Posts Tagged: Cripple Creek District

Mollie Kathleen Gortner: A Cripple Creek Woman

Mollie Kathleen Gortner GoldMineTours.com

The fascinating women of the 1800s were not dissimilar to you and I, even though their circumstances varied greatly and required extra doses of pluck. They loved and lost. They laughed and cried. They tried and failed. Many tried again and were victorious. Relationships and community mattered to them. Faith played an important role in their strength and resiliency.

Mollie Kathleen Gortner was one of those women in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

Mollie Kathleen Gortner

Mollie Kathleen Gortner

In the spring of 1891, Mollie Kathleen’s son Perry left their home in Colorado Springs as a surveyor to map mining claims in Cripple Creek. All he talked about was the gold there. Wanting to see for herself what the fuss was all about, Mollie Kathleen loaded the family wagon with supplies and joined other wagons headed to Cripple Creek. She set up housekeeping in the log and canvas tent Perry had recently completed.

One day that September, Perry returned home from surveying with stories about seeing a huge herd of elk. Again, Mollie Kathleen decided to go out and see for herself. But she never made it up high enough to see the elk. When Mollie Kathleen stopped to rest, she looked downward and noticed an interesting rock formation winking at her. Pure gold laced in quartz. Having seen several prospectors in the area, Mollie Kathleen forced herself to remain calm and hid the ore sample in her clothing.

Consequently, Mrs. Mollie Kathleen Gortner became the first woman in the Cripple Creek District to discover gold and strike a claim in her own name.

MollyMine

Although Mollie Kathleen staked the claim and owned the mine, it was her son Perry who kept an office out at the Mollie Kathleen Mine. As soon as Mollie Kathleen would set foot on the mine site, the miners would scramble up out of the tunnels. Turns out they were a superstitious lot who refused to be caught in a one-thousand-foot vertical shaft with a woman on the grounds.

In each of the four Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek novels, readers meet at least one real-life woman from Cripple Creek history. I introduced Mary Claver Coleman, the Reverend Mother of the Sisters of Mercy, in Two Brides Too Many. In Too Rich for a Bride, business entrepreneur Mollie O’Bryan helped add layers to Ida Sinclair’s journey. Doctor Susan Anderson, known as Doc Susie, came alongside our cast of fictional characters in The Bride Wore Blue. Mollie Kathleen Gortner is the primary real-life woman in Twice a Bride. Like the women in the previous stories, Mollie Kathleen’s portrayal in the story is a fictionalization.

I begin with fact—what I can learn about the woman from research. Then starting with what I know about “her story,” I figure out where her experience might intersect with my main characters in their story.

As a secondary character in Twice a Bride, Mollie Kathleen Gortner plays a pivotal role in Trenton Van Der Veer’s adjustment as a businessman in the Cripple Creek Mining District. Mollie Kathleen also serves as an inspiration to newcomer Willow Raines Peterson, a widow in search of a fresh start.

Mollie Kathleen Mine, Cripple Creek, Colorado

Mollie Kathleen Mine, Cripple Creek, Colorado

Fun Fact: The Mollie Kathleen Mine on the outskirt of Cripple Creek, Colorado is open to the public and offers underground tours into the 1,000 foot vertical mine shaft. See what life was like for the Old West hard rock miner. A fun and educational summer stop for families. For more information on the mine and the tour season, go to: http://www.goldminetours.com/goldminetours.com/Home.html.

Have you visited a mine? Gone into an underground mine? Which one?

© 2012 Mona Hodgson, Author and Speaker

All four Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek novels are also available for your eReader?

Bob’s Corner: Mine Elevators and Ore Cars

Glen Eyrie Bob

Bob Hodgson

Bob here. Welcome back to my Corner.

Today, I want to share a little about the workings of a hard-rock gold mine at the end of the 19th century.

In the Cripple Creek District, the mines were mostly vertical shafts, blasted through solid granite. In a previous post, Headframes and Hoists, I explained that this had to do with the need to not trespass on another person’s claim. Folks were touchy about that.

Blasting a hole through rock requires a drill and explosives. The drill in this era was powered by steam, delivered through a cloth and rubber hose from the surface. Not a major feat when at or near the surface, but mighty noisy and claustrophobic as the shaft made its way down. And way down is where these shafts went. Some of the mines could reach 1500 feet.

As the depth increased, there were horizontal shafts cut to follow veins of gold-bearing ore. Each was carefully surveyed and monitored to avoid any encroachment of the surface measured claim. The court system at the time was glutted with accusations of trespassing, keeping a cadre of lawyers busy with suits and countersuits.

Headframe

About this time, you’re wondering how people got down into those holes to work, and how the ore got to the surface. Well, in the video titled “Mine Elevator,” you’ll see an example of a typical elevator of the time. This car would have been suspended by cable from the headframe, attached to the machinery we discussed in the earlier post, Headframes and Hoists. Each car pictured would hold six men, and these cars were stacked so that a team of twelve would be inserted into the shaft together. Six men over six men. In total darkness. Slowly lowered 1500 feet into the earth.  Some of the larger mines would have a double spool cable rig that would balance the work by bringing up an equal size crew at the same time. That’s twenty-four men suspended by cable in a completely dark tunnel, jerking and bouncing against the guiderails, for fifteen minutes or so, twice per shift. My commute to work suddenly seems tame.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQJI4CTy-JA&w=420&h=315]

Once the men were in place with their drills and shovels, they would proceed to drill into the rock face. The Powder Monkeys would then step in, to place dynamite charges into the holes and light the fuses. Employee safety was always a consideration. When the fuses were lit, the men would be herded into one of the aforementioned side tunnels to keep them from being injured by exploding rock. This kept the incidence of open wounds down, but the concussion must have been brutal.

Typical ore cars

The muckers would then follow with shovels, placing the broken ore into wheelbarrows and ore cars. There was a miniature rail system within the larger mines that allowed these ore cars to be pushed to the vertical shaft. The ore cars were tipped into a bucket that was attached to the same cable that deposited the men into the mine. This is seen in the video titled Ore Bucket. These buckets were also stacked to get the most material out as possible with each trip. Overzealous bucket loaders were frowned upon. Any ore that was loaded over the top of the bucket edge would have found its way back down the shaft. The hardhats of the day would have been of little use against a five pound rock falling 1500 feet.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WgnBOfyFng&w=420&h=315]

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