Monday, December 30, 2019

Cornish Miners in America by Zina Abbott

Cornwall, a small peninsula at the southwestern tip of England, was considered the home of the finest hard-rock miners in the world. They mined tin and smelted it with copper to produce bronze. 

The Bronze Age began about 2150 BC. Bronze is an alloy of tin and copper, two elements prevalent in Cornwall. The abundance of those metals plus silver brought the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans to England. The Romans referred to England as the Tin Islands and they actively mined there until the 7th century AD. In the Middle Ages, mining flourished and laws were established solely to protect the interests of Cornwall and Devon miners because of the importance of the mining industry to the economy of England. This growth continued until the mid-19th century.  

By the mid-1800s, the mines became so deep that it was no longer economical to continue operations. That, coupled with foreign competition, sent Cornwall’s mining industry into a rapid decline. Cornish miners left for other countries, including the United States. Miners began leaving as early as the 1850's. America welcomed over a quarter of a million Cornish immigrants, or some 20 percent of their population, between 1860 and 1900. In the year 1870 alone, 10,000 Cornish miners immigrated.

The California Gold Rush of 1849 kicked off the era of mining in the American West, about the time Cornish miners began leaving Cornwall looking for work elsewhere.  In the early days of underground mining highly skilled Cornish miners with their unusual language and brogue were imported to do the work. At the time they led the world in mining technology and were regarded as the greatest hard rock miners in the world. Their skill with granite and ore won their fame as the elite laborers of western mining camps. Heirs of a perfected system of excavation, a valuable terminology, and the technical edge of a culture immersed in sinkings, stopes, and winzes, they were the world’s best hard-rock miners.
Cornish miners in Dolcoath mine - ctsy John Charles Burrow
Cornish miners settled in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Montana, South Dakota, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and California. Many California communities, such as Grass Valley and Nevada City, hold events to pay tribute to their heritage of Cornish miners.

Cornish Men's Choir in Grass Valley, California - 1916
Many were attracted to Colorado to help strengthen the state’s mining economy. Starting in the early days of gold mining in Colorado in places such as Central City until the first decade of the 1900s, Cornish miners found work and opportunity in the state with its vast mining sources. It is estimated at sixty percent of miners who worked in the mines of Georgetown and Silver Plume came from Cornwall.

Cornish miners inside Cripple Creek mine - 1890 (note steam-powered drill)
Pioneers in American mining operations, Cornish miners utilized tribute pay to raise output and made themselves partners with a grueling industry. Expertise made them company men, superintendents, captains, and drillers, with their success dependent almost entirely on their own initiative, coolness, and skill. As a culture the Cornish miners have survived because the nature of their work itself gave them a resilience and durability that could be transplanted and take root outside of Cornwall.

When a foreman was impressed with his Cornish miner, he would ask if there were any others like him back in Cornwall. The Cornishman usually would know of other miners wanting to leave the old country and might answer, “My cousin Jack be a very good miner and ‘ee should like a new job.” The miners reasoned that foremen would be more apt to accept another member of the miner’s family, where in fact, the “Cousin Jack” might not be related at all.

Many came as single men, but they also came in families. This close-knit band of miners and their wives were known as “Cousin Jacks” and “Cousin Jennies.” The name is supposed to come from their habit of addressing one another as “cousin” and Jack was a common Cornish name. 

Early flash photography of a Cornish miner drill team
Although their skill in working with rock and water was soon recognized, the extremes of weather and temperature, strange sicknesses, the constant danger of accidents, and the lawlessness of the camps, all made life hard to endure. Many did not survive to send home for their families, yet the majority persevered to spread their legendary mining skills and to bring social as well as religious stability to mining areas that extended from Wisconsin to California.

Although my latest novel, Nathan's Nurse, does not deal with Cornish miners directly, it was through researching the details to write my scenes within the mines I became familiar with just how prevalent Cornish miners were in the silver mines of Colorado where this novel is set.

Nathan's Nurse is now available. To find the book description and purchase link, please CLICK HERE.

Wikipedia-Cornish Americans

Saturday, December 28, 2019

An Observatory in Arizona Territory

By Julia Ridgmont

We often think of scientific advancements of the old Western days in terms of trains and railroads, exploration and cartography, etc., but in 1894, a Harvard graduate and amateur astronomer by the name of Percival Lowell left his own mark in the scientific community as well as the West. Lowell belonged to the influential Lowell family of Boston and had always been interested in astronomy, so he decided to use his wealth and prestige to build an instrument that would allow him to further study the planet Mars, in hopes that intelligent life could be found there. Following the advice of another Harvard astronomer, William Pickering, Lowell turned his focus to Arizona Territory on the opposite side of the continent, for which he extolled the virtues of have more visibility in the night sky.

