The Dynamite Kid


The past several weeks, I’ve been working on a new book in my Baker City Brides series which is set in the 1890s in Baker City, Oregon. 

The town got its start from gold mines in the area back in the 1860s. The gold played out, or so people thought, then enjoyed another boom around 1890. 

The story, titled Dumplings and Dynamite, takes place for the most part at a mining camp. 

Photo Credit: Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

This is a photo of the E&E Mine out of Baker City. It appears much as I envision the mine where my story takes place. 

Photo Credit: Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

I’m fascinated with the mill buildings that sprung up against the hillsides at mines like this one – the Golden Gate Mine near what once was called Greenhorn City. 

It’s hard for me to envision what it was like working in a mine because I wouldn’t have lasted a day. Probably not even an hour. I don’t like dark, enclosed spaces. At all. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to get up day after day and spend hour after hour in the bowels of a mountain digging out some other man’s fortune. 


Photo Credit: Baker County Library, Baker City, Oregon

The image above shows mine workers from the Bonanza Mine (one of the most successful of its time) near Baker City.The men are wielding “single jacks,” four-pound hammers, and steel drills. For light, the miners had candles on a wire stuck in a crack in the wall.

In my story, the hero is working as a powder monkey (a new term I learned in my research), also known as the brave individuals who worked with the explosives at a mine. The powder monkeys, or powdermen, were in charge of rotating the explosives to ensure older explosives were used first, ordering explosives, transportation of explosives, and keeping up the area where the explosives were stored. And in my story, he also sets off the charges, although, in reality, this job was often left to the miners who were digging out the ore. 

It was while I was trying to dig up research on dynamite usage in the early 1890s that I happened across an interesting story. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s fun reading, anyway. The source is from Richard Dillon’s book Shanghaiing Days. New York: Coward, 1961. 

According to the story, a young man named George Banks had a job working on the portage railroad at Cascade Locks, Oregon. It was the mid-1890s and shanghaiing was a rampant sport at the docks in Portland. In fact, it was a known fact the port was one of the worst places in the world to be kidnapped around that time. 

One day, George (known as a confident, upright, rock-solid fellow) was in Portland picking up a load of freight and he missed his returning sailing on the riverboat. Stuck on the wharf with crates of merchandise for work, he didn’t want to have to wait for morning to leave. 

A few friendly fellows approached George and offered to help him out. They made a deal for George to pay them for transporting him and his crates, and the men soon returned with a boat. The men helped George load his crates and they cast off, heading the wrong direction. At first, George merely puzzled over what they were doing. Then one of the men explained to him he was a sailor now and they were taking him to their ship where he’d be stuck working for them as little more than a free laborer. 

George took exception to this plan. 

“You ain’t gonna shanghai me,” George informed his kidnappers, reaching into his pocket. “I’ll blow you to hell first.”

His hand came out full of blasting caps.

All those crates the men had loaded were full of dynamite and George had the nickname among his friends as the “Dynamite Kid.” 

Needless to say, the boat turned around and took George where he wanted to go. After he unloaded his cargo, he paid the men as he’d originally agreed to do, then went about his work. 

I think I would have liked to have met George. Talk about pluck and determination! 

Although I’m not quite ready to do a cover reveal of Dumplings and Dynamite, I will share a little excerpt with you today:


Seth gathered an armload of wood and carried it inside the cookshack where mouth-watering aromas filled the air.

Long tables and benches filled the room. Through a doorway, he could see a woman and the two younger boys he’d noticed earlier scurrying around the kitchen, scooping food into bowls and dishing it onto platters.

“Need some wood?” Seth asked as he walked through the doorway.

The woman glanced up at him in surprise, but quickly recovered. She waggled a gravy-coated spoon in the direction of the wood box then went back to scraping gravy into a large bowl.

“I’m Seth. Mr. Gilford just hired me,” he said after he dumped the wood he carried into the box by the stove. He stuffed his hands in his pockets to keep from snatching a golden flapjack off a platter one of the boys carried out to the table.

“I’m Mrs. Parrish, the cook,” she said, not meeting his gaze as she handed the gravy bowl to a boy then picked up two platters full of bacon.

“Allow me,” Seth said, taking the platters from her. The woman might have been twenty or fifty. From her stringy hair, rumpled dress, and bedraggled petticoat hanging an inch below her skirt hem, she looked rather unkempt, but she smelled clean and her eyes were bright.

In fact, they were an unusual shade somewhere between gray and green that made him think of the sagebrush that grew so prevalent to the south and east of Baker City. In spite of circles beneath her eyes and smudges of flour on her cheeks, her skin was smooth, without the wrinkles age brings, and dusted with a generous helping of freckles.

He glimpsed her hands. Although rough and red from hard work, they looked young, almost delicate.

Yet, the woman moved slightly humped over with the hint of a limp and when she smiled at him, he couldn’t miss the absence of her two front teeth. He stepped back and followed the boys out to the dining area, setting the platters on the table. Something about the woman bothered him and it had nothing to do with the lack of teeth. If he was a gambling man, he’d bet she was hiding something. He had a feeling Mrs. Parrish was not at all what she seemed.


