ive and beautifully cared for, and are filled with many rare specimens of tropical and semi-tropical trees, shrubs and plants. Mr. Singleton is not a plunger. He is the possessor of vast interests, admitting and demanding the utmost conservatism, and he has risen to the occasion. He is reinforced by his wide experience in mining and the history of his mining assets is a history of growth under the influence of sagacious and successful management. John Singleton is courteous and unassuming in manner, and impresses one as a man of modest and intrinsic worth. His deeds reflect the big-hearted generosity which is the heritage of the West, and much is owed to his liberality and enterprise that never reaches the public ear.
WYNN, HARMON RITTENHOUSE
AN AVERAGE AMERICAN—An unpublished manuscript by Harmon Rittenhouse Wynn, one of the early pioneers of the Rand Mining District. (See Randsburg > Mines >Baltic) Manuscript courtesy of Jeannie Campbell Miller, his granddaughter.
There may be many people who might question this story as being the life of an average American. But many of them, no doubt, have lived in thought or at least in dreams of that great Western country of ours, where the life of this average American man was spent.
My Memory goes back to a small town in Iowa, bordering on the Missouri River, to a brick house in the midst of an acre of trees and garden, of a large barn with the customary hayloft, which, in this instance was used as a storage place or corn. Of my brother and sisters helping me up in the loft to join in the fun of throwing the golden ears down to the waiting waiting Poland Chinas below. I will say that Poland China is not crockery, but is specie of that four legged animal which is responsible or that satisfied look which comes over your face, as you pull your chair up to the breakfast table, and discover a large helping of crisp bacon.
You will probably judge my people to be farmers. But no, my Father was a young attorney, who had his home just out of town, so, he said, he would have room in which to turn around. Mother had a millinery shop which supplied the fair sex of the town and surrounding country, with those most marvelous contraptions that women call hats. I was too young to remember what the hats looked like in those days, but “marvelous” is not strong enough to describe the present day headgear. One year they wear them high and terrible, the next year, or more likely, in six months they are down to almost nothing and what there is is tilted over one eye. Another one will be stuck be stuck up straight in front and nothing behind. Then again they are wearing them draped with mosquito netting. This netting usually has an assortment of large black dots. Some of the near sighted sisters have been known to rush to the family doctor, knowing that dancing black dots are a bad sign.
I clearly remember the old gardener, who always kept the place looking trim and shipshape. He it was who gave me my nickname of “Buster.” Mother said it was given me, because, when I was young I was very destructive.
My parents surely had the spirit of pioneers as every move they made was to some new frontier. From Iowa to Dakota Territory, then on to Oklahoma to join in the rush and excitement of the opening of the Cherokee Strip. From Oklahoma to California to pioneer for twenty odd years in the great mining camps of the Mojave Desert.
Our Leaving Iowa was due to that most troublesome malady known as “fever and ague”’. If you have never enjoyed the sensation of a good attack of “fever and ague”, you can consider yourself indeed fortunate. Father used to tell about being in court arguing a case before a jury, and in the midst of his argument, getting an attack of the “shakes” as they call it in Iowa.
The Missouri River had the unpleasant faculty of overflowing its banks every spring; this no doubt, was the cause of the “fever and ague” which was so prevalent. I wonder now as I am writing, it they still shake back there. The old Missouri still seems to have the same spasms every year.
We landed in Dakota in 1880. This was before the Territory was divided into North and South. We settled in a growing little city on the banks of the Big Sioux River. It was Indian country now far west of us. I can always remember the long cold winters. Also the lovely springs and summers. My favorite season was what we called “Indian Summer,” it was in the fall between summer and winter, and was grand.
I must acknowledge, at this stage of my experience, that I was never much of a scholar. Grammar used to be a “nightmare” to me. You will probably notice the fact if you pursue this narrative. I never remember passing a grammar examination all during my school life. Maybe the teachers just passed me along to get rid of me. Some thirty years after I left Dakota, I returned for a short stay. Visiting at the school in which I spent so many “brilliant” years, I met one of my old teachers who was still on the job. I asked her if she remembered me. She looked me over a spell, then exclaimed, “Why certainly. How could I ever forget you and your grammar?” Such is Fame.
Life in the Dakota Territory was certainly a “Paradise” for a boy who loved the out-of-doors, good fishing, hunting, and all the outdoor sports such as skating, sleighing and skiing. Nowadays people travel many miles and spend lots of money to enjoy these sports. Prairie chickens were so plentiful that it was no trouble to shoot, in a few hours, as many as you could use. Many are the times I have come home from school, got out the old No. 10 shot gun, called the bird dog, jumped on a pony and started out, to be back in time for supper with all the birds I could pack.
I remember the first gun my brother and I ever owned. Will was fourteen and I was twelve. It was his birthday present. On our first hunting trip with the new gun, Father told us to be very careful and not take any chances on getting shot. He surely was worried about us. In a few hours, Will and I were back with a sack full of nice fat birds. Dad looked at us wisely and said, “Well, for green hands, you boys are sure lucky.” The fact was we had been going out hunting for over a year with the older boys of our crowd, and it took a mighty fast bird to get away from either one of us.
For myself, I used to get as much enjoyment out of watching a good bird dog do his stuff, as I did shooting the birds. On one of our numerous hunting trips, we had driven up to a sod shack occupied by a squaw man and his Indian wife. The head of the house was away, but we managed to make his wife understand that we were hungry. She nodded and smiled and opened for us to come in. After considerable waiting, while our appetites were getting keener all the time, we were invited to gather around the table.
The one part of that meal, that even to this day, lingers in my mind, was the soup. It tasted mighty good, with a smooth rich flavor, in fact, my brother thought so highly of it, that he held up his bowl and intimated he would like another helping. The squaw lady retired to the kitchen but returned in a few moments with one of the cutest little dog tails that you could imagine. She held it up, and with a broad grin on her dark face said, “Heap sorry, no more soup.” It was a long time before I could look a little helpless pup in the face, but as I have said, the soup was good, so why growl about it.
Our favorite dog was the Irish Setter. We always kept a well-bred female dog, from which we would raise a litter of pups every year. They used to bring, on an average, of twenty-five dollars at weaning time. There were dog trainers who would take a young pup, raise him and train him in all the fine points a good field dog should know, for $100. Everyone had some kind of bird dog. They were as common as house cats are now.
One year, my brother had traded one of our Setters for a fine Pointer. We were anxious to get a litter of pups from her. The finest Pointer dog in the whole country was owned by an ex-preacher but he would not let us have his dog, he used to keep his fenced in a yard and never let it run around. But one day, lo and behold, I saw the Preacher’s Pointer come trotting up the road, past our house. He had broken loose some way. In my mind’s eye, I could just see a litter of Pointer pups running around our back yard. I slipped back around the alley, and came to the road in time to meet him, he was a friendly dog and I soon had him locked up in our feed room, in the barn. The reverend gentleman just about turned that town up-side down looking for his dog. We turned his dog loose in a couple days and someone returned him to his owner. Well, in due course of time, we did have that litter of Pointers running around our back yard, and what beauties they were, Every kid in town came to look at, and admire the pups, and as their fame spread, the Preacher heard about them, and came to give them the once over. Maybe he had an idea; anyway he had us dead to rights. You see, every one of those pups was marked just like his “Daddy.” There was no getting away from it. The Preacher turned out to be a good sport, and we settled the whole matter by letting him take his pick of the bunch. By the way, this ex-preacher also owned just about the fastest and finest bread horse in that part of the Territory. Through our dog deal, I got pretty well acquainted with him, and he use to take me for a ride. He even got so he would let me drive. It was great! You just tightened up the reins some, and out that horse would step. He had been on the race track and a two-thirty gait was just exercise for him. I have had a warm spot in my heart for ex-preachers ever since, though, I must admit, I have never known one that had the happy faculty of liking bird dogs and trotting horses like my friend did.
I have always been a great lover of horses, and nothing could quite equal the thrill of a sleigh ride behind a fast horse. Every farmer and city dweller, who didn’t drive better than a three minute horse, had to take to the back streets. We also use to have horse races on ice. People who go to the races and sit in the grandstand, and watch them go by, do not get the real enjoyment from their four legged friends. They should drive themselves to get the real thrill.
We had many winter sports, skating, sleighing, skiing, etc. We used to have lots of fun with our bob-sleds. They were all sizes. Mostly with flat steel runners, but If you wanted a real thrill, you used a sled with round steel runners. There were bobs for four people. They were made with two single sleds connected with a seat for four. I have seen sleds that would hold a dozen people. They were steered with a wheel, something like our autos are today and when they had a full load they surely would hit the breeze. I will always remember those big sleds as I once had a firsthand acquaintance with one.
One evening, four of us, two boys and two girls were out sledding. We would take turns pulling the sled up the hill. On one of our turns my girlfriend and myself, were so thrilled by the new moon, besides trying to keep her hands warm, that we somehow got over in the middle of the run-way. Everything was lovely until I happened to look up the hill and saw one of those big sleds bearing down on us. I grabbed the girl’s arm and jumped to one side. At the same time the fellow who was steering the big sled turned the same way. The result was that they hit us dead center. Instead of looking at the moon I was suddenly seeing nothing but stars. That old astronomical saying, that there are millions of invisible stars, it all bunk. I know, because I seen all of them.
They told me afterwards that we were both thrown up in the air and landed on the sidewalk, about twenty feet away. It was a wonder we were not killed. I evidently fell on my head, because the next thing I knew , I was lying on the couch in our sitting room, and the family doctor was feeling all over or broken bones. The young lady was laid up in bed for several weeks. It all goes to show that the old saying, “Keep in the middle of the road.” Does not always work out.
There were several old settlers in town who had been through many Indian fights. One, Judge Brookings, had two cork legs. He had lost his original set by freezing. He was returning to the settlement one bitter cold day, when he ran into a party of Indians out on the warpath. He was only a short distance from the river. He started to run across, and was almost over, when he broke through a thin spot in the ice and went in up to his waist. He made it to the bank and safety, but his legs were so badly frozen they had to amputate.
Another old timer one day, showed me a tree, which grew on a hillside, a short distance from where we lived out of which he had shot an Indian, who was spying on the settlement. He must have a keen eye for he showed me exactly where he stood when he shot, and it was all of two hundred yards. I guess the old settlers had to have keen eyes and steady nerves to live.
