The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989 Page: 510
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
bridge for Texas labor between the militant, but often unsuccessful,
strike activity across the state in the 188os challenging emerging indus-
tries' monopolistic control over markets and workers and the move in
the early twentieth century, which James C. Maroney's work on orga-
nized labor in Texas identifies, toward labor's steady growth, public ac-
ceptance, and effective use of legislative lobbying as an additional
means of achieving the movement's goals.
The factors that incited Thurber's ethnically and racially mixed coal
miners to the underground agitation that resulted in total unionization
of the town in fifteen years included coal-weighing procedures, wage
scales, and working hours deemed unfair by the workers, as well as
difficult and dangerous work conditions. Equally significant in gener-
ating resentment among the population, however, were features of
company-dominated life that limited personal freedom. Paternalistic
and autocratic under the management of Colonel Robert D. Hunter, a
native of Scotland who made his fortune in the American West as a
prospector, cattleman, and mining entrepreneur, the company owned
and administered almost all community enterprises. It thus touched
every aspect of its workers' lives from working conditions to entertain-
ment and, under Hunter, its first president and general manager, cre-
ated a virtual serfdom. As a result, in action strikingly similar to that of
miners in southern Illinois whose early twentieth-century activism Eric
D. Weitz has recently analyzed, Thurber's native and foreign-born
miners, motivated by an individualist urge that the solitary nature of
their underground work and preindustrial habits encouraged and
united by shared grievances that overcame ethnic, racial, and religious
divisions, turned to union organization as the collective expression of
their individual aspirations.5 Although management's capitulation to
the miners' demands in 1903 did not terminate the company-town con-
cept in Thurber, it facilitated the introduction of a strong counterforce
3James C. Maroney, "Organized Labor in Texas, 1900-1929" (Ph.D. diss., University of
Houston, 1975), 50, 57, 59, 92-93
4"Thurber, Texas . . TP's Birthplace," TP Voice, II (May-June, 1966), 6, Miscellaneous File,
Texas and Pacific Coal Company Records, 1887-1969 (Southwest Collection, Texas Tech Uni-
versity, Lubbock, Tex.; cited hereafter as Texas and Pacific Coal Company Records); Jimmy M.
Skaggs, "To Build a Barony. Colonel Robert D. Hunter," Arizona and the West, XV (Autumn,
1973), 245. The TP Voice, a pubhcation of the Texas & Pacific Oil Company, stated: "Thurber
was virtually his [Hunter's] serfdom."
5Eric D. Weitz, "Class Formation and Labor Protest in the Minmg Communities of Southern
Ilhnois and the Ruhr, 189o- 1925," Labor History, XXVII (Winter, 1985-1986), 88-91. Carter
Goodrich examines the "freedom" of miners' work in The Miner's Freedom" A Study of the Working
Life in a Changing Industry (Boston: Marshall Jones Co., 1925), 31: "There is in fact a strong
feeling in the industry . . . that the miner is a sort of independent petty contractor and that
how much he works and when are more his own affair than the company's." Robert F. Foerster,
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989, periodical, 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/m1/576/: accessed July 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.