House of a Thousand Shines

A fortune in zinc ore.

In the fall of 1924, South Joplin became home to the “House of a Thousand Shines.” Paul W. Freeman, of the John W. Freeman Trust Company, built a unique residence at 3215 Wall. The Globe reported, “As one drives past it on a sunny afternoon, little beams of light twinkle first here, then there in the walls, until the spectator is led to believe the house is studded with diamonds.” While his stucco house was under construction, Freeman found out that gravel typically used in stucco house construction cost $40 to $80 a ton and had to be transported from Michigan or Ohio. He then decided to use lead and zinc ore “instead of gravel as a splash for the walls.” After the “cracked ore was screened to eliminate the finer particles” the entire six room bungalow was covered in a ton and a half of zinc ore. Five hundred pounds of lead was used on the porch columns. Apparently pleased with the results, Freeman told the Globe that lead and zinc ore could be used as economically as out-of-state gravel, although it is unknown if other local residents chose to use it instead of other alternatives.

While Wall Avenue no longer extends into the 32nd block, it is possible the house still survives on Oak Ridge Drive.

Men and Dust

In a previous post, we covered Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’ visit to Joplin in 1940. The reason for Perkins’ visit was to participate in the Tri-State Silicosis Conference, a gathering of industry and labor leaders to investigate and highlight the danger of silicosis. At the conclusion of the conference, a brief documentary film simply titled Men and Dust was shown in the Connor Hotel. The film was produced by the noted Great Depression era photographer Sheldon Dick. Only sixteen minutes long, the film focused on the the danger posed by silicosis generated by the dust created by lead and zinc mining. Dick’s film is surprisingly experimental with a unsettling score and a dramatic narration that has a jarring effect on the viewer.  It is an important piece of Joplin’s history because of its haunting advocacy for the welfare of the region’s miners and their families and its stark images of  the men who worked the Tri-State Mining District during the Depression era.

We encourage everyone to view it who has a chance.

Elliot Raines Moffett

On a fall day six years after the end of the Civil War, two men began digging a shaft on a hill near Joplin Creek in southern Jasper County, Missouri. Lured to the location by stories of lead lying as shallow as the roots of the prairie grasses, the two men, Elliot Raines Moffett and John B. Sergeant struck figurative gold and from those first few spadefuls of dirt the city of Joplin was established, as well their riches.

A native Iowan, Moffett was forty-three years old when his prospecting brought him to Jasper County. He and Sergeant had initially setup in the area of Oronogo, then known as Minersville, and acquired a mining interest in the vicinity of land owned by John C. Cox, a Tennessean who had arrived in the area years earlier. The lead strike, forty feet down, quickly led Moffett and Sergeant to build the first lead smelting furnace north of present day Broadway and on the banks of Joplin Creek. The smelter was not the only “first” that Moffett and his partner brought to the mining camp and later the city. In 1873, when the cities of Joplin and Murphysburg joined together to form Joplin, Moffett was the first mayor. In addition to building stores in the fledgling camp, he and Sergeant also opened one of the first banks at 315 Main Street and founded the Joplin & Girard Railroad completed in 1876 to connect the growing lead furnaces of the city to the Kansas coal fields. A second railroad to Pittsburg, Kansas, was completed and celebrated on July 4, 1876 with a golden spike driven into the earth at the Joplin depot. Later, Moffett sold his interest in the railroad and its right-away southward to the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, also known as the Frisco, for a hefty $350,000. Not long after, Sergeant and Moffett opened up the White Lead Works which later became known as the Picher Lead Works.

It was prospecting which brought Moffett to the Joplin area, it was also that which led him to leave for Northwest Arkansas. In the belief that more incredible lead veins were waiting to be discovered in Arkansas, he prospected the hills around Bear Mountain. He found some lead, but not enough to make a second fortune. Instead, Moffett purchased hundreds of acres of land and went into the business of fruits and grapes. It was as a shepherd of orchards that Moffett spent the last years of his life until he passed away in February, 1904, in Crystal Springs, Arkansas.

Upon his death, one Joplin newspaper wrote of him:

“The announcement of his death spread rapidly over the city yesterday evening and many sincere expressions of regret were voiced, and the utterances were of that sincere character that indicate true regret – the regret that is always felt at the demise of a truly good citizen. The reason of this is very apparent when it is known that he was instrumental in building the first schools and the first churches, and was a willing contributor to many movements for the city’s welfare.”

A Daylight Mine

While the majority of Joplin’s lead and zinc mines were below ground, and in fact, much of Joplin is built above those shafts, there were some that were open to daylight. Below is a photograph of one of the best examples, the aptly named Daylight Mine.

