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.”

Toilers of Darkness

In the following story that we have presented in its entirety below, an anonymous Globe reporter writes in a florid style that one no longer finds in the pages of today’s newspapers. The article demonstrates a style of journalism that no longer exists as editors now demand clarity and conciseness, not flowery run-on sentences. One rarely thinks of the people who work the night shift, but as this article shows, little has changed since the turn of the century. We still rely upon the police, the fire department, security guards, janitors, and twenty-four hour fast food restaurants to look after us in the wee hours of the morning. And, as the reporter neglected to mention, far more women may have worked the night shift than he realized, only as soiled doves in Joplin’s red light district.

“In the hours of darkness, while thousands of Joplin people are wrapped tightly in the arms of Morpheus, hundreds of others are toiling for those who are unconscious of what is going on around them at that hour, keeping the big mill of life in one continuous grind.

It is not often that the average person gives a thought to those who are laboring during the hours of the night, after their daily toil is completed.  Some hurry home to a hearty supper and a pleasant evening with the family, while others remain to enjoy a good production at the local theater or visit with a friend, but few of those think of others, who are at that very hour preparing to take their places and keep the great machinery of life well lubricated, so that it will run again the next day without a hitch.

It will be of extreme interest and will, no doubt, cause great surprise to thousands of Joplin people to know that more than 1,000 inhabitants of this city work throughout the entire night, besides there are hundreds of others who devote half the night to labor.

In its slumber the city must still be supplied with heat, light and water, its homes must be protected from fire, its streets and stores must be guarded and food for thirty-five thousand mouths must be prepared before the dawn.  And all of this work and much more must fall to the lot of the toilers of darkness.  Year in and year out, the city as a great workshop never rests period.  While the day working people of Joplin are seeking relaxation, and while later hundreds of homes are quiet in slumber, a small army of tireless men and boys, and some cases women, is swaying back and forth in the nightly routine of their work, keeping up the great gind.

While thousands of Joplin people are sleeping, hundreds of miners are at work, bakers make bread for the slumberers to consume the next day; messengers boys hurry in every direction, firemen jump from their cots at the sound of the gong, ready to protect the sleepers from the ravages of fire; officers pace the streets in an effort to keep order; telephone girls are always on the alert to answer midnight call and hundreds of others stop only long enough to eat their midnight luncheon and then continue until dawn gives them the signal to retire.

Janitors and porters spend the weary hour of the night with their brushes and mops, preparing the hotel lobbies and business blocks for the next day’s work.  Often times, these creatures are overworked, and they are helped in some cases by their wives, sisters and friends.

Night scenes among the railway employees are filled with variety.  The hours of these night workmen are long, most of them coming on duty at 6:30 o’clock in the evening and working until that time in the morning.  In the switching yards, the night visitor may see the most interesting side of railroading.  In stations along the line, there are yard clerks, watchmen, roundhouse employees, car checkers and night operators.  The Missouri Pacific employs a force of 15 men during the night.  This includes a baggage man and operator at the passenger depot, yardmen and roundhouse employees, who are kept busy with the engines, keeping them clean and in repair.  The Frisco employs 16 and the Kansas City Southern nearly as many.

In Joplin there are at least a half dozen restaurants kept open throughout the entire night.  Waiters, cashiers, cooks and dishwashers have little time during these long hours for idleness.  In the saloons, which are never closed until the lid smothers the lights early Sunday morning, there are at least two men – the bartender and the porter.  Some places employ three men, and even four men during the night.

A large number of private watchmen work during the night.  Almost every person knows of the 14 patrolmen who guard the city by night, few stop to think of the many, who, in factories and stores, tramp ceaseless, only stopping at intervals to rest.  Some firms have old men for the work of watchmen, and others only employ young men.  The work is lonely and the hours are long, and in many firms the watchmen are on a constant tramp.  Next is the squad of regular officers, whose work is just as tiresome – but with much more variety perhaps, than that of the private watchmen.  Some are patrolling gloomy alleys, while others are watching the stores and residences, always ready to defend the lives and possessions of their sleeping brothers.

Electricians may be summoned to fix broken wires.  Often times they have to climb roofs and fire escapes [while the] working world is asleep, is an experience of unusual interest.

For a spectacular sight, one should visit a foundry.  During the day it may be interesting, but at night when in dark and dangerous places, where only great care makes the feat possible.

To visit the industrial places of Joplin night, when a weird quietness hangs over the city, and the day-darkness settles over the city, the scene is one of splendor.  At present, however, there are few foundries working night shifts.

Among the unceasing of the night are the dozen or more cab and baggage drivers of Joplin.  It matters not whether the weather be warm or cold, rain or snow, these fellows go just the same.

As near as can be estimate, there are thirty restaurant employees laboring during the entire night and about the same number at the hotels.  The hotels employ a night clerk, one or two porters, as many bell boys, an engineer and sometimes a helper for the latter.  From 20 to 25 saloon employees are at work, and in more than 100 concentrating mills, that operate at night, about 500 men tramp to and fro to their work as the sun rises and sets.  Engineers, electricians and watchmen are kept busy at the lighting plants, there being about 12 in all.  One postal clerk operates at the post office between the hours of six o’clock in the evening and four in the morning, when he is relieved.  About six telephone girls remain at the boards from 10 o’clock at night until 6 in the following morning.

