A story from an earlier Joplinite

W.S. Gray, a machinery dealer located at 718 Jackson Avenue in Joplin, regaled a News-Herald reporter with stories of working for Moffet and Sergeant in the early 1870s.

Gray told the reporter, “I saw an article about the Cave Creek, Ark., zinc district in your Sunday issue,” he said. “it reminds me of the good days; it reminded me of the longest hike I ever undertook – a nice little 300-mile jaunt, all the way from Cave back to Joplin; and say, my friend, I always liked fish, but let me tell you I ate so many fish on that hike that I couldn’t even look a bottle of fish scale glue in the face for two years; and I snubbed one of my best old friends, John Finn, because the son of his name made me sick – but I’ve since recovered and can eat as many fish today as ever.”

He continued, “I was in the employ of the Moffet and Sergeant smelter here when I received an offer to be superintendent of construction at an air furnace that was to be built in the Cave Creek, Ark., district. It was my first job as supe and I was so proud of it. I broke the sweat band in my hat. It was about ’76 when we lined up for duty in the Arkansas wilds and began work on the new smeltery. Some time later things were running fine and we shipped a couple of carloads of lead – the pigs being carried overland in wagons to Russellville, Ark. When we came back to work again at the furnace the head bookkeeper drove over to a little place to get some drafts cashed. He sold the team and never came back – and not a cent of money did I get for my first job as superintendent. So the smelter closed down, and Lem Cassidy and myself – Cassidy is long since dead – started back afoot for Joplin. We knew the houses would be few and far between and that our grub must largely consist of fish. We laid in enough tackle to carry us through and started. Grasshoppers made the best bait imaginable and we had no trouble keeping our larder well stocked. We carried a little skillet, a coffee pot, and blankets with us. It was in the fall of the year, and walking was delightful. I have aways looked upon this jaunt as one long vacation. We took our time and enjoyed the beauties of the country. Sometimes we were fortunate in getting bread and vegetables from farmers, but such occasions were rare.”

According to the annual Report of the Geological Survey of Arkansas for 1905, lead mining began in the Cave Creek, Arkansas, mining district in 1876. “The pig lead was hauled by wagon to Russellville on the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railway and thence shipped to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.”

Source: Joplin News-Herald


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2 Responses to “A story from an earlier Joplinite”


  • Comment from Mike Howard

    Interesting story, and that was Cave Creek Mining District in Newton County, AR, right? I ran a mileage calculator on that distance and it came out to 93 miles. Of course on foot it could have been a few miles further and was certainly a long and wild trip by foot! I wish the author had told how many days he and his friend were on the road back home.

    One person I met had this district confused with Cave Creek in Independence Co. Arkansas, but it only had a single prospect pit, not several mines as the mentioned area. The early AGS report does state that one of the mines, the Confederate, was opened as early as 1864 by Confederate soldiers and later in 1876 & 77 had its shaft deepened to 160 feet.

  • Comment from Brown

    One of those frustrating things about reading experiences in articles from a century ago are things that the writer assumes everyone knows and takes for granted, which ultimately leave us present day folks out in the cold! It sounds like it would be the Newton County mining district due to its proximity.


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