In 1859 Albert D. Richardson, a newspaper correspondent for the New York Tribune, made a western journey that included a stagecoach trip from Springfield, Missouri, to Fayetteville, Arkansas. From Cassville he made a side trip to the Granby lead mines. Here is his account of the journey.
After passing some beautiful prairies and enduring another night of uneasy slumber, we woke in Springfield, on the summit of the Ozark Mountains -- the leading town of southwestern Missouri. Here was the office for the sale of Government land in that quarter of the State, amounting to three millions of acres. Some of this was subject to entry at twenty-five cents per acre; but settlers had secured the fertile tracts years before, and the residue was rough and sterile.
Springfield had pleasant, vine-trellised dwellings, and two thousand five hundred people. The low straggling hotel with high belfry, was on the rural southern model: dining-room full of flies, with a long paper-covered frame swinging to and fro over the table to keep them from the food; the bill of fare, bacon corn bread and coffee; the rooms ill-furnished, towels missing, pitchers empty, and the bed and table linen seeming to have been dragged through the nearest pond, and dried upon gridirons.
During my stay a half-witted negro was arrested for outraging a lady. In the fierce excitement it aroused, some hot-heads proposed collecting all the slaves from the adjacent farms, and burning them on the public square. Two years earlier, two negroes had been burnt at the stake in Jasper, the second county to the west, for a similar crime, aggravated by the murder of their victim and her family. Now, Springfield would have no burning, declaring it too barbarous. But on the second day a mob broke into the hall where the negro was confined, took him from the officers, who did not attempt resistance, and hooting and yelling ran with him to the outskirts of the village and hung him upon a locust tree. He seemed to die of fright, for he never struggled after he was drawn up over the limb. Leading citizens assured me that for the same offense a white man would have received the same punishment; but how terribly unjust the system which, denying light and education to these poor creatures, still held them to a strict criminal responsibility!
Many immigrants were passing through the town. I was told of eight North Carolinians bound for Arkansas, who stopped a few hours on the public square, and were asked innumerable questions. One communicative fellow replied that they were going to found a town; the pursuit of each person was already marked out, and there were no drones among them.
What was this man to do?
He was to open a store.
Start a blacksmith's shop.
And the other, standing behind him?
Engage in sheep raising.
So they were nearly all classified, when a decrepid, white-haired octogenarian, venerable enough for old Time himself, was observed sitting in one of the wagons.
"Why, who is that?" asked the eager questioner.
"That's my grandfather."
"What is he going to do? He can't be of any use to your settlement."
"O yes," replied the North Carolinian promptly, "we are taking the old man along to start a graveyard with!"
Missouri with her unequaled resources of timber, coal, iron, lead, stone, and farming lands -- with an area larger than New England, a genial climate, central position, and the grandest rivers of the world bounding her on two sides -- was now prosperous and flourishing. Two years later I passed over the same route from St. Louis, to find the country blazing with civil war which swept away many fruits of the labor of twenty years. But it extirpated the poison that embittered her springs of life; removed forever the mammoth stumbling-block from her path of progress; cut loose the fetters that bound the young giantess hand and foot.
From Springfield I continued by coach sixty-five miles to the little, dilapidated settlement of Cassville, where I left the coach for the great Lead Region. The village merchant was sitting upon a keg in front of his grocery smoking a pipe.
Could he tell me the distance to Granby?
About thirty-four miles, he reckoned. Was never thar, but had been in sight of the siminary.
Could he furnish me with a horse?
Whar was I from?
Not born thar?
No; in Massachusetts.
Ah! (suspiciously) Did I allow to settle in these parts?
No; only to visit the Lead Region. Could he let me have a horse?
He reckoned not. One of his creturs was at work, another lame, and the third, though a right peert beast, too thin for the journey. But probably Jones, over across the field thar, could.
In consideration of two dollars, Jones furnished a hardy little pony, and I started on my forest ride. It led by a few thriving orchards, corn-fields dotted with blackened stumps, and low log dwellings with looms and spinning wheels on their porches. Beyond the little village of "Gadfly" I stopped at one of these farm-houses for a drink of water. An old woman smoking a long pipe and knitting on the porch was ready for a chat.
This was a healthy country, though thar was some chilling; but then stranger they did'nt mind that much. She was born in Virginny, had lived in Kaintuck; but was never in a free State. She did'nt think much of slavery, but we had the niggers and what could we do with them? They were lazy and thriftless, making a heap of care and bother. But somebody must do the work. The North employed poor whites, who, she reckoned, were no better off than our niggers.
I dined with a young squatter whose lonely cabin was gladdened by five blue-eyed children though his wife was but twenty-five. She was born in this country and thought it a mighty rough one. Last winter she and her old man traveled all through Texas, hard-on-to a thousand miles, and seed more than she would have learned in a life-time at home. Texas was a mighty fine country, but a poor place for stock. They would go back there as soon as they could sell their farm of four hundred acres, mostly unimproved. They offered it at six dollars an acre-cheaper than any other land thereabouts. This year the corn crop was good; but three years before the drowth had destroyed it, not leaving enough for bread. The neighborhood was not much for learning, though just down the crick school tuck up (began) last week, and would continue two months.
