The Souvenir of Western Women/Life in a Mining Camp
Life in a Mining Camp
Notes by MRS. J. L. GOODYEAR
SITUATED in the northern part of Elmore County, Idaho, on the Middle Fork of the Boise River, is the little mining town of Atlanta. Its surroundings are unusually picturesque, even for a mining camp in the "Gem of the Mountains." The Middle Fork, for most of its course, runs through steep canyons. But fifteen miles from the summit of the Saw Tooth Mountains, its waters, foaming and roaring over their rocky bed, enter a pleasant valley, nearly circular, and about two miles in diameter, walled in by grass and brush-covered hills, wooded mountains, and jagged cliffs of granite. On the south side of this valley, at the mouth of Quartz Gulch, with pasture and meadow and timber land spread out before it, lies the town that was once (as it may be again) famous all over the land as a center of gold production.
The history of Atlanta began in the same way as that of all the older camps in the state. Men were first attracted to the spot by the rich placer diggings. While hunting for placer ground, A. G. Miller and Felix Farris discovered a promising quartz ledge, which they located under the name of the "Buffalo."
The first quartz, being very rich, was worked by arrastres. Then large quantities of ore were carried to Kelton, Utah, by pack train and wagon, and shipped from there to the smelters by rail. Later on, large mills were built. But the milling process was very unhealthy, and nearly all who worked in the Buffalo mill, strong young men at the time, are now dead. The chlorination process was used. This required the ore to be roasted, and the fumes of arsenic that arose were destructive to health. The bullion was run into 40-lb. and 80-lb. bars, piled up during the winter, and shipped out when the road was open in the spring.
There could not have been many desperate characters in the camp, because but little precaution was taken to guard the bullion, and there seem to have been no losses. A cart was once so heavily loaded with bullion that the horse could not pull it. The owners accordingly unloaded some of it, left it by the roadside, proceeded to their destination, and then came back for the remainder of the bullion. The fact that the bars were so heavy may have encouraged honesty in some, as the following incident suggests. At one time, a man sewed up the legs of a pair of overalls, put a 42-lb. gold brick in each leg, and carried them to a deserted tunnel. But after n two days' search by a large part of the population, the treasure was recovered. Nobody was hung, and in the absence of definite proof the guilty party escaped punishment.
Owing to the exposed position of the summit, the road to Atlanta is closed by snowdrifts for a portion of the year. Travelers and mail carriers then have recourse to snowshoes. The Norwegian shoes, called skis, are generally used, though the web shoes are preferred by some. The skis are used for pleasure as well as for business. Expert snowsliders can come down a steep hill as fast as a railroad train, and some attain, at times, a speed of a mile a minute.
The term "mining camp" often suggests roughness and wickedness. But Atlanta has been exceptionally free from the worst features of mining camps. There has been no fatal shooting affray in the history of the camp. It has been, since the seventies, a town of families, who have exerted a positive Christian influence. There have been Sunday-school and other Christian services for years. The people are interested in education and have a good public school. They also have a flourishing literary society. Among the attractions of the town, the hot mineral springs must not be forgotten. There are a large number of such springs in the vicinity, at one of which is a convenient bathhouse. These springs have valuable medicinal virtues.
The community is like one big family. During the winter months Atlanta is a world by itself, though not lonely in its isolation. Merry pastimes fill the hours; card parties and dancing indoors; hunting and snowshoeing outdoors. Imagine a party of twenty or more clambering up a mountain side and then with the swiftness of an eagle gliding gaily down the steep descent over the glistening snow, laughter and shout making vocal the frosty air. No end to merriment when some hapless rider plunges headlong into a snow bank. This wild pleasure is old winter's rarest gift to these denizens of this snow-embattled vale. In summer, long rambles in the wild woods in search of flowers, which bloom in profusion even to the mountain tops, horseback riding, picnics and camping parties are the diversions, filling out the year with a continuous round of pleasure, as well as of work.
The only cloud that overshadows these fair skies is the dread that some loved one may at any moment be brought home on a stretcher, crushed by a cave-in or by falling down a manhole.
Such is life in a mining camp.
"The Country Schoolma'am in Oregon in Pioneer Days," a story by the editor of The Souvenir, portraying the three phases of rural life in early times—the farm, the stock ranch, and the mines—will soon appear. The author of this book has lived amid the scenes depicted; has known the people characterized; and has learned from real life the story she has told. In the simple story of this Country Schoolma'am may the readers get a true glimpse into the simple life of country folk; and may they discern, too, the growth of character under the influences surrounding those who stand so near to nature, and discover therein the germ that expands into the strongest, most brilliant and most successful of the race when touched by the refining and enlightening influences of educational; social, and commercial opportunities.