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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Old mining days were hazardous

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

The early mining towns usually shared the same progression of building. First came the strike and mine development while living in tents and dugouts. Once the strike was proven and ore was being removed to market, a sawmill arrived sawing lumber for crude clapboard dwellings and places of business.

All buildings were heated by wood stoves and this led to most being burned to the ground at least one time. If the mines were profitable over a period of time structures were rebuilt of brick or stone and the fire departments improved to where fire was not an eminent danger.

Almost every mountain ghost town chronicle tells of the long, bitterly cold winters with intermittent blizzards and the ever-present danger of avalanche. Some of these snow slides carried entire towns and ore mills over cliffs to the valleys below.

One snow slide covered a mine entrapping the owner inside. With tools at hand it required three days to tunnel outside where he arrived in town in time to attend and interrupt his own funeral.

With no law or law officers present, many early towns took crime punishment into their own hands hanging murderers to the nearest tree and shackling others to trees or mine timbers out in the numbing cold. If they survived they were set free.

Once the sawmills arrived, small one-room jails were built with heavy rock floors and by nailing 2x6 lumber flat making a sturdy 6-inch thick wall around the parameter. With no heat and only an open bucket for amenities, there were few repeat offenders.

A truly sad story tells of a young daughter of a minister who developed pneumonia. The distraught father traveled through a blizzard to a nearby town to fetch a doctor. With none available he returned home nearly frozen in his efforts. He entered the house to see a stranger bent over his daughter's bed. He pulled his gun, shot and killed the stranger who turned out to be the doctor he was hunting. When his daughter died the man turned the gun on himself. The three were buried in one grave in a stacked form as the ground was frozen too hard to dig separate graves.

One of the toughest towns in early Colorado was named Henson, located west of Lake City.

From the start Henson was plagued with labor problems and violent crime. An unusually high percentage of mine workers in this area were Italians. After a deadly explosion killing 36 miners the Union struck the mines using violence to promote their strike. The Colorado Militia was called in to quell the violence. Eventually all Italians were banned from the area.

Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" December 22, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
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