Three of the bakeries work night shifts, there being a score or more of breadmakers all told.  14 firemen stay ready to respond to their calls, and three telegraph operators at are at work in the Western Union and postal companies’ offices.  Three or four messenger boys work throughout the entire night, and often times others are summoned to help the boys with their messages.

The Globe a force of 26 men, who all work until the grey hours of the morning.  From 2 to 4 nurses are on the alert at St. John’s hospital.  The Wells Fargo Express company employs two men during the night, and many others grind out their work night after night.

To give complete details about Joplin’s toilers of darkness would be almost an impossibility, but there is one other fact highly worthy of notice.  While women have, to some extent, usurped the places of men in many occupations and callings of the day, the sterner sex has yet a monopoly on night work.  Except for the telephone operators, there are few women night workers.  It is estimated not more than 5% of the night workers are women.”

 

Source: Joplin Daily Globe

The Hard and Deadly World of Joplin Mining

For 30 days in 1914, Dr. Anthony J. Lanza, an assistant surgeon of the United States Public Health Service, joined Edwin Higgins, a mining engineer from the Bureau of Mines, in a special investigation into the pulmonary problems of miners in the West visited the lead and zinc mines of Joplin and the surrounding area, spoke with miners, mine owners, and the widows of miners. They studied the mines, the process of mining, and the sanitation practices both above and below ground. Their goal was to understand why miners were seemingly dying in the prime of life from what appeared to be tuberculosis or something very similar to it.

Shovelers filling a cart instead of the usual bucket.

The “miner’s consumption” appeared at a frightfully high percentage of the miner population. In figures provided by Lanza, the doctor noted that of the 1,215 deaths in the general population of Jasper County in 1911, 180 of them were from tuberculosis. This meant over 14% of those who died did so from the pulmonary disease. In the next two years, the percentage grew to 15%. From 1911 through 1913, Jasper County lead the state in tuberculosis deaths.

An organization established to track the disease amongst miners, the Jasper County Antituberculosis Society, offered even grimmer statistics. In 1912, 720 miners died of a pulmonary disease who had worked two or more years in the mines. Some of these deaths occurred outside of Jasper County, as miners had moved elsewhere in the vain hope of better health conditions. Mine operators, whom Lanza spoke with, estimated anywhere from 50 to 60% of their men suffered from some kind of lung trouble. One operator offered the frightful story that over a four year period he had employed 750 men in the mine. Of that number, only 50 remained alive and of the 700 who had perished, only a dozen had died from something other than a pulmonary disease.

Freshly blasted ore waits to be shoveled into a nearby waiting bucket.

Lanza opted to physically examine volunteers in Webb City and Carterville with 99 miners stepping forwarded for the free health exam. Of the 99, 64 suffered from obvious symptoms of pulmonary disease. Of that 64, 42 continued to work below in the mines. Lanza believed that the best way to understand why the miners of Jasper County suffered such high rates of pulmonary disease, he would need to understand the basic aspects of lead and zinc mining in the district. As a result, his report includes a detailed summary of how the valuable ore was mined.

In 1913, approximately 5,988 men were employed in the mining industry in Jasper County, and of that number, 4,242 were miners. They mined 226,738 tons of ore of a value of 9.75 million dollars. With regard to the geology of mining, the ore was generally found in two locations. In sheet ground deposits, on average 180 feet beneath the surface and in irregular pockets, mostly in limestone, which were found at usually shallow depths (such as the discovery of ore during the construction of the Joplin Union Depot). In Lanza’s study, the doctor focused on the former.

A typical mine began with the sinking of a shaft to the depth of the ore. Once it was established, the mine eventually resembled one giant chamber composed of multiple support pillars within a fan shaped area. The pillars were essentially ore that wasn’t mined, ten to twenty feet wide, and left at intervals from twenty to a hundred feet. The space between the pillars was dictated by the quality and composition of the surrounding stone and ceiling. Lanza commented that at the time of the study, the average practice was from forty to sixty feet apart. As mining itself took place in drifts, and the drifts ultimately became interconnected, and it was the support pillars which offered a means to identify one drift from another.

On top, an overhead perspective of a mine. On the bottom, a demonstration of the depth of a mine.

The area actually mined was essentially the wall of the drift which was referred to as the face. Miners either worked the face vertically, keeping the face uniform from the ceiling to the floor, or if the size of the ore deposit was large enough, used a “heading and bench” technique. This practice involved mining deeper into the face for several feet down from the ceiling and then letting a “bench” or “shelf” to be created below it where the mining allowed more of the face to extend outward.

Diagram of Heading and Bench approach to mining the face of the mine.

The mining itself was accomplished by drilling into the face, inserting dynamite into the drill holes, blasting the face, and then shoveling the ore freed from the wall into a bucket to be sent up to the surface. Drilling was almost always accomplished through the use of an air powered piston drill operated by two men, a driller and a helper. When drilling into a regular face, the drilled holes were on average eight to ten feet in depth and the drill was set on a pedestal. When drilling into the heading the drill was usually set on a tripod. The drilled holes were six to eight feet in depth, and when drilling into the “bench” part of the face, could be up to eighteen feet in length.

