Women of the Gold Rush Era Not Told to Stay Home
Okay, you males out there – listen up, because it’s way time for you folks to get a clue. I don’t know where the mid to late 1900’s male idea that women are helpless came from, but it is quarter past high time for you all to get over it. Women do not have the raw body strength ounce per ounce that a man has, we aren’t going to argue that. If I had an acre of land to plow I would undeniably hire a man over a woman any day. Where the idea that I am helpless follows from that, is such a quantum leap of logic that it can’t realistically be given any credence.
I’m going to cut you just a bit of slack, and blame it on the fact that life in America has becomeso cush that men just don’t really much get the chance to see what a Woman can accomplishwhen put to the test. Did I forget to mention in the last paragraph, that if there was no one I couldhire, I would get it done on my own.I am a woman. I am a rockhound. As a rockhound, I travel to places out in the wilds to collectmy treasures. I do this with no company other than my dog most of the time. It is relaxing andkeeps me mentally sharp, physically fit, and well entertained. Unfortunately, I continually getslammed by men who feel this is wrong for me to do. It is dangerous. I am too old. The carmight break down. I might get lost. Anything could happen. And the one that really gets undermy skin – I belong at home unless I am working or running errands. These are seriouslyattitudes that I am faced with frequently.
One February I was stranded in the Ochoco Mountains. Temperatures were in the single digitsat night. It took me 4 days to get out. When I hit the main road, I flagged a car to get a ride totown. My dog and I were a bit dirty, but didn’t feel any too bad. The same day that I walked outonto the main road, a man was being dragged off of Mt Hood in a stretcher. He had been out thesame amount of time I had been. He didn’t fare so well. Guess no one ever taught him to climb atree to get dry wood to get a fire going. He wasn’t a smoker, so he probably “”just forgot”” hislighter, too. The press did it up real well. I was never contacted to talk to the media – guess itmight have made the guy look bad, or just wasn’t exciting without a major rescue involved.
When I got to town I called my boss. He fired me without even asking if I was alright. Hesimply pointed out that I had no business going off by myself. Not even on a day off. To this day Ifirmly believe that had I been a male, my prowess at getting out of the situation in one piece wouldhave been highly applauded. Would a man have been told that they had no business leaving thehouse on a day off?
Another man asked me if I had “”learned my lesson”” meaning did I know now my place was inthe home. I quickly pointed out that yes I had. I learned that for a 44 year old woman I was stillpretty buff. I also learned that I can still build a campfire that would make an Indian cry fromjealousy. Oh, and that crayfish and fish are really easy to catch when the water gets cold enough.The truth is that throughout the history of this nation, women have proved to be able to handleany conditions a man can, handle any crisis a man can, and even excel financially in even theroughest of environments. Some of them can do this better than the very man who might havetold them that their place is in the home.
Mining towns and camps were not the easiest places to live. Just getting to some of thosetowns in those days was often a life threatening journey. Women were just as likely to survivethe trip as the men were. The towns themselves were often built to be temporary and werenothing more than tents or cabins with dirt floors at best. Winters were bitter, food often scarcewhen weather would not permit supply wagons through. But there were women in these camps.Surprisingly, many were making more money than the miners.
Once in the camps, women proved to be very enterprising, very necessary, and very well ableto handle the conditions. They set up businesses washing miner’s clothing, cleaning, and muchmoney was made by good cooks.
One miner’s wife, Mrs. C.J. Everson of Empire, Colorado made her fortune when shediscovered and patented a new means of concentrating metals by pouring pulverized ore in asolution of water and an oily substance and agitating it. In the early 1880’s the new method ofconcentrating allowed many local mines to double and triple their production of gold and silver.
Bet none of the miners ever told her that she should not be there.Of course there were women, also, that went into the field of mining themselves. I can’timagine a man being so pig-headed or insipid to have ever told Nellie Cashman that she had nobusiness out there in the rough, that she was too frail, or not smart enough to handle the roughenvironment.
Nellie was born in Ireland in 1845 and her family came to America during the potato famine. In1872 she and her mother moved to the Pioche, Nevada mining camp area and opened aboarding house there. Pretty rough country for a couple of women on their own, one an agedwoman at that.
Nellie moved on a few years later on her own to the Cassiar district of British Columbia, closeto where Juno now stands, where she operated a boarding house and started to actually to dosome placer mining of her own.
It was here she claimed the title “”Angel of Mercy””. Nellie was in the Victoria area when sheheard that her fellow miners at Cassiar were hit by an extremely violent blizzard. No one could getthrough. Supplies were running out. People were sick. There wasn’t much time to lose in savingher friends. How could she get through? Not one man who had tried had succeeded.
No one remembered to tell Nellie that her place was in the home. She gathered supplies,dogs and sleds, hired a few hands, and was off to the rescue. No one could make it through. ButNellie did.
Her ability to get through the snow that no one else could get through, bringing life savingmedicines and supplies to the camp made her famous. No one told Nellie that she had nobusiness out there – that she wasn’t capable or that something might happen to her, or that shedidn’t belong out there. The miners were damned grateful that she had the grit to go – theythought of her as a hero. She had saved them from miserable deaths. She had accomplishedwhat no man had been able to do.
