Robert Dickie Hunter (known as Col. R. D. Hunter), entrepreneur, was born on April 5, 1833, in Ayrshire, Scotland, the son of Adam and Janet (Dickie) Hunter. He organized the Texas and Pacific Coal Company in 1888 at Thurber, Texas, which for over thirty years was one of the most productive bituminous coal-mining communities in the state. Hunter, who at age nine immigrated with his parents from Scotland to a farming community near Mount Olive, Illinois, speculated in the mining industry in Colorado and, having little success, turned to the cattle business, where he quickly won a reputation across the Southwest during and after the Civil War as a cattle raiser, trader, and commissioner-broker. He married Janet Webster of Bunker Hill on April 8, 1858.
In 1873 Hunter joined Capt. Albert G. Evans to form Hunter, Evans, and Company, which became one of the leading cattle commission firms in the country. The partners located one of the company's branches in Fort Worth, where they operated stockyards and sought buyers for clients' stock. In the wake of a decline in the cattle industry in the late 1880s, Hunter sold his interest in the company to Evans and subsequently invested in the Johnson Coal Mining Company of Strawn, Texas, located seventy-five miles west of Fort Worth, on the tracks of Jay Gould's coal-dependent Texas and Pacific Railway.
In late September 1888, sensing the opportunity to acquire an undercapitalized but potentially profitable company on the verge of bankruptcy, Hunter purchased controlling interest in the Johnson coal mine and founded the Texas and Pacific Coal Company. The purchase comprised 23,014 acres in Erath, Palo Pinto, and Eastland counties. Until his retirement in 1899 Hunter served as president of the company and general manager of the company-owned town of Thurber (named for Horace K. Thurber, one of the company's original investors), in which by 1900 more than 2,500 T&P employees and their families resided. In Thurber, described as Hunter's "virtual fiefdom," the "colonel" tolerated no worker organizations or strikes; nevertheless, periodic labor unrest among the largely foreign-born miners the company recruited climaxed in 1903 in a massive, successful strike by the United Mine Workers.
In his retirement Hunter continued to maintain his residence in Fort Worth, where he organized the Hunter-Phelan Savings and Trust Company and served as a director of the National Exchange Bank of Dallas. He died on November 7, 1902, at his home in Fort Worth and was survived by his wife and two daughters. He was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. As one of the early Texas captains of industry, Hunter earned a reputation as a fierce competitor and authoritarian employer. He built an estimated $750,000 to $1 million fortune as a cattle broker, mining entrepreneur, and investment banker. See also COAL AND LIGNITE MINING.