Brilliant Mining Camp, Colfax County, New Mexico Genealogy

From FamilySearch Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search

Location:             About 7 miles northwest of raton on State Route 476. Where the road branches to

                           the left take the right.

GPS:                   Latitude: 36.9561 N; Longitude: -104.5344 W.

Elevation:             7,165 feet (2,184 meters)

Map:                    Interactive Map; Topographic map

Photos:                Clubhouse and soft drink parlor, employees at work, town view c.1916, mail wagon, and town ruins in 1974. pp.22-23; Partial view of Brilliant coal mining camp, page 43; Swastika Fuel Company advertisement, p.155;

Post Office:          Established 1906, and discontinued 1935.  Mail to Swastika 1940-54. Mail to Raton. after closure. For Swastika town details, click here.


Census Data:        No enumeration on 1900 US Census.


Many people confuse Blossburg with Brilliant. Both have disappeared, but they were two different towns. Brilliant was north of Swastika, Blossburg and Gardiner. Brilliant was located in Dillon Canyon on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, and was company owned. The St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Company organized in 1905 and opened the first mine in Brilliant in 1906. The name is said to have been inspired by the unusually lustrous sheen of the coal from nearby Tin Pan Canyon. The mine produced coal for locomotive use and for making coke at the Gardiner Coke ovens, 5 miles south of Brilliant. Operations were suspended in 1908, then resumed in 1912. In the 1920's brilliant was joined in the canyon by Swastika, another company owned coal town just a mile south of Brilliant, and the 2 existed together until the Brilliant Post Office was closed in 1935. During Worl War II, Swastika changed its name to Brilliant II. For a time it looked as if Brilliant would be the largest coal mining town in Northern New Mexico. But, by 1948, it joined the ranks of Ghost Towns. There is still enough coal at Brilliant to supply the United States for 6 years.

The population figures listed 350 persons in 1907. There were no paved streets in Brilliant, but the houses were much in line like those on a city street. Brilliant claimed a: telephone company, school, boarding house, recreation hall,  Japanese Hotel, The Brilliant Hotel, The Brilliant Electric Company, The Blossburg Mercantile Company,  the Brilliant Raton Stage Line, saloons, a sheriff, and a physician. There was no hospital or church. The school house or store were used for church services.

Substantial low rent homes were built by the company for the employees and their families. One could live quite comfortably in a five room apartment for $17.00 a month. The Rocky Mountain Coal Company had its rules about using coal for cooking and heating. There was a very large store with a large assortment, when it closed down, people had to shop in Raton. The school had 4 teachers for the 8 grades. It was a more substantial building than one would hope to look for in a mining town.

In early 1908, operations at the Brilliant mines were suspended due tot the business depression of 1907. The camp reopened in 1912 and continued a lively existence well into the 1920's. Ladies club meetings, baseball games between Brilliant and the other mining camps, dances, movies shown at the recreation hall or school house were part of camp life. The people of Brilliant were known for their generosity.

A killing was reported in 1919 involving Walter Fleming and Paul Sandoval both of whom had been liberally inbibing. Fleming shot and killed Sandoval. Sheriff Hixenbaugh from raton investigated the case and  arrested a 3rd party, Joe Kezele, for bootlegging.

In the early twenties, the history of Brilliant began to emerge into that of neighboring Swastika, a coal town owned by the St. Louis, Rocky Mountain and Pacific Company, found a mile south of Brilliant. For a while both towns functioned side by side, until Brilliant closed its post office in 1935. During World War II, the name Swastika was changed to Brillliant II, since the original Brilliant had ceased operating.

In 1939 a caretaker, his family, and a few other people comprised the 10 inhabitants of Brilliant. Today no one lives there. Many of the existing structures or ruins were bulldozed. The site is marked by foundation outlines, and 3 or 4 partially intact buildings on the sloping hillside west of the Dillon Canyon Road.

It is now part of Vermejo Park Ranch owned by Ted Turner and is a private gated property and a hunting reserve. You can no longer visit the site, unless you have premission. Ted Turner has reclaimed the land to its original state. Some of the old coke ovens for Gardiner may be viewed from the Raton golf course, but that's as close as you will probably get. It's not uncommon to find bears at these locations. You would need 4 wheel drive , although the road is in fairly good condition and is regrated by the property owner who lives at the top of the canyon. You will have to make it through several posted and locked gates however.

Family History Links:

1. Ernest Bargas, Annual Report - New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, 1945. page 49. Google Books.
2. Maria Refugio "Ruth" Avila Calderon

3. Peter Gardiner, American Mining and Metallurgical Manual, page 282
4. Andrew Gracie, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources Report of the Inspector of the Mines 1945-1949, 1946 page 39. Google Books.

5. Angelo J.Pais, 34th Annual Report by the Inspector of Mines, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, 1946, page 49. Google Books.

6. Steve Starkovich, Annual Report - New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, 1945. page 49. Google Books.
7. Stella Duran Tafoya, obituary.

8. David Thompson, New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources Report of the Inspector of the Mines 1945-1949, 1946 page 39. Google Books.
9. Loreto and Pasqualina Ranaldi Vallucci, and son Vincenzo Vallucci. Scarpaci and Mormino, page 90.

10. Alphabetic list of 314 people mentioned in The Brilliant Story by Father Stanley, click here.


1. The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, by Emerson Twitchell. Volume 3. pages 85. Google Books.
2. Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of New Mexico, by James E. and Barbara Sherman. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. 1974. Google Books.

3. Texas A&M University Digital Library, Raton-Brilliant-Koehler, folio 214, published 1922.

4. The Journey of the Italians in America by Vincenza Scarpaci and Gary R. Mormino.

5. New Mexico, the land of opportunity: Official data on the Resources by New Mexico Board of Exposition Managers.Swastika Fuel Company by L.C. White, pages 40-43. Google Books.
6. Annual Report of the Mine Inspector for the Territory of New Mexico, by the United States Mine Inspector of the United States to the Secretary of the Interior, Fiscal Year ending June 30, 1907. pages 5-23. Google Books.

7. Report of the Secretary of the Interior for the fiscal year 1912, by US Dept. of the Interior. Volume 2 pages 751-754. Google Books. 

8. Congressional Serial Set, Issue 6223, by the US Government Printing Office. pages 751-763. record of inspections, page 760. Google Books.

9. The Brilliant, New Mexico Story by Father Stanley, January 1967, 26 pages