Tenderfoot Days

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Tenderfoot Days

By George Robert Bird

Tenderfoot Superintendents

I WAS a Tenderfoot, in the vernacular of the camp, but there were many others of the same grade of experience. While, here and there, veterans were in charge of mining interests, tenderfoot superintendents abounded.

I suppose the moneyed men and the stockholders of the various incorporated companies in this camp were under the spell of romantic adventure in the use of their surplus wealth in this distant region, because distance lent enchantment to their view. It is remarkable how romance has influenced wealth. Otherwise rich-freighted ships never would have been sent across wide seas, in search of unknown lands, during the times of Queen Elizabeth. It surely was romance which formed, under the charter from Charles II, the trading company with this sonorous title, "The Govenour and Company of Gentlemen Adventurers Trading into Hudson's Bay." Romance helped to send Francis Drake around the world in search of both gold and Spaniards, and Walter Raleigh to make his ventures in Virginia. Romance lies back of Arctic Voyages and Northwest trading trips to "where rolls the Oregon," or "where the wolf's long howl is heard on On-alaska's shore."

I do not wonder that romantic young men were found and commissioned, by romantic old men, to superintend these mining ventures.

These tenderfoot superintendents came out West smartly garbed, even to cuffs and white shirt collars. A few were dressed in theatrical garb, to look their part from the Eastern view-point. They looked ridiculous to the seasoned miner, used to hard tack and hard times. The camp had quite a group of such young men, full to the brim with a book and college knowledge of minerals, tunnel and shaft mining. They were educated in their way, but babes to the real business of finding ores and making the search profitable.

Of all these tenderfoot superintendents, three were known to me very well, and the first I name, became a warm friend.

Clarence Waterman was a youth for his position, for he was only a little past his majority. He was growing a downy moustache and whiskers, but these indications of manhood were silky with the touch of youth. He was a really good fellow in many ways, especially in his cheerfulness. He had the youth's bump of conceit well-developed. But this bump may have helped him over obstacles which his youthfulness could not have surmounted. No doubt it was this conceit which obtained him his position as superintendent. I can imagine his father and his father's friends, at a company meeting, saying,

"Clarence! Do you think you can manage our mines out there in Utah?"

"Oh yes indeed. I can do that easily." So, being a favorite son, and a favored one by the company, this young Mr. Inexperience was dubbed Mining Superintendent, financed for his journey, and entrusted with the funds to open new work in Bingham Canyon.

Tom Robbins was a dark-featured, gloomy-vis-aged young man, who grew a fierce black moustache. His eyes showed much of the sclerotic coat, and he had a way of rolling his eyes which made him look fiercer and more commanding than he really was. He had charge of the Grey Eagle group of mines, and to hear him talk you would feel sure the only real mineral wealth of the camp was in this group. He was of a musical turn, and put a great deal of the company's money into a Steinway piano, which was placed in his office in the best hotel of the town. He was a rattling player, and spent much of his spare time in the company of some musical young women of a neighboring boarding house. This tenderfoot superintendent was ideally togged out by Eastern tailors, and looked like a stage hero, much to the delight of the girls.

The third of these men was James Shuthler. He looked more like a dry-goods clerk in size, build, and manner of carriage than a forceful boss of mining men of the wild West. Shuthler, like most little men, was a great talker, but there was a steely look in his pale-blue eyes which showed he had "grit" at the bottom. He had a hobby. It was playing a worn, shabby violin, which he affirmed was a hundred and fifty years old and once the property of a German master of music. He certainly got very sweet strains out of its strings, and he and Robbins were the center of attraction at every social and dance.

Clarence Waterman's special interest was a divided one. When not thumping his Remington typewriter he was riding his rat-tailed broncho. It was one of those vicious little beasts which show their mustang origin. When a horse uses his tail like a whisk-broom, and puts back his ears like a rabbit when you saddle him, you naturally look for trouble of some sort. Waterman loaded down his little broncho with a full outfit of Mexican saddlery, and the little beast was double-bitted, and so strapped fore and aft that his inexperienced rider seldom came to grief. He paid some horse-shark one hundred and twenty-five dollars for a fifteen dollar animal, but he was so proud of his nimble purchase, for the horse could run, that we left him alone in his glory.