The Sioux Indian Reservation was located out in the Black Hills country. That old warrior and medicine man, Sitting Bull, was trying to stir up trouble among the Sioux. The troops were sent in and only by the death of the medicine man, was order restored. He was killed by one of the Indian Police.
During this uprising, an army officer was shot by a young Chief of the Sioux tribe, named Plenty Horses. This happened when a small party of soldiers and Indians met. It was a friendly meeting until they separated and started to move on. Then Plenty Horses pulled a rifle from under his blanket and shot the Lieutenant. This young chief was a well-educated Indian, being a graduate of one of our Eastern Universities; he had gone back to his tribe and Indian ways. Plenty Horses got away at the time, but later was arrested and brought to trial for murder.
My Father and his law partner were employed by the Indian Rights Association to defend Plenty Horses. It was a great trial and attracted a great deal of attention throughout the country. Plenty Horses, although he could speak perfect English, insisted talking the Sioux language and had to have an interpreter. There were about thirty Indians at the trial and were led by Plenty Horses uncle, old Standing Bear. There were no squaws in the party, and all were high in the councils of the Sioux Nation.
I was in Dad’s office when the Indians, led by Plenty Horses came to say “Good-bye” to him and his partner. Plenty Horses shook Dad’s hand and said to him, “If you will come out to the Reservation to visit, Plenty Horses and his friends, I will make you a gift of a hundred ponies, I don’t know exactly, but I guess every kid in town would have had a pony to feed.
It used to get to forty below zero in the Dakotas, but the houses were built for cold weather, and every one dressed warmly. After we had lived there for a short time, the cold weather didn’t bother us.
One of the members of our happy circle was the family cat. We all thought a lot of old Tom. One bitter cold evening, Tom was not in his accustomed place, a box behind the kitchen stove. Along about nine o’clock we heard loud mew, accompanied by a scratching at the door. I hastened to open the door and as I did so, in walked the cat. He was covered with snow, but apparently O.K. However, as he walked across the room his tail struck a chair and snapped off like an icicle. I have been called a liar every time I have told that story, so you won’t make me feel badly by doubting it also. But it is true, just as I told it. “Some Tail.”
Politics, in those days, were as hot as they are now. Father was a Democrat. He knew Grover Cleveland very well, as Mrs. Cleveland was a cousin of his. He used to have the invitation my folks received to attend the wedding of Miss Frances Folsom and the President. I said “We used to” as we have not had it for a long time. It happened that one day, at a party Mother was giving to the ladies of the town, the wedding invitation was brought out to be read and admired by the guests. After they were gone, Mother discovered that the much prized invitation was gone also and she never recovered it.
The political rallies were never complete without the torch-light parade. During one of the Cleveland campaigns, all the Democrats wore high white hats. It was some sight to see several hundred men marching down the street, each with his white hat and carrying a lighted torch.
The G. A. R. was very prominent also. At this writing, the members are very few, but as long as the Stars and Stripes shall wave, they will never be forgotten. Father was a member; he had quite a record. He claimed to be the youngest soldier in the Union Army who carried a musket, served his full time, and had an honorable discharge.
He was fourteen years old when he enlisted, was wounded, and taken prisoner at the battle of Stone River, before he was fifteen years old. I have his discharge papers and that, with his and mother’s wedding certificate are among my most cherished possessions.
Like most old soldiers, he had a large assortment of war stories. He was at the battle of Missionary Ridge; General Grant ordered the Union troops to charge up to the foot of the ridge and stop to reform their ranks before trying to get to the top, which was held by the Confederates. But when the men reached the foot of the hill, instead of stopping as had been ordered, they just closed up a little and went right on up and over.
During this charge, Dad’s regiment had three color bearers shot down and, when they reached the top, the Colonel of the regiment was carrying the flag. When Grant saw that the men did not stop as they had been ordered to do, he exclaimed, “Well, if they make it to the top, all right, but if they don’t they surely are going to catch H___!” After dad was captured at Stone River, he was sent to a Confederate field hospital. He had been shot through the neck, the bullet just missing the jugular vein.
When he was fit to travel, he, with a number of other prisoners were taken to a depot and locked in a boxcar. In the morning, they would be on their way to Andersonville prison. During the night, the town was captured by the Union troops. Father said that never in all his life was he so thrilled as when, after being let out of the boxcar, he looked up the street, and saw the Union boys come marching along with “Old Glory” floating proudly in the breeze. That was how near he came to going to Andersonville, from which few ever returned.
The Masonic Lodge was also very prominent in our little city. One time when the Masons and the Auxiliary, the Eastern Star, were holding their convention, the younger members of the Masons decided things were a bit slow, so thought they would do something about it. On the morning of the day when the ladies were going to hold their big meeting in the main Lodge room, some of the boys went out to the town brewery and borrowed the company’s goat. This goat was known all over town for his appetite for beer and his ability as a butter. The boys put the goat in a small room which opened into the main Lodge room and on the door they put up a sign which read, “Do not enter this sacred room.”
After the ladies had duly opened the meeting, some of the members remarked about the room with the forbidden sign. You can imagine what a sign like that one would do to a bunch of women. It was not long before the natural curiosity of the specie had to be satisfied and they decided to see what was so sacred about it. They no sooner opened the door than they discovered the reason. Out bounded the goat. His temper was none too sweet from the rough handling he had received on the trip from the brewery. Without the formality of a vote, that meeting was suddenly adjourned.
Every table in the room had a load of excited females aboard, and a mad rush was made for the exits. The goat, after looking things over and probably recovering some from his surprise decided that there was too much good butting material getting away, so he started in. It developed later that he never made a miss on the larger members of the gathering. He seemed to know all the good places to land. When the smoke of the battle cleared away, the goat was the only one left. There were no casualties but the goat’s horns were adorned with a couple of yards of pink petticoat and around his neck was the remains of a large red bonnet. Please do not ask me about the re-actions to those happenings, but I guess the old timers still remember that convention.
We left South Dakota in 1893. That was the year of the Chicago’s World’s Fair. Also, and much more important to us, the year of the opening of the Cherokee Strip in Oklahoma. The opening was the last of the great land rushes. There have been several openings since but they were by lottery drawing and had none of the rush and excitement that the strip had.
Mother and Sister started off to Chicago, and the World’s Fair. My Brother was on a horseback trip that took him through North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Dad wanted me to go to the Fair, but I had set my mind on taking in the Cherokee Strip Opening, and he finally gave in and let me go. I figured I would get to see a World’s Fair some other time, but I would never see another great land rush. It turned out that way too as the Strip Opening was something to remember, and I have since seen a World’s Fair held in San Francisco.
When we loaded our household goods and were ready to start, I wanted to ship along with them, a very promising yearling trotting colt. I had been breaking him and he showed the making of a very fast horse. This would have necessitated my going along with the car, but Dad finally talked me out of that idea and it was a good thing he did, as we didn’t see our car of goods for three months. It got mixed up with the hundreds of cars that were shipped to Oklahoma from every part of the country. By the way, that colt that I had to leave behind, did turn out to be quite a horse and won some very good races on the Western circuit.
On our way to Oklahoma we stopped for a few days at Arkansas City. There were thousands of people camped there waiting for the strip to be opened. Some of the finest horses I had ever seen were in the camps along the river. Many thoroughbreds from Kentucky, also the finest of cow ponies. Many of their owners had been over the land weeks before the opening date and had the choicest claims all spotted. It developed, that the cow ponies were better as they stood the long runs easier than the thorobreds.
We had tied up with a bunch of South Dakota men whom Father knew, among them our ex-sheriff. We made the run from Orlando, a small town on the south side of the Strip. Everyone had to register. I was too young to run for a homestead, but I could hold down a lot in any of the numerous towns the Government had laid out.
We finally decided to make the run for town lots in Perry, a town site laid out by the Government, and all lots staked off and streets lay out. The center of town was a large square, on which afterwards was built the courthouse, Post Office, and Jail. When the Jail was built it was rather a small building, but while we lived in Perry it was enlarged three times and was always full. However, I am glad to state that it was never enlarged on my account.
Perry was only ten miles from the south side of the Strip and about thirty miles north of Guthrie which was the Capitol of Oklahoma Territory. There was a troop of United States soldiers at Perry. They were there to keep order, and to see that no one sneaked in before the proper time. But there was quite a lot of “Sooners.” A “Sooner” was a fellow who could not wait for the set time of the opening, but had slipped in and were mostly hiding along the creeks.
We went in on the train, which was run at slow speed, just about as fast as a horse could run. The doors of the cars were not opened until a short time before starting time. We had managed to get close to the car steps, and were lucky to get in, but there were many hundreds disappointed, who did not get in at all.
The strip was to be opened at 12 o’clock noon. Hours before the time, there were thousands of people lined up waiting for the signal. It was surely a restless throng. Men and women of all ages and descriptions; some on horses, some in wagons and even some on foot. At twelve o’clock not the soldiers fired off their guns, and stepped back to let the crowd through. In a minute there were thousands on the move; it was as if the tide of the ocean was being held back, then suddenly to break away and roll on to cover the land. In a short space of time, the better mounted men began to pull away and the line to gradually break up. They tell about one old settler, who, as soon as the signal was given, made just one step over the line, drove his stake in and set out for the land office.
When we got off the train at Perry, there was a mad rush for lots. It was estimated, that by six o’clock that night, there were twenty thousand people there. Dad landed a lot, a corner one, just opposite the land office.
It was one of the choice lots. After the excitement had quieted down he found that seven others had settled on the same lot. All he could hold was twenty feet, but he stuck it out anyway and about three weeks later he sold out for five hundred dollars to a man who held the front of the lot and who bought everyone else off.
I kept on running and finally stopped on a lot at the top of a small knoll. We afterwards built our home on this lot. It was one of the first houses built in Perry. The rush for lots, of course, resulted in much litigation. Quite often, however, it did not get as far as the courts, but was settled on the spot.
I remember one very exciting instance. Two young fellows, who made the run on horseback from Orlando, landed on a good business lot at exactly the same time. Instead of starting a fight or waiting for a long drawn out court action to get title, they talked the matter over and decided to run the race over again and the winner takes all.
They waited several days in order to rest their ponies. In the meantime, news got around town about the race and on the appointed day, most of the population was on hand to see the finish. The ten miles from Orlando to Perry was mostly level. The boys took their time just jogging along together. When they got within about one mile of the finish they started to make a real horse race out of it. It was beautiful to watch. First one pony gaining and then losing the lead. The finish was so close a blanket would have covered both contestants. The race was won by the younger of the boys, a tall young Texan. The boys were both good sports. They just slid off their ponies, shook hands, and the matter was settled.
