January 14, 2012

Life in Lake Superior Copper Mines, 1861

From the Philadelphia Inquirer on April 15, 1861...

Life at the Copper Mines. 
A correspondent of the Boston Evening Transcript has just visited the copper mines of Lake Superior, and writes a pleasant description of life among the miners.  We copy a few passages:-- 
To the first place, let me try to give you some little idea of a mining "location."  These "locations" are villages or towns, as it were, in themselves, varying in size to the number of men employed at the mine.  The houses, particularly those of a recent date, are two and a half stories in height, plain, neat and comfortable.  On some of the older locations there are log cabins and shanties in all stages of decrepitude.  These houses are scattered around generally, as the facetious inebriate's milk was, "loose," and with but very little regard to looks, although in some cases, the agents being men of taste, have had an eye to symmetry and the general appearance of the location.  Situated at some little distance from the miners' houses are the houses occupied by the mining captain, the physician and the agent, the latter being usually of considerable pretensions as to size and style.  The common houses are occupied by families, many of whom keep boarders.  The families usually remain upon a location as long as they can get work and give satisfaction; the floating population being principally unmarried men, who are constantly charging from one mine to another. 
The routine of each day's work is pretty much the same, so let us arise in season for the blowing of the whistle at 4 1/2 o'clock, A.M., which summons the men to their duties.  First let us go with the captain while he attends to delivering "supplies" to the different parties of miners.  "Supplies," in this case does not mean "provisions," but powder, fuse, candles, drills, &c, which are charged to the miners, who do their work by contract, at so much perfathom if "sloping," and per foot if "drifting;" of this more anon.  Having received their supplies, during the delivery of which you will have observed the ease with which a Cornish man murders the king's English, the miners depart for their places of labor under ground.  Then the surface men are directed where to work by the captain, who is a sort of omniscient being, and the labor of the day commences.   
During the day the captain makes his round of inspection under ground, sometimes accompanied by the agent.  At 12 M., the whistle is blown for dinner, and the numbers of grim and dirty-looking men may be seen trudging to their homes and boarding houses, from which all emerge at the sound of the whistle, to resume work, tortified by pipes of all lengths, in all stages of blackness, and filled with tobacco of questionable quality. 
The miners, when not at work, amuse themselves, some by reading and paying visits to the village or neighboring mines, some by drinking beer and occasionally quarreling; some are at work about their houses, or called to the stores to procure their household necessaries.  In the evening the dance-house and beer-shops receive their usual number of callers, and the stereotyped fights occur, though it is very seldom that any of these little "pleasantries" result seriously.  There is a great deal of human nature to be seen amongst the laboring men of this region, and Dickens would find subject here that he would delight to work up in one of his graphic pen and ink sketches. 
The agents, clerks,, merchants or traders, and the resident physicians, form what would be called the "society" of the place.  How do we amuse ourselves? is a question you would naturally ask.  In various ways.  At the hotel there are two excellent billiard tables, and we have some first rate players here.  There are little social mixings, where mirth and jollity have to make up for the absence of ladies.  We take an occasional drive amongst our friends, and pass an evening very pleasantly at whilst and euchre, accompanied by the inevitable and eternal "pipe."  We have a few musical geniuses amongst us, and when they can be got together music and song run riot.  I mind me of evenings passed at the house of one of the agents, who is passionately fond of music, and whose performances on the piano would shame many of our professed musicians, where I have literally feasted upon music and drank oceans of melody.  When seated at the piano, y friend seems to be music personified, and, forgetting everything else, will play for hours together, running from opera to sacred music, from that dance and song--in short, whithersoever his fancy changes to take its flight.  That these musical treats are richly prized by those of us who chance to catch him in a musical mood, I need scarcely add.  Chess does not receive that favor and attention which it deserves, the principal playing between two of us Bostonians, though I have "broken a lance" with others, and amongst them two ladies, who, for a wonder, "adore" the game.

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