Albia, Iowa Union Republican, June 12, 2008
Francis Butcher last lived in the Monroe County coal mining camp of Bucknell, Iowa in 1929. He was born in the coal mining camp of Buxton, Iowa in 1913. The Butcher family moved from Buxton to the new camp of Bucknell in 1918. Francis might have left the Monroe County camps physically in 1929, but his heart and love of Bucknell and Haydock never left him. For nearly 80 years he has cherished the memories of growing up in coal mining camps whose major history spans a mere decade from 1918 to 1927. Bucknell at one time had a population in the thousands was developed and closed in a little over a decade. Bucknell was located approximately six miles north of Melrose in western Monroe County. Click to read “My remembrances of Bucknell/Haydock, Iowa”
Francis remains one of the few still alive who vividly remembers Bucknell and the adjoining camp to the west of Bucknell called Haydock. Ask Francis about a family or a street from the east end of Bucknell called the bottom camp to the west end called the 20th mine hill (a span of nearly two miles) and he will tell you where they lived and most of the names of the family members. It is interesting that Francis’ father, Romeo W. Butcher, was a surveyor and construction supervisor for the Consolidation Coal Company during the time the various towns of Buxton, Consol, Camp 18 and Bucknell were being moved and developed. Many of his father’s survey markers still exist in Bucknell and his name is listed on the plats of Bucknell. The Butcher family lived in eight different homes in Bucknell / Haydock.
Only recently has Francis become a special individual in my life. I, like so many, have family roots in the Iowa coal mining camps of Buxton, Consol, Bucknell and Haydock. My grandparents David and Emma Peterson owned general stores at various times in all of those locations as well as building a store in 1927 at Melrose Corners that they later sold to the Parenza family in 1932. The Peterson adjoining store and home in Haydock was located at the southwest corner of the “T” intersection at 160nd Street and 527th Avenue. The brick walls of the home are still standing. The store was removed when the intersection was re-graded in the 1940’s. The dividing line between Bucknell on the east and Haydock on the west was Melrose Road (527th Ave.). Click to read the “Where’s Haydock” article.
Last fall (Sept. 2007) at the coal miner’s tribute meeting in Oskaloosa a friend of Francis, Jim J. Fromi of Davenport, Iowa and I met. Jim also has family roots in Bucknell. Jim told me about Francis who now lived in another old coal mining town located in Sawyerville, Illinois. Francis and his wife, Ethel May, and son, Daryl, had lived in Sawyerville since 1947. Francis worked for the McDonald Douglas Corp in St. Louis most of his career. Once Francis heard that I am the grandson of the owners of the Peterson store in Bucknell/ Haydock that was located on School House hill, he and I corresponded.
Francis was particularly interested in knowing about my Aunt Linnea Peterson Colgan (Albia Union Republican article 1/17/08) as they were pals and classmates. At the time Francis and I first met in the fall of 2007, Aunt Linnea was still alive. She died a short time later in December of that year. Although she suffered from dementia she got a big chuckle when I read her a letter Francis sent her remembering how they enjoyed riding around together in Francis’ family’s new 1928 Chevy. Aunt Lynn commented that Francis was “real smart.” The Peterson and Butcher families were very close. The Butcher family last lived to the north across the road (160th Street) from the Peterson’s home and store.
One of my passions in my life has been to study and research my family’s history in the coal mining camps of Monroe County. My father Ray Peterson and I explored the camps of Buxton, Coopertown, Eveland, Consol, Bucknell and Haydock every year from 1970 until he died in 1995. Since my father’s death other individuals including my Aunts Elizabeth, Linnea and Naomi, John Blomgren of Lovilia, Carl Virgil Blomgren of Kansas City, Ernie Williamson of Charles City and the Monroe County Museum helped fill the void for someone to talk to about the history of the coal camps. However none, not even my Dad, can compare to the knowledge that Francis Butcher has about Bucknell and Haydock. The Williamson family owned much of the land that became Haydock. Grandpa Peterson bought the land for the Peterson home and store from the Williamson family in 1921.
I have personally visited Francis in Sawyerville twice the last couple of months. He has helped clarify many issues. I have poured through his picture albums and maps he has drawn of that time. Ask him about a picture of Bucknell and he will tell you exactly where the picture was taken, the direction the camera is looking and who lived in the houses in the background.