The soldiers were assisted in keeping order by several U. S. Marshals and numerous deputies. Two of the most noted Marshals in all of the Southwest were Bill Tilghman and Heck Thomas. It was said that Bill Tilghman had killed twenty men during his career as an officer. I guess they all needed it.
Father had opened up a law office and or course knew all the officers. Tilghman used to drop in and visit him. I also got to know both officers quite well. Tilghman was a fine looking man, not given much to talking; he let his guns do the talking for him. Heck Thomas was about as well known. Both of them were dead shots with either rifle or revolver. They had to be or they would not have lived as long as they did. One evening, a bunch of us boys were entering one of the numerous theaters and dance halls that had quickly sprung up all over town. They used to have some good shows, but mostly dancing. They were tough all right, but you could go in, get a table, and order something to eat, smoke, or drink, and sit and enjoy the show.
On this particular evening, we were met at the door by Tilghman, Thomas and a number of deputies. They told us boys to keep out, and to get as far away and as quickly as we could. There were four of us and, in the next few seconds, every one of us broke the world’s record for the hundred yard dash. We then dropped down behind a watering trough and waited for the fire works to start. It seems that a number of outlaws had dropped in and taken possession of the place for a big time. Among them were two badly wanted men and the officers were there to try and get them. As the officers entered they were spotted at once by the outlaws, who opened fire on them, and at the same time make a rush to get out.
Tilghman and his men did not dare fire, as the floor was crowded with dancers and they were afraid of hitting some of them. They followed the outlaws our, however, and then the battle began. The tough bunch had their horses up close to the building and managed finally to get mounted and break away. That is, all but one of them. He had half dozen bullets in him and was a very dead outlaw. He was one of the two men the officers were anxious to get. Two of the deputies were hit but not seriously.
The train was held up and robbed one day, only a mile out from Perry and later a Bank in a small town nearby was cleaned out. After holding up the bank, the outlaws took the cashier and put him on a horse, and took him along for about ten miles. Then they turned him loose to walk back. He surely was a worried bank official during that ride.
Our first sheriff, if my memory is correct, was named Scruggs. He was a large man in more ways than one. Weighing well over two hundred pounds, he could whip his weight in wild cats or outlaws either. Shortly after he was sworn in, he issued and order that anyone carrying a gun should turn it in and it would be returned when things quieted down. A great many men were packing guns, most of them in sight, with the customary cartridge belt and holster. I believe, however, that one was safer without a gun. Carrying a gun seemed to put everyone else on guard against you and if you in a tight place, the other guy always tried to get the first shot. I never packed a gun but once, I will tell you about that later.
The walls of the Sheriff’s office were soon lined with six-shooters. Each had a card with a number and the owners name on it. I would have liked to have had that collection of guns and also the history of each owner. It would have made some interesting reading, as in those days and for a longtime before, history had been made, and laws enforced and broken with six-shooters. Yes, it was tough, that Cherokee Strip, but it finally were tamed, and became a decent place in which to live.
One of my most pleasant memories of living in the Strip was a hunting and camping trip I took near the Pawnee Indian country. My companion was a young medical student from Chicago. He was the nephew of our family Doctor and was out west for a visit. The Dr. wanted me to take him in tow and show him the country and a good time. We outfitted for a two weeks trip, team, wagon, grub, etc. Also plenty of fishing tackle, and ammunition for our shot guns and rifle, and Oh Yes, a medicine chest. The only remedy it contained was a bottle of whiskey. Neither of us used it, but we decided it would be a good thing to have along.
I seemed to have the pleasant faculty of ferreting out and knowing most of the unusual characters in that part of the country. Among them was one named Catfish Jack. He received his name from the fact of his peddling loads of catfish that he caught in the Arkansas River. They were not the small catfish we used to catch in the streams of Dakota, but were big fellows, up to three feet long. Jack had asked me many times, to pay him a visit and enjoy the hunting and fishing around his camp, so we decided on his place for our vacation.
After about two and a half days travel during which we had good quail shooting, we finally reached Jack’s place on the banks of the Arkansas River. We found him a very sick man. He had been on a big spree and had run out of liquor. That is when our medicine chest came in handy. We doled that quart out to him in small doses for a couple of days, and got him in fairly good shape again.
The first week we spent in hunting and fishing around the camp and had some wonderful sport. He had one of the finest bird dogs I had ever hunted with, and after Jack sobered up he was a good guy to be out with. Both of us boys wanted to shoot some wild turkey. They were hard to find on our side of the river, but on the other side, in the Indian Reservation, they were quite plentiful. They might just as well have been on the other side of the world, as the Indians did not allow any hunting on their side, and backed it up with the Indian Police.
Jack said the only way to beat their game, was to get on to the Reservation before daybreak, get a shot or two after it got light, and return before the Indian Police could locate us. We decided to try it, so one morning, daybreak found young Doc and myself on the Indian side. We tied our boat where we could reach it quickly and started out for a shot at a turkey.
Doc did not have any luck, but I hadn’t walked a hundred yards or so when I saw a big tom turkey in the trail just ahead of me. I used to pride myself on being a fairly good hand with a shot gun, but when that turkey saw me, and took to flight, I missed him with both barrels. I just had a touch of turkey buck fever. Anyway, we decided we were not much good at hunting wild turkeys and had better get back to our boat, and across the river. We hadn’t rowed but a short distance when we saw three Indian Police come out of the timber and down to the river bank. I don’t know what an Indian Jail looks like, but we missed finding out by only a few yards.
We stayed at Jack’s as long as the grub held out and then started home. On the afternoon of the second day, on our return trip, we met a posse of officers who were looking for a bunch of outlaws that were causing a lot of trouble in that part of the country. Among the officers was the man from whom we had rented the team and wagon. He told us to pull off the road a short distance, when we went into camp for the night and not to light any fires. He said the men were being pressed hard and that they would need fresh horses, and if we should run into them they would probably would take our team. We not only pulled off the road, but went at least a mile and camped in some timber. Besides being a badly scared pair of kids, we did not want to lose those horses and have to walk the rest of the way home. We didn’t have any trouble and reached Perry all intact.
There were several Indian Reservations in the surrounding country. The Pawnees, a tribe that were known as “Blanket Indians” were not far away, they were not as far advanced in what we call “civilization” as some of the other tribes. That word “civilization” covers a lot of territory. Just now with half the nations of the world at each other threats, I believe the Pawnees are more civilized than their White brothers.
The government had ration days, when they issued food and some money to the Indians. On these occasions the Pawnees used to come into Perry, to stock up on what they thought they needed. They all had a fondness for bright colors and would often decide the merits of their purchase by its color rather than its usefulness. There was a certain hardware merchant in town that used to sell buggies and wagons. He would paint them all the colors of the rainbow. The brighter and more varied the color the more he would get for them.
The Government would build a good substantial house for the Indians to live in. I have seen many of these houses vacant, and the Indian family living in a bleak looking tepee right by the side of the new house. When oil was struck on Indian lands, these same tepee Indians became very wealthy. The Osage Tribe are said to be the richest nation in the world.
We lived in Perry for a couple of years, and then moved to Oklahoma City. That part of the country had been opened up several years before the Strip and was not quite as raw. Oklahoma City was quite a town, had about eight thousand population and was growing fast. It had become the mecca of that restless individual known as the divorce seeker, much like Reno, Nevada is now.
Dad like all the lawyers had many such cases. Among his clients was a daughter of one of the wealthiest families in America. She had married a no-account Italian Count, and came to Oklahoma City to get rid of him. She told Dad that the Count was now worth a plugged nickel but it seems these foreign noblemen come high as her family had to settle two hundred thousand dollars on the Count before she could get her divorce. Another of his clients was a United States Customs Official in China, who had come all the way to Oklahoma to get rid of his mate. He was a very interesting man and knew his China like an open book. He tried to teach me to eat ice cream with chop sticks. He was quite an expert with them.
Then there was this big shot politician from back East. He had just missed being elected Governor of his State, by a few votes. He found out there were some big shots in Oklahoma also, as Dad had his check for five thousand dollars, before he put him on his train for the East, a free man again. There was also the Englishman from London. He had not come for a divorce, but was with the family of the rich American girl. They were later married in New York. He surely was a good sport. We used to go quail hunting together. He was a fine hand with a shotgun. Said he shot a great deal in England, partridges I believe he said he hunted.
On one of our hunting trips, we stopped at a farmer’s for lunch. This farmer had a large vineyard and a good wine cellar. After we had finished our meal, he invited us down to the cellar, to get my friends’ opinion on some new wine. During the next half hour, the Englishman had sampled every barrel in the cellar and was in no condition to shoot straight, so we stretched him out under a tree and the farmer and I spent the rest of the afternoon with the quail and the bird dogs.
But Dad’s prize client was a young lady from Chicago. Her husband had written her that is she divorced him; he was coming out to kill her. She was quite put out about it, and decided to prepare for the worst. So she bought a 32 caliber revolver and plenty of cartridges. Then she asked me to teach her to shoot. She did not know one end of the gun from the other. I had an awful time teaching her not to shut both eyes when she pulled the trigger.
Near our house was a large oak tree, on it I would put up a six inch square of white paper, pace off about twenty steps, (I figured this was about as near as she had better let her husband approach.) and start her shooting. After considerable practice, she got so she could the tree if not the target. This seemed to satisfy her, for, as she said, her husband was about as big around as the Oak tree, and if she could hit it she ought to hit him. However, all her hard work was wasted as her husband never showed up to get shot. I guess maybe he heard about her and the Oak tree, and decided he was safer in Chicago.
While in Oklahoma City, I was urged by both my parents to enter the State University. I couldn’t see it their way and that was one of my numerous big mistakes. In years to come, I saw the value of an education and when our family grew up, my wife and I saw that they all had their chance to go to college and none of them ever regretted that decision. I did help my father in his law office, and the knowledge I gained while helping him, has stood me in good stead many a time since.
In Oklahoma City, I had begun to feel the bad effect of a small army of typhoid germs, that I picked up before I left Perry. The Doctor said I must have gotten hold of some bad drinking water on some of my numerous trips around the country, and advised a change of climate for me. The folks left the decision up to me, and I finally picked on Colorado.