In a fertile, flower-covered prairie ten miles wide, an oasis among the hills, I reached Newtonia, a neat village with tasteful buildings, including the "siminary" of the Cassville trader. Five miles further I found Granby, in the largest and richest lead region of the United States.
All mining districts have a mysterious family resemblance; and this instantly reminded me of the Rocky Mountain gold diggings, though it was difficult to tell what features they had in common. Here on a rough woody tract of six hundred and forty acres, three thousand people were living -- two-thirds of them working under ground. The rude village was dotted with log buildings, and like a prairie-dog town, with mounds of red loam gravel and stone thrown up from hundreds of shafts. From a valley near by rose the low heavy chimneys of smelting furnaces.
The hotel landlord told me he was born in old Virginny; came to St. Louis when that city had but three brick houses; had since roved among lead mines of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois, gold diggings of California, pine forests of Oregon and Washington, and Indians of the Rocky Mountains, by whom his brother was murdered. He had "seed a heap of country and of human nature."
Granby had at least one characteristic feature of mineral regions: it was prolific of drinking saloons, and two deadly affrays occurred during the night.
A mining firm to whom I bore letters, honored the draft upon their hospitality by ensconcing me in their neat cottage, in a picturesque valley a mile from the hamlet, where books newspapers and music afforded pleasant contrast to the dreariness and noise of Granby. Their furnaces had cost forty thousand dollars before they were ready to smelt the first pound of ore; but were now proving remunerative.
The lead is found from ten to seventy-five feet below the surface. From most shafts the ore is raised in buckets by the common windlass and crank; but at a few, horse-power is used.
Arrayed in a miner's suit of corduroys which age had withered and custom staled, I stepped into the descending bucket, and clung to the rope above. The owner of the mine shared the conveyance with me, using one hand and one foot to ward off the rough walls. At the depth of seventy feet we reached the bottom of the shaft, which was blasted through lime and flint rocks.
Then my conductor bearing a tallow candle, guided me through the labyrinth of passages, at times not more than two feet high, until we reached the miners. Some were quarrying out the metal; others blasting it from "pockets" in the rock. In one place they were lying flat upon their backs, digging it with picks from the roof of a passage a foot high; in another they were perched up in a gallery, breaking off the blocks and rolling them down. Then the ore was carried by cars upon a wooden railway to the bottom of the shafts, whence it was drawn up into daylight, and hauled to the furnaces.
A few feet above the floor was a stratum of flint, which made a secure roof. Where the excavation did not extend up to it props were set to keep the earth from falling in. The ore is found in seams from six inches to a foot thick. Sometimes there are huge masses nearly pure; again it is mingled with flint rock; and again the vein seems to run out, but re-appears in unexpected directions. One pure block weighing two thousand pounds was taken out. The ore averages eighty per cent. of lead.
Here as everywhere mining was a lottery. Workmen sometimes obtained no reward for many days, and again cleared a hundred and fifty dollars per week. Promising claims proved utterly worthless, and others which were believed exhausted afterward yielded richly. The dark unwholesome mines were half full of water and often dangerous from foul air. Yet laborers were glad to work in them at one dollar and twenty-five cents per day, boarding themselves.
My conductor, a miner from childhood, had witnessed many fatal accidents, and declared it "a slave's life;" but was unable to content himself in any other pursuit. The ore is reduced in "Scotch ovens" by a heat much less than that required in smelting iron. It is broken into fragments no larger than walnuts, then mingled with lime, and melted upon a fire of charcoal and dry wood. In a stream bright and shining as silver, it falls into the basins. Thence it is ladled into molds where it cools into marketable "pigs" of eighty pounds. This process extracts sixty-six per cent. of the lead. The refuse matter is then subjected to much greater heat by which ten per cent. more is obtained. The smelting is very trying to health. Smelters received ten dollars per week, laboring five hours a day. The annual product of the region is now (1867) two and a half millions of pounds, and the deposits in that section are believed to underlie an immense tract. Lead mines are less liable to "run out" than silver or gold; some in the Hartz mountains of Germany have yielded steadily and richly for five hundred years.
Returning to Cassville I journeyed on by the mail coaches, which over mountainous roads accomplished more than a hundred miles every twenty-four hours. Great pride was felt in this "Overland" line, and an old local mail stage still lumbering over the same track was derisively known as "the Underland."
Our first point was Keetsville -- a dozen shanties which looked like a funeral procession in honor of Keets, whoever he may have been. The neighbors called the place "Chicken-Thief." Another hamlet a few miles to the southward was known as "Scarce-o'Grease!" Near most of the farm dwellings were spring-houses where the matrons kept their milk and butter. Cellars were little known through Missouri and Arkansas because reputed damp and unhealthy -- justly in a few sections, but unjustly in most.
After crossing the State line we were jolted over the rough Boston Mountains, and obtained a moonlight view of Fayetteville, a pleasant county town with several churches, the United States land-office for northeastern Arkansas, and pleasant dwellings. A rough village beyond is named "Hog-Eye." If not euphonious the nomenclature hereabout is at least original. The generous loghouse where the passengers breakfasted was kept by a widow, whose worldly condition a local clergyman on board thus described: "She's got lots of niggers and a heap of truck," (property.)
Early History of Granby and Lead Mining in Newton County, Missouri
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