Turn-of-century sawmills a tough job

Last week, I mentioned that Hamlin and Heibler dissolved their partnership early in 1900. Hamlin's operation became known as the Montezuma Lumber Company and was located about two miles east of Mancos. He installed an 80-ton powerful traction engine that would handle a train of five large log wagons with ease. It was capable of doing the work of twenty horses.

In the late summer of 1900, fire ravaged the tall stands of timber north of Mancos and Hamlin suffered tremendous losses.

Fred Hamlin was a tough fighter and ordered new machinery so he could start over. The many years of hard work and worry however took their toll. He sold the mill and moved to town where he built a handsome residence. At one time it was the home of Postmaster Jim Barrett.

In August 1902, Hamlin went to Colorado Springs to an Elks Convention where he died suddenly at the age of 47.

In 1903, the largest sawmill deal in Montezuma County up to that time was the sale whereby Montezuma Lumber Company bought out the Stubbs and Jakway operation for $20,000. This made Montezuma Lumber Company the largest sawmill in all of Southwestern Colorado at that time.

In 1907, there were eight sawmills operating in and around Mancos. In 1908, Hyde Fielding moved his sawmill from town to the Pinewood area some five miles northwest of Mancos. Then in 1910 Roy Dean purchased the mill and operated it for several years on Chicken Creek.

John Exon and his son Aaron and Brother Sol operated a family-owned shingle mill at their mountain ranch northeast of Mancos. They started their business in 1894 and it continued until the early 1920s.

There were many other small operators around Mancos through the years including Roy Weston, Archie Hayes, George Soulen, James Bell, Roy Waters and Lawson Bowling. E.C. Cooper operated a large sawmill about 15 miles north of Mancos.

The Montezuma National Forest was established in 1908 with headquarters in Mancos. Ress Phillips was the first Forest Supervisor. Rules were made that regulated the promiscuous cutting of lumber and required better methods of cleanup operations. This was the beginning of concerns for our environment and our precious natural resources in the Mancos area.

Working around the sawmills was often dangerous. Men were injured by the sharp saws. Wagons overturned and pinning men under them. Sometimes they were crushed and killed. John Smith and George Burnham were killed that way. But, despite the element of danger, the poor road conditions, poor pay and the long hard hours of backbreaking labor, men continued to follow the sawdust machines.

Darrel Ellis is a longtime historian of the Mancos Valley. Email him at dnrls@q.com.