The process of loading the drill holes with dynamite was known as “squibbing.” Anywhere from 1 to 75 sticks of dynamite were used to “squib” the holes and the actual blasting (also referred to as squibbing) usually occurred at lunch time, while the miners went off to enjoy their meals. However, squibbing  could happen at any time, even with miners still in the mine (though at a safe distance from the blast). A minor form of squibbing occurred when drills became slowed or stuck due to debris clogging the drill in the hole and small amounts of dynamite were set off to clear the hole. Sometimes further blasting was also necessary when boulders were produced by the blasting process, too big to be smashed by sledge hammer. Blowing up a boulder was referred to as “boulder popping.”

Three miners pose by a drill.

Once the ore was reduced to blasted rubble, the men moved in with shovels and loaded buckets, commonly called “cans.” Each can held between 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of “dirt.” Once loaded, the miners pushed the heavy bucket to a switch known as a “lay by” where it was then placed in a truck (not the automobile kind) and moved by mules or miners to the shaft. At the bottom of the shaft awaited the “tub hooker” who hooked the loaded buckets to the bottom of a steel rope (often ½ to 5/8ths in width). On the other end of the rope was a geared hoist powered either by electricity or steam. The operator’s seat was positioned so he could look directly down the shaft below. Carefully the bucket was raised to the top of the shaft, dumped, and then lowered back down without every leaving the rope it was attached to, ready to be put back into service.

Lanza, after addressing the process of lead and zinc mining, turned his attention to conditions in the mines. He discovered that mines with two or more shafts generally had good ventilation. The larger the mine, the better the air, and Lanza commented that at least in the Webb City and Carterville area, due to interconnected mines, men could walk for several miles without ascending to the surface. Interestingly, the doctor also noted that the mines used very little in the way of timber, which in other mines was often a source of carbon dioxide.

On average, the temperature in the mine at the working face ranged from 58 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Though, these temperatures were gathered at a time Lanza said was seasonally “ideal” and he believed the temperatures would be more severe in hotter months.

Water was a constant source of irritation for miners and in varying degrees. In some mines, pumps were required only to remove a few gallons. In others, as much as 1,500 gallons a minute had to be pumped out of the mine. The water contributed to high levels of humidity, but unfortunately as discovered, did little to reduce the amount of dust the process of mining produced and tossed into the air to be inhaled by the miners.

The dust came from many sources, drilling, blasting, popping boulders, and even a process of clearing drill hose by blowing out dust with powerful blasts of air. Nor did the dust immediately settle once disturbed, but had a tendency to fill every part of the mine and simply remain suspended in the air for a considerable amount of time. Enough dust was created by shoveling the ore, unless the ore was wet and Lanza commented that shovelers sometimes preferred to shovel in pools of water when available. However, this was done because the water loosened the dirt up, not as a precautionary measure against the airborne menace.

The dust collecting apparatus.

In order to measure the amount of dust particles in the mines, Lanza introduced a dust gathering apparatus worn over the mouth. The device collected dust by intercepting it as it was inhaled through a glass bulb and then the exhaled air was collected in a special bag. The method to devise the amount of dust per breath was performed by measuring the amount of captured dust in the bulb against the amount of air breathed (exhaled) into the bag.

It was discovered that the dust in the Joplin district was much lighter than that found in mining locations around the world, including England and South Africa. This meant that the dust was more likely to linger in the air longer than in other places. The dust particles were also made up of flinty chert, which had splintery and knife-like edges perfect for destroying lungs. These attributes then combined with a mining practice which exacerbated the impact of these qualities. The mining was done in large open chambers, versus more confined spaces. This allowed for a greater dispersal of the dust.

Lanza made a number of recommendations to reduce the amount of dust in the air. First, implement drills that used water to wet down the face at the same time as drilling. If that type of drill was not available, then at least the provision of a hose to water down the face of the mine. Second, stop squibbing (blasting) and popping boulders while miners are still in the mines. Third, improve ventilation with new shafts.

Miners stand by two filled buckets and are surrounded by boulders likely to be "popped" in the near future.

The doctor’s study was not restricted to just dust, but to other contributing factors to high rates of pulmonary disease. Among them, sanitary conditions in the mines, or as Lanza discovered, the lack thereof. On average, most mines employed between 25 to 30 men, and while privies were established on the surface, there were none in the mines. Despite a rule against “ground pollution,” Lanza noted that there was “much evidence of this abuse.” In conclusion, he reported that “wretchedly insanitary privies are only too common everywhere in the district.”

Drinking water was also a concern. In some mines, a keg of water with a common drinking cup were found. In others, simple upturned spigots were provided. What both had in common, to the investigator’s dismay, was the ease by which germs could be spread mouth to mouth by thirsty miners. In small mines, Lanza believed the best solution was for every miner to bring his own water down for consumption.

