110 years ago, the coal-mining town of Gebo was established about twelve miles north of Thermopolis in Hot Springs County. The town took its name from Samuel W. Gebo, an entrepreneurial developer of the coal mines in Washakie and Hot Springs counties. New York investor Rufus Ireland and others were the financial backers who leased the land from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Gebo was the company town of their Owl Creek Coal Company. By 1929, there were about 1,200 employees and family members, with more than 600 employed in the coal mines.
Mileva Maravic (1912-2003) spent her childhood in Gebo. Her papers at the AHC contain historical materials she collected about the town. Also included are reminiscences by Maravic and other Gebo residents.
The excerpts below are from Maravic’s remembrances about the town.
“Everything was owned by the company—the houses, the store, butcher shop, utilities. Rent was free. The company charged $1.00 for a load of coal brought in a truck and emptied it in the coal shed by the houses. A few chose to build their own house or added some rooms to their company house.”
“Gebo was a melting pot of nationalities and cultures. There were Finns, Czechs, Slavs comprising two groups (the Serbians and Montenegrins). Other nationalities Hungarians, Bulgarians, Russians, Italians, Scots, Irish, English, and two Japanese families.” (from “Gebo, Wyoming,” by Mileva Maravic)
“The [school] playground had swings, a slide and the monkey bars and a Merry-go-round.
Away from the playground and the school were two small buildings near a pile of large rocks. They were the outdoor toilets. One marked BOYS and the other GIRLS.”
“The Owl Creek Coal Company furnished the books. The children bought paper, pencils, penholder made of wood into which you inserted a metal penpoint. We also had to buy a bottle of ink which cost ten cents. The desks had a round hole in the upper right hand corner for the bottle of ink. The penholder with penpoint dipped in the ink we used when having Penmanship Class. We practiced many days the push-pull exercises and making large round circles before the teacher accepted the papers which she sent to the Palmer Method Company in Chicago. They graded the papers and if satisfactory were returned to the School with a Certificate having our name on it. We also received a Palmer Method Pin we could wear.” (from “The Gebo School,” by Mileva Maravic)
“Children entered the Pool Hall at the back door, waited until the clerk came to ask what kind of candy bar, soda pop we wanted. We could buy with pool hall chips miners sometimes gave us. A small building near the front of the Pool Hall was the Barbershop. No women went in the Barbershop. In the back of the Pool Hall was a round open structure where the Gebo Miner’s Band gave concerts in the summer.” (from “Gebo, Wyoming,” by Mileva Maravic)
“Growing up in Gebo, Wyoming in the 1920’s was a pioneer life compared to to-day’s living. It was a simpler life. It seems though, no matter how rough things were — the place we were young is always close to one’s heart. Some part of me will always be where I grew up…….Gebo, Wyoming.” (from “Remembrances of Gebo, Wyoming,” by Mileva Maravic)
By 1938, the coal mines had closed. Mail service to the town was discontinued in December 1955. By 1971 the town was bulldozed, although some buildings and the cemetery remain.
The American Heritage Center is a place to get information not found in many books or even online sources. We have firsthand data and evidence from letters, reports, notes, memos, photographs, audio and video recordings, and other primary sources. We’re accessible onsite at the University of Wyoming and online. No appointment needed to get your information!
– Submitted by D. Claudia, Thompson, Archivist, American Heritage Center