Dawson Tragedy: new Mexico
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Italians in the Gold Rush and Beyond

Italian Gold Trail
Italian Gold Trail

Ministero degli Affari Esteri
Ministero degli Esteri
Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Consulate General of italy in Los Angeles
Consolato italiano
Consolato Generale italiano a Los Angeles


In 1869 John Barkley Dawson purchased over 24,000 acres from the Maxwell Land Grant in this valley for $3,700. He lived here with his family for more than 30 years.
Coal was found on the land about 1895, but the first coal mine on Dawson's ranch didn't open until 1901 when the Dawson Fuel Company was formed by Charles Eddy. In 1906 the Phelps Dodge Corporation purchased the property, mining the coal for use on the railroads and for smelting the copper from its Arizona mines. An increasing market for coal brought rapid development of the town until it reached a population of 9,000. Many of these townspeople were immigrants from Italy, Poland, Germany, Greece, Yugoslavia, the British Isles, Finland, Sweden and Mexico.
Everyone enjoyed comfortable homes, a community swimming pool, an opera house, a golf course, two churches, a well staffed hospital and a hotel. In the 1920s there were four schools that served over 1,200 students. Dawson's ball teams were virtual powerhouse, and the school bands a source of pride.
This was the cemetery for the coal mining town of Dawson. Its grave markers reflect the diverse immigrant populations which came to this country seeking a better life, and which fuelled America's industrial development. Hundreds of identical crosses, which mark the graves of miners killed in mine accidents in 1913 and 1923, demonstrate the great sacrifices of these pioneers.
On April 30, 1950, the town was closed! Natural gas and oil took place of the coal mined in Dawson. The buildings were torn down or relocated to nearby towns and the mining equipment was salvaged. Dawson has the sad legacy of having the highest number of italian worker deaths to occur during the history of italian emigration.

University of Florence

A videoclip of "Italians in the Gold Rush Project"

A multimedia project of the history of the italian presence in the American West from the Gold Rush (1848) to today.

The studies are supported by "Ministero degli Affari Esteri" of Rome (Italian Governement), General Consulate of Italy in Los Angeles.

Director: Prof. Alessandro Trojani, researcher at the University of Florence

From notes made during a field study visit to the Dawson Cemetery by Professor Alessandro Trojani during the Spring of 2005. Students Chiara Mori and Francesco Casalini have helped transcribe his video tapes and written notes. English translation by C.F.Friend

©Copyright 2006



Dawson Tragedy

Ministero degli Affari Esteri - Roma / Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Rome
Università degli Studi di Firenze - University of Florence
Facoltà di Scienze Politiche - Facoltà di Scienze della Formazione / Dept. of Political Science - Dept. of Education

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