The Kansas City Bottoms: Part I

Landreth Park Joplin MIssouri
The north end of Joplin’s Main Street is quiet today. The Joplin Union Depot sits abandoned, visited only by aspiring graffiti artists and the historically curious, hoping to catch a glimpse of Joplin’s glory days in the weathered, intricate designs of architect Louis Curtiss. With the arrival of winter, Landreth Park is empty, save for the urban wildlife that call it home. Joplin Creek, the one constant in the ever changing landscape over the last one hundred years, remains. If only its silent waters could tell stories of the contentious rivalry between East and West Joplin, the mining operations that clouded its waters, and of the numerous families who lived in dire poverty along its banks in what was once known as the “Kansas City Bottoms.”

The name Kansas City Bottoms, according to one source, was derived from the Kansas City Southern Railway. Dolph Shaner, however, argued that the name “Kansas City Bottoms” came about because, “Kansas City and Independence, Missouri, capitalists, headed by John H. Taylor, purchased 120 acres of land extending from Fourth Street north three-fourths of a mile along Joplin Creek. The land being owned by Kansas City men, the valley at that point was dubbed ‘Kansas City Bottoms.’”

Attorney Clark Claycroft was one of Joplin’s earliest residents. Toward the end of his life he recalled that, “[John B.] Sergeant made the first big strike of lead ore in Kansas City bottoms, near the mouth of what now is known as Sunshine Hollow.” Veteran well driller Perry Crossman provided more detail, stating in an interview, “Late in the fall of 1871, I made a contract with John H. Taylor of the Joplin Mining and Smelting Company to drill a hole in a pump shaft in the Kansas City Bottoms. Charles Glover, now with the Joplin Globe, drew up the contract for Taylor and myself. That was the first hole ever put down to make a test for ore, and it ended in limestone.”

The area quickly became a magnet for men who sought to make a fortune in the lead and zinc industry. The Joplin Creek valley became inundated with hundreds of would-be miners who lived in tents, constructed crude shanties, or slept out in the open to stay close to their prospective strike. Joplin resident Dolph Shaner remarked that where Landreth Park is now located, “there once existed many, many mine dumps; all are now filled, leveled, and covered with grass.”

As mining operations left the Joplin Creek valley and spread out across the region in search of rich lead and zinc deposits, one might think that story of the Bottoms was over. It was not. As the population grew, two rival entities, East and West Joplin, sprang into existence. The bottoms connected the main streets of East and West Joplin and soon turned into a battleground between young men who fought on behalf of their town’s honor. We will leave it to the reader to pick up a copy of Shaner’s book to read in detail about the fistfights and rivalries that took place.

Stay tuned for Part II of the Kansas City Bottoms…

A History of the Joplin Union Depot – Part III

Catch up on the history of the Joplin Depot’s origins with part one here and part two here.

The first view of the Union Depot which greeted the readers of the Joplin News Herald on March 1st

After the exciting publication of an architect’s drawing of the Union Depot on the first day of March, 1910, a debate may have erupted over the validity of the print.  The News Heraldon the 28th of March, in one of the first updates on the depot since the beginning of the month, confirmed the accuracy with the arrival of the official plans and specifications to the city engineer’s office.  The city engineer, J.B. Hodgdon, passed on the plans to several local contractor firms.  It was the hope that a local firm would offer a satisfactory bid, such as Dieter and Wenzel, located in nearby Carthage and a company responsible for raising many of Joplin’s most well known buildings.  Notably, the city planned to divide the construction process between building the depot structure and grading the land about the building.  The land in question, the Kansas City Bottoms, located between Main Street and the Kansas City Southern tracks and between Joplin Creek and Broadway, was to be leveled.

Two days later, the papers announced the appointment of E.F. Cameron as the local attorney for the Joplin Union Depot.  The announcement was accompanied by a firm statement that construction would start April 1.  In the meanwhile, the parties behind the depot had finalized the acquisition of properties within the desired realm of the depot and exploratory drilling had been done to ensure that no abandoned mines or “drifts” threatened to destabilize the foundation of the future depot.  Indeed, the drilling had discovered solid limestone on average fifteen to twenty feet below the surface, and in some cases, even closer.  Already, some of the uneven parts of the Kansas City Bottoms had been filled by the railroads to allow future track to be on level with existing rails.

The site of the depot had once been the center of many mining attempts like the one above in the early days of Joplin, leaving many abandoned mines behind.

