Mining Trash in the Desert

When is one person's trash another's treasure?  When the trash is 90 years old and 200 feet down in an old gold mine then there is no doubt that a historic treasure has been found! In late 1997 Dr Lane Griffin and Scott Werschky had been hired as expert geologists to map the underground levels of the Lynda-Mohawk on the Mohawk-1 patented mining shafts near Goldfield, Nevada. In their examination of the Lynda shaft they soon discovered that the two-man access shaft was totally blocked at the 100 foot level. The diagram shows the general layout and depth of the compacted trash:

When the trash in this shaft was discovered to consist of unique historic gold mining documents, as well as artifacts like bottles and tins from 1910 - 1912, Lane and Scott developed a strategy with the owners of the shaft to suit up in full protective regalia with breathing apparatus to allow mining of the artifacts. 

   

Dr Lane Griffin is shown in full protective gear with breathing apparatus.*

All of the items in the dump shaft date between 1910 and 1912, the heyday of the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Company and the beginning of the eclipse of Goldfield as a great rowdy mining camp of the Old West.  Goldfield at this time was brought under control by consolidated mine owners Nixon and Wingfield as a company town -  Goldfield was also transformed by new laws in Nevada that prohibited gaming after 1910.  Thus Goldfield evolved from a rowdy gambling camp with labor troubles into a business-like company town where the most serious problem was the high-grading of rich ore; meanwhile the back of the Goldfield labor unions had been broken by Wingfield, Davis and the GMOA by 1908. 

The content of the dump reflects the business and engineering maturity of the camp because most documents in the dump can be categorized as mining and engineering related journals; in addition the two partners found hundreds of mining operations documents, assay sheets, mine maps and a multitude of other GCMC materials. Along with the documents, the geologists removed dozens of bottles and tins, many of which were absolutely unique to this period. A circa 1910 machinist's blue bottle is shown below.

   

Machinist's Blue Bottle, San Francisco 1910

One of the many mysteries of the dump shaft regards the quantity and variety of clothing and personal items found in the dump. In terms of social archeology, items of clothing and personal belongings like pocket knives, notebooks, photos, miner's union membership cards, etc, can be found in trash dumps but not in the quantity seen in the Lynda shaft. 

Dr Griffin and Mr. Werschky are of the opinion that special conditions of 1910-1912 might have caused individuals to leave camp suddenly - eg aggravated labor strife and the beginning of the decline of the camp - the relevance being that the clothing and belongings of these men might have been thrown down the shaft as trash; in the case of labor agitators darker fates may have awaited militant union members at the hands of thugs like "Diamondfield" Jack Davis and his cohorts, or perhaps 'jobbers' hired by Wingfield and Cook addressed the union problem with a deadly GMOA agenda -  we shall never know for certain.    

Certainly there is a larger mystery concerning the full backpack of personal belongings found relating to labor agitator and activist Dan McGraw: why was McGraw's backpack thrown down the shaft in 1910?  Perhaps Dan died of pneumonia? Or he left camp suddenly? Or perhaps Mr. McGraw's politics were not of the right color and he paid the ultimate price -- we shall never know.

Today the items in the Goldfield dump shaft have all been sold to private collectors however Lane and Scott are looking for their next great challenge, the goal being to find high grade ore instead of ninety year old trash!

Supreme Court Justice Bartlett was a close friend of mining magnate George Wingfield.  Bartlett was an Alpine County, California judge in the 1890's before his election to the Nevada Supreme Court.  


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