Description of Figure/Doll

This miner is a hand sculpted from rough clay, and is signed on the back by Schoolcraft. He has a handlebar mustache and beard, and is holding a rock pick in one hand and a piece of pyrite in the other. He is sitting on a rock.

USA: Colorado

Location: Middle of USA

Capital: Denver

Main language: English

Currency: US dollar

Figure/Doll

Construction: clay, pyrite

Height in Centimeters: 20

Height in Inches: 8

Mining Silver in Colorado: My Great-grandfather's Story

Reading Level: 4.70

This story is about my great-grandfather, Sam Sherwin. Sam grew up on a farm in Illinois. When he was 15 years old (in 1885), he heard about the gold mines in Colorado. He decided to leave the farm and seek his fortune out west. He was sure that he would get rich.

Sam did not have much money, so he hopped freight trains that were headed to Colorado. When he reached Denver and saw the mountains, he was very excited. He had never seen anything so majestic!

Denver was a pretty wild town in 1885. The dirt streets were filled with horses and buggies as the traders and miners from the west came to purchase supplies. There were lots of gambling houses and taverns, too, where those who had “struck it rich” would celebrate. Sam asked some men where he should go to find gold. They told him there wasn’t much gold left in the Colorado mountains, but there was still lots of silver. Following their advice, he took another train to the small mining town called Silverton.

Sam learned that it took a whole team of men to mine silver. They had to blast tunnels in the mountains and use shovels, picks, and sledge hammers. They drilled holes in the rock and set charges of black powder (explosives). It was dangerous work because after they lit the powder, the rock would explode. Sam had to run for cover and shield his ears when the explosives went off.

Working in a silver mine was very hard work. After the rocks were blown apart, they had to carry them out of the mine. Some of the bigger mines had ore carts that they could load with rocks and push on rails to the opening of the mine. Sometimes mules moved the ore carts through the mines.

After the rocks were taken from the mine, they were hand-sorted. If it looked like they had silver, they were sent to the mill for processing. Sometimes it took many weeks of back-breaking work to find enough silver to pay all of the men. Other times, if they were lucky, they would find huge pockets of silver and everyone would get a bonus.

You might wonder what happened to Sam. Well, he didn’t get rich mining silver. In fact, most of the silver mines closed down by 1893 when the price of silver fell. Sam didn’t really mind through—he was tired of working in the dark, under the mountains. Using his farming skills, Sam got a job on one of the cattle ranches in Colorado. The rest of his life he enjoyed working on top of the mountains.

Sam died a long time before I was born. However, that shiny piece of silver that he is holding has become a family heirloom. Maybe someday it will be mine.


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