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The Carney coal mines, and the company town of Carneyville, were established in 1904 on the Tongue River north of Sheridan.
The start-up was the subject of an article in the Sheridan Post on Aug. 9, 1904, which proclaimed that the Carney coal camp was the third big coal mine to be opened in Sheridan County. (The first two were Dietz in 1893 and Monarch in 1903. Kooi and Acme followed in 1906 and 1907 respectively.)
The site was on 3,000 acres of “very fine coal lands” north of Tongue River, eight miles north of Sheridan and three miles north of Dietz. The land contained a coal vein between 16 to 25 feet in thickness and the coal was judged to be “vastly superior to any coal that was mined in Iowa and many other states in the West.” It was “entirely free from sulpher, slate, rock and all foreign substances….making it very easy and inexpensive to mine.”
The new enterprise was named for its founders, a pair of brothers named Carney who were timber and coal magnates from Chicago and Omaha. They founded the Carney Coal Company. The company put its money on the line to buy the property and develop the coal camp. To represent its interests Carney Coal Company named J. E. Stout, “a man of ripe and successful experience in coal mining” to develop the mine and produce coal. Mr. Stout had a lot to do.
He coordinated with the B & M railroad to grade the area and put in four side tracks. The side tracks enabled the operators to offload engines and other equipment to be used at the site. The side tracks also made it easier to transport heavy timber for the tipple and lumber and bricks for the camp housing instead of hauling it over a rough road from Alger, a railroad siding on the Tongue River.
The houses, of which 15 out of 30 were completed at the time of the article, were “not the ordinary shacks usually found in mining camps but are substantial four and six-room cottages with stone foundations.” The houses were on the south side of the tracks where a large boarding-house, a store building and other structures were to be located.
The actual mine was located across the river from the camp. To extract and transport the coal, the mine was fitted with “the latest improved electric machinery” and the coal cars were propelled to the mouth of the slope by small electric motors. Then from the mouth of the mine the coal cars were taken across the river over a trestle and grade about 40 rods and pulled up an inclined track to the top of the tipple where the coal was weighed and dumped. The cars were moved by electric cable.
Three of the tracks ran under the immense coal chutes leading from the tipple. Large concrete foundations were built on which to install two “Smith box-car loaders.” These loaders tilted the coal cars in such a manner that the coal was not broken when it came down the chute. The whole enterprise was quite an elaborate project for its day and an important part of the Sheridan area coal industry which flourished from about 1911-1926.
Carneyville reached its peak population of 1,400 in 1907. According to the brochure for the “Black Diamond Trail of Sheridan County,” it had many improvements and was described as “neat and in excellent repair.” The town boasted that it was never the point of origin of a single case of typhoid fever.
Carneyville had quite a history in its short lifespan. It was the scene of a major incident in 1919 when the miners elected to go on strike and the U. S. Army used unauthorized force to break it up. Troops invaded the town with fixed bayonets, and without warrants, ordered all male occupants at bayonet point to the pool hall where a new “election” was held. Fifty-two men were imprisoned at Fort McKenzie for a short time. There was much outrage and finger pointing from all quarters, including the federal government, and the whole affair was judged by the Secretary of War to be “inconceivable.” It may have been, but it happened.
In 1920 Carneyville was renamed Kleenburn after the brand of coal the company sold for household use. The mine was closed three years later and the town was abandoned in 1933.
The name Carneyville is not mentioned much anymore, but Kleenburn is. Kleenburn is manifested in the two open mine pits that ultimately filled with alluvial water from the adjacent Tongue River. These pits now form the lakes at the Kleenburn Recreation Area.
Tom Ringley was re-elected as a county commissioner in 2012. He is the author of four books. Ringley grew up in Sheridan and returned home in 1990 after 27 years as an Air Force officer. He has been involved with the local hospital foundation, the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo and has been the facilities director at the county fairgrounds.