So, the summer of my twentieth year on this troubled old world, found me located in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The leading mining camp of the country at that time, and about the liveliest spot I could think of.
I arrived there just after the second of two big fires that just about wiped out the camp. Not finding a place to stay, my first night in camp was spent on the soft side of a pile of lumber, in the Yards of the El Paso Lumber Co. Cripple Creek has an elevation of over nine thousand feet and the nights are quite cool. That was about the toughest night I had ever experienced. It should have dampened my enthusiasm, but the next day was bright and warm and the world looked better again. During the day I managed to rent a small cabin and was soon settled down, as a permanent resident.
I always had an idea, I wanted to go into the livestock business, but after being in Cripple Creek a few months, I contracted a bad case of mining fever and decided to follow the elusive fortunes of a gold miner. This was a most natural decision, as no one could stay very long in a great mining camp without getting enthused about mining, especially a twenty year old who was always looking for something exciting and unusual.
Fortunes were being made and lost so fast in the camp, that one could hardly keep track of them. There was the great Independence Mine, discovered by a poor carpenter named Stratton. I afterward became acquainted with a cattleman, who had a large ranch about fifteen miles from Cripple Creek. He knew Stratton when he was a prospector, before he made his big stake. Stratton used to put up his burros and camp at his ranch, while prospecting the surrounding hills. Stratton took many millions out of the Independence and built up one of the great fortunes of Colorado. Then there were the Portland, Abe Lincoln, Victor, and Crescent Mines and many others, each of which were heavy producers.
Before coming to Colorado, I had made arrangements to meet a young man from Brooklyn, N. Y. He was a son of an old client of my Father’s. Harold arrived a few days after I did. He had never been outside of Brooklyn before and I guess we two were about the greenest tenderfeet that ever hit the camp. We spent the first month prospecting the nearby mountains and visiting the mines and mills. We gradually picked up a smattering of mining lore and to know the different kind of rocks that were most likely to carry gold.
Hearing of a new strike fifteen miles from Cripple Creek, we decided to try our luck further afield. We got together a camping outfit, plenty of grub, mining tools, powder, caps, fuse and everything we thought we would need, and took a stage to the new diggings. Looking back over twenty years of mining experience, I can’t help smiling when I think about that outfit we got together.
After getting settled in the new camp, the first thing we did was to start out on a prospecting trip, and get lost in the mountains. We were lost for two days, before stumbling into a ranch only six miles from where we started. The rancher said we must have been going in a big circle, as we had never stopped walking except during the night and for short resting spells. The rancher and his wife took us in, and after fixing up a big meal, which we were badly in need of, and which we certainly did justice to, they packed us off to a snug cabin containing a most inviting looking bed. When we awoke we found we had slept clear around the clock, but being young and fairly tough, we were none the worse for the experience.
I will never forget that old rancher and his wife; they had one child, a boy less than one year old. They had great plans for that boy. The mother told me one day, with a good deal of pride, that maybe someday her son would be a great man in Colorado, a Governor, or a Senator. Well, maybe he did, I don’t know, but I do know of several Presidents, one in particular, that came from just such humble parents as that boy, born among the mountains of Colorado. After staying at the ranch for a few days, we were ready to return to our camp and continue the hunt for that mine, that we hoped would make us rich,–but the rancher had other plans for us.
During the days we had been with him, we had helped him with his work. He had a bunch of cow ponies in his pasture, and we spent most of those days getting a bunch of cattle back to higher range, he was going to move to another place, to put up his hay for winter feeding. He wanted us boys to hold down the home ranch until he got back. Did we take him up on that proposition? I’ll say we did, without any argument either. He hitched a team to a light wagon and we three went back to our camp for our outfit. We settled down in the cabin and were all fixed for the rest of the summer.
The rancher had left us a couple of fine ponies and our main job was to keep pushing back the few cattle that were always drifting down from the summer range higher up. That did not take a great deal of our time, so we had an opportunity to continue prospecting.
We had plenty of company as there were numerous prospectors camped up and down the creek. We used to visit back and forth and we were having the time of our lives. There was lots of gam, mountain quail, grouse, and the creek was full of trout. They were big ones, and many is the time I have stood just in front of the cabin door, made a cast into the creek and pulled out a nice one and practically landed him right into the frying pan. We also dropped a big mule tailed deer one of our hunting trips. I said “we” because we were so anxious to get that deer, that we both shot at him and neither one of us missed.
On one of our visits to the camp below, it was getting rather late when we started up the trail to the ranch. It was about three miles to camp and the trail followed the creek all the way. We had not gone far, when we noticed something moving right along with us, about twenty feet up the bank. It was a bright moonlight night and we were not long in discovering that it was a big mountain lion keeping us company. The only weapon we had with us was a45 Colt revolver, Harold was packing and neither one of us was very good with it.
That lion stayed right along with us and by the time we had covered about half the distance to the ranch, we were getting a bit nervous. He kept us company right up to our cabin. We didn’t invite him in, however. You will probably wonder why we didn’t take a shot at him. Well, if we had and just wounded him it would have been bad for us not the lion.
We told the rancher about our experience, and he said, that if it had not been such a bright moonlight night, the lion might have caused us trouble. He said that there were several big ones around the ranch and he had known them to pull down a yearling calf without any trouble. We did our visiting in the daytime after that.
During our prospecting, we had discovered some very promising float on a hill side about a mile from camp. After several days of trenching and sampling, we traced the float up to the ledge and after sinking about ten feet, took some samples to Cripple Creek and had them assayed. The assays averaged ten dollars per ton. The ledge was six feet wide. That grade of ore was not good enough to pay, as it was a base ore and had to be shipped to a smelter. We did go down any deeper.
In later years, I have often thought I would like to go back and do some more work on that ledge. There have been so many improvements in treating gold and silver ores. Six feet of ten dollar rock is a good showing in any man’s country.
That fall my parents moved from Oklahoma to California. They came by way of Cripple Creek to see how I was getting along. By that time, the mining fever had taken a firm hold on my system. Dad, seeing how I felt about it, suggested I take a course in the School of Mines at Golden, Colorado. I turned that down, as I thought I could learn more by continuing prospecting. That was another of my numerous mistakes. I have often wished since that Dad had taken me by the collar and yanked me clear over Pikes Peak and dropped me down in that College.
Speaking of Pikes Peak, Harold and I both climbed it before leaving Colorado. We did not go up the easy way—on the cog road from Manitou—but went up the side of the Peak, from the Ranch. It was well worth the aches and pains acquired on the climb. The Peak is one of the highest in our country, and anyone visiting Colorado is surely missing a great thrill if they do not climb it.
One afternoon, just after we had finished our day’s work on our mining claim and returned to our cabin, we were surprised to see about a dozen men on horseback coming up the trail. They were pushing their mounts as fast as the trail would permit, and soon drew up in front of the Ranch House. One of them, a long raw boned man named Jackson, who had a claim about a mile below us, yelled for us to catch up our ponies and come along. It seemed that some saddle tramp had raided a couple of the camps, taken blankets, grub, and a rifle; he was only about an hour ahead of the boys.
In those days nobody ever locked their cabin. It was an established custom, for anyone traveling the mountain trails, who was out of grub and hungry, to go into any cabin, cook himself a meal, and after cleaning things up, to go on his way. But this fellow had broken all the rules of hospitality and had stolen all he could carry.
The tramp’s horse must have been pretty played out, for in about a couple of hours, the men found plenty of signs that they were drawing close to him. He began to shed all his ill-gotten gains along the trail, blankets and grub he threw away, but not the rifle. The boys soon came in sight of their quarry, and the one in the lead fired a few warning shots for him to stop. Instead of pulling up, however, he left the trail and took off through the timber. The chase did not last long after that and they soon overtook him. He turned and started to raise his rifle, but when he saw about a dozen guns trained on him, he changed his mind, and threw down his gun. None of the boys wanted to harm him but they were surely out to give him a scare. They talked about stringing him up and even got out the rope and started to look for a convenient tree. They finally turned him loose, with a warning to keep out of that part of the mountains.
Harold and I stayed at the ranch until well into December. The Rancher and his family had returned long before, but we stayed on, prospecting, still looking for that mine. My twenty-first birthday came on the sixth of December. We decided it called for some sort of celebration, so we rounded up a couple of saddle ponies and took the trail for Cripple Creek. It also happened that I had another reason for going to camp. If you don’t mind dropping back with me a number of years, I will tell you why.
When my brother and I were around sixteen and fourteen years old, we decided it would be a good idea to start smoking cigarettes. A lot of the boys in our crowd were smoking and we didn’t want to miss anything. In those days, all cigarette packages had a picture of some actress or other enclosed with the smokes. We boys all had collections of these pictures and used to exchange them back and forth. When we happened to have two or more of the same lady (of course the better looking they were, the more they were prized). We used to give odds of three or four to one for some of the good lookers.
Well, Dad found out about our smoking, he had us up on the carpet and made us a proposition. He said that if we would not smoke until we were twenty-one he would give us a hundred dollars on our twenty-first birthday. I believe this is a good idea for some of our modern fathers to try, when a boy reaches twenty-one and hasn’t any more sense that to start smoking it won’t hurt him much. I surely have to smile at the above little sermon because I started at that age and have been smoking like a chimney for forty-nine years.
Anyway that hundred looked like a million to us, and we took him up on it. Will held out for a couple years, and then started to smoke again. By that time the hundred did not look so big, but I wanted to stick it out on Dad’s account. I was anxious to go to Cripple Creek for my mail, and see if Dad still remembered, neither of us had mentioned it for several years.
On our arrival at camp we both made for the P. O., among my letters was several from Mother and one from Dad. I was so excited when I saw his letter, I could hardly open it, but I finally did and as I unfolded the sheet of paper, a draft for One Hundred Dollars was staring me in the face. He had not forgotten.
Cripple Creek had been fairly well built up again, and everything was booming. I had seen some lively times in Oklahoma but this great mining camp was different. While it was lively and had plenty of excitement, it was more orderly and everyone had plenty of money to spend. There were hundreds of men working at big wages, and for spending money, not set of people can compare with a bunch of miners. The average miner is also the most good natured and liberal individual in the world.
Nobody ever went hungry or thirsty in a mining camp, and if one were down and out when they arrived in camp, they did not stay that way long. When the average miner is out for a good time (?) he will, sooner or later, drop into a gambling game of some king. He does not as a rule, plays for big stakes, is a cheerful loser and a good spender if he is a winning.