On many of the Bucknell school pictures he has listed the names of all those in the picture, this from pictures when he was less than 10 years old. I have chosen a picture of Francis and his sister as my favorite. They are standing in the middle of a street in bottom camp in Bucknell with the camera looking west with company houses in the background. Francis is a barefoot 8 or 9 year old. My favorite story he told me is about my Dad getting knocked “dizzy” when playing football for the Bucknell High School against Chariton in the mid-1920s. Dad was allowed to play football for Bucknell in spite of quitting school as an 8th grader to help with the family store.
Francis also clarified for me some running arguments I have had over the years. 1. There was a roundhouse between Consol and coal camp 18, but it didn’t have a turn around table. The trains used a “Y” track arrangement to turn around. 2. The boundary lines of Bucknell, Haydock and Midway. 3. The Bucknell Township High School, as it was called then according to Francis, was actually in Haydock. 4. The Haydock camp name didn’t exist until John Day, the company general manager in 1922 named the area west of the Melrose road (527th Ave.) Haydock, after where he lived in England.
Francis reviewed for me the Dorothy Schwieder book on Buxton, page by page. In most cases he enhanced the author’s information. It is unfortunate she didn’t interview Francis prior to publishing her book in the1980’s, because his insights are very in-depth and interesting.Much of what Francis wrote were human interest, such as him playing for the marble championship, which he lost in the finals. He wrote a story for me on how they harvested walnuts.I often wonder if the walnut tree is still standing between mines #18 and mine# 19. He also went through the 1925 census of Wayne Township, family by family, and commented on the families he knew including where they live, where the father worked and if he knew with any of the children.
By now it should be obvious Francis has many treasured stories about Bucknell and Haydock. He has provided information to the Monroe County Museum including maps that locate the businesses as well as many streets and the names of the families that lived on those streets. He also did an elevation map showing the names of the various hills as they were named in the 1920s.
Francis died in March, 2011 after this article was printed in the Albia Union-Republican newspaper. He loved his coal mining roots and requested he be buried holding in his hand a vial of soil from Bucknell. Francis’ son Daryl honored his Dad’s request. The picture of Francis and his sister standing in the middle of a Bucknell street, with him barefoot and with one pant leg rolled up brought to me thoughts of Mark Twain’s, Huckleberry Finn. If you ever had the opportunity to meet Francis in person and listen to his stories of life in the coal mining camps, you would agree with me, there was a parallel.
Albia Union-Republican, April 21, 2011
Remembering an old friend of Monroe Co. miners
Francis Butcher, who was born in Buxton, Iowa on December 13,1913, died in Sawyerville, Illinois on March 31, 2011. He lived in the Monroe County coal camps of Buxton, Bucknell, Consol's 18 Mine, Haydock and Midway until 1929 when his family left the area (as most all other families did due to an unresolved labor dispute). The miners had gone out on strike when the Superior Coal Co. (formerly the Consolidation Coal Co.) reduced their wages. The company then closed the mines in 1927.
Mr. Butcher's father Romeo W. worked for the coal company as a civil engineer including surveying and laying out the coal mines and camps. His surveyor markers still exist in what was Bucknell's lower camp on Mine 19 hill. Mr. Butcher's mother Ethel May (Chambers) was from Eddyville area.
After leaving Monroe County, the Butcher family owned and operated a coal mine in Farmington, Iowa for a short period. Francis married Anna Wallace of Sawyerville, Illinois. She died on November 24, 1996. They have a son Daryl who resides in Orange County, California with his wife Carolyn.
In 1947 Francis and his family moved from Chicago to Sawyerville, Illinois (near St. Louis) to be with family. Francis worked as a quality engineer for McDonald Douglas in St. Louis until his retirement. Francis continued to reside in Sawyerville until his death.
Mr. Butcher wrote his memories of life in the Monroe County coal camps for distribution during the Monroe County 150 Year Celebration in 2009. A map layout of the Bucknell and Haydock coal camps that Francis generated along with his son Daryl is available at the Monroe County Museum in Albia.
In his later years Mr. Butcher enjoyed talking about life in Monroe County's coal camps by entertaining many visitors with roots in the coal camps at his Sawyerville, Illinois home. Many of Mr. Butcher's sister Ruth Holden's family still live in the area around Sawyerville including a niece Myrna and her family. Mr Butcher especially enjoyed doing family genealogy on his computer. One of his greatest joys was being able to vividly recall information about families with roots in the camps, including where they lived in the camps. My Aunt Linnea (Peterson)Colgan, who was a good friend of Francis' as teenagers, once commented about Francis that he was "really smart." Indeed he was - even at 97 years of age.
Written by Gordon Peterson