen has accurately concluded, in the appearance of
"a powerful and militant organization" that enforced the closed shop in
the Texas mining district for over twenty years.2 It also provided a
* Marilyn D. Rhinehart received her Ph D. from the University of Houston and is a member
of the full-time history faculty at North Harris County College in Houston. Her recently com-
pleted doctoral dissertation on Thurber is entitled "A Way of Work and a Way of Life: Coal
Mining and Coal Miners in Thurber, Texas, 1888-1926."
i Gomer Gower to M. J. Gentry, Jan. 18, 1945, min Mary Jane Gentry, "Thurber: The Life and
Death of a Texas Town" (M.A. thesis, University of Texas at Austin, 1946), 236 (ist quotation),
236-237 (2nd quotation).
2Ruth A. Allen, Chapters zn the History of Organzzed Labor m Texas, University of Texas Pubhca-
tion No. 4143 (Austin: Bureau of Research in the Social Sciences, University of Texas, 1941), 91.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/. Accessed March 7, 2014.