Six bids were submitted for the excavation, which required the removal of approximately 40,000 yards of dirt, and the Joplin firm Jennings & Jenkins was awarded the contract.   “I will begin work,” declared W. F. Jenkins on Saturday, April 2, 1910, “with a full crew on the excavation on Monday.”  Nine bids, two from Joplin area firms, were submitted for the construction of the depot structure.  However, the selection of the firm was considered more important than excavation, and demanded a meeting of the chief engineers of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, the Santa Fe, and the Missouri and Northern Arkansas, railroads.  The architect, Louis Curtiss, available at the time of the bid announcement, promised that Joplin’s depot would be the most beautiful in construction, the most complete and convenient of any depot of the size in the United States.  Indeed, Curtis noted, specifications called for “handsome interior furnishings and the most substantial exterior known.”

On the following Monday morning, a small force of men with three to four teams of horses arrived and began the work of excavation.  The number of overall men expected to work varied from as little as fifty to four times that number, with as many four times the starting number of teams of horses.  Afterward, it was reported that before rain brought an end to the day’s labor that fifty men with fifteen teams had been brought to bear against the earth.

The delay in selecting a contractor to build the depot structure was not critical, as all reports stated that such construction could not begin until the grading was complete.  It was to be no small feat of work transforming the hilly area that offered a home to Joplin Creek into a suitable home for the new Joplin Depot.  In contrast to the 40,000 yards of dirt discussed earlier, Jennings & Jenkins instead claimed they only had to remove 30,000 yards of soil.  However, 135,000 yards of soil was required as fill, the present earth apparently being inappropriate for the task, and all of it to be hauled in by train.

The News Heraldsummarized the task ahead, “The hill along Broadway and Main street will be cut down and the dirt moved back onto the lower grounds.  These hills will be cut down to a level of the grades of the streets and the fill along the Kansas City Southern railroad will be made on level with the tracks…The hill north of the Old Joplin creek bed will also be cut down and the dirt hauled into the low places.”  Hills were not the only landmarks that needed cutting down, the paper referred almost in afterthought to, “Several buildings will have to be removed from the grounds during the next few days and a force of men will be set to work tearing them away and burning the rubbish.”  The several buildings were actually homes to “persons who have occupied houses on the site for many years who repeatedly within the past month have been ordered to move.”  No tolerance was given as the homes were to be destroyed as the excavation work approached them, not  even “if the occupants have not sought other quarters.”  The transformation of the Kansas City Bottoms was expected to take approximately two months.

Little of the old Kansas City Bottoms remains as it once was before the depot.

Only a few days after the start of the work, the excavators made a gruesome discovery three feet into the soil of the hill located along Broadway.  The Daily Globe reported, “The bones found are crumbled with age, and, although apparently whole when unearthed, fall to pieces when picked up; Their sizes are thought too large for small animals and too small for horses or cows, or other of the larger domestic beasts.”  Work came to a temporary stop as local residents were quizzed for knowledge of any remembered burials or graveyards.  None were recalled.  One such resident, who claimed to have prospected “all over the Kansas City Bottoms when a young man” had never heard of any burials.

The old prospector reminisced, “They might have been buried all right,” said he, “but it was not with the knowledge of the authorities or a permit from the coroner.  There was a killing down here almost every day in them times, and I suppose they had to bury the victims some way.”  The reporter of the Daily Globe noted that the majority of murders in the Bottoms were likely never reported, and the speculation that the excavators had discovered one unfortunate victim was very likely, an opinion shared by the Joplin police called to the scene.  However, the contractors “scoffed” at the idea, most likely out of fear of losing workers who, “showed unmistakable signs of nervousness when the discovery was made…Several declared they would not work if they were convinced they were digging up bones of human beings.”  Human remains or not, the excavation continued.

Another problem arose at approximately the same time as the excavators made their unpleasant discovery.  Nine bids had been submitted for the contract to build the depot structure and to the consternation of the railroads involved, all were considered too high.  The possibility of revising Curtiss’ design for the depot and re-opening the bidding process was proposed on April 8th.  Five days later, the decision was made to do so and bidding was opened again until the 18th.  The new bids were based on changes to the original design, contractor Fred Dieter reported, changes that “will not in any way effect the exterior nor the general plans for the building,” but rather consisted of, “a few substitutions in material.”

