Mining Superstitions

I grew up in a hard rock mining world, knew a lot of miners, and eventually worked underground myself. One memory I have is of a time in Alaska when one of my dad’s miners said that he wouldn’t work on Friday the 13th. The guy flat out refused. What happened? My dad didn’t make him go to work that day and didn’t dock him.

When working in a dangerous environment–one in which you only have the illusion of control, because there are so many things that can go wrong–superstitions give a person that much needed sense of control. Mining and danger go hand in hand, so miners had a lot of superstitions. As a woman working underground, I undermined one of the superstitions (undermined…get it?), with no ill results, but I understand why miners had/have their beliefs. They helped the guys get through the day.

Here are a handful of superstitions:

1)Having a woman underground, or even near a mine, was bad luck. This belief is thought to have arisen from the fact that the only time women came near a mine was when a disaster had struck and their loved ones were involved. Therefore women near a mine = potential disaster. A redheaded woman was particularly unlucky.

2) If the miner’s candle went out, he needed to think about leaving the mine.  Candles went out in bad air, which is not detectable, but will kill you (thus the canary in the coal mine). If a candle went out three times, it meant there was trouble at home and, again, a miner needed to get out of the mine. Side note–I once had my headlamp fail me, and I can promise you that there is nothing darker than being underground. The darkness feels thick.

3) Do not whistle underground. Tommyknockers came to this country with the Cornish miners. These goblin-like creatures could help miners, warning them of danger by knocking, or hurt them, depending on how they were treated. Miners would leave a bit of their lunch for the tommyknockers, which in turn, caused the tommyknockers to watch out for them. However whistling at a tommyknocker was considered disrespectful and disaster would follow.

4) Whistling underground was also thought to trigger earth movements, which could cause the drift (tunnel with only one opening) to cave in. Side note–I was underground when the planets aligned in 1980. The miners were afraid that increased gravitational pull would cause earth movement. We got lucky. It didn’t.

4) Of course there were to be no black cats underground. A black cat underground meant someone would die.

5) There are a lot of personal superstitions involving clothing and not turning around backward shirts or inside out socks. Things that, again, helped a miner feel like he was in control.

Those are a few of the mining superstitions, but superstitions abound in all environments. Do you know of any interesting superstitions ? Curious minds want to know.



Growing Things Underground

I would like to introduce you to my Christmas cactus. She’s huge and she blooms year round and she has an interesting history. You may not know this, but I was once an underground worker. I worked in two different mines. One, the Star Morning, was the deepest mine in the United States, and I believe it still holds the record even though it has been out of production for decades. The other was the historic Bunker Hill Mine in Kellogg, Idaho. That is where my cactus and I first met in 1981.


Plants grow very well underground, as long as they have light and water. Incandescent light works just fine, and the lights rarely go out in a mine. One limiting factor is the temperature. The deeper you go in a mine, the hotter it gets. I worked close to 7,000 feet below the surface in the Star. The rock was warm to the touch, and the water coming out of the cracks was also warm. (We had a cooling system that made it possible to work, but it was still warmish.) The upper levels of a mine, however, are cooler and since plants love moist environments with a constant temperature, it wasn’t unusual to see sprouted orange trees here and there, although they didn’t last long due to the working environment.

There were places, however, where it was safe for a plant to grow, and one of those was the hoistroom, where the spools of cable that raise and lower the cages (elevators) were located (the Bunker Hill had an inclined shaft, so they transported men and ore in a slightly different way, but the theory is the same). I visited the hoistroom of the Bunker Hill shortly after I was hired, and there, on a table near the operator’s station, was a blooming Christmas cactus. Being a unapologetic plant thief, I pinched off a small start. It was the beginning of a long relationship.

The hoistroom cactus wasn’t the only thing grown in the Bunker Hill in the 1970s.  Thousands of trees were grown in underground greenhouses on the levels of the mine where the temperature was between 75-90 degrees. The humidity was favorable and there were no plant diseases present. All that was needed was fertilizer and light.