I did, however, see one game in Jimmie Nolan’s place while in Cripple Creek. Every old timer in Colorado will remember Nolan. He was one of the best liked citizens in camp. Nobody questioned the fairness of any game in his place. He used to say the limit was the ceiling, and if that wasn’t high enough, he would cut a hole in the roof. The players in this particular game were a bunch of Colorado Springs millionaires. They used to come to camp when they felt the need of a little excitement. Some of them had made their money in Cripple Creek. There was a good twenty-five thousand dollars in sight around that table and I saw several five-thousand dollar jack-pots.
I left Colorado in January to join my family in California. They had settled in Los Angeles. Father had quite a little stake when they landed in California and Mother wanted him to invest it in real estate. If he had taken her advice our troubles as far as money was concerned, would have been over. You know what Los Angeles is today. Dad was a good business man but I have always believed that Mother had the keenest foresight. He used to say that he would have been much better off if he had taken her advice more often. I suppose that is true of a great many of us. We men usually relegate to our life partner the job of keeping house and raising the family properly, and at the same time overlooking the fact that they could probably do our own job better than we could. No bouquets, ladies. Thanks just the same.
We had been living in Los Angeles but a short time when the news came that there had been a big gold strike in the Mojave Desert, about ninety miles west of Death Valley. That was all we needed to get the whole family started. Dad went and looked things over and decided to throw the family grubstake and energies into the new camp. He opened a law office and from the first did a thriving business. People were pouring into the new camp from the mining country further north; also from the many cities and towns in Southern California.
The transportation facilities were very poor, so we put in a stage line from Mojave, on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The distance by stage to the camp was fifty-two miles. We outfitted in Los Angeles, bought twenty-four horses, an eight passenger stage and were off to a new adventure.
The discovery that started the new camp was made by three tenderfoot prospectors. On was an ex-cattle man, another was a carpenter by trade, and the third was an Eastern newspaper man, they had ben grub-staked by the cattleman’s wife, who was a Doctor practicing in a small town near Los Angeles (scan of Rabel Springs Sanitarium Ad.)
While dry-washing a gulch, about twelve miles from where the new camp was afterwards started, they noticed that one of the higher hills to the South was of a very unusual color. Deciding to investigate the hill, they packed up their desert dry-washing machine and trekked across the flat. At first they only secured a small amount of gold, but as they moved up the gulch the pay got better, then they worked right up the hill itself.
It proved to be a mountain of gold ore which has produced, to the present time, twelve million dollars. (Editor’s note: This figure was calculated at $18 an ounce. At the present time with gold in the range of $1300 an ounce this equates to $867 million and does not include any of the gold taken out by Glamis Rand Gold Company during their mining in the 1980’s up to 2006, which amounted to hundreds of thousands of ounces.) They called the hill Rand and the new camp Randsburg. They named their new mine “The Yellow Aster”.
We did a fine business with our stage line. My brother and I did all the driving. We would take turns. While one was driving, the other would be rustling passengers at Mojave. The desert is a very windy country and I believe Mojave is the windiest place on Earth. They have what they call the hat ranch about two miles east of town.
All the trains stopped at the Harvey House in Mojave for the passengers to eat. As they left the train, several of the crowd would lose their hats. Once off their heads they were “gone with the wind”, and rolling out of town. About two miles from there was a wire fence, against which the hats would lodge, every week or so the town laundry man, a very enterprising Chink, would drive out and collect a barrel of hats. He would ship them to Los Angeles and built up quite a business. (Photo of Jo Carroll’s Top Hat”)
On one very windy day, a few miles from Mojave, a heavy gust of wind tipped the stage over on its side. We always had the curtains buttoned down tight on a stormy day. There was a full load of passengers besides a lot of luggage, and believe me, it was an exciting moment when that stage went over. My brother was riding with me that day out in front of the driver’s seat and as the stage went down we both landed on our feet. Luckily I held onto the lines. Our lead team that morning was a big pair of Oregon broncos and about half wild. They used to start out in the morning at a fast run which lasted for a few miles. Then they would settle down. When we went over, the horses made a wild lunge and started to go, but Will, just at that moment was at their heads, dragging them down. (Photo of stage.)
In side that stage there was surely some commotion. The women passengers were screaming for help and the men yelling for to “hold that team”. They couldn’t get the curtains opened as they were buttoned on the outside so they cut holes in them and began crawling out. If it had not been so serious, it certainly would have been funny, the way they piled out of that stage. With us holding the horses, the men finally got them untangled and unhitched. We then righted the stage and after taking stock of everybody, and finding them all O. K., hooked up the horses and continued on our way.
Many very interesting people rode with us. Jim Brown, the big Colorado mine operator, also Lucky Baldwin and many others, more or less well known. Among the lesser known ones I recall the trim looking young woman in a neat tailored suit and wearing gold rimmed glasses, a most distinguished appearing lady. All the rest of the Passengers were men so she asked if she could sit in the driver’s seat. I figured she was some mine superintendent’s wife of maybe a mine owner herself. I remember I had to caution the men inside the stage, who were getting boisterous, to calm down and not forget there was a lady on board.
When we reached camp, I pulled up in front of the Hotel and got rid of my load. After supper, a couple of friends and I dropped into the theatre and dance hall for a smoke and to take in the show. Imagine my surprise, when out on the stage came a half dozen beautiful (?) girls in a song and dance act, and in the lead was the trim, tailor suited, bespectacled, distinguished looking lady passenger.
For a time we carried the U. S. Mail and express and although the camp had a number of very rough citizens, and the desert was a good place to hide out in, we were never molested. We use to have quite a lot of bullion on at times. (Photo of man holding gold bar.)
Randsburg, like most mining camps, had several disastrous fires. One almost a clean sweep. The original camp, before it was hit by any fires was quite a place; built along one main street called Butte Avenue. It had several good hotels and many substantial stores. Also a great number of saloons and restaurants. The first thing a miner usually thinks of is a good place to eat, also a convenient place to quench his thirst. If you do not think they needed plenty of places to get a drink, just take a drive across the desert in the summertime and you will change your mind.
It could surely get hot. On one July day, I was driving out to look at some mining claims, about twenty miles from camp. Along about noon I stopped at a road house for a bite to eat and to cool off. As I went around to the back porch to wash off some of the dust, I noticed a thermometer hanging in the shade of the porch. It read 116 degrees! But there is one redeeming feature about the heat on the desert. It is a dry heat and one can stand plenty of it. 120 degrees on the desert is not worse than 100 degrees along the coast.
The heat doesn’t bother much if you have enough water and it takes a lot as the evaporation is very rapid. So you want to have plenty when you start out on the desert in the summertime and also know where you can get more if you need it. I know, because I spent twenty years on the Mojave and they say “experience is the best teacher.” I was in Mojave one day when they brought in a man who was found some fifty miles towards Death Valley. He was delirious when they found him, and stark naked, had all his clothes rolled in a bundle and was carrying them high over his head. He imagined he was wading a river (they get that way sometimes toward the end). He came out of it O. K. but would not have lasted much longer.
You probably think I am exaggerating quite a bit but please remember that I was in that country close to fifty years ago. (1895 to 1915) and there were no highways across the desert waste. Death Valley was not a National Park with its swell hotels. It was just plain old desert. It can happen today if one gets too far from all modern conveniences and doesn’t know his way around.
During one of Randsburg’s big fires, they were blowing up buildings with dynamite to check the spread of the flames. Dad’s law office was on a side street and we were trying desperately to save it. A friend of mine and myself were up on the roof putting out the sparks that were threatening to set it on fire. It had a square, false front like most of the buildings. I heard a great commotion in front of the office, and crawled along the roof and looked over the top of the square front. I was just in time to see a big miner who had half a dozen sticks of dynamite tied up in a bundle with the fuse all ready to light. He had kicked a hole in the front door which Dad had locked to keep everyone out. The man was all set to light the fuse and throw in the powder.
Of course he did not know that we two were on the roof but that did not help us any. Just as he was striking a match to light the fuse, I saw Dad come around the house. I never knew he could move so fast, for in a second he was in front of that miner and had landed as pretty a “hay maker” on that fellow’s chin, as I had ever seen. The miner, powder, fuse, and match all landed in the crowd. Luckily the fuse was not lit and nobody was hurt except the miner. We saved the office all right but if it hadn’t been for Dad, well, I just don’t like to think about it.
The last year that we run our stage line, was quite an exciting one. It was the biggest year in the camp’s history and business was booming. A man by the name of Williams, who was a big stage operator in the Northern part of the state, brought in one of his stage outfits and started up on the Mojave and Randsburg run. We would not have minded the opposition but for the fact that Williams had made a deal with the Southern Pacific Railroad to sell a through ticket to Randsburg good only at his stage. This would have put us out of business but we were not going to be licked that easy. We kept rustling passengers just the same, and when we got hold of a William’s ticket holder we hauled him to Randsburg and saved his ticket for the final showdown.
He was a mad man when he found out what we were doing. He said he would put us out of business in six weeks at least. But we kept taking up his tickets. We knew most of the people that traveled back and forth from camp and they preferred to ride with us. Well, instead of us going on the rocks in six weeks that was just about as long as Williams lasted when he pulled and quit and he offered us fifty cents a ticket for all we had of his, Of course we couldn’t cash them but he could get $4.00 for them. We stood pat, and finally got $3.00 a ticket for our end.
You might be wondering what the social life was like in a good live mining camp. Looking back through the years up to the present time, I can truthfully say that at no time or place have I met a finer group of people than at that camp on the Mojave Desert. A boom mining camp draws them from all walks of life. They come from the cities, the farms and factories, and I even knew a couple of sailors who adjusted themselves into the activities of the camp like old timers.
We had our parties, musicals, dances etc. Yes, we had our bridge club also and at the height of the camp’s prosperity we even had a golf club. We laid out a nine hole course in a flat near town. The fairways were tough propositions. They were long sand traps. You had to be a pretty fair golfer to make your way over and around all the clumps of sagebrush and greasewood. We didn’t have to build any hazards those fairways were nothing but.
The greens were not green at all, but sand rolled smooth and hard. I have been around some since, and I believe the players of that club were above average. I remember one swell shot that I made and I doubt that it has ever been equaled. I was approaching the worst hazard we had, the railroad track. It was built up to quite a grade and we could not see the green over the bank. I was within about fifty yards of the roadbed and had lined out a nice one, hoping to get over and onto the green. But just at that time the road-masters old Rhode Island Red rooster was parading down the track with his harem of a half dozen hens. My golf ball and the rooster’s head collided right in the center of the track and there was another wreck on the old Santa Fe. In my ensuing argument with the road-master over the accident, I concluded the rooster had the right of way and I settled the case out of court for a dollar and a half.