Above ground, an innocuous problem existed. The failure of miners to use change houses, places where they could change out of the clothes from the mines into a set of clothes clean of the ever present dust. Instead, the miners often preferred to go from the mine straight to town. Another issue involved men coming out of the mine with wet clothes from the moist conditions, and then heading off in cold weather. Eager as the miners were to be done with their underground work, Lanza discovered many took lunches (dinner) for only 20 minutes, eating quickly and returning back to work so as to leave sooner in the evening. This short lunch deprived the men of the needed physical rest and made them more vulnerable to sickness and other physical ailments.

Beyond the working conditions and practices, Lanza focused on the system itself in how miners were paid and worked. Shovelers, he found, were paid by the “piece.” This meant for every can (bucket) of ore they filled, they were paid between five and eight cents. Every bucket’s capacity, in turn, averaged around 1,000 to 1,650 pounds. Experienced shovelers made between 3 to 5 dollars a day. By the application of quick math, this means that on a daily basis, shovelers moved at the least 60,000 lbs of ore/dirt a day to at least a staggering 93,750 lbs a day. Many of the shovelers were young men, who began around the age of 18 or 19, and initially could fill between 60 to 70 cans a day. Some claimed that there were miners who even filled over a 100 cans, which meant over 100,000 lbs. It was back breaking hard work and of the kind that gradually broke the men physically. Within two to six years, the shovelers’ output declined and their daily capacity was reduced to around 35 to 40 cans.

Young men often were shovelers, enjoying a job that paid well but demanded backbreaking and dehabilitating work.

Lanza included a grim timeline of the decline and death of a shoveler in the mines, here quoted in its tragic entirety:

“After a few years of shoveling, the shoveler finds himself beginning to get short-winded and his strength failing. When he comes to the point where he feels exhausted at the end of his day’s work and feels “groggy” when he starts in the morning, he begins to rely on alcoholic stimulation to see him through, and if it has not already done so, alcohol now begins to lend a hand in furthering physical breakdown. The next step in the process is tuberculosis infection, and when the shoveler finds that he is no longer able to make a living shoveling, he gets work as a machine man or machine helper. He finally becomes unable to work, and as these men usually work as long as they possibly can, death follows not long after cessation of work, most often when the man should be in the prime of life. Usually a fair-sized family is left behind and is apt to need charitable assistance”

Lanza concluded, “Although this sequence of events has not occurred in every case of fatal illness among miners, it is fairly typical of a great many.” His only solution was to prevent young men from being employed as shovelers in hope that the few years prior to engaging in the practice might mean more years later to live.

Lastly, Lanza directed his attention toward the homes of miners above ground. There he found that many families dwelled in two to three room “shacks,” often without water and only as clean as the circumstances allowed. Commonly, the shacks were rented, though for a low price, within the area near the mines. They were “of the type most readily associated with poverty and disease.” Drinking water came either through barrels supplied and drawn from deep nearby wells, or if the homes were within the city limits, then provided by the city through piping. Lanza lamented what he perceived to be  spendthrift habits amongst the miners, and stated he believed most were all too ready to spend the money they earned, rather than save for the future. The result, when pulmonary disease struck and the men became unable to work, or work as well, the families quickly became destitute.

His investigation of the Joplin mining district over, Lanza summarized what was discovered. The death rate from pulmonary disease was unusually high for the district. Alcoholism, use of common drinking receptacles, poor housing, exposure and over work, helped to spread infection and lower resistance. The number one reason for the high rate, Lanza believed, was the impact of the dust, which miners were exposed to nearly every minute of their shifts, and the composition of the dust as sharp and knife-like.

Miners stand by multiple empty buckets, possibly the lay by area. Note the hooks on the buckets for hoisting to the surface.

The doctor believed that the problem the dust posed could be eradicated almost completely by the use of water in the drilling process, improving ventilation, and making sure miners were not in the mine when blasting or squibbing was performed. Health problems could also be further alleviated by not employing men under the age of 20, by providing drinking sources which weren’t communal, a limit on the daily tonnage shoveled by miners, education to miners and their families on better health practices, and providing warm, dry places for miners to change after their shifts.

Lanza’s study of the Joplin mining district was part of a growing concern in occupational safety, be it in factories in the great northern cities, or in the mines of Southwest Missouri. At this time, we can’t speak to the immediate impact of the study on the Joplin mines, but if for nothing, the study provides a capture of what mining lead and zinc in the Joplin district was like and the dangers that it poised to its miners.

Source: Pulmonary disease among miners in the Joplin district, Missouri, and its relation to rock dust in the mines,” by A.J. Lanza, Google Books for diagrams and image of dust collecting apparatus.

Riches From the Earth

A typical mining scene around Joplin.

A typical mining scene around Joplin.

From time to time, we like to point out resources for Joplin’s and Southwest Missouri’s history.  For those of you who haven’t glanced at our links page, you likely haven’t noticed the link to Missouri Digital Heritage.  At that site is located the repository of the Joplin Public Library digital postcard collection which was used to great effect by Patrick McPheron in his Joplin video that we posted a couple days ago.  However, that’s not all that you can find at Missouri Digital Heritage worth looking at with concern to Joplin.  Another fantastic resource is Riches from the Earth.