At that point, Lowell assigned Andrew Douglass, an understudy, with the task of finding a suitable location to build his refracting telescope. When Douglass arrived in Arizona Territory, he carried around with him a 7-foot retracting telescope and a tripod, borrowed from Harvard University. While testing out various sites, including Tombstone, Tucson, and Tempe, the pieces of the telescope had to be packed into two coffin-shaped boxes. This didn’t present a problem whenever Douglass traveled by train, but there was one incident in which a stagecoach driver refused to allow them onto his conveyance because of the sinister nature of the boxes, so Douglass had them shipped to his next testing site, of course, by train.

When the T-initialed town sites didn’t work out, Douglass then moved farther north to the lumber camp of Flagstaff and found conditions to be just right for observing the night sky. From there, things progressed rapidly. Lowell met a trio of forward-thinking brothers in Flagstaff: Denis “Matt,” Michael, and Timothy Riordan, for which a state park is now named. These men provided jobs for thousands of employees and were instrumental in establishing many schools, art programs, a library, and an electric company in Flagstaff. Partnering with Lowell seemed the natural thing to do, and soon Lowell Observatory was erected on what is now known as Mars Hill. Fitting, right? The rotating dome on top was another innovation that was ahead of its time.

Although Percival Lowell’s initial theory that intelligent life might be found on Mars didn’t come to fruition, Lowell Observatory is most famous for being the place where Pluto was discovered. Today many outreach programs are a part of its illustrious history. It’s the perfect place to go and discover all the magnificent celestial bodies in our solar system, especially in the summertime, which is what my husband and I did several years ago when we lived in Flagstaff. If you ever get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it. You will not be disappointed! 

Percival Lowell looking through
his refracting telescope in northern Arizona
in 1914

Andrew Douglass, circa 1913

And what happened to Andrew Douglass, you might wonder? He later became known for the discovery of dendrochronology, the study of tree-ring dating, and then he moved south to Tucson and became the president of the University of Arizona.

To learn more about the history behind Lowell Observatory, check out this fascinating book:

And for a fictionalized version, complete with a sweet Christmas romance, check out my book, A Match Made at Christmas.

Thursday, December 26, 2019


By Caroline Clemmons

As Marisa Masterson reported on the 24th, ranchers faced isolation and deprivation. I have great sympathy for the rancher’s wife who was left at home alone while her husband—if he was fortunate to afford them—rode with his cowhands. Both faced harsh conditions that I’m relieved I haven’t had to encounter.

Imagine being a new bride from the East whose husband dreams of becoming a rancher “out West”. The two of you set off with high hopes, little realizing the demanding life that awaits you. Of course there were happy times. I am picturing the young woman surrounded by friends and family who suddenly finds herself far from another house much less a town. Culture shock!

Not long after the mid-twentieth century, my cousin and her husband went to Dupree, South Dakota where he was in a government program to teach Sioux Indian veterans about farming. (Privately, she thought the Sioux knew more about farming on the reservation than their teachers.) My gregarious cousin and her husband lived in a home with a small acreage. She said she wondered when she arrived why there was a clothesline strung from the back door to the barn. She soon learned it was not for clothes but so they could reach the barn and back without becoming lost in the snow. She reported going to a rodeo in Pierre one fourth of July when it snowed. I don’t know how long they lived in South Dakota. She said after one particular year with 118 inches of snow, she was D.O.N.E. with South Dakota and they moved back to Texas.

Through much of the late 1870s and into the 1880s, cooler summers and mild winters meant that feeding the animals was relatively easy. Grass and feed were typically plentiful. During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, especially harsh conditions occurred. The entire continent was affected but especially the central United States. The drought began the summer of 1884 in Texas and climbed north up the great plains then turned west, saving the worst for Wyoming and Montana Territory in 1886. This period became referred to as “the Great Die Up” of 1887.

Overstocking the Montana range had been the norm since the early 1880s. Texas and Eastern cattle were shipped or trailed in, joining herds already feeding on the rich grasses of the northern plains. By fall 1883, about 600,000 head of cattle filled the range, sharing the resources with an equal number of sheep and a proportionately smaller number of horses. By this time, the range was at its capacity.

