Carpentry Across The Old West
Back in gold fever days, towns sprouted overnight across the Old West. Prospectors, miners, teamsters, saloon keepers, real estate agents and adventurous women populated these communities with noisy intensity. Each strike drew another influx.
One character came more or less quietly, commencing with the first wave of gold seekers and continuing on until the last structure rose on its foundation — saloon, bank, family home or mining company headquarters. This individual arrived not with pick and shovel, horse and wagon, kegs and beer schooners, pens and legal forms, but hammer and saw.
Yes, few mining towns sprung into being without the hard labor and precise work of the lowly carpenter.
I happened to be one of those carpenters and I imagine myself and other nailers who minded their Ps and Qs made more money on average than the luckiest prospector or miner — though perhaps not more than a real estate agent.
I sawed boards, drove nails and tacked down shingles throughout the Old West, from the Montana diggings to the Oregon country sluices to the California gold frenzy. I lost my ring finger to a saw in Alder Gulch, three teeth to a wind-flung rafter in Jacksonville and my right knee cap to a stray bullet in Poker Flat. Even so, I probably fared better healthwise than most prospectors or miners, many of whom wound up in Boot Hill for one reason or another.
I began to ponder the feasibility of building a home for myself and settling down. Fate decided for me.
I usually sensed when the local diggings had about petered out. One tip-off: prospectors and miners began spending more time in saloons than the gold fields. With little promise for a new wave of customers for my hammer and saw, I would pack up my tools and move on.
This nomadic life continued for several profitable years. I began to ponder the feasibility of building a home for myself and settling down. Fate decided for me.
A carpenter usually recognizes one of his own kind. I noticed a slim, young nailer struggling to place a heavy ladder against a building and offered to help.
"Thank you," said a feminine voice. I stood dumbstruck. A lady carpenter, and a pretty one.
A year later, married, we moved into a little cottage of our own construction.