Friday, December 27, 2019

Operating a Silver Mine by Zina Abbott

It is possible to find internet articles and information in books about mines. Much of it has to do with where mines are located, the types of minerals found in mines, and brief histories of mining towns. I found it difficult to find details about how mines were operated in the 1800s. My best sources, so far, have been from my own notes, photographs, and recollections of two mine tours I've been on, and a You-Tube recording of a mine tour.

In 2018, I toured the Broken Boot Mine, a gold mine, although it (like many mines) contained other minerals. In fact, during World War II, most gold mines were shut down because of the war effort. The Broken Boot mine was worked to extract lead needed for bullets. It is located near Deadwood, South Dakota.

In 2019, I toured the Lebanon Tunnel, a misnomer, since it did not have two openings, see my mining definitions post from last month by CLICKING HERE. The Lebanon Tunnel Silver Mine is located in Silver Plume, Colorado.

Many mines had two ten-hour shifts. The first shift started at 6:30a.m. A notable exception in Silver Plume was the mine known as the 7:30 Mine. The owner chose to start that mine an hour later than most mines. The mining day started when miners reported to the "Warm Shack" or "Warm Room" where they changed out of their street clothes and into clothes they wore in the mines.

Reconstructed Lebanon Tunnel Mine warm shack heater, and dynamite boxes like those used in the mine. (The tour guide assured us that when the mine was in operation, at no time would the dynamite have been kept anywhere near the warm shack.)
The end of the day brought them back to the warm room to warm up. (Temperature inside the Lebanon Tunnel Mine, for example, was a continuous 44 degrees Fahrenheit.) On some days, it probably also gave their eyes a chance to adjust to light, since they spent that ten hours in the mines with only candlelight or perhaps a carbide lantern for light.
When it comes to drilling into the rock wall, or working face, of a mine, I have heard two kinds of hard rock drillers described. One is a single driller who uses four-pound hammer and a steel drill bit.

Drill bit and hammer, left, and drill bit left in working face, right, Broken Boot Gold Mine.
Then there are drill teams. One holds the drill bit (heavier than the type used by a single driller) and gives it a quarter turn each time the end is struck by a the other miner who wields a nine-pound hammer. Because the candles in the helmets of the two drillers provide the only light, the one holding the drill places his thumb over the end. The light from the candle reflects off of the thumbnail. This is done to (1) signal the quarter-turn has been completed, and (2) give the one holding the hammer a target to aim for.

It was important to stay coordinated. A smashed thumb not only seriously disrupted a friendship, in some cases, it put the team out of work until the injured miner healed sufficiently. Many silver miners in the Rocky Mountains originally came from Cornwall and brought their centuries worth of mining traditions and practices with them.

Cornish boys started work in the mines as powder monkeys at about the age of seven or eight. They did the "fetch and carry" chores for the miners, plus they were the ones who carried the boxes or bundles of dynamite to where the charges were to be placed for the day. Once the ones in charge of setting up the day's blasting were finished and the mine was cleared, it was usually the powder monkeys who set the blaze to the fuses. Because of their youth, they were able to run out of the mine, including up and down raises from the working drifts of several levels, before the dynamite exploded.

Mannequin in Lebanon Tunnel Mine dressed to represent a powder monkey.
Miners on the two shifts did not perform the same tasks. To best describe what took place, I am including an excerpt from one of the chapters of my most recent book, Nathan's Nurse. This conversation takes place in the mine office between one of the mine owners, Royce Bainbridge, and Herbert Price, brother to the hero in my book and a less-than-stellar miner:

Reconstructed warm shack, left, and mine office, right, for the Lebanon Tunnel Mine, Silver Plume, Colorado
"…Tell me your understanding of how things work in the mine.”
         Wearing a bewildered expression, Herbert shook his head. “What are you getting at? You own this mine. You ought to know how it works.”
         Royce sighed. This was going to be harder than he thought. “We work the mine in two shifts, right? You were hired to work second shift as a mucker. What did your job entail?”
Muckers who haul rock and ore out of the mine.
         Herbert shifted back and forth from one foot to the other. “We…uh…we used our shovels and loaded up and hauled out all the rock in the mine.” He tripped over his words as if he suspected Royce had asked a trick question. “Anything we could tell was slag, we put to one side. The rest went in a pile to get loaded onto the train.” 
Raise in Lebanon Tunnel Mine showing rock from mine blasting and ladders & hoist to carry material to the level where it can be transported outside the mine.
          Royce continued speaking with exaggerated patience. “And if you hauled the rock out every night, where did the new rock in the mine come from that was there each evening when you arrived at work?”
         “I guess from the men working on the first shift.”