By the time the bidding process was closed, only six bids had been made, down three from the previous nine.  A. F. Rust, the chief engineer for the Kansas City Southern, promised that the new bids all appeared to be a much more satisfactory in estimated costs.  A week, the chief engineer promised, was as long as it would take for the winning bid to be selected.  Nearly two weeks later, on April 30th, an authoritative source promised that the winning bid would be announced in two days, in part to coincide with a meeting of the chief engineers of the four railroads which backed the union depot company.  By May 12th, James Edson, the president of the Kansas City Southern on a long distance telephone interview with a News Herald reporter, had to dismiss rumors that the depot was to be relocated to a 15th Street location.  In the same call, Edson declared that a meeting of the board of directors of the Joplin Depot Company in the later half of May would choose the winning contract.  Meanwhile, excavation continued with dynamite used to reduce a steep hill east of Main Street.
Joplin Union Depot
Finally, on June 5, a Sunday morning, it was announced that the Manhattan Construction Company of New York, with a branch office in Fort Smith, Arkansas, had been awarded the contract at an initial cost of $60,000.  Construction would begin, stated a representative for the company, no later than June 15.  The grading by the excavators was virtually completed, but the foundation of the building had not yet been begun.  The two city papers offered slightly different reports on the design of the building, the Herald claimed, “The trimmings will probably be of Carthage stone, according to the original plans,” along with brick and concrete, and the Daily Globe in turn stated, “The contract calls for the erection of a modern building, of reinforced concrete construction.”

Six days later, Rust visited the site of the future depot and promised again that the depot would be completed by the end of the year.  The chief engineer noted that already enough steel for four miles of track was at the site and that, “We intend to push operations as fast as possible,” and bragged, “only material of the highest grade will be put in the depot.  The station will be built with a view of accommodating Joplin when it is considerable larger than it is now.  In my opinion, and according to officers of the depot company, Joplin is one of the coming cities of the Southwest.”

By mid June, excavation work uncovered yet another discovery, zinc.  Within a week of the find, nearly a ton of the ore had been sold at a price of $23 a ton.  While the contractors considered applying the new found source of wealth toward the cost of construction, two men from the excavation crew were assigned to sort the soil. The quality of the ore was shortly considered rich enough that some of the men involved in its examination immediately organized a mining company, procured a lease to do the mining, and set upon the deposit.  The vein was found to be only a few feet beneath the soil, at least seven feet in depth, and in lieu of building a processing plant, the miners hauled away the dirt in wagons to nearby plants for processing to separate the zinc from the soil, as well any lead.  By August 4, the entrepreneurs had sold nearly $1,900 worth of lead and zinc, and were still at work at their enterprise.

A pile of processed "Jack" valued at $100,000.

The excavated area, located “near the heart of the old shallow diggings on Joplin creek” had once been the home of St. James hotel and also the “crimson lighted district.”   Old settlers, ever present to discuss such events, recalled the days when “the valley sloping off to the northeast resembled a bee hive.  Mines and miners were constantly working there.  Before many years had elapsed the ground looked like an overgrown pepper box.”  However, due to the presence of the hotel and other sordid activities, few thought to mine the area, or so the theory went.  The News Herald quipped, “If the owners of the new property do not see fit to construct their new depot they can mine.”

“Grading of site is nearly completed,” announced the Daily Globe, on June 16.  By the efforts of the excavators, the paper reported that “the hills to the north have been leveled, while many of the lower points have been filled and the surface rolled.”  Though, it took another four weeks to complete, the impact on the local geography was significant.  In addition to the annihilation of hills, the “surface of the ground has been lowered seven feet…in the higher places, and from that to two feet in the lowest parts.”  For the low parts of the depot area, fill was used to raise the surface from two to four feet.  Extreme summer heat, contractors claimed, was the culprit for the long delay in the completion of the excavation. The teams of excavators gone, the site absent of working men and horses, for a brief time was considered to possess an “absolute quiet.”

A visit to the site at the time would have revealed a number of temporary buildings built to house the materials needed to construct the depot.  The gathering of which had been ongoing for weeks.  Another significant addition, and alteration to the geography, was the culvert built to guide the waters of the Joplin creek under the Depot site.  When completed, the culvert was expected to be 631 feet long and possess a 6 foot radius.  Through it the creek named for the Methodist preacher, Harris Joplin, would eventually disappear from sight for a stretch of more than two football fields.  Nor was it the only effort to divert water, as a “great double aqueduct” was also being put into place to convey a stream from Main Street , built of concrete, it was two tubes each four feet in diameter and two hundred yards long.  When done, it was believed the aqueducts would be able to “convey a larger amount of water than has ever been seen in the little branch.”  The exit point for the aqueducts was in the area of the Kansas City southern bridge.

