Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
Rich Coal Deposits
The first settlers arriving in Van Buren County discovered a wealth of fuel within their grasp. People picked up coal to use as fuel from out of the creek beds, and soon mining operations began.
The Brattain mine near Farmington was in operation by 1840, but since the railroad did not cross the county until after the Civil War, most of the early mining in Van Buren County was for a small, local market.
Some coal was hauled by team and wagon as far away as Keokuk. Steamboats, which often came up the Des Moines River, used large amounts of coal. Since most Van Buren coal was of good quality, it was in demand for steam purposes.
When my grandmother was a small girl, one of her chores was to take a bucket out to the creek bed and gather pieces of coal, which the family used as fuel. Black chunks sometimes poked through the ground in the pastures and were easily dislodged. A seam of coal under slate was easy to mine extending from Hillsboro to Selma, through the area of Business Corners north of Douds.
One by one, neighbors of the Ratcliff(e)ís began mining coal in the Douds area. Nearby, coal was first mined for local distribution by Eliab Doud sometime during the 1840s. A neighbor named Alexander Findlay began mining on a large scale in 1856. Another family named Gardner began mining.
The Ratcliff(e) family resisted the temptation to turn their farm into an ugly strip mine operation, but finally sank the first shaft in 1892. Thatís when the Ratcliff Coal Company was born. They became the principle supplier of coal to the local chutes in Douds for the Rock Island Railroad.
Aaron Ratcliff's son Roy, followed by sons Dale and Gerald kept the family mines operating for more than 60 years. My grandmother always got free coal delivered to her house in Leando, thus I am unfamiliar with coal prices in the 1940s and 1950s.
According to the Internet, at the time of the Civil War people paid about 10 cents per bushel, or $2.50 per ton. When the Ratcliff Coal Mine at Douds began operating, the price was only about $1/ton due to the Panic of 1893, and dropped to as low as 75 cents per ton during the Great Depression (1930s).
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick