Monday, September 21, 2015

Historic Mining Town by Paty Jager

Mining town of Bourne, OR
I dug up this information to help me better understand the workings of a mining town for my current work in progress.

A booming mining town isn’t a quiet place.  The thud of the stamp mills could be heard for miles long before you rode into town. Mules wore bells, burros brayed, dogs barked. Planning mills worked to keep up with the demand for boards.

Dust in the streets when it’s dry, mud when it’s wet. Animal dung from horses, mules and oxen. Human refuse tossed in the streets.  And the fresh smell of pine from the new buildings constructed.

The thud of the stamp mill was the heartbeat of the town. As long as they heard the thud, thud, thud the mill was running and all was well. The mill only stopped in emergencies.

With the whisper of gold in an area, people and freight arrived daily.  Tents and crude cabins sprang up. There’s no running water. Water was drawn at a town well or pump. Each household had an outhouse
Mine in the side of the mountain
behind it.

Prospectors take up claims up and down the river if it’s placer mining or in the mountains if it’s hard rock mining.

First businesses sell needed items – a mercantile and a saloon. The mercantile provides the every day necessities and the saloon provides a place to visit, have a drink, and see a woman.  Most mining towns have few women and the respectable ones are treated like royalty. 

When wives arrived they would organize gatherings. A weekly dance with the women bringing baked food. There were so many men in a mining town all females as long as they were big enough to dance, danced every song.  On Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July, and Labor Day the whole mine would shut down, even the mills.  Everyone celebrated with food, games, horse races and boxing matches. They had drilling contests with one and two man teams. The winner was the person or team who could hand-drill the deepest hole in a granite block in a named length of time. Betting took place during the drilling. Men practiced for days ahead of a holiday and used their own special drill steels. Music was an essential at the gatherings. If you were a musician you were popular. 

Company boarding houses, housed the mine workers. It was usually two story with the office, dining hall, and kitchen on the bottom floor and the sleeping quarters upstairs. Built-in wooden bunks were shared by two people. Each person worked a different shift.  The miners weren’t clean either. After a shift they’d set wet boots around the wood stove and they didn’t wash often. The smell must have been enough to make nose hairs curl. Tobacco juice mixed with mud on the floors. Pack rats and flies were also part of a company boarding house.

The most important person in a mining camp was the cook. How well the men ate determined if they stayed on.  This was a typical day’s meals if the company was a good one:

Oatmeal or some other hot grain cereal
Two slabs of bacon or ham
Huge pans of fried potatoes
Large pans of biscuits, refilled again and again
Condensed milk in cans on the tbles, some diluted in pitchers
Stewed fruit(stewed dried fruit when fresh was unavailable)
Coffee cake or doughnuts
Dozens and dozens of eggs, fried and boiled
Huge pots of coffee
Sugar and butter on each table
Lunch (or dinner as it was called back then) was the biggest meal of the day. The preparation started as soon as the men finished breakfast and that was cleaned up.
Meat and gravy
Hot homemade rolls
Twenty pies (more than a quarter pie per person)
Butter and preserves
Supper was nearly the same as lunch but without soups and as big a meal as dinner.
Meat and gravy
Pan after pan of cornbread
Cakes, iced and decorated on special occasions
Butter and preserves

Source: The Mining Camps Speak by Beth and Bill Sagstetter
Photos: Paty Jager


Alison E. Bruce said...

Catching up on my cowboys and miners today. The movies certainly don't do the mining towns justice. In fact most get it completely flipped, making the miners cleaner and the food leaner.

Great post!

Paty Jager said...

Thanks Alison! I think part of it depends on if it is a mining town or a company mining town which is what I was writing about. A miner by himself or with a few others would probably eat a lot leaner. But a mining company wants to keep it's workers fed and strong.

Shanna Hatfield said...

Wonderful post, Paty! I often think about how a mining town would assault the senses - the smells, sounds, etc. I would not have made a good pioneer.