Joplin, Missouri and the surrounding towns were founded on mining. Don Hunter grew up on the outskirts of Joplin, where he still resides today. Mr. Hunter visited the mines often as a child because both his father and uncle were miners.
The mines were very dangerous places shared Hunter. “My uncle died in the mines. He was drunk when he got off of his shift one night. When he got off of the shaft elevator, he tripped and fell back down the shaft. Somebody caught him by his boots, but he fell out of them.”
Not only was mining dangerous, the process was also very extensive and labor intensive. Holes for dynamite were drilled with spud bars. One miner would hold the spud bar while the other forced it deeper into the wall. Then dynamite would be stuck in the hole, and ignited. The dynamite blew the rocks and minerals into pieces. The rocks and dirt were separated by sludge tables. Sludge tables consisted of a wooden table with pegs that progressively became closer and closer. Flowing water would carry the dirt and mineral mixture through the pegs, which would separate the minerals from the dirt. There were usually fifteen or more sludge tables working at a time in one mine. Mr. Hunter’s father was the ground boss at one of the mines. His job was to run the cables that moved the dirt and minerals out of the shafts.The machine consisted of a pulley with cups attached to it. The cups would scoop up the dirt or minerals and then take it to the exterior of the shaft, where it would be dumped on the ground through a funnel. This is how all the tailing piles around here were made.
Once the minerals such as zinc, lead, and ore were mined, they would be taken to factories in ore trucks. Mr. Hunter recalls wanting to be an ore truck driver when he was younger. According to him, there was a man at Wilder’s restaurant in downtown Joplin who actually bought ore. Ore dust would slip through the cracks in the office floorboards. After awhile he would lift the floorboards up and gather all the loose ore dust. The mines in the area were so extensive that miners were able to drive from Webb City, Missouri all the way to Quapaw, Oklahoma underground. There are roads in Joplin that are built over the old mines. Special mine cars were used to get from shaft to shaft underground. The cars were miniature size with special water filters to extract the exhaust.
Mr. Hunter provided great insight into our past mining world. The mines played a large role in the history of Joplin and its surrounding areas. Our ancestors worked hard to create the place we live in now, and we can still see the effects of their hard work today.