A University of Idaho forestry graduate student, Ed Pommerening, was the brainchild behind the operation,  and in the first year of operation, 4000 lodgepole pine, scotch pine and ponderosa pine were grown. Within five months, the trees were five inches high–70% larger than trees of the same age grown in conventional surface greenhouses. After the first successful year, the capacity increased to 13,000 trees. And after that…I do not know. The mine closed in 1981, shortly after I went to work there, and I assume the greenhouse closed with the mine.

But my cactus and I keep on keeping on. We’ve shared a lot of history and she’s the only plant I’ve had for my entire married life. She and I will celebrate our 40th anniversary this September.


Mules in Mines? Julie Lence Shares Her Research

Hello Petticoats & Pistols! I am honored to help Linda Broday by joining you today. (Have fun at RWA, Linda!) For those you don’t know me, or may have forgotten, I’m western romance author, Julie Lence, blogging about a subject I knew nothing about and had fun researching: Mules Working in the Coal Mines.

In the summer of 2016, the Pastor of our church retired and our other priest was transferred to a different parish. We welcomed a new Pastor and another priest and looked forward to getting to know them. During their sermons, each priest will sometimes mention something from their childhood or personal experience to tie into the day’s Gospel. One such Sunday, one of them began talking about mules living in coal mines. My first thought was comical, and my second thought was this would make for a great blog. I’ve never heard of a mule living in a coal mine and wrote a quick note to research.

Throughout civilization horses and mules have been used to help man with lifting or hauling something heavy. This practice was carried over in Montana when it came to working in a coal mine. Pulling carts laden with ore was hard labor for man, so mules were brought down into the mines to help. Horses couldn’t be used, as the cages used to get to the bottom of the mine were small. A typical cage proved difficult trying to cram in six men, but could hold one mule. To get the mule onto the cage and to the bottom required a few days planning. The initial step involved not feeding the mule or giving him water for three days because there was a risk the mule would succumb to a ruptured bladder or suffocation while being lowered. Before being led into the cage, the mule was blindfolded so he wouldn’t spook and his legs were bound in a leather truss to keep him still. The mule was placed inside the cage on his rear and lowered to the bottom. Sometimes, he tried to kick, but usually he settled down to the quiet of the mine and rode the cage just fine.

Once down at the bottom, mules were put to work pulling the ore carts. They worked their eight-hour shift and then were taken to a lit stable inside the mine for food and rest. Muleskinners cared for the animals, and along with their food, made sure the mule had a tub of ice water to drink each night. The muleskinner also scrubbed the mule’s hooves with soap and water to rid him of the deadly copper water he plodded through during the day. The copper was capable of eating away at the hoof and if this happened, the mule would end up useless.

Mules adjusted well to the mines, with many knowing the mine better than the minors. Tales abound of many a mule saving miners from fires and other dangers. One such tale involved a miner who made a hole through a wall the size of his head to see what was on the other side. He discovered a lake but thought nothing of it until the next day. His mule began acting strange, and cutting him free from his job, the mule took off for higher ground. Knowing a mule’s instinct was good, the minor and his coworkers were able to escape quickly when, at the same moment the mule dashed off, the hole the miner had made crashed open, with water gushing toward them from the lake.

Though a mule labored beneath the ground, he wasn’t left there his entire life. If a mule was injured or sick, he was brought above ground immediately. The same applied to the duration of the mine shutting down for vacation or the miners going on strike. And mules weren’t treated cruelly. Miners and mule skinners learned early on to care for the mule. If treated poorly, the mule usually got even with either kicking a man in the ribs or head, or squeezing him against the wall. Trained mules were valuable, worth as much as $200, and always received medical treatment and rubdowns when needed.

The use of mules in mines pulling ore carts came to an end in December of 1965. An Act of Legislature outlawed the underground stable, making it illegal to house animals in mines.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to stop by and read about the mules. They truly were exceptional in that time period. To connect with me and learn more about my writing, you can catch me here:





As an added bonus, I’m giving away 3 ebook copies of my 1st book, Luck of the Draw. To be eligible to win, leave a comment here regarding your favorite thing about the old west. Until next time, have a great day.

The Wickedest Town in the West; Jerome, Arizona


Dear Readers… Jerome, Arizona earned its reputation as the wickedest town in the west after three catastrophic fires within an eighteen-month period. The pious people of the sinful town attributed the fires to Devine retribution and pushed to incorporate Jerome. Once building codes were passed, a fire department was established and laws were put on the books to rein in Jerome’s wild ways.