Riches from the Earth describes its purpose as, “Riches of the Earth provides a basic introduction to the geological and industrial heritage of the Tri-State Mineral District. This district encompasses southwest Missouri, southeast Kansas, and northeast Oklahoma and was one of the United States’ richest mineral districts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”  More importantly, it’s focused entirely on Jasper County, the “heart of the Tri-State Mineral District.”  What follows is 261 images of mining, from mines to miners, to even a few mules.

Interior of a Joplin Mine

Interior of a Joplin Mine

The project is a collaboration between the Powers Museum, Missouri Southern’s Spiva Library Archives and Special Collections, the Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Rolla at the Missouri University of Science and Technology (U of Missouri – Rolla), and the Joplin Museum Complex.  It should be noted that if you have hopes of taking a peek at any of the Joplin Museum Complex’s photograph collection, this will be your only bet outside of buying one of the couple books the museum has deigned to publish periodically.  At this time, the photograph collection is generally off limits to the inquiring public (and in the process – Joplinites are cut off from freely accessing the best photographic and visual depiction of the city’s past).

Photograph access aside, Riches From the Earth is a good source for historic images of Joplin’s and Jasper County’s mining past.  It does suffer some from the slightly clunky interface of Missouri Digital Heritage website, but it’s a small price to pay for a glimpse into the past.

Note: All images are from Historic Joplin’s own collection.

The Other Crystal Cave – Pack Your Canoe

In the spring of 1910, miners of the Lincoln Mine in nearby Duenweg set off a charge in the walls of the mine.  The earth shuddered and thunder rumbled from the earth instead of the sky.  Then something not quite expected happened, water poured out of the breach in the wall and flooded the mine.  As a precaution, the miners had set off the charges from a safe distance and the subterranean flood caused only disruption of mining activities and no physical harm.

In the weeks that followed the water was pumped out and finally miners with their sunshine lamps beamed light into what appeared to be a cavern 240 feet beneath the earth.  The light glistened off of walls and a ceiling of calcite crystals and the reflective surface of an underground lake.  The lake ran north south within the crystal cavern that averaged forty feet in width and fifty feet in height.  The miners quickly hauled down a canoe with which to explore the length of the lake and noted that the cave’s “beauty far eclipses anything heretofore discovered in the district.”  The exploration was short lived as a “monster tiff crystal” suddenly detached from the ceiling and smashed through the middle of the miners’ craft.

As the water continued to be pumped, the lake receded from a pitched ceiling of razor sharp crystals and the miners slowly gained more and more access to the lake via both canoe and by foot.  Eventually, as such barriers as the sharp crystals and the dark waters presented fully pinpointing the cave’s end, the miners believed the cavern ran from at least 800 feet to thousands of feet into the earth.  While the ground was probed for zinc or lead, the mining company ran into the problem of falling crystals.  Every shot and blast from elsewhere in the mine or neighboring mines shook the earth and caused the razor edged calcite crystals to plummet from the ceiling.  For at least then, the miners had to settle for a bounty of beauty, if not jack and lead.

The present state of this other crystal cave is unknown, but like its better known associate within Joplin’s city limits, its likely once again filled with water, perhaps someday to be plied again by canoe.

Source: Joplin News Herald

A Rainstorm Floods Joplin – The Flood of 1916

The last few weeks have been scorching hot in southwest Missouri.  In 1916, however, a sudden cloudburst wreaked havoc upon Joplin that seems almost unreal.

A “severe electrical storm” began at 10:30 at night with a host of giant storm clouds that hovered over the city until they burst and flooded the city below.

The deluge began with 5 and ¾ inches of rain during the night, followed by 5 and ½ inches within a two hour period in the morning.  The rain was accompanied by a savage hailstorm that forced pedestrians to run for shelter.  The downpour continued throughout the afternoon and in just a few minutes more than an inch of rain had fallen.  Total rainfall was estimated at 6 9/10 to 7 inches.  Long time Joplin residents remarked that it was the most severe storm the city had experienced.

According to C.W.  Glover of 216 North Wall Street, the rainstorm was nothing compared to one that ravaged Joplin in July, 1875.  According to Glover, it rained for three days and three nights.  Joplin Creek, which divided East Joplin from West Joplin, became a raging torrent that no one dared cross.  Professor William Hartman, a musician, and his wife were drowned, and several others were almost lost when seeking shelter or attempting to rescue those endangered by the flood waters.  Joplin’s horse drawn trolley was unable to travel to Baxter Springs due to the washed out roads and streets.

The 1916 storm was so sudden that it caught many people off guard.  John Moore, Edward Poe, and Peter Adamson, miners working in the Coralbut  (formerly the Quaker) mine west of Chitwood, were drowned when rainwater swept down into the mine at such a furious rate that they were unable to escape in time.  Unfortunately for the three miners, the water had pooled at the top of the mine behind piles of debris that had formed an old mine pond when the debris gave way and a torrent of water flooded the mine shaft.

Zinc mine in Joplin

A retaining pond like this one doomed 3 miners when it burst during the storm.