The real work in these mines was done by the foremen, usually old hands; while these superintendents got all the honor through correspondence with headquarters, and the disbursements of the payroll money that came regularly through their hands.

One old foreman was a former cook. This I knew since I ate a Thanksgiving dinner which he produced out of the abundant stores of the mine, and his skill with a big cook stove. It was a fine assortment of food built out of canned goods, all save a huge steak smothered in onions. This repast sufficed for six hungry miners and three visitors, besides himself, and cost the management quite a penny.

But miners, I found, are nothing if not hospitable ; and one never failed to be invited to a good meal if one happened in at the right time.

I went up to see all of these mining ventures, entered all of the tunnels, and went down all of the shafts; also asked a great many useless questions, while the working-shift patiently answered between pauses in shovelling rock.

The Ilion Mine, Clarence Waterman Superintendent,-if you had read the sign board on the tunnel house,-was a wet mine. They were supposed to be seeking the rich mineral vein, beneath the discovery hole on the summit of a rocky bluff overlooking the canyon.

An able mineralogist, a learned geologist and the surveyor specialist,-all high priced men,- had reported that the signs indicated a big bonanza below this discovery hole. So after it they went with men, money and machinery. When I went into the wet workings, the tunnel's breast was nine hundred feet from the entrance. A large gutter was cut, as they ran the tunnel in, since the face and walls oozed water so constantly that a little river ran out of the entry and down the mountain side. This whole tunnel was timbered and required no end of prepared wood and a couple of carpenters to keep up with the miners. Now wages were high, four or five dollars a day, timber scarce and high too. You could see money going into the hole, but you could not see it coming out. The Ilion people had great faith in their great mine, but that did not prevent its being a great failure. Stereotyped reports of the workings were sent in every week, and for a time the goose that laid the golden egg kept on laying it. The miners laughed over these reports, but receiving their wages regularly they worked on at what their practical knowledge foresaw would be a barren result. At the time I left Utah the mine was closed down, another one among a hundred failures.

I started a day school. The community had voted against a public school, for the population was a transient one, and little interested in family life and in the care of children. Several responsible men urged me to undertake a private education far the public. I rented a part of a vacant hotel, the parlor and dining room, and this made a good sized schoolroom to accommodate fifty scholars.

I also purchased the red-wood shelving of a defunct dry-goods store, and worked up this lumber, with a little outside help, into seats and desks in lieu of the usual school furniture. People were not so particular then about the outfitting of a schoolhouse. In a camp like Bingham, where the church building was an old saloon, somewhat altered, it was not difficult to make a hotel parlor serve for a schoolhouse.

These camp buildings were of the up-and-down rough-lumber sort, with the cracks covered with strips of the same stuff. None of the buildings were painted, save one pretentious hotel, the aristocrat of the camp.

I used to have the room full of boys and girls, who came at 9 A. M. on Mondays to pay their school dues in the dirty, sticky currency of the day. "Shin-plasters," these little bills of the Federal Treasury, were called. We seldom saw a piece of silver coin, for it had all gone either to Canada or Europe. Our school hours were from 9 A. M. to 1 P. M., with a recess midday. I secured a supply of old books, maps, and blackboard material in Salt Lake City, and gave them free to the school. The cost of this education to each scholar was a fifty-cent "shin-plaster" paid every Monday. Most of the children were studious and seemed glad to have the chance to get at their books, I had a little trouble now and then. For instance, a couple of boys of twelve and fourteen years, sons of a saloon man, seemed to be ambitious to rival the toughs of the bar-room. One of them carried a big knife on the inside of his leg-boot, while the other secreted a small caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in his pants rear-pocket. This last young, ster was quite ferocious in his talk, for he asserted that he had "got his man." It seemed, on inquiry, that he had accidentally shot another boy, in rough play, with a pistol. The foolish jests of the roughs about his father's place had taken serious root in his mind, so he was really proud of his "bloody record," like any other "bad man." I took their arsenal away and requested their father to come for the weapons. This he did, and when I suggested he lock up these weapons and keep his boys out of harm's way he declared his boys were not being raised "milk-sops," but to fight their way through life. Probably years later these boys may have fulfilled their foolish father's wishes and figured as "gunmen," ending their lives by dying with their boots on.

