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When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Samuel Drumheller

Sam Drumheller in car, Drumheller, Alberta. Samuel Drumheller was born in Walla Walla, Washington, USA., the son of Jesse Drumheller, a native of Tennessee. After leaving Whitman College he joined his father in stock and wheat raising. He earned $500.00 a year plus clothing. When he had saved $1,000 he launched out for himself, first raising sheep and then going into wheat raising. He could buy land at $1.25 an acre and at the end of eight years he ploughed all the land under and planted it in wheat, producing as much as 80,000 bushels of grain a year. For seven years he was Superintendent and Director of the Livestock Department of the County Fair. After, he was joined by two partners and they were able to sell 3,000,000 bushels of wheat a year.

There were other members of the Drumheller clan in the North West United States. Ken Liddell of the Calgary Herald, in 1957, interviewed one Jerome, son of Dan Drumheller, who had come to the North West United States at the age of 20 years in 1854. The Drumhellers ran pack trains up into British Columbia around Fort Steele. All goods were paid for in gold and once a nugget worth $56.00 was passed over the counter.

Soon the Drumheller Associates were in natural gas in Montana; oil in Ohio; gold in Alaska; lead in Missouri and whatever was to be found around Rossland and Slocan of British Columbia.

It was Jerome Drumheller who, in the early 1900s came to Alberta with his cousin Sam to look for ranch and wheat lands and when hiking around the Badlands, 90 miles north-east of Calgary, reached the cabin of a homesteader named Mr. Greentree. The door was unlocked and they went in and made themselves at home. They were surprised to see a bucket of bituminous coal sitting by the stove and wondered where it came from in this isolated valley with little access to the outside world. They decided it must be a local product so went outside and followed tracks in the snow to the banks of the Red Deer River and found a five-foot seam, fifteen feet above the valley floor. They forgot all about ranch land and returned to Calgary to take out mineral leases in the vicinity.

There are many tales about Sam's next trip to the Valley—one says it cost him $700 to make the trip but doesn't tell how he got down the hills in a car. This may have been the time he drove down in his car from Red Deer on the frozen Red Deer River. One trip we know about was made also on the river but his car rode on a raft which tied up at Greentree's Crossing which was located about where the Power House now stands. After talks with Mr. Greentree, the raft and car continued down stream to near the mouth of Rosebud creek where he drove the car off the raft as he wanted to drive to Gleichen. He stopped at Mr. Murphy's homestead to find out about the road and some of the Murphy children piled in the car to show him the hill road. One look at that steep Raymond Hill was enough. Sam got a team of horses to haul the car up the hill, didn't go to Gleichen but followed prairie trails to Calgary.

By this time it was known that the railroad was coming into the Valley and Sam Drumheller wanted to buy Mr. Greentree's land for a townsite. On Ins third trip to the Valley, Sam completed the purchase of the land (rumor said for the sum of $2800.00 which he carried in cash in his shirt pocket) for the townsite.

When a post office was established in 1911 in Mr. Brownjohn's store, Mr. Greentree and Sam Drumheller flipped a coin to see whether the new town should be called Greentree's Crossing or Drumheller. The latter won and the new little town had a name.

Sam Drumheller opened up his mine in 1912, shortly after the Newcastle was opened by Jesse Gouge. The mine was worked at a depth of 85 feet and had seams from 9 to 11 feet thick, but only about half the seam was worked. The production per acre that is estimated in the vicinity of the Drumheller Mine is on an average of 9,000 tons. The mine did not always work at capacity as enough miners could not be found but it was estimated that the mine produced four to five thousand tons a day. The Drumheller mine did not remain open as long as some of the others in the valley.

After the railway came in, the Drumhellers established a home in the town where they lived for many years. Sam Drumheller also maintained a business office in Calgary. Mrs. Drumheller was very active in all community projects, sang in the first choir of Knox Presbyterian Church, was president of the first Ladies' Aid (of Knox) and a member of the Women's Institute.

Their only son, Lee, was manager of the Canadian Utilities plant. He married Nina Norstrant and they have two children, Robert and Merridy.

The article titled "The Samuel Drumheller Story" by Mrs. Myrtle Toshach is reprinted from The Hills of Home: Drumheller Valley (Drumheller Valley History Association, 1973). The Heritage Community Foundation and the Year of the Coal Miner Consortium (of which the Atlas Coal Mine is a member) would like to thank the author and the Drumheller Valley History Association for this contribution.

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