Okay, I admit it. I’m a sucker for brochures, booklets, diaries, etc. when I’m traveling. That’s why I like to drive. The trunk is always way, way lower on my return trip.
This, unfortunately, remained true even after I discovered the internet where so much information is at my fingertips. There’s still nothing like glancing through all my shelves when it’s time to blog. I always find such neat little tidbits that might well escape me when I’m searching a particular subject on the internet.
This time, my eyes rested on a booklet, “Central City, the Richest Square Mile on Earth and the History of Gilpin Count” by Darlene Leslie, Keller Rankin-Sunter and Deborah Wightman.
Or course, the title caught my interest first. I knew immediately it had to do with gold mining, which is one of my favorite subjects. I think it’s the gambling blood in me but also because it was so responsible for the growth of the west. I’ve always been fascinated that the gold rush not only lured gold seekers from throughout the United Sates but also hopefuls from throughout Europe and Asia. A dozen languages were often spoken in mining camps. Talk about your melting pot.
The “Richest Square Mile on Earth” has details I’d not read before or didn’t recall. I remember exactly when I bought it. I was to attend a RWA board meeting in Denver and had decided to go several days early and drive up to one of the old gold towns. I wasn’t deterred by what turned out to be a driving snow storm and had a marvelous time. As for the book, it must have been the few paragraphs that attracted my attention to this particular publication. “In May of 1859, the Little Kingdom of Gilpin (County)” was born as the cradle of Colorado history and the cultural and economic center of the west.” It covers Black Hawk, Central City, Navadaville, Rollinsville and Russell Gulch.
Annual production of precious metals grew rapidly after gold was found and in 1870 it was estimated at $1 million dollars. By 1880 it rose to more than $2 million annually, by 1890 to $3 million and by the early 1900s production topped out at more than $4 million dollars annually.
That doesn’t seem so much today. But look at the wages of that day. But first, this admonition from the time. “Coloradoans, as a class, are working people, always busy. It is no place for drones. There is always work of some kind for those who honestly seek it. Make a name for honesty, sobriety and reliability, and you can soon attain any position and salary that your abilities will warrant. If you are not such a person, stay away from Colorado, and let your friends, if you have any, support you in idleness.”
After that pithy warning from the past, the authors list the wages paid in 1881: Railroad laborers, $1.50 – 2.25 per day; blacksmiths and roofers, $2.00 – 3.00 per day; coal miners, $.75 to $1 per ton; clerks, $1 to 5 per day by ability; sawmill men, $1.50 – 3.50 per month with board; harness makers, $2.00- 2.25 a day; dining room girls, $20-30 per month & board (cooks and girls for private families are in great demand); Laundresses, $20 – 30 a month; farm boys, $10 to 15 per month.
Another admonition is at the end of the list: “Above all things, don’t come to Colorado unless you are determined to make a good honest record. Keep away from the gambling houses, bar-rooms and bagnios and you are all right. Visit them and you are lost, maybe, with your ‘boots on.’”
Prices for goods were in line in the salaries. Overalls were $.75 each while drawers went for $.50 and fine white shirts for $1.25. A “tonsorialist” (barber) charged $.75 for a shave and haircut. A lecture on Darwinian Theory was $1.00.
To protect the honest citizens of a mining community, a Miners’ Court was formed and developed a “criminal code.” The first section of the code declared that anyone convicted of willful murder, “shall be hung by the neck until he is dead.” The second section proclaimed that any person guilty of manslaughter, or homicide, shall be punished as a jury directed.
The third section said any person “shooting or threatening to shoot another, using or threatening to use any deadly weapons, except in self defense, shall be fined a sum not less than fifty nor more than five hundred dollars, and receive, in addition, as many stripes on his bare back as a jury of six men may direct, and be banished from the district.”
There were more sections, but you get the idea. Justice was sure and harsh. The local newspapers often reported it as such. “Load up your shotguns. There have been three attempted robberies,” according to the Daily Register.
Also reported by the Register, “Tramps are becoming numerous. A little cold lead would do them good.”
And how could you have an old mining town without ghosts? Gilpin County has a number of them, including the spirit of a Buddhist monk who inhabits a house originally built as a Buddhist Temple. The current owners of the house say he resides in a corner behind a large mirror and, when he appears, has a pleasant smile. The same house is also inhabited by the ghost of a young girl who was killed by accident in the same house. Her mother and father were arguing in the front yard. Her mother was holding a cast iron frying hand and threw it at her husband. It went through the French windows are struck the child in the head. The theory is that the monk stays behind to look after her. Or it could be that, since the Buddhist temple was used for years as a parlour house, the monk is there to protect some lost souls.
These are the kind of details that a writer relishes, that puts authenticity in the story she, or he, tells. It’s why I keep returning to those wonderful little booklets, to the diaries you can only find only in the towns they celebrate. The internet is a wonderful tool, but nothing can really replace all those treasures that weighed down my trunk.