Death Escaped, But Not Avoided

Jesse Laster, circa 1910.

On a May day in 1910, Joplin nearly lost a councilman.  Jesse Laster, not a stranger to the zinc and lead fields of Southwest Missouri, listed zinc mining as his profession in the 1910 Federal Census.  It was that same year that Laster had been elected on the Democratic ticket to represent the Seventh Ward of Joplin.  A father to three, later to add one more son to the son and two daughters he already had, Laster had ventured out with a mine superintendent, Harry Williams, to a mine in Duenweg.

The afternoon sun high above, the 28 year old councilman and Williams made the decision to board a tub to descend to the mine 200 feet below.  Both had years of mining experience and undoubtedly the act of being lowered in the metal container into the dark depths of the mine shaft was a familiar one.  Inside the tub, one or both of the men likely signaled the mine’s hoisterman to lower them down.

The hoisterman was new at his job and the equipment purported to be in good shape.  However, as the tub with the councilman and the superintendent began to lower, the hoisterman released the brake and to his horror, watched the tub with the two men plummet to the bottom of the shaft.  Nothing the hoisterman did slowed or stopped the tumbling tub.  In a sickening sight and loud crash, it smashed into a bucket full of dirt.  Laster and Williams were thrown out and into an adjacent drift, both men knocked unconscious.

It was not uncommon for miners to die in such accidents, but both Laster and Williams survived that day.  When astonished and fearful miners reached the men, they found Williams with severe wounds to the head and a broken arm.  The councilman suffered a cut to the face, an injured shoulder, and a broken right femur.  Williams was taken to his home to recover, Laster was rushed to St. John’s hospital.  At the time of the reporting of the incident, it was believed both men would recover.  Laster did, though only to live for another sixteen years.

The dark eyed and dark haired councilman, perhaps wary of the mining profession, had by 1918 joined the Joplin Police force and achieved the rank of detective.  By 1926, Laster had been promoted and wore the title Chief of Detectives.  On a hot August evening, the chief with his family were heading home when Laster spotted an armed man by the side of the road.  Unknown to the former councilman, the man was engaged in bootlegging and mistakenly believed Laster and his family to be rival bootleggers.  When Laster identified himself, the man shot and killed the 46 year old father of four.  Laster was the tenth Joplin police officer to fall in the line of duty.

 

Sources: 1910 Federal Census, 1920 Federal Census, Joplin Police Department website, and Joplin Daily Globe.

The Curious Fate of Harry Roach

Miners of the Tri-State Mining District

Harry Roach was a young Hoosier who traveled to the Tri-State Mining District to seek his fortune. He found employment with the superintendent of the Troup Mining Company located outside of Carterville. In 1892 Troup, along with two other men, were in the company’s Daisy Mine when the roof collapsed on top of them. The three men were beyond rescue and Harry Roach’s dreams died with him.

 

Three years later, the mine experienced a cave-in, and the remains of Harry Roach were discovered. Miners removed the remains and recovered $3.50 in silver from his clothing. A month later, miners working a drift in the Daisy Mine found several more of Roach’s belongings buried in the rubble. Among the items that were found were a gold pocket watch “in splendid condition” stopped at 2:20; a pocketbook with $45 and some still legible newspaper clippings in good condition; and part of a vest and a shirt. At the time Roach was killed, he was reportedly wearing a “very costly diamond ring” which was not located, as only part of his skeleton had thus been recovered. It was not until another month had passed that miners came across the bones of a foot in a “congress shoe,” a piece of collar bone, a shoulder blade, and two ribs.

Thus was the fate of Harry Roach.

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.

No. 52

No. 52 often visited his friends who worked in the mines.

“No other Chinaman in Joplin has ever enjoyed the distinction of being the mixer that No. 52 was,” the Joplin News Herald remarked, recalling the life of one of the city’s few Chinese residents.

