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 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