There was quite a lot of gayety going on that I did not engage in. I remember the Never Sweat Mining Co. composed of a bunch of business men, storekeepers, one doctor, a couple of lawyers, and most of the saloon men in camp. They were a bunch of good fellows, too. Every Saturday they would load up a wagon with a picnic lunch, mostly wet goods, and drive out to their placer claim. They had started a shaft down but never got below the ten foot level. The reason was the rules they worked under. Everyone was supposed to do his share of the digging but at the first sign of a drop of perspiration on the digger’s manly brow, he would be pulled out and another member would take his place. On one occasion, the boys were in no condition to pull the last man out of the hole. They just drove home and left him. As evening approached, the wife of the missing member began to be worried about her man, and started out to look for him. Several of us young fellows, guessing what the trouble was, drove out to the claim, pulled the absent member out of the shaft, and delivered him into the arms of his anxious wife.
You have probably heard about the fellow who was having trouble with his wooden leg. Well, that story originated in Randsburg, back in 1898 and was based on the following facts. One of the unique characters in camp was Peg Leg Hawkins. He had lost his leg in a mine cave-in. It was taken off close up to his hip, just enough left to strap his wooden leg onto. Peg Leg would never take his wooden leg off. He slept with it on and he told me he had not had it unstrapped for years. One summer he began to have trouble with it. He described it as a kind of crawling, itching, feeling which got so bad that the boys in camp took up a collection and sent him to the hospital at Bakersfield. The doctor there didn’t seem to be able to help him any and he was finally sent back to camp.
Our only doctor was old Doc Blunt. It was rumored that he had been a famous surgeon in the East but some trouble has started him drinking. He drifted out to California and landed in Randsburg. When he was sober, he surely was good. He could just about cut a guy to pieces, and then sew him up again and the patient would practically be new man (he would have to be).
Peg Leg got so bad that Doc Blunt decided to operate. There was no nurse in camp so Doc delegated me to help him. My job was to give Peg Leg chloroform, and when he was out to keep him there. We started in by getting the patient to drink a quart of good whiskey (this was not trouble at all) then we put a towel over his face and I kept a few drops of chloroform falling steadily on the towel. The doctor had his implement well sterilized by boiling in water for fifteen minutes. It was a meat cutter saw with very fine teeth. He began to saw just above the knee, or what would have been the knee if a wooden leg has such a thing. He cut very carefully and slowly, back and forth. I kept dripping the sleep medicine, drop by drop, drip by drip. About half way through, Doc hit a knot and poor Peg Leg let out a groan, but Dr. Blunt just kept sawing back and forth and the sawdust kept falling, falling, falling down into the pan and I kept dripping, dripping, dripping the chloroform onto the towel. At last the Doctor straightened up and we knew he was through. He held up the piece of wooden leg and, after looking it over carefully, he hit it gently against the pool table, then we all saw what was Peg Leg’s trouble—“Termites”. (You needn’t believe this story about poor old Peg Leg. I don’t, why should you. I just put it in to liven up a rather dull tale.)
While Randsburg was much smaller than many of the great mining camps, it was packed full of excitement and trouble. We always had good peace officers, the most outstanding among them was Johnnie Arnold. He was a six-footer and built in proportion. While he was always armed, he depended mostly on his ability as a rough and ready fighting man. He was a good friend of mine and always rode our stage line. He traveled a lot as Bakersfield was the County Seat and ninety miles away. He told me once, that the camp could be depended upon to furnish at least half the jail population of the county.
I happened to do him a good turn once and he never forgot it. One day my partner and I were putting in a windlass on a nice cropping of ore on our mining claim when we heard two distinct revolver shots. They came from a hillside several hundred yards away. As I looked in the direction of the shots, I saw three people, one a woman, one of the men and the woman were running in the direction of the tent close to them. The other looked like he was starting to walk to town, but was having a hard time of it. My partner and I started to run towards him as we could see that he was hard hit. When we reached him, we saw that it was Arnold.
He had been shot high up in the chest. The bullet had gone clear through him and out his back. We got him to sit down while we fixed him up as well as we could. He was not bleeding much bet we knew we would have to get him to camp and to the Doctor mighty fast. We were lucky for just then we saw Frank Griffith who owned the Red Dog stamp mill in Johannesburg, come driving along the road. All of us together got Johnny in the rig and made fast time to the Doctor’s office. While we were getting Arnold’s gun and belt and his clothes off, the Doctor was getting his instruments ready. It was a bad looking wound and had been made by a 45 revolver slug. The doctor took a probing tool and a piece of clean white silk. He followed the course of the bullet through from front to back. This cleaned out the wound. He then stopped the bleeding by some tight bandages and Johnny was put to bed. In a few weeks he has on the job again ready to handle anything in his line.
These desert boys were surely tough. The trouble all started over a woman which is nothing new, and the fellow he did the shooting was arrested and taken to Bakersfield. Arnold refused to prosecute him and he was soon back in camp raising h__l again. Johnny was killed one evening, while riding the bus from Johannesburg to Randsburg. Nobody knew who fired the shot, but Randsburg lost a good peace officer and I lost a good friend.
During the early days of the camp, before the railroad was built, fresh meat and vegetables were none to plentiful. It was considered quite an event, when one took a trip to Los Angeles or any other outside point. Then one could forget the beans (miner’s strawberries) bacon, and canned stuff and go the limit over a nice juicy steak with all the trimmings.
One morning when I was taking the stage out to Mojave, expecting to go on by train to Los Angeles, I noticed that one of my passengers was my neighboring mine owner, Shorty Oakley. Shorty did not get outside very often, but kept digging away at his Orphan Girl claim, hoping to find the pay shoot that was always only a few feet away but he never seemed to catch up with it. We settled down in a seat on the train, and after getting our smokes going good, we gossiped about the camp and mining town news in general. After running out of mining news, Shorty become eloquent over the kind of breakfast he was going to store away when we reached the city. I didn’t see how he was going to absorb all the kinds of grub he had his mind on, but the main item on the bill of fare was a big porterhouse steak smothered in onions.
After reaching the city and wandering around quite a while, we went into a nice looking restaurant. When the girl came to take our order, Shorty told her about our two porterhouse steaks and we settled back in our chairs to enjoy than meal. The waitress looked at us with a sad expression on her face, and said, “Boys you have made a mistake, this is a vegetarian restaurant.”
No description of events in the great desert region would be complete without mention of the desert’s most colorful character, — Death Valley Scotty; during my residence there, Scotty was a well-known person and was fast building up his reputation as the mystery man of the Death Valley region. He uses to come to Randsburg occasionally. On one of his return trips to his camp, he was followed by three of the local boys who thought they might get a clue to his supposedly rich mine. They stayed on his trail for two days, but on the evening of the second day as they prepared to make camp for the night, Scotty suddenly appeared from behind a large greasewood bush. He told the treasure hunters he guessed they had come about far enough. He ordered them to hit the backtrails for home. They did. Scotty, in those days was no person to fool with.
I had never believed and I might say the same for most of the prospectors and miners around Death Valley country, that Scotty had a mysterious mine he could go to and dig our fabulous amounts of gold. That might be a swell yarn for a tenderfoot to swallow, but not for the old-timers. In the first place, mining isn’t that easy, even in the richer mines, and if he ever had a hidden mine, it would not have stayed hidden long as some of the old prospectors would have nosed it out long ago. But just the same, he has been and still is, a most colorful character.
An acquaintance of our family, who was on the same train with Scotty, coming back from a trip back East, told us this story about him. It seems Scotty had bought up all the wet goods on the train and nobody could buy a thing along that line. No one went dry, however, as he treated everyone who wanted a drink, and long before they reached Los Angeles, that train went completely dry. She also told us that Scotty started an argument about who among the men in the car, had on the most costly and flashiest pair of socks. The argument got so heated that a jury of three men was appointed to settle that most important question. After a close inspection of all the male socks, the jury decided that Scotty had won hands down, as the saying goes, but maybe in this instance I should say, feet down.
Most of your remember the time he chartered a special train at Los Angeles and broke all the records of a fast trip to New York.
I have been to his camp in the Funeral Mountains, not his castle but his hideout camp of early days. In fact, my brother and I were among the first in there. His camp was stocked with all kinds of fancy canned goods and he even had a bathtub. This was the one and only bath tub I ever saw in a prospector’s camp. Not that the prospector doesn’t take a bath occasionally, but the old washtub was good enough for most of them, and it the washtub was absent, the dishpan would do in a pinch. (Not guilty).
While living on the desert, I made two trips across Death Valley by mule team to sample a group of mining claims in the Funeral Mountains. The first trip, a preliminary one was made in the company of the owners of the property. Three English boys, who were prospecting and mining in that section of the desert. It was a long and tiresome trip of over one hundred miles. We carried plenty of water, though about every other night we would camp at some spring or water hole. These watering places were mostly off the road among the hills, and believe me, you had to have someone along who knew where they were. There were quite a few quail around the springs and one of the English boys who was very good with a rifle, furnished us with several quail dinners. He shot them with a 22 caliber rifle while they were running around in the brush.
In our grub pile, were several cases of canned tomatoes. Your old desert traveler always takes these along if he has any way to pack them, as they are the finest thing to quench one’s thirst. We went in by Wingate Pass, down to the Valley and across, then up into the Funeral Mountains. You have probably seen many pictures of Death Valley. I have also, and can say none of them are exaggerated. It surely is a desolate place. Besides being the despair of the early emigrants who came across to California, it is also the graveyard of many an unlucky prospector.
You can stand at one spot in the Valley, which is the lowest spot in the United States and gaze up to view Mt. Whitney, which is the highest peak. The scenery is grand, that is, if you like great distances and high rugged mountain ranges. I love it. A sunset, viewed from high in the Funeral Mountains is something to remember. Looking Across the vast stretches of the Valley with its many colored sand dunes and dry lake beds, while watching the sun go down behind the Panamint Range with old Mr. Whitney thrusting its snow packed peak high up in the heavens is a wonderful sight.
