Olive Johnson
True West|December 2020
A coal camp teacher discovered herself and the world in the Mohrland, Utah, melting pot.
KIMBERLY BOWKER
Olive Johnson stood on the train station platform in Price, Utah, on an early September morning in 1913. She waited to hear the locomotive’s whistle signal its readiness to transport her deeper into the West, to begin her next chapter as a schoolteacher in a coal mining camp.

Yet, the train never arrived. She asked the operator what time it would leave for the town of Mohrland.

“Don’t think there will be a train today,” he said.

Somewhat exasperated, Olive waited, daring not to stray far from the depot, as the train ran only when there was enough coal.

“Lordy! This is life in the West,” she wrote her husband, Gus. They had married in her Colorado home after meeting at her family’s ranch. He was finishing construction at Salt Lake City’s new Capitol building before joining her.

Olive was pleasantly surprised, though, upon finally reaching Mohrland nestled in the mesas and valleys of the mineral-rich rocks. “No farming for ten miles around,” she wrote, and in nearby Black Hawk they were “building about four saloons where there were six fellows to every woman.”

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