MINING NEWS: Diaries vividly depict mining history
Keen ornithologist from California witnessed tragedies, near misses at Treadwell mines in Douglas at beginning of last century
By Sarah Hurst
For Mining News
As all miners know, if you do some digging, there’s a chance you’ll strike it big. Barry Kibler of California dug out his grandfather’s diaries and found a treasure trove of stories about his stints working at the Treadwell gold mines in Douglas, near Juneau, in 1903-04. Kibler, a retired truck driver, recently finished transcribing the diaries of Edwin Warren and hopes to find a publisher for them. Warren himself set out for Alaska by bicycle, train and steamer, hoping to study birds and save money for his tuition at Stanford University. He risked his life in the mines, but survived the experience and lived to the age of 92.
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There were four mines in the Treadwell complex: Ready Bullion, Mexican, 700 and Treadwell. By 1917 some 10 million tons of ore had been removed from below tidewater level, and the land in several areas was beginning to subside. Three of the four mines flooded with 3 million tons of seawater on April 21 of that year, and they were closed down.
Barry Kibler gave permission for Mining News to publish the following extracts from Warren’s diaries.
CHAPTER 2 — NEAR RIOT AND EXPLOSION AT TREADWELLToday I have been helping the powder man. We did not get dinner until 4 o’clock but it was well worth waiting for. Nice fried eggs and Porterhouse steak. It’s the first time since I’ve been here that we had either eggs or steak cooked to my taste. We got through work about half past four and I took a walk down the track past the Mexican and Ready Bullion mines. Had a regular feast on salmon berries which I found in abundance. There were also a good many blue berries of some kind but as I did not know what they were I did not sample them.
AUGUST 6, 1903This evening I went down town and got the mail. Had a letter from home also one from Margaret in Honolulu. Both were very cheering. I met an Indian girl on the track who had several buckets of blue berries such as I saw yesterday. After this I will not be afraid to eat them.
CHAPTER 3 — NEAR RIOT AT TREADWELLThere came near to being a general mix-up between the Slavs and Americans tonight. Fight was on between a big Slav and one of the blacksmiths and the Slavs were not giving them a fair show. The Americans wanted to separate them and the Slavs began to mix things. Several fights were on and a general riot was in danger when the hose was turned on and cooled things down a bit.
A CLOSE CALL FOR THE POWDER MENAm still helping the powder man and so do not have to change shifts. Today we were bringing up a load of caps from the magazine and we came near having a collision to do with the train in the 600 level. We had five boxes of caps in the truck and Billy the powder man went ahead to have the train stop until we got out. He told the conductor we were coming out and the conductor said he would tell the engineer and they would not come back until we got through. When we started in, but the conductor forgot all about us and failed to tell the engineer. When about half way through the level, the cable began to move and Billy ran ahead. He met the train and yelled to the conductor who jumped off and gave the signal on the wires with his candle sticks to stop. Billy tried to signal by pressing the wires together but it did not seem to work.
A FEW FEET FROM DEATHThe train did not stop until it was within a couple of feet of the truck. If they had come together there would have almost certainly have been an explosion and if there had, I would not be writing this. It happened so quickly that I hardly had time to get scared before the danger was over.
AUGUST 10, 1903It is raining today, drew Nansen’s “Farthest North” from the library.
AUGUST 17, 1903 — TWO MORE MEN KILLED MANY NOW QUITTINGFor the last few days the weather has been delightfully clear, bright days without wind. Billy the powder man has gone on a trip back east, and I am holding down his job. I have two young Swedes as helpers now. One of them just started work a couple of days ago and suffers a good deal from the gas. Before he began work a college student from Seattle was helping me. He is working over on the Juneau side now helping the survivors. Yesterday afternoon there were two men killed in one of the 440 stopes by a slab of rock dropping on them. They were running a machine. Both were Swedes. Quite a few are quitting now.
AUGUST 18, 1903After supper this evening I saw quite a large flock of gulls on the beach by the boarding house. I sat down close by and watched them for quite a while. There were three or four different species. There were several stages of plumage represented so I couldn’t tell exactly how many species there were. There were a good many small gulls about the size of Larus philadelphia then a size intermediate between them and the large common gulls which I suppose are the Glaucous winged gulls. The small gulls were in beautiful plumage, and I could have secured a fine series if I had had a gun. How I would like to be able to secure some good specimens. I am unable to tell what species the different birds belong to and so lose the greatest good of my observations. What a wealth of pleasure and information there would be in a good series of these and other Alaskan birds and they would never be missed from the millions that swarm the coast. I am eagerly looking forward to the time when I shall be able to do some scientific collecting.
I now have to come up out of the mine quite a number of times during the forenoon after primers and I enjoy the fresh air and sunshine very much. It makes the day go by much more pleasantly than when you have to stay underground all the time. I generally finish my work about eleven o’clock in the forenoon and five in the afternoon. I have to hang up the checks in the office just before six o’clock. The engineer who has been running the 700 hoist where we lower powder has lost his job. He let the cage load of powder drop seven or eight feet and strike a bulb head below the 600 level. That was just before Billy quit and he reported it to the assistant foreman. Then a couple of days ago he dropped the empty cage in the same way and a lot of slack cable with it, as we did not care to take any chances with an incompetent man reported it to the foreman and told him we did not care to lower powder to that engineer. So he took him away and was going to put him to dumping cars, but he quit. The look he gave me at the table the next morning was anything but pleasant. There were others who had work to do in that shaft who were afraid to work there with him, as he was not a competent man. Some said he never ran an engine before.
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