Women of the Gold Rush Era Not Told To Stay Home
By Sally Taylor
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 become so cush that men just don't really much get the chance to see what a Woman can accomplish when put to the test. Did I forget to mention in the last paragraph, that if there was no one I could hire, 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 collect my treasures. I do this with no company other than my dog most of the time. It is relaxing and keeps me mentally sharp, physically fit, and well entertained. Unfortunately, I continually get slammed by men who feel this is wrong for me to do. It is dangerous. I am too old. The car might break down. I might get lost. Anything could happen. And the one that really gets under my skin - I belong at home unless I am working or running errands. These are seriously attitudes that I am faced with frequently.
One February I was stranded in the Ochoco Mountains. Temperatures were in the single digits at night. It took me 4 days to get out. When I hit the main road, I flagged a car to get a ride to town. My dog and I were a bit dirty, but didn't feel any too bad. The same day that I walked out onto the main road, a man was being dragged off of Mt Hood in a stretcher. He had been out the same amount of time I had been. He didn't fare so well. Guess no one ever taught him to climb a tree to get dry wood to get a fire going. He wasn't a smoker, so he probably "just forgot his lighter, too. The press did it up real well. I was never contacted to talk to the media - guess it might 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. He simply pointed out that I had no business going off by myself. Not even on a day off. To this day I firmly believe that had I been a male, my prowess at getting out of the situation in one piece would have been highly applauded. Would a man have been told that they had no business leaving the house on a day off?
Another man asked me if I had "learned my lesson meaning did I know now my place was in the home. I quickly pointed out that yes I had. I learned that for a 44 year old woman I was still pretty buff. I also learned that I can still build a campfire that would make an Indian cry from jealousy. 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 handle any conditions a man can, handle any crisis a man can, and even excel financially in even the roughest of environments. Some of them can do this better than the very man who might have told them that their place is in the home.
Mining towns and camps were not the easiest places to live. Just getting to some of those towns in those days was often a life threatening journey. Women were just as likely to survive the trip as the men were. The towns themselves were often built to be temporary and were nothing more than tents or cabins with dirt floors at best. Winters were bitter, food often scarce when 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 able to handle the conditions. They set up businesses washing miner's clothing, cleaning, and much money was made by good cooks. One miner's wife, Mrs. C.J. Everson of Empire, Colorado made her fortune when she discovered and patented a new means of concentrating metals by pouring pulverized ore in a solution of water and an oily substance and agitating it. The barren rock dust would sink to the bottom and the metal sand would adhere to the oily substance which would float to the top. In the early 1880's the new method of concentrating 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't imagine a man being so pig-headed or insipid to have ever told Nellie Cashman that she had no business out there in the rough, that she was too frail, or not smart enough to handle the rough environment.
Nellie was born in Ireland in 1845 and her family came to America during the potato famine. In 1872 she and her mother moved to the Pioche, Nevada mining camp area and opened a boarding house there. Pretty rough country for a couple of women on their own, one an aged woman at that.
Nellie moved on a few years later on her own to the Cassiar district of British Columbia, close to where Juno now stands, where she operated a boarding house and started to actually to do some placer mining of her own.
It was here she claimed the title "Angel of Mercy". Nellie was in the Victoria area when she heard that her fellow miners at Cassiar were hit by an extremely violent blizzard. No one could get through. Supplies were running out. People were sick. There wasn't much time to lose in saving her 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. But Nellie did. Her ability to get through the snow that no one else could get through, bringing life saving medicines and supplies to the camp made her famous. No one told Nellie that she had no business out there - that she wasn't capable or that something might happen to her, or that she didn't belong out there. The miners were damned grateful that she had the grit to go - they thought of her as a hero. She had saved them from miserable deaths. She had accomplished what no man had been able to do.