Single drill miners in Lebanon Tunnel Mine
         “You guess? You’ve been working on first shift these past two weeks. After you drill your holes for the day, what happens?” Clenching his jaw in frustration, Royce watched Herbert shrug and look around the mine office, as if hoping to find the answer somewhere on the walls.
         “The guys in charge of blasting put the dynamite inside the holes we drill and string the fuse lines, then set them off.”
         “All right. And what happens in the mine before any blasting is done?”
         Another shrug. “Dunno.”
        “Are you, or any of the crew, inside the mine when the dynamite goes off?”
         “Naw. Declan sends us to the warm shack before the blasters light the fuses.”
         “Are any men left working anywhere else in the mine when it is time to blast?”
         “Dunno. Seems like there’s a lot of men in the warm shack changing clothes, though.”

Reconstructed interior of Lebanon Tunnel Mine warm shack with clothes hooks and benches for miners to change clothes and warm up after completing their shift in the mine.
         Barely hanging on to what little patience he still possessed, Royce stood up, placed his palms on the top of his desk, and leaned forward. “That’s because one of the jobs of the crew managers is to clear their men out of the mine first. All of the crews in all of the levels and all of the working drifts of the mine are cleared out of the mine before any blasting is done. With the men out, no one is at risk of being injured in the explosions, and no one is breathing the thick clouds of dust which are mostly settled by the time second shift has had their time in the warm shack changing before they enter the mine to work.”
         “Yeah, I got that. So, why are you telling me all this instead of giving me my pay?”

Nathan's Nurse is now available. To find the book description and purchase link, please CLICK HERE.


Broken Boot Gold Mine in Deadwood, South Dakota
my notes from a tour of the Lebanon Tunnel Silver Mine

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

A Pioneer Christmas

By the mid-eighteen hundreds, in the settled parts of the country, most of the traditions surrounding Christmas were similar to today. Santa Claus was a mainstay, along with greeting cards, stockings hung by the fire, and church activities.

But for cowboys, pioneers, and mountain men, far away from the civilized life of the east, the holiday was celebrated with homemade gifts and quiet celebrations.

In the wild west, Christmas was a difficult time for many. Prairie dwellers had to deal with December blizzards and harsh winter winds. Deep snows often forced mountain men away from their jobs and down to the lowlands. At the forts, soldiers could be heard singing Christmas Carols while venison roasted in the fireplace.

Laura Ingalls Wilder told of the preparations for the holiday on the Kansas Prairie. “Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas. She baked salt-rising bread and Swedish crackers, and a huge man of baked beans with salt pork and molasses. She baked vinegar pies and dried-apple pies and and filled a big jar with cookies.” She let Laura and Mary lick the cake spoon. “That very Christmas, Laura was delighted to find a shiny new tin cup, a peppermint candy, a heart-shaped cake and a brand new penny in her stocking.”

To garnish their homes, the pioneers used whatever was at hand, including evergreen boughs and pinecones, holly, and berries. The fortunate ones even had a Christmas tree, decorated with ribbons, yarn, popcorn, and paper strings.

Cookie dough ornaments and gingerbread men were also popular.

Pioneers worked for months to complete their homemade gifts, including cornhusk dolls, carved wooden toys, and embroidered hankies, and if they were very lucky, a book.

Other popular gifts were knitted scarves, hats, and gloves. Most families spent Christmas Eve singing carols, and on Christmas Day most attended church, had a traditional meal and spent the days visiting with family and friends.

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. Merry Christmas to all of you. I hope the holiday and the coming year are the best ones yet.

Our family has spent years collecting unique tree ornaments for each other. What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

Friday, December 20, 2019

Holiday decorating on the prairie ~ by Kristine Raymond

In modern times, folks have been known to take holiday decorating to the extreme.  Outdoor lighting displays with enough illumination to rival that of a small city; massive trees hauled in from outdoors and stuffed into too-small rooms; animated, musical ornaments that spin and flash and sing adorning the branches of those trees; in some homes, not a single surface escapes a touch of holiday magic.  But it wasn’t always that way, especially for families living west of the Mississippi in the early to mid-1800s.