Learn more about the Baker City Brides series on my website, or browse through my boards on Pinterest!

What about you? If you found yourself living at a mining camp in the late 1800s, what job would you have done? 




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After spending her formative years on a farm in Eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky western heroes.
When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.

36 thoughts on “The Dynamite Kid”

  1. Good morning Shanna. Wow this was a great blog. I loved the pictures, they gives us a true visual account of what the mills and mines looked like. I can’t wait to read this book, I know it will be amazing. My Papa Lucas left Texas and worked in the Copper mines in Bisbee, AZ. Funny thing is my Granny Lucas left Texas with her brother’s to go out to Bisbee to help work there too, doing ladies jobs. That is where they met and ended up getting married in NM., before returning to Texas to have my Dad and my uncle. They did return to Bisbee when my dad was in 4-6th grades to work the mines before returning to Stephenville to remain.
    Small world. Two Texans meeting in AZ. I guess that’s where part of my history began.
    I’d want to be a laundress or cook, I couldn’t work in the mines, nope I don’t like total darkness or confined areas.
    I hope you have a great day. Love and hugs to you, my sweet dear friend.

    • Oh, that is so neat about your grandparents, Tonya. And thank you for sharing that with us! How amazing they were both from Texas and met in Bisbee. It really is a small world.
      Thank you so much, sweet friend! It was a fun book to write. I’m excited to share more about it once I get it back from the editors!
      Have a fabulous day!

      • Most likely a cook just like my great aunt who worked in logging camps in Canada and Oregon. Wearing an apron and wielding a wooden spoon.

  2. maybe a school teacher since mining towns always had many children in them. I don’t like tight enclosed spaces so mining would be out for me.

  3. I would have been a cook. I loved this Historical blog. Can hardly wait to see how this story goes I bet it is going to be wonderful but then all your stories are

    • I think George would have been fun to know. Some of those madams sure had interesting lives. I just heard about one the other day that gave her life savings to the school district. Thanks for visiting the blog today, Debra!

  4. I think I liked George he was my kind of fellow. I guess I would have been a cook because it seems like that is what I do most of the time.

    • I would have loved to be in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking and making sure everyone gets enough to eat. This post was wonderful and I am looking forward to reading these books.

  5. I think I would have been a baker–I make a mean apple pie. Granted, I make rocks, instead of rolls, but I think I could learn!

    • Oh, yum, to apple pie! You would definitely be able to learn! I think it would have been a bit challenging to cook on those old stoves, but we’d probably get the hang of it in a hurry. Thanks for stopping in today, Carrie!

  6. Wow, I’d have liked to meet George! The book sounds really good, too!! I think I would have been a cook or a baker. I definitely wouldn’t want to be in the mines!

  7. What an interesting post. If I found myself living in a mining camp, I think I would be a cook so a lot of the men who dont have wives could have lunches and dinners.

  8. What an interesting blog Shanna! History sure has left interesting tales for writers to research and build new stories upon. I will look forward to reading your new book!

  9. Interesting blog Shanna and thanks for sharing those photos of the mines and the history. I have seen copper mines in the UP of Michigan when I went to college there and toured one. Mining is so dangerous and those in many areas know like in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and so many places in Montana getting coal.
    I love the title of this book and the blurb and I can’t wait for it to read.
    I think I would own and run a small mercantile as the miners need someplace to get things they need and what ever families needed.
    Good blog.

  10. Hi, I would be a cook. I would not be a miner. My husband worked in the Uranium mines in New Mexico for about a year and a half and it was no fun for sure! That was about 39 years ago. His clothes would be all muddy and full of dust and stuff, they used dynamite , it was a pretty dangerous job, they would take an elevator to go down many,many feet underground. Just thinking of how far down they had to go is pretty scary to me, and then being closed in I would not be able to take that for sure. I enjoyed reading the blog and I also enjoyed the pictures, Thank you so much for sharing this. Your book sounds like a very good book, I would love to read it when it comes out. Have a Great rest of the week. God Bless you.

    • Hi Alicia,
      Oh, wow! I’m sure you and your husband are both glad those days of mining are far behind him. I just couldn’t handle being underground like that. So scary! I’m with you. I’d be a cook!
      Thank you for popping in!

  11. I would have been a cook. I am used to cooking for large groups and enjoy it. I can not handle closed in spaces, so being a miner is our. Doing the laundry, especially considering how muddy and dirty miners get, has no appeal. I have done laundry on a wash board (for 3 years) which isn’t too bad, but muddy clothes are another story. When our daughters went caving, we never were able to get the cloths clean. We hosed them down on the lawn trying to get the worst of the mud off and washed them several times. They remained a mud brown.

    • Oh, my goodness! I remember one winter our pipes froze and Mom did laundry an old wringer washer. I can’t imagine using a wash board for three years! An the mud brown on your daughters’ clothes. That’s awful!
      I’m with you… the cooking would be much more up my alley!
      Thanks for stopping in!

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