Off the site, at approximately the same time as excavation work was concluding, the Kansas City Southern filed a mortgage for the value of $500,000.  The mortgage was intended to secure the $500,000 in bonds that had previously been sold by the depot company to finance construction.  Nor was the Kansas City Southern the only railroad company involved with large sums of money.  The Missouri, Kansas & Texas, or Katy, Railroad was busy with the construction of a spur from its main line to reach the Depot at a cost of around $250,000.  Much of the cost had to do with traversing hollows and areas dotted with old mines and sludge ponds, which demanded the construction of bridges or the use of fill to stabilize the ground.  One such required bridge was to be located over Possum Hollow and would be a “22-panel pile trestle bridge” that would carry trains 47 feet above the floor of the ravine, and 30 feet above an existing bridge built by the Frisco Railroad.  Along with its own expense in the cost of terminals at the depot, it was estimated the Katy would ultimately spend $500,000.

While the Katy Railroad continued its investment into the depot, another railroad decided to investigate the possibility of joining the enterprise, the Frisco Railroad.  As covered earlier, the Frisco Railroad, through its interests in Joplin, had furiously attempted to stop passage of the union depot franchise by the city’s council.  However, almost two years had passed since its failed attempt and faced with a desire to expand its freight capabilities by the cheapest means necessary, the Frisco opted to further investigate the matter.  While the Frisco had a depot in Joplin, it believed that if it could direct its passenger traffic to the union depot, it could then enlarge its freight capabilities at the existing depot.  Despite reportedly being on of the largest landowners in the city of Joplin, the Frisco was having trouble parting Ralph Muir from the property he owned at the corner of 6th and Main Street, which it felt was needed were it to expand its passenger area.  The vice-president of the railroad, Carl Gray, promised a decision would be had in a couple weeks.  Ultimately, however, the Frisco did end up building a new depot, after it did finally acquired the coveted 6th Street and Main property.

The depot the Frisco later went on to built, still standing on Main Street Joplin today.

Meanwhile, as work concluded on the main excavation, on July 24, 1910, the Joplin Daily Globe, noted in a small article, far from the headlines of the front page, that the Manhattan Construction Company “Will Start Erection of Depot Tomorrow.”  Representatives of the company were to arrive on the 25th, along with a foreman, who’s task was to oversee approximately 25 men and the start of the foundation, which included the further excavation of fifty square feet for the new home of the depot’s heating apparatus.  The depot itself was finally under construction.

The Missouri Mule

By 1911, the Missouri Mule was uniquely identified with mining as much as a miner, as seen in this illustration from a Joplin paper.

 

One of the most valuable sources of labor in the early days of the Tri-State Mining District was provided by mules. University of Missouri Professor Dr. Melvin Bradley partnered with the Missouri Mule Skinners Society to produce the Missouri Mule History Project. The project itself was a multi-volume collection of transcribed oral histories regarding the history of Missouri mules. Bradley sought individuals who had experience raising, selling, trading, and working with Missouri mules. One of the individuals he found was Lee Dagley, a native of Joplin, Missouri. The interview is illuminating for several reasons. First, it provides a look at how mules were used in the Tri-State Mining District, but it also allows one to understand life in early Joplin as seen through the eyes of one who lived it.

Lee Dagley was born in Joplin on July 23, 1888, in a small house on what is now today 1817 Michigan Avenue. He was one of thirteen children. Dagley’s parents came to Joplin in the early 1870s and soon found that the “best thing they had was a pick and a shovel and a wheel barrow.”  His father bought an acre of land near Sixth and Pearl where the First Presbyterian Church stands. But Dagley’s mother protested and they moved near a large spring on what is today Campbell Boulevard. Growing up, Dagley recalled that Joplin was “all prairie…I herded cattle all over this country.”

According to Dagley, folks in Joplin did not eat much beef when he was growing up. He said, “There’d always be some man in the neighborhood that’d kill a beef and he’d take it around and we’d have beef for a little while. But pork was the main thing.” The family owned one milk cow which provided their milk. Dagley said he pretty much existed on “good milk and bread and butter.” To supplement their income, his family raised and sold chickens and turkeys. Turkeys brought fifteen cents. One turkey that they kept grew to weigh 65 pounds. It was so big and aggressive that Dagley would have to carry a stick to fend it off because of its propensity to attack anyone who came in through their front gate.

At first his father did not know how to mine, but quickly learned, and gained a reputation as “one of the best miners in the country.” But his father was not successful at mining. Still, Dagley recalled that in the early days of mining, miners could only dig 16-18 feet down into the ground before they hit limestone, and water would flood the shaft. Dagley’s father created a sluice trough that washed the lead ore that miners dug out of shallow mines. After washing the ore, someone would pick up the ore and deliver it to the smelter at Granby. Dagley’s father charged miners by the piece and usually made $1 a day. To make additional money, Dagley’s father rented out horses and worked as a “powder monkey.”

