The Mining Camps Speak
As appearing in The Gold Nugget, June 2008
by Bill and Beth Sagstetter (Transcribed by Paul Nagy)


[ Mining Camps Speak ] For more than forty years, Bill and Beth Sagstetter prowled old mining camps in search of relics and history. From the 1960's onward, much of the old camps disappeared as buildings were hauled away, and the sites were visited by successions of collectors, vandals, and the curious. But few took the time to truly study and understand our great mining heritage. Now the Sagstetters have compiled their lifetime of fieldwork into a fascinating and informative guide for the outdoor enthusiast, who may have tired of merely hiking or watching birds: "The Mining Camps Speak." With this volume you can visit old mine sites and learn how people lived and worked in frontier times.

Bill relates how you can identify a horse whim, an early method of hoisting rock, material, and miners up or down a shallow shaft, powered by a horse on a circular path. If the prospect was successful, the horse whim might be replaced by equipment powered by a flue boiler, the parts of which can also be identified. The former site of a mine's blacksmith shop will often have artifacts such as bits of leather drive belts, anvil stumps, and pieces of bellows. The site of an old assay office may have pieces of ceramic assay crucibles scattered about. An old mill site may have jawcrusher parts and steel grinding balls.

Mining camp trash dumps often can be dated by the types of tin cans discarded there. Beth Sagstetter demonstrated a homemade candle-powered "flashlight" popular before the development of the battery-powered type. Its efficiency was surprising in the darkened hall.

The Sagstetters concluded their talk by relating an adventure in an old camp perched on a precipice in the San Juan Mountains. Just a photo of the narrow cliff-edge access trail was enough to make the audience gasp. A night was spent in the old bunk house replete with strange sounds and many eyes peering at them from the darkness of the rafters. One wondered if the old miners were relieved to go underground to relative safety rather than the other way 'round!

Elizabeth M. and William E. Sagstetter are a writer/photographer team living in Denver, Colorado. For three decades their greatest joy has been visiting the ghost towns of the American West. The Sagstetter byline has appeared on hundreds of magazine articles to date. They have been on lthe staff of a national magazine and were a correspondent/photographer team for the Denver Post. This is their second book. They produced several documents about the West that aired on primetime television. One of their films, "The Mystery of Huajatolla," went on to win a Special Award at the Aspen Arts Film Festival in 1978. Beth researched and wrote the scripts for the film. Bill was an honorarium instructor in filmmaking at the University of Colorado/Denver for several years. He has also taught Colorado history for many years. Bill's name appears on more than twenty patents. This patent experience helped to unravel the turn-of-the-centuryf technology while they were working on this book. Both Beth and Bill are listed in Marquis' Who's Who in the West.

Back Top Home

© 2008 Gold Prospectors of the Rockies