To some the desert may seem a land of desolation, heat and sandstorms inhabited by side-winders, road-runners and jack rabbits, with a few crazy prospectors thrown in for good measure. But to those who know the desert best, it is a thing of beauty and a land of vast possibilities. In the spring time I have seen it covered with a wealth of wild flowers, yellow asters, lupines, Mariposa lilies, four o’clocks, poppies, squaw cabbage and a host of other varieties. I knew a young doctor in Randsburg who made a collection of desert wild flowers, and he had over a hundred different kinds.
Our first visit to the mining claims was very satisfactory. The samples showed up well with plenty of milling ore in sight. On our second trip we took a mining engineer along from Tuolumne, who went to report on the claims in the interest of the parties who were figuring on buying the property. However, between the time of our first visit and our second one, plenty had happened to the Englishmen and their mining claims. While working on their mine, the boys had been ordered off their property by some claim jumpers. They got the drop on the boys, and told them to get off and stay off. I guess they thought they could get away with it as it was a long way from nowhere and a hard country to get into.
But the Englishmen through otherwise and on our second trip in, they were prepared to do battle for their claims. In one of the preceding pages, I have mentioned that there was only one time that I ever packed a gun and this was the time. We had enough guns and ammunition to equip a small regiment. We did not mention the fact that there might be trouble to our friend, the engineer, until the night before we expected to reach the claims. At first, he did not like the idea very well, but he couldn’t walk back and we were going ahead, so he made the best of it. However, the next morning, he told me that he was rather interested and hoped we would have some excitement, so we dished him out a gun and some shells and he was all set for anything that might happen. We reached the canyon where the claims were after dark and made camp on the property. The next morning we started out to get some samples. Across the canyon we could see the camp of the crowd who had jumped the claims, there were five of them.
I had missed two of the English boys and was wondering where they were. I was also thinking it strange that the crowd across the canyon did not come over after us. It wasn’t long before I knew the reason. The two boys were crouched behind a big boulder, about a hundred yards up the hill. They had their 30-30 Winchesters lying across the top of the rock, just waiting and hoping for something to get started. Well, those two Winchesters up the hill, backed by a couple of mad Englishmen was too much for the claim jumpers. We went ahead with our sampling under cover of those two guns for three days and never had any trouble. The mining engineer seemed to enjoy himself. He said that he had sampled plenty of mines, but this was the first time he had ever had to take samples with a pick in one hand and a six-shooter in the other. To make a long story short, the engineer turned the property down. No on account of a lack of ore, ass all our samples assayed very well, but because of the mine being in such an out of the way place and so hard to get into. He thought the expense of operation would be too heavy. The boys and the claim jumpers finally had a law suit and they retained title to the claims. I was one of the witnesses in the case. They opened up the mine, put in a mill and did very well with it.
While the desert has a great many drawbacks as a permanent residential district, we were not far from some of the finest recreational sections in California. The great Kern River region was only 100 miles away. From Kernville on the north to Mr. Whitney was a sportsman’s paradise. Early one spring, I received a telegram from a mining operator with whom I had had some mining deals, asking me to go over into the Kern River section to examine some placer ground. He had grubstaked a couple of prospectors and they reported making a strike and asked for money to open it up.
That hit me just right as I felt the need of a little recreation so I got a bed roll together, threw the saddle on our driving horse and started across the desert. I rode to Weldon and then took the trail up through the mountains to the prospector’s camp. I rested a day and the next morning, we three started out to look at the claims. During that day they showed me some of the finest pannings I would want to look at and things looked pretty good. The third morning, I started out to go over the claims by myself. They both wanted to go along but I discouraged that idea and went alone.
I went over the same ground we had sampled the day before, and never got a color all day. When I returned to camp about sundown, one of the boys, with a foolish grin on his face asked me what I thought of the claim. I told him I just wanted to know one thing, and that was how in the heck they salted the pannings. I had watched them closely and didn’t see anything wrong. They saw the deal was off so they told me. They both rolled their own cigarettes and had salted the sacks of smoking tobacco with a lot of fine gold. Then as they panned, they would stop to roll a smoke, holding the paper over the pan. They would manage to spill a quantity of tobacco as they rolled the cigarette. This was a new one on me and one to be well remembered.
After supper that evening one of the boys asked me to stay over a day or two; said I had made a hard trip and if I would stay, they would show me some of the finest fishing in the mountains. I stayed, the creek they had camped on was called Fish Creek. It was surely well named. If the fish were smaller than 10 inches, we would throw them back. There were too many big ones just fighting to get on our hooks. The boys had a woman cooking for them. She was a good cook but from the looks of things, I figured her morals were not as good as her cooking. I reached home O.K., wired the mining man that all his money was doing was to pay for a vacation for a couple of good fishermen.
One of the reasons for my love of the great desert country and the main one was that there I found, what we men are always hoping to find, the one and only woman. We were married in 1904 and neither my wife nor myself, have ever had anything but the happiest recollections of that fatal date. We have been blessed with three daughters and our whole married life has always been and still is centered on our little family.
On one of our trips outside, to get away from the desert, for a while, my wife and I were located in San Francisco. We were having a grand time taking in the sights around the Bay Cities. The old Emeryville race track was in full swing, and I being what you might call a race horse fan, spent many an enjoyable afternoon at the track. It was the year that Dr. Lego won the Burns Handicap for a purse of $10,000. This seems like chicken feed compared to the purses the ponies compete for nowadays, but at that time the Burns was the big race of the year.
I had become acquainted with a merchant near where we had our apartment and a few days before the big race, he invited me to join in a betting pool on a certain horse to win. While I admired a good horse and liked to see them run, I had been around enough to learn that gambling was a losing game and something a newly married young chap, with a fair sized bank roll should leave strictly alone. But the merchant was sure that he had the correct dope, (almost an impossible condition regarding a horse race) I became rather interested. I debated hard and long on the subject but couldn’t make up my mind.
Being one of those square shooting husbands who figured that the wife had an equal say in anything as vital as the family bankroll, I decided to hear what she had to say. My inquiry met with a decided “NO”. You probably figure that the merchant’s horse lost the race and that I saved my hard earned money, but such was not the case. His choice was Dr. Lego and he won at nice juicy odds. Yes, I still like to watch them run and I still let the other fellow do the betting.
After a few years, the Santa Fe Railroad built into the Randsburg District from Kramer, a distance of twenty-eight miles. This, of course, put an end to the stage line. There were many mines being opened up. The “Yellow Aster” was making a wonderful showing and there were many smaller mines operating. Some of them turned out to be heavy producers like the Big Butte, Kinyon, Wedge, King Solomon, Winnie, Santa Ana, Sunshine, Pinmore and others.
Dad was doing well with his law practice. Mother and the women of the camp were busy getting a church started. My brother and I kept prospecting the District with only moderate success. There was quite a lot of litigation over mining property. One of Dad’s clients was an Irishman named Billy Logan, who had been one of the first in camp and had located a very valuable claim. Billy liked his liquor and on one of his numerous sprees he had been gypped into selling his claim for a fraction of its value. When he sobered up and realized what a fool he had been, he came to Dad to see what could be done about it. It happened that the fellow, who had cheated Billy out of his claim, was also a client of Dad’s. It didn’t take much advice for him to see the error of his ways, and Billy soon had his claim back, the slicker his money and we had one third interest in a very valuable mining property.
Of course, we not concentrated all our mining efforts on this property. We did very well from the start, took out considerable good ore, and had to haul it twelve miles to the nearest mill to have it treated. During the next few years we managed to acquire the other two-thirds of the mine which had developed into a good proposition. In 1902 we built a milling plant of our own on the mine. It consisted of a ten-stamp mill, one-half ton hoist, and later added a fifty-ton cyanide plant. This gave us one of the finest reduction works on the desert.
I believe a description of our set-up will be of interest. Our ore was what is called free milling. That is, an ore that the values can be saved by crushing in water and running the crushed ore over copper plates coated with quick-silver. The gold in the ore is caught by the quick-silver then when the plates are cleaned, the result is what is called amalgam, consisting of about two-thirds gold and one third quicksilver. This amalgam is then placed in a retort and heated until the quicksilver vaporizes, leaving the gold in the retort. This is called the sponge. The vaporized quicksilver is run through cold pipes, condensed and used over again.
The gold sponge is then mixed with a flux and retorted at a high heat. When melted it is poured into a mold, and is ready to be sent to the mint. We put in the cyanide plant to recover the gold that was still contained in the pulp from the stamp mill. Then the fifty-ton cyanide tanks would be filled with sands from the mill and this covered with a solution of water and cyanide. This solution consisted of three pounds of cyanide to a ton of water. We would let this solution stay on for twenty-four hours, when it would be drawn off from the bottom of the tank and run through the precipitation plant which consisted of boxes filled with zinc shavings.
The cyanide solution would absorb the gold from the sands, and the zinc in the boxes would absorb the gold from the solution and deposit it in a form that looked like black mud and was called “precipitates”. This was almost gold. It was dried over a slow fire, then the dry powdered gold would be mixed with a flux and retorted, poured into a mold and there was your gold brick. This description is rather brief, but gives you an idea of how we handled our ore.
From 1902 until 1917 we worked our mine intermittently. The ore got to be low grade, and it was nip and tuck to make it pay. During this interval we had bonded the property to some Cleveland, Ohio mining people and received a nice cash down payment.
The time our mine was under bond, my wife and I were located in Berkeley. One day I saw an ad in the City newspaper, by a mining company operating a quartz gold mine on one of the forks of the American River. They wanted a stamp-mill operator at good wages. I had never mined in the Mother Lode District. I wanted to see the country besides make some extra money. Running a stamp mill was right up my alley as I had run our own mill for years so I had no trouble signing up with them. The mine was being worked by a San Francisco merchant. His superintendent was in the City and, after a few days the Superintendent and I started for the mine.
I left my wife in a snug little apartment, I only expected to be gone for a few months as it was early fall and I wanted to get back to the desert for the winter. We went in by way of Placerville and took a stage for Forest Hill. From there we had to walk sixteen miles to the mine. The trail led along the ridge of the mountains and then down a steep canyon to the property. There were sixteen men at the mine. The mill had ten stamps and six concentrating tables all run by water power. It was a snap to run. After making the monthly clean-up of several thousand dollars, the superintendent left and I was all settled down for several months work. I had not been at the mine but a few weeks when I began to realize that there was something wrong with the outfit. I found out that the men had not been paid for a couple of months despite the fact that the mine was paying a nice profit. The Superintendent was back at the mine again and promised everything would be squared from the next clean-up of the mill. He took the gold bar out as usual but still we did not get our wages. Not liking the looks of things, I decided I had better pull out. I asked the foreman for my wages that I had coming but he said he did not have the money or the authority to pay me off. I told him I would take my pay in amalgam from the mill but he said the men would not stand for that as they had made up their minds to take over the next clean-up themselves and take their wages out of it.