Altogether there were twelve men in the mine and they scrambled on top of some boulders as the water began to rise.  The hoisterman at the surface lowered a tub to rescue them, but the water was so high and the current so strong that the men were reluctant to jump across the water into the tub.  Nine of the miners were able to escape before the water overtook them.  Moore, Poe, and Adamson said they could not swim and thought they would be safe on top of the boulders.  It was not before long, though, that the hoisterman heard them call for help.   One of them yelled, “For God’s sake, get a boat before we drown!” It was too late.  They were unwilling to jump to the tub across the raging water and were drowned despite the efforts of their fellow miners to go down in the tub and try to reach them.  The bodies of three men were not immediately located by rescuers.

One of the miners who escaped, Roy Clark, had been a sailor on a tramp steam freighter out of Queenstown.  He declared after his harrowing experience that he was “through with mining.” Clark, who claimed he had developed strong swimming skills as a sailor, said he would not have dared to swim through the water that had flooded the mine.  Another miner who had been in the mine, C.E.  Evans, said he had warned his fellow workers about the storm.  He said he had picked up hailstones as big as his thumb that had fallen into the mine and knew that trouble was not far off.  By the time they saw the water pour in and ran for the boulders, he said, the water was up to their waists and rising.  The tub, he said, was slow in coming.  Evans’s fellow miner, Lowery, was standing on a boulder with water up to his chin when he was able to get to the tub.

Even those who were in the safety of their own home were not shielded from the storm.  William Langley, a 70 year old gardener, drowned in his home at Second and Ozark streets when it was submerged by water due to the home being situated next to a steep draw that funneled water down into the house.

William Langley's Death Certificate

William Langley's Death Certificate only notes an accidental drowning

When rescuers broke into Langley’s home, they found that the water had been only six inches from the ceiling.  Some families in Chitwood sought refuge on top of their homes as the water began to rise, while others remained in storm shelters, still afraid to venture out due to the lightning and hail of the past few hours.

Mines suffered damage.  The Grace Mine mill, located a mile north of Chitwood, and the Longfellow school building were both hit by lightning.  Mine owner W.H.  Gross of 318 West Eighth Street estimated damages at $15,000.  Several other mine buildings were struck by lightning but did not burn.  Many more were filled with water and required large pumps to remove the water.  Total damages for mines across the Joplin area were estimated at $200,000.

The storm of 1916 caused severe damage to downtown Joplin.  Main Street from Fourth to Sixth streets was a “white-capped torrent for more than two hours” with a depth of two to five feet deep in some places.  Businesses along this section of downtown reported losses of $100,000.  Fleischaker Dry Goods, Christman’s, and Ramsay’s suffered severe flood damage.  Ramsay’s lost all of the merchandise stored in the building’s basement which was filled with six feet of water at one point.  Christman’s reported $10,000 in losses.  Merchandise located on the lower shelves of the stores was thoroughly soaked.

Ramsay's Department Store

Ramsay's Department Store suffered damage from the storm.

Christman's Department Store

Christman's, another victim of the flood damage.

One odd occurrence was when a bolt of lightning struck two wax figures in the Menard Store located at 423 Main Street.  One of the figures was completely melted while the other was only scorched on the arm.

At the Commercial billiard parlor at 521 Main Street, seven billiards tables were ruined.  Not far down the street the Priscilla Dress Shop at 513 Main lost several expensive Parisian gowns valued at $3,000, artwork estimated to be worth $2,000, and $300 of electrical fixtures destroyed.

It seemed as if no business escaped the wrath of the storm.  The Farrar-Stephens Auto Tire Company at 520 Joplin Street reported damages of $5,000 while Kresge 5 and 10 Store lost merchandise valued at $5,000.  The Joplin Pittsburg Railway Company suffered $2,500 in losses.  The Burke Cigar and Candy Store and the Electric Theater building only had $2,000 in damages.  Even the vaunted House of Lords suffered $500 of damage.

Joplin’s Hello Girls found that the storm caused $10,000 worth of losses.  Nearly 4,000 telephones were out of service after the rain stopped, almost half of Joplin’s total number of phones.  Poles were down, wires severed, circuits dead, and fuses blown all over town.  Long distance lines, however, received very little damage.  Phone company officials considered it a miracle.

Bridges and roads were hit hard.  At least two large bridges were washed out, including the Joplin and Pittsburg Railway Company bridge over Turkey Creek.  Track was twisted and torn up and down the line.  A “masonry bridge over Turkey Creek at Range Line” was supposed to have been totaled at a cost of $1,000.  Trains from the Kansas City Southern, Frisco, and Missouri & North Arkansas railroads were unable to roll into Joplin.

One enterprising young man captured a bathtub that floated out of a plumbing shop and used it as a canoe to paddle through downtown.  Others joined him in boats and canoes (undoubtedly those who enjoyed fishing on the Spring River) while others just waded into the torrential streams of water.  Barrels, boards, and all sorts of other debris clogged the streets and alleys.  Citizens worked to grab the debris before it smashed out store windows and created more damage.

Giant potholes waited to twist ankles for those who dared to walk through the muddy water.  Motorists were asked by city officials to drive slowly lest they hit a pothole and total their cars.  Sidewalks were washed out as were sections of wood block pavement from Main Street to the Frisco rail tracks.  City parks were ravaged.  A sewer main burst at the North Main street viaduct and created a health hazard.

