The location of
the Lowland Chief. Blown from the shaft of the Wheel of Fortune.
When I left the Vulture in the
early spring, I took with me Joe Whitaker, one of the young miners, full of
vigor, vim and enterprise. Together
we got a camping outfit, some tools, and started up Big Evans Gulch, finally
pitching our camp on a timber flat between Big Evans and Little Evans.
The snow was four feet deep in the drifts, but had a hard crust on it, so
that we had no trouble in getting around and did not have to use our snowshoes.
After shoveling out a place for the tent we had a wall of snow around us that we
could not see over, but as there was plenty of timber, a roaring fire soon dried
out the ground, and we were fairly comfortable.
We then set about to locate our
mine. By tracing out the stakes of the adjoining mines we settled on a vacant
spot and began sinking our shaft one morning. By the following Sunday we had a
hole twelve feet deep, neatly timbered with split poles, windlass, bucket and
everything, and at the bottom of the hole was a bed of clay of variegated colors
which looked as if we had struck the contact. As it did not appear on closer
examination to contain any values, however, we began to lose our enthusiasm over
the claim, and when a German prospector came to us with an offer of $100, we
looked wistfully across to the south slopes of Big Evans, with its bare ground
with green grass and sunshine, took the $100, and handed the stake to the German
with our names deleted and Hans Wolfe written thereon.
Next day we rounded up some
burros and moved across the gulch, where on the sunniest spot we could find, we
made our camping place. No stakes being in sight, we located the Wheel of
Fortune group of four claims. On them we sank a shaft eighty feet deep, and at
the bottom was a bed of grey sand that assayed twelve ounces in silver.
Promoters were frequent visitors,
and one of them, after looking at the dump, offered me $7000 for my interest. I
said: No, I want $50,000 or nothing. Then
it will be nothing, said the man, and he walked away. Sure enough it was
nothing, for after sinking two more shafts and running a long tunnel without
results, we were broke and sold out all our holdings for $150 to the Kent Mining
Company, which spent $100,000 on the property and developed it into a ten
million dollar concern.
The $150.00 just squared our
debts for supplies used on Big Evans, so Joe and I secured a contract at a mine
some distance away to sink an eighty-foot shaft fifty feet deeper for $12.00 a
foot. The rock was tight and broke short, which means that an ordinary shot did
not dislodge much. We were short of tools, and our big hammer had been left at
the bottom of the Wheel of Fortune shaft, under fourteen feet of water.
We returned to the old claim one
afternoon, and after looking disconsolately down the shaft I said:
Joe, we must have that hammer. You man the windlass and I will go down
after it. With that decision made I stripped off everything but my overalls, put
my foot in the loop, and swung off into the middle of the shaft. Joe slipped the
toggle, holding the windlass from the upright, and lowered me into the icy bath
until I struck bottom. I knew exactly where the hammer was located, and found it
without difficulty standing against the timbers. The water was so cold that I
had to work quickly, and with my numbed fingers grasping the handle I gave it a
wrench that loosened it from the clay that had gathered around it, and then gave
the signal to hoist. My lungs were almost bursting from the effort of holding my
breath when I was pulled to the surface of the water, and my partner had all he
could do to pull me out of the shaft with the windlass, for I was about
exhausted and a dead weight on the rope. However, we had the hammer, as with
other tools we had forged, were ready for work on the contract.
The shaft drew just enough water
to be mean, so I had to stop drilling every hour or so to fill the bucket, and
in this way I was treated to sundry shower baths as the bucket swung against the
sides of the shaft. In those days there were no such thing as jack-hammers to do
the drilling or batteries to fire the shots. The drilling was by single-jacking,
holding the drill with one hand and striking with the other, and the firing was
done by building up little rock piles above the level of the water and putting a
snuff of the candle under the fuse, which under ordinary circumstances allowed
one time to get out of the shaft before the flame burned through the fuse to the
powder. I did the drilling, while my partner on top hoisted the rock, sharpened
the steel, and framed the timbers. He was not a big as myself, but he was strong
and wiry, and never seemed to have any trouble in windlassing a heavy bucket of
rock or in pulling me out of the shaft.
One day, however, I had five
holes ready to shoot. Joe lowered the powder and fuse, and before loading I sent
up all the water I could dip up. My partner then unhooked the bucket from the
rope and sent the end of the rope down to me. As soon as the holes were loaded,
I lit the candles; Joe signaled that he was ready to pull me up; I put my foot
in the loop, slipped the five snuffs under their fuses; and gave the word to
Half way up the ninety-foot shaft
I heard the fuse begin to spit, but as the powder had to run along the length of
the fuse before it reached the cap, I felt that I had plenty of time to get out
of the shaft.
Suddenly I felt myself ascending
slower and slower, until when still forty feet from the top the windlass stopped
and Joe called out that he could pull no more. I had to think quickly, as the
first explosion would soon be due.
The shaft was cribbed up solidly
with split timbers, the flat side in and round side to the rock, laid
horizontally, with room between in which I was able to stick my toes. Swinging
to the wall, I grasp at a crack, shook my feet clear of the rope, and climbed
for my life. I had just reached the collar of the shaft and Joe was straining at
my arms when the first shot went off with a terrific bang and filled the hole
with flying rock. As I was still wriggling to get over the collar, a flat piece
of stone caught me fair and boosted me over, unhurt. Had the piece struck me
with its edge, it would almost have cut me in two. Our excitement over the first
shot was so great that the rocks that filled the air from the other four shots
This experience made it necessary
to put on another man, and we finished the contract as we had expected in the
Coming down off the hill to the Leadville road on our way to town one day
for groceries, I saw a man moving towards the city, swinging his arms and
singing at the top of his lungs. It proved to be our old friend, Hans Wolfe, who
had bought our Lowland Chief claim on Little Evans for $100.
Joe, thinking to have a little fun with the Dutchman, said: I’ll give
you $500 for the claim back, Hans! Wouldn’t take $5000, replied Wolfe. Then we
learned to our dismay that we had relinquished the substance for the shadow, and
that the claim we had carelessly given away for a few dollars was now a shipping
mine; that Hans had sent his wife in Germany $2000 to come to America; and six
months later the property was paying a dividend of $100,000 a month!