Long before Santa came down the chimney, celebrations were held by other cultures during the winter months.  In Scandinavia, Yule began on the winter’s solstice – December 21 – and lasted through January.  In Rome, a holiday to honor Saturn, the god of agriculture, began a week before the winter’s solstice and lasted a full month.  And, in Germany, the pagan god, Oden, was honored during the winter months.  Christmas, as we know it, wasn’t even declared a federal holiday in America until 1870.

Stockings hanging from the mantle, visits from St. Nick, Christmas trees adorned with shiny ornaments; such ideas didn’t come into fashion until the early 1800s.  Though the legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to the fourth century to a Turkish monk named Saint Nicholas, his popularity grew in America after Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas was published in the New York Sentinel in 1823.  And, it was Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who introduced to the world in 1841 the tradition of bringing a tree indoors to decorate.  While such customs were quickly adopted by people in the bigger cities, those living out on the windswept prairies had to improvise.

With timber scarce in those lush grasslands, and what little there was needed for shelter and fuel, the luxury of a Christmas tree was just that – a luxury – leaving the settlers to get creative with their ‘decking of the halls’.  Freshly cut boughs of cedar or scrub pine were laid upon windowsills and mantels to add a touch of greenery, and in more than one home, sagebrush or tumbleweeds, strung with paper chains and popcorn, stood in for a tree.  Scraps of colorful yarn or fabric were tied into bows and fastened onto the ‘branches’, while gingerbread cookies and paper angels nestled in-between as ornaments.  Bowls filled with twigs, berries, and other decorative natural materials graced the family table, adding a festive charm.

That rustic décor of days-gone-by holds a charm unequaled by today’s ‘bigger is better’ and ‘let’s add another strand of lights’ mindset.  At least, it does in my opinion.

However you celebrate this holiday season, I wish you the best and brightest filled with lots of love.

~ Kristine

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Cowboy Christmas Festivities

By Andrea Downing

Although we only have one week to go ’til the Big Day, I thought I’d have a look around at some Cowboy Christmas events yet to take place.  If you’re like me, you probably leave a lot of preparations until the last minute anyway, so if any of these are within your driving distance, or you’re looking for a short break, maybe one of these will get you in the spirit.
Over in Bandera, Texas, purported Cowboy Capital of the World, celebrations started on Dec. 7th  but the best is yet to come. On Dec. 21, there is ‘Singing in the Saddle’ with a caroling parade around Bandera. And on the 28th, Cowboys on Main has performances with music, chuck wagons, ropers, and wagon rides.
Over in Prescott, AZ, which claims to have the oldest professional rodeo in the world (July 4, 1888) celebrations are well under way but the Annual Gingerbread Village display can still be seen at the conference center and proceeds benefit the Hungry Kids Project. But for a real cowboy New Year’s Eve, watch the Whiskey Row Boot Drop—and I needn’t tell you what kind of a boot it is!
Elko, NV, is known as a cowboy’s paradise and is also home to the grand-daddy of cowboy poetry festivals, The National Cowboy Gathering, coming up in late Jan.   As for Christmas, we’ve missed the cattle-woman’s tour of festive homes but there’ll be a huge party at the Northeastern Nevada Museum on the 19th.  It includes gaming tables and raffles and auctions—sounds like a lot of fun!

Deadwood, SD, needs no introduction as a cowboy hangout, or perhaps I should say an outlaw’s hangout. As I write, the Black Hills Cowboy Christmas is taking place but there’re still plenty of events to come. For last minute shoppers, there’s the Christmas Shoppers’ Village over at the High Plains Western Heritage Center.
Finally, my adopted hometown of Jackson, WY, may not have festivities particularly associated with cowboys, but the horse-drawn sleigh rides through the Elk Refuge will certainly make up for it—and there are plenty of Stetson-wearing punchers around town.  The town square is beautifully lit and Santa makes regular visits, and the Wort Hotel has twelve days of varied events—everything from gingerbread baking lessons to a brunch with Santa. After that, you can count down to New Year’s Eve and party at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, where the barstools are saddles, the drinks bring good cheer, and the music will keep your toes tapping right into 2020.

Very Best Wishes for Christmas and the most Joyous, Successful, and Healthy 2020

Photo of Prescott Boot Drop, City of Prescott Office of Tourism.
Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, author's own
cartoons clip-art or public domain