Joplin was battered, but not broken.   In time, debris was removed, mud swept away, and the ravages of nature relegated to memory.

Pay Day

Joplin zinc miners

Undoubtedly, not a few miners dreamed of pay day while in the mines.

In Joplin, miners lined up for their weekly wages on Saturday. At the turn of the century, one paper reported that many of the leading mining companies were reluctant to pay workers on Saturday, but “the average miner will quit his job unless he is paid on Saturday and miners are scarce in this district.”

Paychecks were the primary method of payment. The ground boss kept track of his men’s hours and then the mine superintendent approved the final time statement. The statement was then delivered to the bookkeeper who then wrote out the checks. The mine superintendent then handed out the checks. Most mining companies reportedly employed fifteen to thirty men and their checks averaged $10 to $13 with each company shelling out anywhere between $300 to $700 for labor. As soon as they were paid, most miners went to the nearest bank to cash their checks, so Joplin bankers had to be sure to have enough money on hand on Saturdays, with many miners preferring to be paid in silver. Miners who had cashed their check were said to have “busted up.”

Banks were not the only ones who cashed checks. The saloon keepers of Chitwood and Smelter Hill may have cashed more checks than the banks. The paper observed, “The saloon man is accommodating; he always is.” One bank teller stated, “It used to be that we were obliged to keep open until 9 o’clock every Saturday night to transact the run of business, but now we finish and close by 8 o’clock. We do not cash near as many checks over the bank counter as a few years ago. The saloons and business houses are doing that part.”

The Joplin chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) tried to convince local mine superintendents to refrain from “settling their men in saloons” but failed to sway a majority, thus leaving the saloons an inviting place for miners to cash their checks and have a drink. Thus the streets of Joplin remained a lively, bustling place to be on a hot Saturday night.

Source: Joplin newspaper

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Miner’s Wife Scorned

Saloons were not the only places that jealous lovers sought revenge.

On a sunny afternoon in 1899, a dozen miners sat at the entrance to the Boston mine just east of Joplin.  After spending their morning below ground, the sunshine must have provided a welcome relief, but their boisterous talk was soon interrupted when a well dressed woman stormed up to them.  She demanded to know if her husband, Ralph Market, was at the mine.  The miners replied that he was not and that they did not know him.

Mrs.  Market, however, was no fool.  She insisted her husband worked at the mine and demanded to see him.  Once again the miners replied they had never heard of Ralph Market.  Mrs.  Market, frustrated, demanded to be hoisted down into the mine because she knew he must be hiding somewhere in the mine shaft.  The miners tried to tell her that it would be awhile before they descended back into the mine, but Mrs.  Market replied she, “did not care for company on the way down,” assured the men she was not afraid of mine, and wanted to be the first one down so her husband could not escape.

Interior of a Joplin Mine

The interior of a Joplin mine, which might have looked like the mine where Mrs. Market unsuccessfully searched for her husband.

The hoisterman finished his lunch and told Mrs.  Market to step into the tub.  It was probably best that he did.  When she gathered her skirts about her as she prepared to enter the tub, the miners spotted a loaded six-shooter strapped to her waist.  It was then that the “boys then believed that she meant business and they respected her wishes.” Mrs.  Market went down into the shaft without a light, but one was sent down when requested.  She searched the mine but failed to find her husband.  She asked to be returned to the surface and asked for the superintendent’s office to find out if her husband was employed at the mine.  The miners speculated the woman’s actions were the result of jealousy.  Ralph certainly must have had a heck of a welcome when and if he returned home to his wife.

Source: Joplin Globe

The Reminiscences of G.O. Boucher: Part II

The Story of Goldmacher

“One of the old time business men who must not be neglected is an old German by the name of Goldmacher.  He was known to everybody as ‘Moneymaker.’  He erected a building next to Martin’s store. ‘Moneymaker’ built a bake oven and sold bread to the miners.  They were camped up and down Joplin creek.  He also had a supply of cheese, crackers, bologna, and sausage.  He kept a keg of beer on tap at all times.  He brought the beer from Baxter Springs. ‘Moneymaker’ attended strictly to business and paid particular attention to what his name signified.  The town grew rapidly, the miners kept drifting in and he as successful in business.

Everything went well until a gang of miners got into ‘Moneymaker’s’ place one night and got pretty well ‘stewed up.’  ‘Moneymaker’ had a dog which he valued highly.  A part of the bunch stayed inside and kept him interested, while the others got the old man’s dog and strung him to Murphy and Davis’ awning.  All was lovely until the next morning when ‘Moneymaker’ discovered his dog hanged by the neck until dead.  The old man threatened vengeance and posted the following notice in his place of business:

‘I vill gif ten dollars to eny tam rascal vat will dell me vat chentlemens hung my tog mit Murphy’s porch on.’

Boucher did not say whether or not Goldmacher caught the men who killed his dog.

Source: Joplin Globe

Death in the Mines

Lead and zinc mining was the heart and soul of early Joplin. Men toiled in the mines to earn their living or, in many cases, meet their end. There were a variety of ways that death came to those who worked in the mines, often sudden and very violent.

