The coal-mining town of Gebo was established in 1907 about twelve miles north of Thermopolis in Hot Springs County. It was named after Samuel Wilford Gebo who established the Owl Creek Coal Company and the first mine in the area after immigrating to America from Canada. By 1929, there were about 1,200 employees and family members, with over 600 employed in the coal mines. Mining remained active until 1938.
Mileva Maravic (1912-2003) spent her childhood in Gebo. Her papers at the AHC contain historical materials she collected about the town. There are also reminiscences by Maravic and other Gebo residents.
The excerpts below are from Mileva’s reminiscences titled “The Roaring Twenties and Prohibition in Gebo”:
“At age fourteen I knew how wine was made and how to cook whiskey. I loved September. September meant a new year at school. It also meant we would have all the fresh grapes to eat when they came from California. In August one of the miners went around camp taking orders. How many boxes of grapes and what kind red or white did they want? My step-dad ordered many boxes mostly the red, some white grapes for the white wine. I remember people talking about ordering one ton, half a ton of grapes. It took many boxes to fill the fifty gallon wooden barrels. Several boxcars of grapes came to Kirby from California. The grapes were brought to Gebo by truck.
When it was wine making time my step-dad [Eli “Smokey” Talovich] ordered us kids not to bring any of our friends home from school. They may see the wooden barrels, the grapes, or smell the odor coming from the dirt cellar under the house. It wasn’t an easy thing to do to keep our friends away. The friends may tell their parents, who might report it to the Revenue Officers in Thermopolis. To me that was a bit puzzling as our friends had the same thing going on at their house.
A funny story went around camp what a miner said to the Revenue Officers when they came to his house asking what he was going to do with all the grapes he had. He said: ‘the wife she is going to make a little jelly for the kids.’
When I left home for the University of Wyoming and heard whiskey was made from corn, wheat and potatoes, I was shocked [and] thought how awful that stuff must be. I assumed all whiskey was made from grapes like we made it in Gebo. I learned it was Brandy we made when it came from grape mash.”
– Submitted by D. Claudia Thompson, Processing Supervisor, UW American Heritage Center