Little is known about “No. 52.” According to an article in the News-Herald, “No. 52” was the nickname of a Chinese immigrant named “Sam Wung, or something of a similar sound.” He was born the son of a fish vendor in Hong Kong. After he fell in love with the daughter of a well-to-do Hong Kong merchant, Sam sought to prove himself worthy of her love. Despite his best efforts, Sam failed to acquire the wealth he sought. So he boarded a ship for the United States, arriving in Louisiana, and found work at a cotton plantation.

Sam found himself working in cotton fields alongside African-Americans. It was also in Louisiana there that he obtained the nickname “No. 52.” “When payday came he received his envelope marked 52. And the title stuck with him.” A man named C.B. Oats met Sam in Louisiana and brought him to Joplin to find work in the mines. When a miner asked, “What’s the Chink’s name?” Oats replied, “They call him No. 52.” The name stuck.

Sam spoke wistfully of the girl he left behind in Hong Kong, but declared he could not return because a group of white men had cut off his queue while in Louisiana. Chinese men were required to wear their hair in a queue [pigtail] in deference to the emperor. If a Chinese citizen disobeyed this order, it was considered treason, and the penalty for disobedience was death. Fearful he would be executed if he returned to Hong Kong, Sam hoped to save up enough money to send for his beloved.

He found work in the mine of Monroe Clark and John F. Wise located on West Third Street just south of the Joplin Overall Factory near Byers Avenue. According to the News-Herald, Sam was the only Chinese immigrant to work in Joplin’s mines. It was explained that “Unlike his fellow yellow skinned brethren who contented themselves with cleaning dirty clothes and eating rice three times a day, No. 52 sought employment with white men, and despite his nationality he became a favorite.”

For “a number of years he labored with white men. Industrious, good natured, and honest, he won for himself an esteem that is seldom granted to Chinamen.” Impressed with Sam and his rapport with miners, John F. Wise offered him a position as a clerk in his grocery store, which Sam accepted. But even though he worked behind a counter, Sam would leave work in the evening to go to the mine and “spend many hours with the boys underground, chatting and telling stories.”

It was on one of these occasions that Sam stepped onto a tub to be lowered into the mine when tragedy struck. As the tub descended, the “can dropped suddenly a distance of fifteen feet, then stopped.” A cable had slipped on the whim [a whim was a large windlass]. Sam was jerked out of the tub and was “dashed to death” on the floor of the mine one hundred and thirty feet below. His broken body was retrieved and laid to rest in Fairview Cemetery. Sam’s grave was marked with a simple stone that read, “No. 52.”

His death brought sorrow to “hundreds of hearts for No. 52 was a popular Chinaman and he numbered his friends by his acquaintances.”

Source: Joplin News Herald

A Joplin Man Writes From the Klondike

Hopeful Gold Miners Begin the Journey into the Klondike

A former Joplin resident headed to Alaska during the great Klondike Rush of the 1890s. He wrote to relatives in Fairfield, Missouri, who shared the letter with the Joplin Globe:

“I will try to write you a few lines in answer to your letter I received this morning. I will have to ask you to excuse this dirty paper, for it is all I have, and paper is hard to get in this country. My partner and I landed in Dawson City yesterday in the best of health, but we are immediately worn out.

We had an awful trip, a trip that tried one both in strength and heart. First, it required one to have a strong constitution. To give you some idea of what we went through with, I will relate a part of our trip from Glenora to Dawson City via Teslin lake. First, it cost us $400 to get 500 pounds of provisions carried from Glenora to Teslin lake, a distance of 200 miles. We had to walk, for it was impossible to get a ride.

Even women tried to walk over but failed. We had to wade streams and mud up to our knees and sleep in wet blankets at night. It took us 21 days to make the trip to Teslin lake. There we had to build a row boat and start down the river and many times my partner wanted to turn back, but I told him no, that I was determined to go through or die in the attempt, for I had long ago learned that a faint heart could conquer nothing.

Now I will give you some idea of the suffering on that trail. There were 2400 persons left Glenora and only 230 out of that number ever reached Dawson City. Many turned back broken-hearted while many lost their lives. I don’t think I am very faint-hearted but I would not come in over that trail again for all the money in Alaska.