On June 13, 1901, the Carterville Record reported that T. Hibler, a mining engineer working in nearby Galena, fell into a mine shaft over one hundred feet deep while walking to work at 5:30 a.m.  Perhaps it was simply luck, or maybe the manner in which the unfortunate engineer tumbled downward into the darkness, but Hibler survived the fall. Not only did Lady Luck spare his life, but shortly after, a passerby came to his rescue.  Amazingly, Hibler suffered only a few cuts, bruises, and a sprained ankle. He was one of the fortunate as others were not so lucky.

A typical mine in Southwest Missouri

A mine with chat pile looming beside it.

In James Norris’ “AZn: A History of the American Zinc Company” he noted that “In 1897 soaring prices and continued active demand produced large profits for miners in the Joplin zinc-ore district, and the following year was one of the most prosperous in the history of zinc mining.” This boom in lead and zinc mining attracted the attention of wealthy Eastern investors. In 1899, a group of Boston capitalists formed a corporation they called American Zinc, Lead, and Smelting Company. American Zinc, as it was commonly known, became one of the major players in the Tri-State Mining District.

In 1902, Harry S. Kimball was sent to Joplin to evaluate the company’s prospects in Joplin. He later recalled that Joplin was a, “bleak prospect for a tenderfoot to see as his first contact with a mining camp.” Hugh chat and slag piles littered the landscape. Miners were using “relatively simple and inefficient” mining methods.  Thus men who were on the cusp of a century that heralded rapid technological and industrial innovations were operating as if they were still in the Dark Ages.

A primitive hand jig

An example of the primitive technology at play in the mining fields. Here a hand-powered jig.

Historian Arrell M. Gibson describes the various mining techniques used in the Joplin area in his book, “Wilderness Bonanza.” Shafting, which required miners to create a vertical access shaft into the earth, was dangerous work. Miners drilled openings into the rock face and then inserted sticks of dynamite into the holes in order to break up solid rock. Dynamite, if handled incorrectly, was deadly. Miners sometimes had to tamp sticks into place.  This involved tapping the explosive material into a firmer or deeper position. If they neglected to use a wooden stick to tamp in the dynamite, often using a metal bar instead, it could create sparks and cause a premature explosion with devastating effect.

Adding to the danger, miners also used giant powder, which was more powerful than regular black powder, to break up solid rock surfaces. Gibson states that many miners complained that giant powder caused headaches and nausea. But if a miner was fortunate enough not to die in a mine collapse, premature explosion, or suffocate, there was a good chance he would die early from silicosis. Silicosis is a condition caused by breathing in crystalline silica dust.  After a controlled explosion, miners often failed to wet down the rock and as a result, inhaled minute particles of rock dust, which damaged their lungs like invisible razorblades piercing through their lung tissue. Miners who suffered from silicosis experienced shortness of breath, coughing, fever, and even a changing of the color of their skin. Of the many miners who eventually succumbed to the manufactured disease, one was Oscar C. Rosebrough. The thirty-six-year-old miner died of “miner’s consumption” in the summer of 1917.

A photograph of likely zinc or lead miners

Miners posing for a photograph within the dangerous confines of the mine.

Other deaths came suddenly and mercifully for some.  The Carl Junction Standard reported on September 12, 1903, Walter McMahan was telling jokes and laughing with his coworkers at the Edith Mine near Joplin when a large boulder fell from the mine roof and crushed him. Meanwhile, The Carthage Evening Press recounted the death of Riley Marley, who was killed when he and his partner set off two shots of blast in a mine shaft. When one of the shots failed to go off, the two men reentered the mine to re-tamp the shot. As Marley tamped the shot back into place it exploded and drove the tamping rod through his head.  He died instantly. His partner was blinded by the blast but survived.

Much of the danger came from simply entering the mines or processing areas.  In 1905, Nathan Rice was struck on the top of his head by a falling timber. He later died of his injuries. In 1916, John Campbell was killed when he got caught in a drill rig. In 1882, Johnie Craig died when he went into a mine contaminated by bad air. In 1920, Kenneth Everett, a five year old child, died from bad air in an abandoned mine shaft.

Photograph of Joplin steam jig for zinc and lead mining

Far more complex than the hand jig, it's not hard to understand the danger of working around this steam powered jig.

Close calls were common and sometimes bizarre.  In 1902, William Morgan was injured while working in the Big Six Mine when an icicle fell from the top of a mine shaft and hit him in the back. The icicle was heavy enough that it fractured his shoulder blade, but the physician who tended Morgan expected his patient to recover.

The zinc and lead of Joplin brought great wealth to some, work to many, and danger to all who entered the mines to retrieve it.

Sources: “Mine Accidents and Deaths In the Southwestern Area of Jasper County, Missouri, 1868-1906,” Volume I. Compiled by Webb City Area Genealogical Society.  “Mine Accidents and Deaths In the Southwestern Area of Jasper County, Missouri, 1907-1923,” Volume II, “Accidents, Deaths, and Other Events.” Compiled by Webb City Area Genealogical Society. “Wilderness Bonanza” by Arrell M. Gibson