Nellie continued to work boarding homes and hotels in mining districts. She also became quite knowledgeable about mining geology and worked and owned several claims. She made much money and gave much of it to hospitals and churches. In 1905, at the age of 60, Nellie moved to Nolan Creek in Koyukuk country, the northern most mining area at the time, and a more than harsh environment. Nellie spent the last twenty years of her life there, working and purchasing claims which she worked with her own hands and the help of a few paid assistants.
In 1904, Nellie realized that her health was failing. So at the age of 79 she finally gave up tending her mines and claims and worked her way south to receive care at Sister's of St. Ann in Victoria - a hospital that she had contributed much funding for forty years earlier. She died there in January of 1925, at the age 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 became an extremely successful miner in the Buena Vista area of Colorado. She worked extremely dangerous avalanche areas at high altitudes, and had 15 mines recorded in her name. Caroline worked 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. Of course that was her work - at home life was no easier. She had to haul water almost a mile, and had to go down the mountain and haul supplies back. After all she had two children to care for on her own. When the end of the miner's day had come and the men started their journey's home to sit and rest after a hard day, Caroline got to go to her second job - her home and family. Someone forgot to tell her that this kind of life was too hard for a 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 a woman. Olga started breaking horses for pay at the age of 14. At 26 she married a mine owner and worked for him taking pack trains of Burros up the mountains to deliver supplies to miners who had no means to get supplies in winter. Olga became famous when stranded at a mine during a snowstorm, she was able to save the lives of the miners (and incidently her own), leading them out and down the mountain to safety and supplies. None of the miners receiving Olga's delivered supplies, nor those that she rescued from the mine told her that a woman needed to stay home because something might happen to her if she left the house on her 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 had told her about when she accidently found gold and started her own mining career. Her son staked her first claim for her, but the Manager at the claims office told her women couldn't file claims. By the time she left the office, however, she was the proud owner of the soon to be famous Mollie Kathleen mine. Guess someone forgot to tell her that it was too rough for a woman out there.
Doctor Susan Anderson (Doc Susie) of Fort Wayne Indiana moved to the mountains for her health after finding out she had tuberculosis. She went from Cripple Creek to Denver and on to Greeley finding little acceptance in these towns for women doctors. She moved back up to the Mountains of Fraser, Colorado when her illness worsened. She did not tell the people there that she was a doctor, but word eventually leaked out despite. Doc Suzie ended up with many patients and was known to travel to very remote places in very difficult weather to treat them. The sick and injured miner's she treated seem to have forgotten to mention that being a woman she was likely to 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 history's of the myriad 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 camps and towns did not tell the women to stay home. They did not admonish them for going into environments that were hostile or outright dangerous, or where life was hard. Sure bad things could happen - but they could, and did, happen to men, too. (Hmmn. No one ever told a man he should have stayed home if something happened to him while he was out). Men knew they needed these women, and were grateful that the gals could handle it out there so well. Life would have been much rougher without them.
All in all, where men came up with the idea that women are helpless is really unclear. Do they tell us not to go places because they are afraid that THEY couldn't handle it and would have their egos severely bruised if a woman could handle something the man could not? Or are they just so selfish that they think that a woman who is to have a man in her life is to completely give up their lives to be available 24/7 to serve their needs because a man can't take care of himself without a servant for a day or two, or just don't want to have to do anything for themselves? Perhaps they are worried about the poor little fragile thing like a woman (funny they don't worry about protecting her from children's vomit and diarrhea or blood, terrible working conditions, or just plain over work).
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 who kiss your women goodbye even though there is danger where she chooses to go, you are to be commended for your rationality. The rest of you need to get a clue, grow up, and learn to take care of yourself a little bit without the continual need of a "mommy to do it for you. We really don'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 a mountain that I want to go check out. If you have a problem with that, don't bother emailing me. I am not receptive to your childish and tyrannical whims. You may feel free to call 1-800-waahh with your complaints anytime though. Maybe the man that answers the phone will be more understanding.
About The Author
Sally Taylor is an avid rock, gem, and treasure hunter; explorer; writer; She has recently brought her love of the outdoor adventure to the net in the creation of http://www.rockhoundstation1.com.