Dagley attended school, but quit when he was a sophomore because his father was ill. Dagley took a job at Junge’s Bakery for $3 a week and later $6 a week. He later worked a brickyard, but when the Thomas Mine Royalty Company came to town and offered $1.50 per day to drive a wagon, Dagley left the bakery and began driving a team.

Mining methods in the Tri-State region slowly advanced. Mules would pull cars full of lead ore on the surface, but they also worked below ground. Mules were lowered into the mines, sometimes in a sitting position. According to Dagley, the mines did not use big mules: “They were not big mules. They used small mules. The biggest one would probably weigh 900 lbs.” One particular mule barn that he remembered was “about 60 feet wide and 200 feet long.” The mine operators put “hundreds of tons of hay” in the barn. Dagley boasted, “Oh, this whole country out here was prairie hay, and the best prairie hay that ever was.”

At work, a muleskinner sat “on the front of the car and drive the mule. They’d pull ‘em in and they had a track down there…up towards the mill.”

After the turn of the century, however, mines became less reliant on mules. Mines began using steam engines and motors. Mules were relegated to surface work, mainly pulling cars full of ore. The heyday of the mule in the mines of the Tri-State Mining District was over. Mechanization and advancements in mining methods had made them obsolete, but to the men who worked with them in the mines, there would always be fond memories.

* It is worth noting that although this fact was not mentioned in the oral history, Lee Dagley, according to contemporary press reports, was one of the few white men in 1903 who attempted to save Thomas Gilyard’s life from a lynch mob in Joplin.

A Town Is Born (The First and Nearly Last Nice Thing Carthage Said About Joplin)

Joplin, 1872

In 1871, the Carthage Weekly Banner had this to say:

“There is a new town in Jasper County. Its name is Joplyn. Location fourteen miles southwest of Carthage on the farm of our friend J.C. Cox. It is young, but thrifty. Has lead in unlimited quantities underneath it. Numerous miners are there going for the lead. The sound of the shovel and the pick is heard daily in the bowels of the earth. Board shanties have sprung up like mushrooms. There is a scene of business within its borders, and even in the region round about for a mile or two. The lead exists in richly paying quantities, and some of the miners are making small fortunes every week. The fame whereof has spread abroad even to Carthage.

In mining as in any other business, or profession, if one man succeeds, and does well, a dozen are ready to go into the same speculation. Hence men out of employment, from this city, invest a few dollars in a pick and shovel, fill a haversack with rations and go for the mines. We saw one of our neighbors ‘lighting out’ the other day for the front thus duly outfitted. We asked him if he was going to work on the railroad? ‘Railroad be hanged! I’m going to strike lead,’ was his ready response.”

Among those of our citizens who have struck lead, are Col. O.S. Picher, who has rich deposits – being worked – on his farm. Mr. D.H. Budlong has a farm in close proximity upon which lead blossoms like the rose, and the probabilities are that he will exhume a lead mine, that may make his everlasting fortune, which if it does we shall not begrudge him his luck, one iota, for he is a worthy man, and an excellent citizen, besides being an uncompromising Radical.

We also had a farm in that vicinity about a year ago, but fortunately we traded it off for Mr. Benham’s interest in the BANNER, or we, too, would be troubled with visions of fabulous wealth, and pass sleepless nights worrying about it.

Mr. T.G. Powers, from this place, has had excellent success in lead mining, and is on the highway to wealth.

There are others, but we cannot call them to mind. Joplyn is a lively place. Everybody out of employment ought to go there and dig. That is better than doing nothing, and it may lead to certain fortune. We shall not worry about it if some of our citizens make their hundreds of thousands by it – with which charitable sentence we will close this sentence.”

 

The Way It Was

Once in a while we find a wonderful glimpse into life in early Joplin. One of these is the article, “’Twas Only a Joke” by Robert S. Thurman of the University of Tennessee. Thurman recounts the practical jokes that people played on one another in Joplin at the turn of the century.

Although miners worked long hours in hazardous conditions, they found time to play jokes on one another. Those who suffered the brunt of the jokes were often greenhorns, who Joplin miners dubbed “dummies,” and other outsiders who decided to try their hand at mining.

Thurman recounted the story of two men who went into the mining business together at Duenweg. Their mine operation consisted of a pick, shovel, a windlass and can, some drills, blasting powder, and a dummy to help them. The two partners hired a man from Platte County, Missouri, to work as their dummy. Unbeknownst to them, the dummy was an out-of-work miner with plenty of experience under his belt.

