Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

F. Ross Peterson


F. Ross Peterson


This thesis was written to outline the history of five stone houses, which have survived almost a century of mining activity. The houses are located on a barren mesa, called Calamity, in southwestern Colorado. This work was funded by the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, in order to explore the possibility of designating this site as a National Historic Site.

Men and women lived and worked on this and the surrounding mesas for most of the twentieth century. The lives of the families, the men, women, and children who lived and worked on Calamity Mesa, provided the context for the entire period. These people formed nebulous communities on what could only be called a twentieth-century frontier.

I used several methods for this study, including oral interviews with surviving miners and their families, company and government officials, mining engineers, and medical personnel involved in studies concerning the effects of radiation exposure. Government publications, local newspapers, and personal papers of several individuals were also researched. Through the use of these methods I further developed the history of the period, by focusing on Calamity Camp and the lives of the men and women who lived and worked there.

The miners who came to Calamity Mesa extracted the carnotite ore from sandstone beds. Originally, miners searched for radium, desired for its illusory cure for cancer. Then they sought vanadium, which was used as a strengthening agent for steel during both world wars . Finally, their goal was uranium, a key component for the production of nuclear weapons and energy.

The search for these minerals brought, many working class men and women to the Colorado Plateau. They brought their families to Calamity Mesa and lived in whatever shelter they could find. The stone houses, lived in by generation after generation of miners and their families, who came searching for carnotite, provided a permanence to Calamity Mesa throughout this period.



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