Who wouldn’t want to visit the wickedest town in the west after a description like that?

This past summer hubby and I drove Route 89A to Jerome, which lies between the towns of Prescott and Flagstaff. The trip through the Prescott National Forest was breathtaking and well worth the slow climb in elevation to 5,000 feet above sea level.

Jerome was founded in 1876, its population peaking at 15,000 in the 1920’s. I’ve been to this ghost town three times in my life. Once when I was fifteen on a family vacation out west and twice since hubby and I moved back to Arizona. Jerome, a former copper-mining town, sits on Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley. Today it’s a tourist stop and a favorite haunt of ghost hunters. All of the various hotels and B&B’s are reportedly haunted.



Famous Bartlett Hotel


The remains of the famous Bartlett Hotel on Main Street brings in as much as $6,500 a year for the Jerome Historical Society. Tourists stop to toss their coins between the bars hoping to hit the old outhouse and pieces of rusted mining artifacts below. My days playing basketball in college did not help me hit the toilet.




The Connor Hotel

I entered the lobby of the Connor Hotel to look around and the desk attendant was happy to tell me about the place, saying several guests had seen the Lady in Red while others reported being touched, feeling a draft of cold air sweep over them, lights and TV’s flickering on and off—the “usual ghostly things” she said.  Behind the motel are the remains of the 1918 haunted Liberty Theater, which played silent movies in the 1920’s. It’s the light tan building next to the red hotel in the picture below.


If you’re a paranormal enthusiast, you’ll enjoy the youtube video of photographs taken in the Connor Hotel that show ghostly orbs.


Years ago a department store sat across the street from the Connor Hotel, but now its an  empty lot with only department store safe remaining.


Sliding Jail

The Jerome Historical Society is working on restoring the famous sliding jail, which slipped 200 feet downhill from where it originally stood. The ground shifted in the area after Phelps Dodge purchased the copper claims during WWII and began dynamiting the mountains. The mine, still owned by Phelps Dodge, closed in 1953.


Just for fun!

I get excited when I find something taller than me like this old gas pump.


I don’t write historical romances but if I did, I’d definitely use Jerome, Arizona, as the backdrop for a story. And speaking of books… I have two releases out this month…so here’s my shameless plug!

Twins for the Texas Rancher (Cowboys of Stampede, Texas)


Sadie McHenry and her twin sons are heading home to Stampede, Texas. Sadie wants a chance to start over after being laid off—and she might have found it with rancher Logan Hardell. Logan instantly bonds with her boys, especially with Tommy, whose ADD makes him a handful. But Logan seems to understand the four-year-old’s needs and seeing them together melts Sadie’s heart.

Logan’s ranch is at risk, so Sadie agrees to help with their books—putting Logan on twin patrol! With his fun-loving approach to the kids and his rugged appeal, Sadie can’t understand why he’s ruled out a family of his own. But she’s not giving up on him just yet. Because Sadie’s convinced Logan is exactly what she and her boys need!

  The Future She Left Behind

One woman’s journey home gets derailed by her soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law in a novel filled with humor, small-town charm, rekindled love, and the resilient ties of family.

Cast aside by her cheating husband, Katelyn Chandler is ready to pack it all in and drive home to Little Springs, Texas. She wants a chance to regroup, reconnect with her mother, and get back to her art.

But Shirley Pratt—master manipulator, elitist snob, and Katelyn’s terror of a live-in monster-in-law—has other ideas. Shirley insists on joining Katelyn’s trip after her son tries to pack her off to a retirement community. Katelyn has no choice but to play peacekeeper between the ornery old woman and the proud matrons of Little Springs. Yet the small town seems to be changing Shirley. And as Katelyn weighs the wisdom of picking up where she left off with Jackson Mendoza, the town bad boy and her high school sweetheart, she must find a way to believe in the strength of her dreams.


Tell me about a strange place you once visited for a chance to win a signed paperback or digital copy (reader’s choice) of the first book in my Cowboys of Stampede series, The Cowboy’s Accidental Baby. I’ll announce the winner in the comment section of this post sometime on Saturday Sep 9th. 

Until next time…Happy Trails!