Santo Tomás was a coal-mining town twenty-seven miles upstream from Laredo and about three-quarters of a mile from the banks of the Rio Grande in west central Webb County. The town was located on land originally granted about 1801 by Spain to Antonio Gonzales. During the colonial era and into the nineteenth century the land was used primarily for grazing. Although the presence of coal deposits had been known for decades, it was not until 1873 that Charles Callaghan, a prominent sheep rancher, and Refugio Benavides, mayor of Laredo, began mining a surface outcropping of coal. In 1880, David Darwin Davis, a Welsh immigrant, while on a reconnaissance of the coal region upriver from Laredo, exposed a rich seam of a superior quality cannel coal, free from sulfur and other impurities. It was pronounced by engineers and miners to be the best steaming coal west of the Mississippi. Alexander Cameron Hunt, the former governor of Colorado and the general manager of the Mexican National Construction Company, helped finance the building of the narrow-gauge Rio Grande and Pecos Railroad, which reached the mines in June 1882. In 1884 miners went on strike at Santo Tomás arguing that they had not been paid. Although several miners left, the mine eventually reopened and by 1900, the town had a population of approximately 1,000. As indicated by the 1900 and 1910 censuses, most miners were recent immigrants from northern Mexico. Ohio-born Will A. Roy was the mine superintendent. The community also included fruit peddlers, brick masons, mule drivers, water peddlers, carpenters, and small merchants. Besides a few stores, the town consisted of a hundred crudely built company shacks. Life in the mining village was dull. The men worked hard, salaries were low, working conditions dangerous, and living conditions bad. The poorly built houses provided little protection during the long and hot South Texas summers and bad weather in the winter. Water had to be brought from the Rio Grande and was sold at ten cents a barrel. The social life of the miners consisted of pastorelas during the Christmas holidays and again on the day of Santos Reyes (Epiphany), when the Christmas manger was taken down. They also celebrated the Fiesta de los Matachines on May 3. Weddings were also a celebrated occasion in Santo Tomás, as were dances held on Saturday night. By 1920 the mines had closed and only eighteen people lived in the village. Most of the houses had been moved. Today only a slag heap from Farm Road 1472 near the Laredo-Colombia Solidarity Bridge marks the spot where Santo Tomás once stood.
Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.
Violet Cearley | © Texas State Historical Association
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