Nellie continued to work boarding homes and hotels in mining districts. She also became quiteknowledgeable about mining geology and worked and owned several claims. She made muchmoney and gave much of it to hospitals and churches. In 1905, at the age of 60, Nellie moved toNolan Creek in Koyukuk country, the northern most mining area at the time, and a more thanharsh environment. Nellie spent the last twenty years of her life there, working and purchasingclaims which she worked with her own hands and the help of a few paid assistants.
At the age of 79 she finally gave up tending her mines and claims when her health began tofade and worked her way south to receive care at Sister’s of St. Ann in Victoria – a hospital thatshe had contributed much funding for forty years earlier. She died there in January of 1925, at theage of 80.
Okay, sure, that is one woman, but there were others. Need more convincing?Caroline Moorehouse Mallin, born in Ohio in 1829, was widowed with 2 children. She becamean extremely successful miner in the Buena Vista area of Colorado. She worked extremelydangerous avalanche areas at high altitudes, and had 15 mines recorded in her name. Carolineworked these claims by herself.
The work was not easy. Caroline did her own mining work – shored up her mines with timbers,drilled and blasted, and even hauled the ores all by her little self. At home life was no easier. Shehad to haul water almost a mile, and had to go down the mountain and haul supplies back. Afterall she had two children to care for on her own. When the end of the miner’s day had come andthe men started their journey’s home to sit and rest after a hard day, Caroline got to go to hersecond job – her home and family. Someone forgot to tell her that this kind of life was too hard fora woman, or that she might become lost if she ventured from home on her own for supplies.
Olga Schaaf is another woman who just missed the fact that the wilderness is no place for awoman. Olga started breaking horses for pay at the age of fourteen. At twenty-six she married amine owner and worked for him taking pack trains of Burros up the mountains to deliver suppliesto miners who had no means to get supplies in winter. Olga became famous when stranded at amine during a snowstorm, she was able to save the lives of the miners (and incidently her own),leading them out and down the mountain she knew so well to safety and supplies. None of theminers receiving Olga’s delivered supplies, nor those that she rescued from the mine told her thata woman needed to stay home because something might happen to her if she left the house onher own.
Mollie Kathleen Gortner had a different reason for going to mining country – Cripple Creek,Colorado. She went to visit her son. While there she was looking for a herd of elk her son hadtold her about when she accidently found gold, a find that started her own mining career. Her sonstaked her first claim for her, but the Manager at the claims office told her women couldn’t fileclaims. By the time she left the office, however, she was the proud owner of the soon to befamous Mollie Kathleen mine. Guess someone forgot to tell her that it was too rough for a womanout there.
Doctor Susan Anderson (Doc Susie) of Fort Wayne, Indiana moved to the mountains for herhealth after finding out she had tuberculosis. She went from Cripple Creek to Denver and on toGreeley finding little acceptance in these towns for women doctors. She moved back up to theMountains of Fraser, Colorado when her illness worsened. She did not tell the people there thatshe was a doctor, but word eventually leaked out despite. Doc Suzie ended up with many patientsand was known to travel to very remote places in very difficult weather to treat them. The sick andinjured miners she treated seem to have forgotten to mention that being a woman she was likelyto become lost if she ventured out into the mountains on her own.Now if these stories aren’t convincing, all you need to do is troll through the histories of themyriad of mining areas during the gold rush era. Women played a major part of these histories.They not only supplied the services that miner’s needed, but many were miners themselves,working all day just to return home to care for their families and friends. The men in these campsand towns did not tell the women to stay home. They did not admonish them for going intoenvironments that were hostile or outright dangerous, or where life was hard. Sure bad thingscould happen – but they could, and did, happen to men, too. ( Hmmn. No one ever told a man heshould have stayed home if something happened to him while he was out). Men knew theyneeded these women, and were grateful that the gals could handle it out there so well. Life wouldhave been much rougher without them.
All in all, where men came up with the idea that women are helpless is really unclear. Do theytell us not to go places because they are afraid that THEY couldn’t handle it and would have theiregos severely bruised if a woman could handle something the man could not? Or are they just soselfish that they think that a woman who is to have a man in her life is to completely give up herlife to be available 24/7 to serve his needs because a man can’t take care of himself without aservant for a day or two, or just don’t want to have to do anything for themselves? Perhaps theyare worried about the poor little fragile thing like a woman (funny they don’t worry about protectingher from children’s vomit and diarrhea or blood, terrible working conditions, or just plain overwork).
Now in light of what you just learned, you can see that women just see your protests as silly,juvenile attempts to control another person’s life for your own selfish wants. For those of you whokiss your women goodbye even though there is danger where she chooses to go, you are to becommended for your rationality. The rest of you need to get a clue, grow up, and learn to takecare of yourself a little bit without the continual need of a “”mommy”” to do it for you. We reallydon’t need your guidance to decide how we want to live our lives or what is best for us.
Now that I have unloaded and have spoken my mind, I need to get out of here. There is amountain that I want to go check out. If you have a problem with that, don’t bother emailing me. Iam not receptive to your childish and tyrannical whims. You may feel free to call 1-800-waahhwith your complaints anytime, though. Maybe the man that answers the phone will be moreunderstanding.