By early 1886 more cattle, which had not yet developed the ability to withstand rugged Montana winters, filled the range, receiving less nourishment from the sparse grass. This resulted in more animals grazing on the same amount of grass, which became thinner, requiring more acres per animal even as more animals per acre arrived. By 1885 Montana's range showed the effect of this vicious circle. 

Cattle in the mountain snow
Credit: Deposit photos

Successful rancher of that era, Conrad Kohrs, noted, "It takes 20 acres on a new range to feed one cow, after the range has been grazed two years it will take almost 25 acres, and after six years all of 40 acres."

By 1885, beef prices were falling and much of the open range was overgrazed, mainly because cattle barons had built up herds too large for the land. But, the barons—many of them Europeans—who owned huge swaths of land from Canada to Mexico, maintained business as usual.

In his annual report of 1886, the commander of Fort McKinney near Buffalo, Wyoming Territory, wrote, “The country is full of Texas cattle and there is not a blade of grass within 15 miles of the Post.”

Depending on the open range policy and the verdant grass of previous years, most ranchers didn’t store hay or feed for their cattle. When the drought hit with only two inches of rain the summer of 1886, cattle went into the winter undernourished.

During this time, there was an open range policy in which cattle had been allowed to roam free over the previous years’ lush grasses. With only tiny amounts of rainfall in 1886, creeks and rivers dried up and grass did not flourish. Without sufficient rain, the grass was sparse and not as nutritious for cattle. In addition, the dried out land sparked prairie fires that destroyed even more grazing.

Of course, in my romances set during this time in Montana, I write about astute rancher heroes such as Preston Kincaid in AMANDA'S RANCHER, Loving A Rancher Series book 1. They had fenced their land and grew hay, oats, and food crops to sustain them and their animals all year. They had dug trenches or canals to water sources, had root cellars to store fruit and root vegetables, and operated as an efficient and profitable business. In fact, some real-life ranchers did this but most did not—to their sorrow.

Following the summer drought disaster came the worst winter ever recorded. The first snow came on November 13, 1886 and fell continuously for a month. Then, in January 1887, the temperature dropped even farther, and blizzards came howling over the prairie, blasting the unsheltered herds. 

Some cattle, too weak to stand, were actually blown over. Others died frozen to the ground. Even wooly buffalo died when their breath froze them to the ground where they stood. In some instances, people got lost close to their houses and froze to death only a few feet from their front doors.

No place was safe—California got nearly four inches of snow in San Francisco. North Texas and the Panhandle were inundated. Blizzards roared across the West in January 1887. On January 9, 1887 almost a inch of snow fell every hour for a twenty-four hour period. Temperatures dropped to 30 below in some places. They hit 43 below the next month. On January 14, 1887, temperatures in Miles City, Montana, bottomed out at 60 below zero. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone or anything survived that!

The Laramie Daily Boomerang of Feb. 10, 1887, reported, "The snow on the Lost Soldier division of the Lander and Rawlins stage route is four feet deep, and frozen so hard that the stages drive over it like a turnpike."

Waiting for a Chinook
by Charles M. Russell

Warm Chinook winds began the thaw by March 1887. Then, the widespread losses of cattle were discovered. A large number of cattle carcasses spread across the fields and washed down streams and polluted drinking water. Dead cattle littered the countryside and bobbed in the freshening rivers. An estimated hundreds of thousands of cattle carcasses littered the land—many pushed up against wire fences or lining roads. Total losses went unreported, but in some areas, up to 90 percent of the herds were wiped out.

Day after day the snow came down, thawing and then freezing and piling itself higher and higher. By January the drifts had filled the ravines and coulĂ©es almost level,” remembered future President Theodore Roosevelt, who was ranching in Medora, Dakota Territory at the time. Later, Roosevelt wrote his friend, Henry Cabot Lodge, “Well, we have had a perfect smashup all through the cattle country of the northwest. The losses are crippling. For the first time I have been utterly unable to enjoy a visit to my ranch. I shall be glad to get home.”

The Wyoming cattle business never again achieved the stature it had from 1868 to 1886. Historians debate over when the Old West died. The Great Die-Up may not have been the end, but the disaster certainly played a role in finishing the era. Winter of 1886–1887 was extremely harsh for much of continental North America. 

Although it affected other regions in the country, it is most known for its effects on the Western United States and its cattle industry. This winter marked the end of the open range era and led to the entire reorganization of ranching.  That winter proved again that nature could at any moment shatter all sense of human control—as if we need a reminder.


One desperate young woman.
A chance meeting.
A life-changing outcome.

