Although the hard-scrabble coal miners were the backbone of the coal mining industry, another smaller group was equally important—the coal mine owners and operators.  A prime example of the latter group was Charles J. Devlin.
    Charles was born in St. Louis, Mo., in 1853 of Irish immigrant parents.  At the age of four, the family moved to Peru, Illinois.  This move would prove to be the foundation for a momentous career for this young boy.  From the nearby Christian Brothers school at LaSalle, Ill., he would not only obtain his education, but a deeply devoted Catholic life.
    Following his education, he briefly clerked at a store, and then at the age of 19 became the bookkeeper and manager of the Union Coal Co. at LaSalle.  During this time, he studied civil engineering with professional mentors, as well as coal mining; being particularly interested in the miners, their welfare, homes and problems.
     Soon he joined with his future father-in-law Henry J. Miller, a wealthy farmer and businessman, and founded the nearby town of Spring Valley, Illinois.  Charles platted the town, becoming its first mayor when incorporated in 1886, its postmaster in 1889, and helped to establish its Catholic church.
    As early as 1870, Mr. Miller, along with Congressman Alex Campbell, bought up an immense amount of coal lands in the Spring Valley area.  Charles convinced them to open coal mines there, and assisting to obtain a two-million-dollar investment from a Pennsylvania investor, they founded the Spring Valley Coal Co. and sank four mines there between 1884 and 1887.
       In 1885, Charles marred Mr. Miller’s daughter, Mary (Jenne) Miller, at Spring Valley.  He would be the general manager of the Spring Valley Coal Co. from its creation until 1890.  Being sympathetic to the condition of the miners, he aroused the ire of the other owners, resulting in his ouster from this position.
    Not to be daunted by this reversal, this energetic, forward-looking young man, the same year, became the fuel agent for the Santa Fe Railroad, and moved to Topeks, Kansas, where he would remain the rest of his life.  From this position, he quickly became the general manager of the Cherokee & Pittsburg Coal & Mining Co, the coal branch of the Santa Fe.  While in this position, he bought mines at Marquette, Ill., opened Santa Fe mines at Toluca, Ill., built railroad branches in Illinois to serve the mines there, as well as managed the mines in Southeast Kansas.  
    In 1896, he created the Mount Carmel Coal Co. and leased all the Santa Fe mines in Kansas.  In addition, he founded the Devlin-Miller Coal Co. and the Crawford County Coal Co, with mines in Crawford County, and the Mt. Carmel Mercantile Co. with stores in Chicopee and Frontenac.  During these years, he began to acquire extensive farm lands in Illinois and banks to support his investments; principal among them the First National Bank of Topeka.
       With the first large scale miners’ strike in Kansas in 1893, he endeared himself to the miners by being the first owner/operator to recognize their union, the United Mine Workers of America.
    By 1905, he owned 3,000 acres of prime farm land in Illinois, was president of five major banks, owned three short line railroads, and owned or held stock in 21 large coal mines in Illinois, Kansas, and Missouri.  By some estimates, he was the wealthiest person in Kansas.  His philanthropy was immense.  Having a special devotion to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, he applied the name to various undertakings; his coal company, his donation of land for the Catholic cemetery at Frontenac, and his donation of land to the sisters for the founding of the hospital at Pittsburg.  In addition, he donated land for various Catholic churches in Southeast Kansas, including Chicopee and Frontenac.  In 1904, he bought a $30,000 building in Topeka and donated it as the Kansas headquarters for the Knights of Columbus.
    Charles had always personally managed his extensive holdings.  The burden of this over-work caused a slight stroke in July 1905.  With that, investors and shareholders became panicked, causing a run on his banks.  Soon he was forced to file bankruptcy, bringing about the collapse of his vast holdings.
    To recover his health, he took a trip to Ireland.  On his return trip to his home in Topeka, he was stricken by another stroke and died at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Chicago.  Following the tragic ending of his life, this energetic, honorable man of integrity was laid to rest in St. Vincent’s Cemetery, LaSalle, Illinois.
    The legal wrangling over his estate and the settlement of his bankruptcy would grind on for years. The creditors even unsuccessfully tried to obtain his wife’s share of his life insurance.  Finally, in 1909, Mary obtained, $500,000 and would live out her life in Kansas City, Kansas.
    Information, such as this, concerning coal miners and owners, coal companies, and coal camps can be obtained from the research library at Miners Hall Museum, 701 S. Broadway, Franklin, KS.  Hours are 10 AM to 4 PM, Monday through Saturday.