Thursday, December 14, 2023

Q&A with Nick Pappas




Nick Pappas is the author of the new book Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico, and Its Twin Mining Disasters. A longtime journalist, he lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


Q: How did you research this book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?


A: From the start, I wanted to base as much of the book as possible on primary material – personal interviews with Dawson natives, family letters, unpublished papers, government reports, coroner inquests, industry newsletters, and newspaper accounts, among others.


I also was able to access rarely seen documents compiled by the Phelps Dodge Corp., owner and operator of the Dawson mines, which have been held by Freeport McMoRan since acquiring Phelps Dodge in 2007. These documents included an extensive collection of telegrams, in-house correspondence, and other materials related to the 1913 mine disaster.


As for surprises, perhaps the biggest was the challenge of finding Dawson natives with something bad to say about their time in the coal town. This sentiment was exemplified by one Dawson High School graduate who went so far as to tell me he would have been content to live his entire life in Dawson.

Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The book’s title reflects the nearly 400 iron crosses that Phelps Dodge erected at Dawson Cemetery to memorialize the miners killed in the 1913 and 1923 mine disasters. That decision was driven home after setting eyes upon the sea of white crosses during my initial visit to the cemetery in 2019.


Q: What do you see as the legacy today of the Dawson community?


A: A love of family and community that has been kept alive for generations through the biennial reunions, where former residents, families. and friends come together to share stories, display mementos, exchange photographs, and relive memories of what it once meant to be a Dawsonite.


Last year’s reunion attracted just shy of 600 people from across country, a remarkable number given it took place nearly three-quarters of a century after Dawson was no more.


Q. What are you working on now?


A: I’ve begun preliminary research into other underreported or forgotten pieces of New Mexico history, but there’s nothing definitive right now.


I’ve spent most of the past few months doing presentations/book signings (six so far) and trying to schedule more. At the moment, I have invitations to speak about the book from the New Mexico PBS television station, the Trinidad Carnegie Public Library in Trinidad, Colo., and the Friends of History in Santa Fe.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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