Growing up in a brothel, Mara O'Sullivan battled public disdain and contempt, but always remained kind-hearted, virtuous, and gracious. After testifying against vicious bank robbers, her life is threatened and Mara must find sanctuary far from everything she knows.  

One train ride changes her life as she fatefully meets a half-sister, Amanda, and a niece she never knew existed. But when circumstances end her sister's life, Mara makes a promise that she'll raise her niece as her own and take her sister's place as Preston Kincaid's mail-order-bride. As Mara (now called Amanda) and Preston grow closer, their marriage no longer seems like a ruse, but a relationship of love, passion, and desire.

Mara's past comes back to haunt her and she finds herself in danger—will her new husband forgive her deceit and protect her as his own? 

Purchase link is: 

This sweet adventure is available in e-book and print and Free in KU.

Caroline Clemmons writes about love that lasts forever. 
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Tuesday, December 24, 2019



Imagine…You came along the Santa Fe trail to settle in this part of the Missouri territory. Few people have made their homes here, other than the Native Americans who were forced into the area from the Great Lakes region and the East. They live far from you, though, and aren’t a concern.

Image of Kansas in winter by Rob Wishusen

It’s the isolation worrying you this day, the 24th of December. There is no church service to attend, no close neighbors to gather with for a small Christmas Eve service. Looking around you, the two small faces gazing at you cause you to shake off your gloom. You will make Christmas Eve special with the things you have around you.

This was the case for pioneers who lived a rough, work-centered life to maintain their existence in places like the Kansa prairie of the Missouri Territory. Holidays like Christmas were treasured. They paused in their daily struggle and celebrated with whatever and whoever they had close at hand. It might seem like a humble celebration to us today, but Christmas was not forgotten or ignored by these families.

Typically, the homes were small—dugouts or soddies. Wood was scarce in some areas of Kansas so families there rarely had Christmas trees. Still, they decorated with what was at hand. Gingerbread men and cookie dough ornaments would be made, even if there was no tree. Brown paper that had wrapped purchases made during the year might be brought out so that a paper chain could be made. If any product with foil lining its inside had been purchased during the year, that shiny paper would have been removed and saved for Christmas. Everything was used. Even the wishbones from chickens could be dried and decorated. (I grew up with many of these decorations still being used at Christmas on our farm.)

The land around the homesteaders provided part of the decorations. Dried plants that seemed festive took the place of evergreens and pine cones. Imagine the dried grasses and prickly brown cones of thistles in mason jars or along a small mantle. Perhaps the mother dried flowers in her root cellar, hanging them upside down. Now, she brings them out to add some muted color to the holiday.
Even dried grasses began a part of the Christmas decorations.

Other dried items would also come out at this time of year. Dried apples would be used to make a pie, perhaps, or just to chew on as a special treat. Dried vegetables like green beans would be eaten as well. Green beans were strung during the summer and hung above the cookstove. As they dried, they absorbed the smoke from the stove to give them added flavor. Sometimes called leather britches, these were chewed during the winter, helping to avoid vitamin deficiencies.

Popcorn was another source of fun at Christmas. Using thread and a needle, it was carefully turned into a garland. Dried items like the rose hips gathered from wild roses could also be added to the garland for color. In America, the tradition of a popcorn garland actually dates back to Williamsburg, Virginia. According to author Phillip Snyder, the first Christmas tree in that city appeared in 1842. It was decorated with popcorn and colored paper. (from The Christmas Tree Book by that author) Pioneers would be very familiar with the practice adapted from traditions brought to the United States by German immigrants. These quickly became popular in the East.

In the days leading up to Christmas, one traditional item would be aging to gain flavor—the plum pudding. Mixed together and then placed in some type of linen, this was typically made two to three days before Christmas. It was steamed on Christmas day and served with a lemon sauce or a sweet milky sauce. My grandparents were still including it as a part of our Christmas celebration when I was a child and a teen. I remember well the spicy flavor of the very moist cake.

The homesteaders would gather on Christmas Eve as a family. Though the group might be small and the wind would howl outside as it whipped the snow, they would sing carols and read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. Children would wake up to small homemade gifts left in stockings.

Yes, Christmas was treasured by these hardy homesteaders on the Kansas prairie.

(For further reading, I recommend

Christmas Pudding 

(My great-great-great grandmother brought this recipe with her to the United States when she immigrated from Northumbria, England. I believe the sorgum was a substitute for another ingredient since it was a common sweetener in Wisconsin.)

3 cups flour
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup suet
1 cup soured milk
3 tsp. sorgum
1/2 cup sugar

Steam 3 hours in cloth.