The two partners would explain the dummy’s tasks to him in the simplest terms because “a dummy wasn’t expected to know anything, especially if he came from Platte River.” The dummy would listen intently, nod his head that he understood, and carry out his tasks as instructed.

One day the two men were down in the mine shaft prepping a drill hole for blasting. Instead of returning to the surface, they called out, “Hey, Dummy! Do you see that wooden box over by the wagon, the one with a tarp pulled over it?” The dummy replied, “You mean the one with some red writing on it?” The miners yelled back, “That’s it. Now go over to it and get two of those sticks wrapped in brown paper and be careful. Then in the box next to it, get two of those shiny metal sticks and about four feet of the string in the same box. Bring them over here and let them down to us! But be careful with that stuff!”

The dummy, already well acquainted with dynamite from his days as a miner, was fed up with his bosses’ attitude. Having earned enough money to strike out on his own, he decided to have a little fun. He found two corn cobs and wrapped them in brown paper, then stuck a short fuse into each one. The dummy walked back to the mouth of the mine and called down to the two miners, “Are these the two sticks that you want?” The miners replied, “Yeah, that’s them. Did you get the shiny metal sticks and the string?” “Why, shore. What do you think I be? And I decided to be right helpful to you, too. I fixed them up so you can use them right now.”

With that, the dummy lit the fuses, dropped the corn cobs disguised as dynamite into the can, and quickly lowered it down the shaft to the two miners below. Chaos ensued and the dummy had his revenge.

Another trick that miners often played on dummies was to send them after a “mythical tool” called a “skyhook.” One such case occurred at the Old Athletic Mine. The mine had hired a dummy from Arkansas. Unfortunately for Arkansawyers, they were viewed as both inferior and gullible by Joplin mining men. On the dummy’s first day at work, the miners told him, “Dummy, go up to the toolshed and get a skyhook and hurry up with it.”

The dummy nodded his head and headed for the surface. But when he reached the top, instead of going to the company’s toolshed, he headed for town. Upon reaching a blacksmith’s shop, he went inside and asked, “Mister, can you make a skyhook?” The smithy looked at the dummy in surprise, “What do you want?” The dummy repeated, “A skyhook. Can you make one?” “Son,” the blacksmith responded, “someone is pulling your leg. There ain’t no such thing.” “Sure there is,” the dummy insisted, “Now here is how you make it.”

Two days went by and there was no sign of the dummy at the mine.  The miners laughed and figured he was too embarrassed to return. But toward the end of the second day, the mine whistle sounded two blasts, which meant everyone had to come to the surface. As the miners reached the top, they saw the mine superintendent, the dummy, and the biggest pair of ice tongs they had ever seen.

The superintendent called out to the one of the miners nicknamed Mockingbird. “Mockingbird, this man says you and the boys sent him after a skyhook. That right?” Mockingbird, so named because he whistled all the time, sheepishly responded, “Well, I guess we did something like that.”

The superintendent looked at the miners and said, “Well, he’s got it for you, but since I didn’t authorize it, I guess you boys will have to stand the charges for it. That will be two days’ wages for him, the bill for the blacksmith, and the cost of the dray for bringing it to the job. Now, three of you boys take that skyhook and hang it over by the office so you know where it is in case you ever need it again.”

Miners were not the only ones who played tricks. As was common in the Ozarks, newlyweds were often treated to shivarees. Sometimes the friends of the young couple would surround the house and ring cowbells and bang pots and pans all night long. Other times they would be taken to a nearby pond, stream, or horse trough for a dunking. Or, the couple would return home and find their furniture had been unceremoniously rearranged.

One couple, Dan and Frances, were determined to avoid any such foolishness. They decided they would stay in their house, lock the doors, and not come out. Their friends soon arrived and began yelling for them to come out. Dan and Frances, however, turned out the lights. Soon it dawned on the group of friends that the couple had no plans to come out. But one of the young men had an idea and promised he would return shortly with a solution.

Upon his return, the young man had a stick of blasting powder, a cap, some fuse, a drill, and a hammer. He and the others drilled a hole in the mortar of Dan and Frances’ stone house, put in powder, tamped it very lightly to avoid doing damage, and lit a match. Within seconds there was a small explosion that shook the whole house and made pieces of stone fly. Dan and Frances came flying out of the house to the sound of their friends laughing and yelling, “Treats! Treats” But to make sure there were no hard feelings, a collection was taken to repair the house, and given to the couple.