This school ran all winter and well into spring, when an epidemic of scarlet fever entered the camp, through some Mormon teamsters from the valley towns, and perforce the school was closed for the season. This schoolroom was used two evenings of each week for musicals. I had a small organ, with handles, which Clarence Waterman and myself carried back and forth from school to church, as it was needed.

To these Sings in the schoolroom the tenderfoot superintendents before mentioned and a number of young women interested in music and church work used to come. Without doubt the sex attraction had much to do with this weekly rally of the younger element, since the men came generally as escorts of the ladies. How much religion is based on human interest, and how much on superhuman interest, is a vital query hard to answer correctly. I suppose the mysteries of life, and its apparent dissolution, have a strong pull, which is almost superhuman in its power for church going; but I also think that Reuben and Rachel cut a figure in the making of a congregation. There were good musicians and some fair singers who were willing to exercise their gifts and spend time in this way, but no sense of duty was the motive; only the simple idea of something pleasant to do. When it seemed an unpleasant task it was not done, and they did not trouble to come.

I was forced to do a little mining. I occupied a very small house, built close into the hill on a narrow slip of ground; the road passing so close in front that the ore wagons, in going by, often struck the steps in front. A roaring creek was just across the road. A slide of earth from the steep hill, back of the house, bulged in the kitchen wall. I procured the miner's weapons, a pick and shovel, and began digging away the dirt.

"Say! pan out that dirt. You may find gold color." Waterman was passing and called to me. I laughed at the boyish idea, but took his advice. In the creek a few feet below I washed out several pans of dirt, using the rotary movement which carries the surplus dirt over the edge of the pan, but no color appeared for some time. I persevered and was rewarded by seeing a sparkle in the black sediment in the bottom of the tin dish. This occurred every now and then. By the time I tired, and had removed all the land-slip, I was possessed with a very small can of sediment. This I washed over carefully and collected a few small grains of color. In the assay office, later, I found my hour's labor had yielded fifty cents' worth of gold. This was a wage of four dollars a day of eight hours of labor.

I record this to show how alluring the conditions were to a tenderfoot. The creek was a rich placer in many spots, the hills had often signs of pay dirt, while the rocks, when mined, contained visible veins of lead, silver, and gold leading to ore pockets, and sometimes to great ore deposits which required only the science of the smelter to reduce to commercial wealth.

I witnessed the luck of one tenderfoot superintendent. He had lost his job, for his company had "gone broke," as the saying is. Tom Darmody was a very easy-going fellow, who had brought out his wife that he might have home cooking instead of cook-house fare. They lived in a little shack on the other side of the creek. He was mining on his own account, and I often saw him come home wet and disgusted with his hard labor. One day he got back in time to find his wife on the roof of the shack shrieking, "A snake! A snake!" A big rattler was in the kitchen, and had driven the mistress outdoors. This was nothing strange, for the rocks were full of these reptiles in the warm weather. A little pistol work laid out Mr. Rattlesnake, with eight buttons on his tail, a harmless but hideous corpse on the kitchen floor. A bevy of housewives soon assembled to view the creature and to congratulate the lady of the house on her escape and the bravery she had shown. I feel sure that Tom Darmody gallantly told it around that his wife did the shooting. One day Darmody came in on the stride and shouting, "We've struck it rich!" He had broken into a large ore chamber.

"Our fortune's made, my dear! We can go

home in a month."

They did. In a few days he sold out his fine prospect to a mining crew for $25,000 and left for the "East and Happiness," to use his own words. He was sensible. He did not stay to reinvest his fortune, nor gamble it away in expectation of still better luck.

There was one lucky superintendent who was not a tenderfoot. Old Judge Eells, a man of sixty-five, and his wife, an old-time lady of rare amiability, were residents of the camp. I boarded with Judge Eells for two months and found him a man of fine character. He always had family worship in his house every Sunday, and thought he was doing well for the West. And so he was. Late one Saturday night he and his partner opened up a large pocket of ore; he insisted on waiting until Monday before demonstrating its extent. You see the grit of the man in this action. His partner offered him $ 16,000 for his prospects before Monday was past. Listening to his wife's plea, he accepted the sum offered, and the old couple returned to their home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, there to enjoy their good fortune.



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