McKinley County, New Mexico Ghost Towns

McKinley County near Gallup, New Mexico in 1943

McKinley County near Gallup, New Mexico in 1943

Gallup, New Mexico is surrounded by ghosts — not the spooky, “raise the hair on the back of your neck” type ghosts, but rather, more than a dozen ghost towns. While some have a few buildings, perhaps a mine shaft and some ruins, others have been totally obliterated and taken over by the sagebrush, leaving nothing more than their memories and a few rolling tumbleweeds.

What happened to all of those towns? Why did they begin and why did they end?

For the first half of the 20th century, McKinley County was largely supported by plentiful coal mining. In fact, for a while, Gallup was called “Carbon City.”  Much of the early population were those European, Oriental, Mexican and westward-seeking American workers who sought employment in the mines, as well as building the rails. Many of these early towns were coal mining company towns, with little more to support their economies other than the mining itself. In many cases, the town’s banks and stores were owned by the mining companies. So, when the mine shut down, so did the town.

Though McKinley County was created in 1889 and named in honor of President William McKinley, many of these towns didn’t begin until after the turn of the century. Even Gallup, the largest city in the county, was not incorporated until 1891. In 1901, Gallup became the county seat.

Camp Heaton, New Mexico about 1915

Camp Heaton, New Mexico about 1915


Heaton, also called Camp Heaton, was a coal-mining company town in Heaton Canyon, about 3 miles northeast of Gallup. Its post office opened in 1909 and closed in 1922. The coal mine at Heaton was operated by the Gallup American Coal Company. The community was founded in the early 1900s and was abandoned when the mine closed. Nothing remains of Heaton today as its buildings were moved to nearby Gamerco, which was also run by the Gallup American Coal Company.


Four miles west of Gallup, was once the small town of Mentmore, New Mexico. The town began in 1913 when the Dilco Coal Mine was opened by the Direct Coal Company. Originally the camp was also named Dilco, but when a post office was established the name became Mentmore. In 1918, George Kaseman of Albuquerque purchased the Dilco Mine property and the Morris Mine located a mile to the north. He combined the properties under the name of the Defiance Coal Company.

Former Mentmore, New Mexico Post Office

Former Mentmore, New Mexico Post Office

The town of Mentmore, built around the mines, was comprised of a company store, a post office, a school, and the power plant. The employees lived in the company-owned frame houses comprised of two to four rooms that were equipped with electricity and running water. Eight grades were taught at the Mentmore school, and free bus transportation to Gallup was supplied for the high school students. The population was about five hundred persons.

When the mines closed at Mentmore in 1952, the town closed too. In 1975 there was an operating combination store and post office, plus about ten houses in good repair remaining in the once-active coal town.

However, all that is left today is the old trading post, which now serves as a church, and a few foundations.

The townsite is privately owned. Mentmore is four miles west of Gallup on US Interstate 40, then exit at #16 north for one mile.


Navajo, New Mexico Coal Camp

Navajo, New Mexico Coal Camp

The opening of the Navajo coal mine by the American Fuel Company produced the camp of Navajo. Small frame houses were supplied to the residents by the company. A store and a hotel operated at the camp for a few years. About 1922, the Gallup American Coal Company sank the shaft at Gamerco, less than a mile west of Navajo, and the center of coal mining activity shifted there. The Navajo Mine closed, but many of the miners stilled lived in the camp while working at Gamerco. In the mid-1930s Navajo reported a population of six hundred. However, before long all of the buildings were moved, leaving nothing but mine dumps and foundations.


Gamerco, New Mexico Stack

Gamerco, New Mexico Stack

The Gallup American Coal Company began sinking shafts into coal deposits north of Gallup in 1920, and two years later the newly formed camp of Gamerco witnessed the hoisting of the first coal. Even before mining was underway the town was platted, and the Gallup American Coal Company moved abandoned homes from Heaton, and Navajo, both nearby coal camps ran by the company, to Gamerco, in addition to new ones that were being constructed. The company town was soon supplied with a company store, a meat market, a hotel, a clubhouse, a shower house for the miners, and an executive office building. Keeping their miners happy, the company also built several recreation facilities, including a golf course, swimming pool, tennis courts, and a baseball park. The company also provided a resident physician and nurse.

The company was diligent in its safety practices, no doubt in an effort to prevent a coal mining disaster such as the one that occurred in Dawson, New Mexico several years earlier which claimed 263 lives. Ninety percent of the underground employees had were certified in rescue and first aid, the men were supplied with electric lamps and only permissible low heat explosives were ever used.

Surface received $5.60 for a seven-hour day, while those working underground were paid more. No one was allowed to work more than five days per week. The five hundred men on the payroll were not unionized and preferred to keep it that way. Strikes had occurred at various mines around Gallup; one in 1917 when the striking United Mine Workers were broken up by the National Guard. Another in 1922, resulting in increased wages and a third in 1933, when the militia was again called to break up strikers of the National Miners Union.

Finally, in the 1960s, the mines were closed for good and Gamerco died.

In 1975, Gamerco still sported many of its original buildings, a giant steel headframe, and a towering smokestack from the power plant.

Even today the town still has a few hanging on residents, but most of the buildings are gone. However, you can still see the towering smokestack as well as the remnants of several buildings.

Gamerco in on US Hwy 666, 3 miles north of US Interstate 40, exit 20 at Gallup.


Allison, New Mexico

Allison, New Mexico

Allison, New Mexico, located on a coal belt just northwest of Gallup, once flourished as a coal mining camp. Today there are just a few old company houses and mobile homes to indicate that this was ever a town at all.

The mine was first opened by a man named Gus Mulholland and later worked by Andrew Casna. However, when Casna was killed at the mine, presumably by Indians, his aggrieved widow fled to Germany. Her failure to keep up the development work necessary to retain her husband’s claim resulted in a filing on the mine site by F. J. Allison and W. A. Patching in 1897. It was then that the town took its name for F.J. Allison. A post office was opened in 1913 and the pair continued to work the mine until 1917 when the Diamond Coal Company bought them out.

Allison was a company-owned town like most of the others in McKinley County. Employees lived in the small frame homes provided by the Diamond Coal Company. In addition to providing a livelihood for Allison residents, the company also furnished recreation for its employees in the form of tennis courts and a company-sponsored baseball team. The town reported a population of five hundred, a company store, a meat market, post office, school, doctor and a sheriff.

Today the town has just a few residents.


Though the town is long gone, during its heyday it was an important lignite coal mining camp operated by the Clark Coal Company. The camp, founded in 1898, was named for its owner, W.A. Clark, a well-known mining magnate and millionaire.

Clarkville was reportedly a pretty little place with comfortably-built houses. Among the town’s features were a two-story brick commissary, a school building, a library, and a hospital. At the time, the town claimed that it possessed so many favorable characteristics that the miner and everyone living there was happy and contented. Unique for these mining camps was the fact that Clarkville never had a saloon and also prohibited the sale of liquor on its premises.

The mine was equipped with an electrical plant and a ten-ton electric locomotive that propelled the coal cars. Telephone connections ran between the mine and the town. In 1905, Clarkville had 400 residents, but two years later it had decreased to 200. The post office closed in 1908 and Clarkville became a ghost town.

Clarkville was located about six miles northwest of Gallup.  

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated September 2019.

Also See:

Gallup, New Mexico – Indian Center of the Southwest

Ghost Towns of the American West

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Route 66 Main Page