But not all jokes in Joplin ended on a happy note. There were two rival saloonkeepers, whom Thurman called Jack and Billy, who often fought with each other. A bunch of loafers in Jack’s saloon began to kid him that Billy was out to get him and that he was a crack shot. A few weeks passed and the loafers once again began to tell Jack that Billy was mad at him and was “going to take care of you.”  Jack, believing their lies, began to worry. He told the loafers that he could take care of himself.

The next day, around noon, Billy left his saloon carrying a bucket. He crossed the street and headed toward Jack’s saloon. The loafers at Jack’s saloon yelled, “Jack, better watch out!  Here comes Billy and he’s got something in his hand!”

Before anyone could stop Jack, he grabbed a pistol from underneath the bar, stepped out onto the sidewalk, and yelled “Billy you ——! Try to kill me, will you!” He then fired at Billy, killing him instantly. Jack, realizing what he had just done, slowly walked down to the railroad tracks and sat down, shaking his head in disbelief. He was eventually arrested, convicted, and served a ten year prison sentence. The loafers who had started the unfortunate affair went free.

Thurman noted that practical jokes were rarely carried out in Joplin after the 1930s. One woman told him, “You can’t joke strangers because they don’t know how to take it.” Another person observed, “We don’t have the gathering places anymore where we can think up devilment. When I was growing up, we’d loaf down at the general store and things would just sort of happen. You can’t do that down at the A & P Supermarket.”

Mockingbird, the miner who took part in his fair share of pranks, told Thurman, “People have a lot of ways of being entertained today. They keep busy either watching television or doing something. They don’t have the time to sit around and think of tricks. And I don’t think they would get by with pulling these jokes on the job. Bosses would not put up today with some of the things we did back forty years ago. Work is more business today; if a guy pulled some of these shenanigans on a job today, he’d get fired. But there’s probably a better reason. I think people are now more grown up today. That kind of humor is just out of place now.”

The Age of Zinc: The Wright Lead & Zinc Company

An example of an investment letter, click on image to find larger versions.

The Wright Lead and Zinc Company of Chicago, Illinois, was one of hundreds of companies that sought shareholders to help finance its mining ventures in Joplin. The president of the company, Walter Sayler, was an ambitious Chicago lawyer. A.H. Wilson, treasurer, was partner in a large real estate company and John W. Wright, secretary, was a “mining expert.”

He, along with his fellow officers and directors of the company, sent out circular letters advertising the opportunity to purchase stock in the anticipation that the company would strike it rich in the lead and zinc mines of Southwest Missouri.

The company’s letter must have intrigued a few investors. The stock was said to be a “safe 12 per cent investment; a probable 3; a possible 48.”

The company owned over 500 acres of land divided between four properties. Wright Lead and Zinc planned to sink twenty shafts across its four properties, and expected to make an estimated $40,000 per month before payroll, royalties, material, and other costs, leaving a $20,000 profit.

In case one might have doubts about investing, the letter included a circular with endorsements from various politicians and businessmen, descriptions of Joplin and mining operations, and a selection of “Tales of Fortune.”

Joplin was described as “utterly unlike any other mining camp in the United States. It is a combination of the east and west, of the north and the south. It is at bottom an agricultural and commercial town, upon which has been superimposed a thick layer of American birth.”

It was in Joplin that one tenderfoot, along with his partner, was seemingly hoodwinked by two seasoned local miners when they purchased a piece of land long thought tapped out. But the two greenhorns, not knowing any better, worked their land and eventually struck a new vein of ore that allowed them to buy a new hoist and other mining equipment. Within a few months, they had cleared $33,000 in profits. Then there was the story of a young man from Kansas City who, with $150 in capital, began work on a modest claim. He found enough ore to build a mining plant which he then used to bring up $30,000 out of the mine.

Even Mrs. M.C. Allen, Joplin’s famous mining queen, was mentioned as one of the mining district’s success stories. Having failed to sell her land for $50 an acre, she leased it, and made a fortune. Intriguingly, after telling of Allen’s success, the circular added, “Among the mine operators of the district are several women, and almost without exception they have done well or have prospects of making large profits in the near future. Their lack of mining knowledge is more than offset by the gallantry of the land owners and promoters, who see to it that the ladies who so pluckily venture into mining are given the best locations and every assistance [sic] possible.”

As the circular noted, “One of the richest men in Joplin was once a bartender; another drove a brewery wagon; others labored in the mines or worked in stores or on farms, and had only their hands to work with. Riches came to the lucky ones.”

But the days of luck were over. Within a few decades the mines of Joplin would stand still, only to fade away, leavening behind faint memories of a proud mining history.