The outside tables in a mill have to be cleaned and new quicksilver put on every day. I had plenty of amalgam to hand to more than cover what I had coming. I finally convinced him that I was quitting the job and wanted my pay. So he reluctantly weighed out the amount for me on condition that I would not let the other men know. So I gave him a receipt for my wages and he gave me a statement that he had paid me the amount in amalgam and I was all set to pull out. But during the time I had been at the mine there had been a snow storm that left several feet of snow at the summit to Forest Hill and the only way out would be by skis. There were several pair at the mine and although I had not skied since I was a boy in Dakota, I decided to try it.
So one morning before the men were up, I pulled out. I had a good sized pack strapped on my back consisting of my bedroll, clothes, etc. It took several hours to walk out of the canyon where the mine was located. I could not use the skis as it was too steep. When I reached the summit I was lucky to find that someone had broken the trail an all I had to do was follow in his tracks. I reached Forest Hill about dark and the next morning I took a stage to Placerville. I still wanted to work a month or so I went to work in the old Baltimore Drift mine. I had deposited the amalgam in the hotel safe at Placerville and was getting along fine but my peace of mind did not last long. It seemed that the Superintendent had returned to the mine again and found out how I had received my wages in amalgam.
He also found out that he wasn’t going to get the next clean-up as the men had just about mobbed him and he made a quick get-away. It was just my luck to run into him in Placerville, and he demanded the amalgam. He said I had stolen it and he would have me arrested if I didn’t turn it over to him. I called his bluff and he left for San Francisco. He told the man who was backing the mine that I had stolen a bunch of amalgam from the mill and skipped out. So the next letter I got from my wife was full of trouble. The mine owner had been to see her and told her he was going to have me arrested, threatened her and myself with all kinds of trouble. She surely was scared. She could just see me behind the bars. Of course she knew I had not stolen anything and told him so. He decided he would go to the mine and find out things for himself. He reached Placerville the same afternoon the foreman and a couple of the miners with the clean-up arrived. I was sitting in the hotel office, resting from my day’s work, when in came the foreman and the two miners. We hardly had time to greet each other when in walked the mine owner. When he saw me he surely got excited, started to tell me all the things he was going to do to me. Then the foreman took a hand in the discussion and told him a few things.
Well, to make the yarn shorter, it developed that the Superintendent was the cause of all our troubles. It seems that he had been stealing the clean-ups, totaling close to ten-thousand dollars and telling the owner that all bills were paid and the mine looking fine. The owner took the brick the men had brought in, gave them all checks for all their wages, gave me a check for mine and I turned over the amalgam. He swore out a warrant for the missing Superintendent and went back to the City, but not before I had his promise that the first thing he did on reaching San Francisco, he would call my wife and tell her the news. The Superintendent was picked up a couple of weeks later and sent to the penitentiary. I hope he is there yet for he surly caused a lot of people plenty of trouble. By this time, I had about all I wanted of the Mother Lode Country and my wife and I left for the desert and home.
After bonding our mine, my folks moved to Goldfield, Nevada which was the greatest and richest gold camp on the desert. I made several trips to Goldfield to visit my parents. It was a good deal like Cripple Creek was; certainly a lively camp. The ore was very rich in the camp’s flush days. A carload of ore was shipped to the smelter that returned one-half million dollars. On one of my trips, I had an opportunity to go through the Consolidated Mine, one of the George Wingfield properties. In one stope I saw a half-dozen men breaking down thousand dollar ore. That stope was surely a miner’s Paradise if there ever was one. Working on such rich ore the miners soon got to highgrading. It is said that millions of dollars were stolen in that way. I heard one miner boast that he had had a good day in the mines. He was getting six dollars a day in wages and had brought out sixty dollars in his lunch bucket when he came off shift. Of course this could not go on, so the mine owners put in change houses. When a miner came off shift, he had to take off his clothes in one room, walk past a guard, then put on his street clothes in another room, after his lunch bucket was examined, he was allowed to leave. They didn’t like this idea, and the result was a big labor strike that tied up the camp for quite a long time.
The people that bonded our mine finally turned it back to us, and we started working it again. The World War No. 1 had gotten into full swing, and then as now, the great industrial plants were demanding more war materials, such as Antimony, Manganese, Quicksilver, Molybdenum, and Tungsten.
The Randsburg district contained many valuable deposits of the last named mineral, tungsten. Its principal use is in the steel industry for hardening steel and armor plate. Our mine had a fairly large amount of tungsten, mostly in placer deposit. To give you some idea of what the tungsten ore was worth, I sold six sacks of ore and out of the proceeds, I went to Los Angeles and bought a four room portable house, shipped it to camp and set it up. It surely was great stuff.
The price of tungsten got so high, that the gold mining had to take a back seat as long as the boom lasted. We installed a couple of shaking sluice boxes and were soon making more money than we had been from gold mining. The great Atolia tungsten mine, just six miles south of us, developed into the greatest tungsten mine in the country and produced millions of dollars. The original discovery of the Atolia mine was by a veteran desert prospector Charlie Churchill. We boys knew him well.
Just before the boom got under way, my brother had secured a thirty day option on the Churchill claims for $20,000. Will went to Goldfield where my folks were still living, and tried to raise the money to buy the property but everyone in Goldfield was gold crazy and while Dad did know a number of the big operators there, he could not interest them in the claims. They said they knew nothing about tungsten; if it were a gold property, they would look it over. So the thirty days finally ran out. That was as near as we ever came to being tungsten millionaires. But these things happen often in the mining game, so we just took it as a matter of course.
We cleaned up a moderate grubstake while the boom lasted and decided to pull out. My main reason was to get settled in a place where there were better schools. Our girls were growing up and needed more opportunities along the line. We had lost our mine through a mortgage which we had placed on the property. So we took our little tungsten stake and left the desert.
You take nine out of ten miners who have made a large or small stake in the mines and are figuring on quitting and settling down, you will find them located on a ranch, especially if they are from the desert. They want to own a place with something green besides themselves on it and they want to see lots of water. Well, I was no exception and the next move we made was to a ranch in an irrigated district in the Northern Sacramento Valley.
This place had good schools and was close to a State Teacher’s College. It had about two thousand population. We did not get much change of climate by moving from the desert to the Sacramento Valley (notwithstanding all the claims those real estate guys can put between the covers of those little folders). It surely can get plenty hot there. I remember one day while helping a neighbor put up his crop of alfalfa hay, we all realized it was extra hot but we kept right on working. At noon while we were at the dinner table, one of the boys passed out completely from the heat. After taking a look at the thermometer and finding it was 116 degrees in the shade, we decided to lie off for the day. In all my years on the desert, I had never known anyone to have sunstroke, but in the Sacramento Valley where there is more humidity in the air, you could just stand so much and no more.
We had a nice little place of ten acres, some fruit and alfalfa. It was a good layout for a poultry ranch so we decided to try that line. The first spring we put in two thousand baby chicks. Some change from mining on the desert; to playing nurse to two thousand babies, but with the help of the whole family we raised eight hundred nice pullets. That first bunch was the finest we ever had and we were in the business a long time. We found the poultry business was a good deal like the mining game. First you made it pay and then you didn’t. But for the whole we had not regrets for the time we spent on the ranch. The girls did well in school there and we had many good friends. There were surely wonderful people there.
The Valley is quite a windy place also. The North Wind would blow for several days and then without any let-up, the South Wind would take over and blow for a week. At that time it wasn’t quite as bad as the desert.
We use to cool off on a hot day by taking a plunge in the irrigation ditch. One day our family with a half-dozen others were on one of our numerous picnics in the country, along a large creek that served as a canal for the water before it reached the irrigated land. I was down at one end of the swimming hole, watching over our youngest daughter and a lot of the youngsters, when I noticed quite a bit of excitement further up the stream where the crowd was swimming. I was too late to get in on it but it seems that my wife and two other women were wading in a shallow part of the stream, none of them could swim, when suddenly all three of them stepped into a hole and went out of sight. They all had on wide brimmed straw hats and, as the girls went under, the hats stayed on top and floated down stream. It looked just as if the ladies were walking on the bottom but from the bubbles coming up from the hole, the crowd knew differently. One of my daughters dove in and pulled her mother out and a couple of the men rescued the other two mermaids. I was sorry I didn’t get there to pull my wife out.
Most men, you know want to be a hero at some time in their lives and especially to their wives. That was the only chance I ever had, and I missed it. From what my better half tells me, I guess I never have made the grade since, either. There is always a lot of talk about the poor, poor farmer. Well, I believe he has the best of it all down the line. Take for instance, if you go broke in a big city; you either get a job or starve. You can’t starve a farmer out and he always has a job. He may not have much ready money but he can always eat. He can ring the old red rooster’s neck and put him in to boil along with stuff from the garden, or he can steal a dozen eggs from under the old setting hen and cook himself and omelet.
I would like to see every unemployed family in the country, placed on a five acre tract and given a start. I made a go of it for a long time and I didn’t know anything about ranching. In fact, I didn’t know whether it was the rooster’s or hens that laid the eggs but I found our afterwards that it was the hens, and all the roosters did was to crow about what a good job the hens were doing.
We stayed on the Sacramento Valley Ranch for ten years, then moved to a nice little city of fifteen thousand on the coast south of San Francisco. We have been here twelve years. My Mother, Father, two sisters and brother have all passed on to their reward, leaving me the last of our branch of the family. We had a long and happy time together, but one cannot change the destiny of human life and I can only hope that someday, God willing, we can all be together again.
Our girls are all living near us and with grandchildren coming along at regular intervals; we are still quite a family. My wife and look forward to the future to be the happiest part of our lives.
My reasons for writing the above pages are not quite clear, even to myself, but as I will have to lay the blame on somebody, I guess my three girls are the ones. When they were little tots I use to tell them fairy tales and the like, but as they grew up and past the make-believe stage, it was hard to keep them interested. It was then that I began to tell them things that happened to me as a youngster, and, as they grew up I grew up with them. Now I have to put it all down so that they will be able to tell it to their own children.
- Harmon R. Wynn
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