The Age of Zinc: The Wright Lead & Zinc Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 1902 Collapse of Easth Seventh Street

In the spring of 1902, just before noon, East Seventh Street collapsed.  The debris from the street plunged downward into the gaping maw of an old mine drift from the defunct Zola mine.  The dark chasm sprawled 50 feet.  The Joplin News-Herald remarked that the street was “the main thoroughfare east and there is scarcely a moment that if it is not traveled at every point along the route.” Fortunately no one was on the street when it collapsed.  Traffic was diverted onto Fifth and Fourteenth Streets until the vast hole could be filled in.

As we have noted before, there are numerous mine shafts all over the Joplin metro area.  For now, it seems that most shafts are filled up with water, and are holding steady.  In the future, though, with some speculating that the water table in the Four State area could drop, it seems plausible that shafts may open up as the water disappears.  While we here at Historic Joplin are not hydrologists, geologists, or any other type of “-ologist,” we find the idea of the underground honeycombs of mining shafts and drifts in and around Joplin intriguing.

Source: Joplin Daily News Herald, 1902

In the spring of 1902, just before noon, East Seventh Street collapsed. The debris from the street plunged downward into the gaping maw of an old mine drift from the defunct Zola mine. The chasm sprawled 50 feet. The Joplin News-Herald remarked that the street was “the main thoroughfare east and there is scarcely a moment that if it is not traveled at every point along the route.” Fortunately no one was on the street when it collapsed. Traffic was diverted onto Fifth and Fourteenth Streets.

As we have noted before, there are numerous mine shafts all over the Joplin metro area. For now, it seems that most shafts are filled up with water, and are holding steady. In the future, though, with some speculating that the water table in the Four State area could drop, it seems plausible that shafts may open up as the water disappears. While we here at Historic Joplin are not hydrologists, geologists, or any other type of “-ologist,” we find the idea of the underground honeycombs of mining shafts and drifts in and around Joplin intriguing.

Source: Joplin Daily News Herald, 1902

A Plunge Down a Sixty-Foot Shaft

Every day hundreds, if not thousands, of automobiles rumble through downtown Joplin.  Most drivers  go about their business without a thought that there may be empty mine shafts below their wheels.  We here at Historic Joplin do – which is not to say we’re afraid of our vehicle plunging into a gaping chasm on Main Street, but in an area riddled with mine shafts, tunnels, and sinkholes, the ground giving way does happen from time to time.  Mine shafts even presented a threat to folks, who despite having a familiarity with the dangers of working in the mines, had the misfortune to make a misstep.  Or, in the case of James “Jim” T.  Bodine, the wrong way home.

In the summer of 1904, Jim Bodine was on horseback herding the family cow home for the night.  As he passed south of Twenty-Sixth Street, he had to ride through some brush when he and his horse unexpectedly encountered an abandoned mine shaft.  Bodine, who was a, “well known and very popular mine superintendent and operator,” undoubtedly knew about mine safety, but riding your horse into a mine shaft in the middle of the night was something he had thought little about up to this point.  Bodine’s horse pitched forward into the shaft.  It managed to dig its forelegs into the mine shaft so that it seemed as if it would be able to get both itself and Bodine out of the shaft.  Unfortunately, its legs buckled and the two plunged sixty feet into a water-filled mine shaft.

An abandoned mine shaft via Bureau of Land Management

Abandoned mines poise significant danger risk in any mining area, such as this one located in California.

Both man and horse surfaced with Bodine still in the saddle.  The horse struggled to keep its nose above the water.  Bodine tried to sit in the saddle as long as he could, but realized the horse could throw him at any time, so he slipped into the water.  His head throbbing from a bump to his head, Bodine managed to climb two or three feet onto the walls of the mine shaft.  As the strength began to leave his arms, he began to cry for help.  There he remained for over an hour yelling for help.  In the water below Bodine, his horse was “plunging and striking his feet right and left.” Gritting his teeth, he sank his fingers “into the sides of the shaft as far as possible.”

Fortunately for Bodine, a Mrs.  Carter was passing by when she heard his cries for help.  She “ran to the shaft, shouted a word of encouragement to Mr.  Bodine, and then ran for help.” Mrs.  Carter brought James Ingram, D.E.  Krokroski, and H.  Dillon back to the mine shaft.  There the three men lowered a rope to Bodine which he tied around his waist.  Together the men pulled Bodine up to the surface where he was rushed home.  Four doctors were summoned, but found that Bodine was in good shape despite his harrowing ordeal.

Bodine later told a Globe reporter, “There was a time when I thought I would have to give up and fall into the water.  After Mrs.  Carter looked into the shaft and then ran for assistance it seemed hours before assistance came.  I felt my strength gradually giving away, and it seemed that every minute would be my last.” Even as the rope was being lowered to him, Bodine confessed, “I thought I would not e able to keep my position until I could get it tied, but it is remarkable how a man’s strength will stay by him when his life is at stake.” As for his horse, several men tried to extricate it, but as of the newspaper’s deadline, they had not been able to pull it out of the shaft.

Source: The Joplin Globe