I have seen men sit down and cry like a child when they saw that they could not stand the trip and would have to turn back.

The scenery was the grandest I have ever seen but a man could not enjoy it.

I live to get home again. I will tell you more than I can write in a month, for I know I have taken the greatest trip of my life or at least I never want to take another one like it.

We thought we were picking the best trail but instead of that we got the worst one and had to make the best of it we could.

The ground here is covered with a coat of moss about a foot thick. Under that is ice and frozen dirt. There is no level ground here. It is all mountains. It is very rich in gold and we still think we will make our fortunes before next August.  My partner is an expert miner but I rely on my own judgment. We are on a [word obscured] now for a lay in the mines. I have come here to make a stake and intend to make it. The output of the mines this spring was $22,000,000, the richest output in the history of the world.

Dawson City is a city of 20,000 people. Many are homesick and will go home, while many have no money or provisions and cannot get away, and it seems that starvation awaits them. To walk the streets of Dawson reminds one of being at a funeral. You never see a smile on anyone’s face. There are too many men here that were never away from home and they don’t know how to meet disappointments and hardships. There are lots of provisions in Dawson, but they are very high priced.

We have money and provisions enough to winter us nicely. Wages are $10 a day and board yourself. If a man is a good rustler he can make lots of money here. As this will probably be the first letter from Dawson this summer to reach your part of the outside world., I would like for you [to] tell the boys to think before they start, especially those who have never been away from home. I would not advise anyone to come to Alaska, neither would I advise them not to come. Everyone must come on his own responsibility.

I do not need nice clothes here now, for I look like the breaking up of a hard winter. Tell the young people of Fairfield that I wish them a pleasant autumn and happy winter.

I will try to get another letter out to you before the freeze comes. I send my love to you and all inquiring friends. I remain,

Yours, as ever,

Ed Ferguson.

Source: Joplin Globe

S.B. Corn Returns to Joplin

After having left Joplin 35 years earlier, S.B. Corn returned to the city in 1910, amazed by the city that had replaced the small hamlet he once knew. Upon his arrival, he inquired after several old-timers, including attorneys Clark Claycroft and Leonidas “Lon” P. Cunningham. Corn was saddened to find that both men had passed away. The only men still alive in Joplin that he knew from the 1870s were D.K. Wenrich and E.B. McCollum.
 
Corn was also disappointed to find that the spot where his smelting plant once stood in East Joplin could not longer be ascertained. He did, however, find the old building that once housed the Senate saloon. Unfortunately, the reporter accompanying Corn failed to report its location.
 
At one time, Corn allegedly owned several hundreds, if not thousands of acres in the Joplin area that extended south into Newton County. Over the years he sold the land off, most of it purchased by Joplin capitalist John H. Taylor. He built his first lead smelting plant in 1870 near the village of Cornwall (now called Saginaw). He built his next smelter closer to Joplin. It used air furnance fueled by wood. As Corn described it, “Hot blast, rushing over the ore, converted it into a molten mass which drained off into kettles. From these kettles it was ladeled out into moulds, and pigs, ranging in weight from 8/0 to 100 pounds, were formed. The metal was hauled over land to Baxter [Springs], Kansas, and shipped by railroad to St. Louis.”
 
According to the reporter, “Much of the ore smelted was produced from Mr. Corn’s land in the Kansas City Bottoms and was purchased from the lessees. The story is told that the smelting company sometimes paid for one load of lead five or six times, the operators being clever enough to have the same product weighed any number of times.” When this was discovered, duplicate sales were “abolished.” Corn eventually left Joplin and headed east to Pennsylvania where he engaged in the gas and coal business, but on a return trip west felt the urge to see Joplin once more.
 
He exclaimed, “When I was in there the seventies, there was no west Joplin. This part of the city was nothing but prairie. I feel like Rip Van Winkle, and can ahrdly realize that a city could have  grown so rapidly as this one.”

Source: Joplin News Herald, 1910.

Dutch Pete

Peter R. “Dutch Pete” Ensminger was one of the many colorful figures who walked the streets of Joplin. He roamed the mining district between Joplin and the Kansas state line during the early 1870s until 1890. One person recalled, “His feats of strength were proverbial, and not to know of ‘Dutch Pete’ was to expose one’s ignorance of the traditions of the locality.” Unfortunately, like many of the individuals who called the Tri-State mining district home, Dutch Pete left little in the historical record, save for one account left by someone who apparently witnessed his exploits.
 
He was described as, “not a large man, weight about 175 pounds and being about five feet eight or nine inches in height. In his street clothes he would only attract attention by his breadth of shoulder, but no one would suspect his strength. He was very heavy boned, had long arms and unusually large and shapely hands and feet. His features were pleasing and intelligent…sparkling black eyes, dark hair, and complexion.”
 
It was only when he was at work at a smelter that one realized just how powerful Pete was. It was recalled that “The sinews then reminded one of the tendons in the leg of a horse, and muscles played about under the skin like live things.”
 
Among the feats of strength Pete could perform were taking a pig of lead in each hand, (each pig of lead reportedly weighed 90 pounds), holding them out, and then bring them together over his head; lift a 500 pound barrel of white lead into a wagon; and once “wheeled 24 pigs of lead 18 feet in an iron wheelbarrow on a dirt floor.”
 
About every six months, it was said, Pete would “drink enough to submerge his natural good nature and consideration for the proprieties.” Given his strength and size, he presented a challenge to local law enforcement, and it “was as entertaining as a circus to see the ‘law’ perspire in landing Pete in the lock-up, and the task was never finished without the force being badly ‘messed up.’”
 
Apparently the only way that Joplin’s police force could get Pete to jail was to tie him up and drag him, but it often took officers an hour to exhaust Pete, and only then could he be bound and hauled off. Given that Pete was a good natured fellow, officers seemingly chose not to billy club him into submission, as “there was not a man on the force who would strike him with a mace or see him struck.” Pete, for his part, was never known to hit or strike an officer.
 
Pete put the Joplin police force to the test one summer day in the 1870s “between Second and Third on the west side of the street.” Joplin’s beloved L.C. “Cass” Hamilton was city marshal. Together Hamilton and two of his deputies, one of whom was Joe Reeder, went after Pete for a minor offense. Hamilton and his men were described as “large men” with Hamilton roughly 250 pounds and the deputies roughly 200 pounds each. The three officers tackled Pete and the fight was on, but not for long.
 
“Before the dust had a chance to settle, it was seen that Hamilton was down, Reeder down beside him, and the other deputy lying across the two. Someone in the crowd yelled, ‘Dogfall! Try it over!’ and the fun continued until justice was vindicated.”
 
Pete was also known for the odd habit of “taking the conceit out of bulldogs barehanded.” He would “aggravate such an animal until it attacked him, when he would slap the dog and spin him around until he was exhausted or quit.” On one occasion, he tormented a bulldog until he grew tired, then viciously struck the animal, knocking it back against a wagon axle where it lay, unable to get up. Joplin attorney W.B. McAntire remembered that on at least one occasion Pete had suffered a few dog bites during one such occasion.
 
It was said that Pete eventually married, bought a farm, and moved to a Kansas county on the state line. He was reportedly killed in a train wreck between Joplin and Springfield.

Mining and Picher, OK

The plight of  Picher, Oklahoma is well known to locals of the Four State area.  Discounting the disastrous tornado that ripped through Picher not too long ago, the lead and zinc mining resulted in a dangerous contamination of the town.  The mining in Picher arose from the mining in the  Joplin area, after all, the town gains its name from one of Joplin’s earliest mining entrepreneurs, O.S. Picher.  Recently, Wired magazine has written an article on the town

Addititionally, here’s a streaming video link to a entertaining documentary about Picher today and the effects of its mining past.  It’s worth watching if only for some video of the process of mining, the same process used in the Joplin area.

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