REVIEW - BIRDMAN OF TREADWELL

Warren, Edwin, edited by Barry Kibler, The Birdman of Treadwell: Diary of a Treadwell Gold Miner, 1903-1904. AuthorHouse Publishing. Softbound. 98 pages. Black-and-white photographs. $9.00.

Edwin Warren was an earnest, religiously devout young man whose great passion was ornithology. He came to Juneau to work in the Treadwell mine complex on Douglas in 1903 and returned the next year, hoping to earn his tuition to Stanford University. His writing about his work in the mines gives a bit of the flavor of the hard, dangerous life there. A month after he began work he wrote of fainting from the gas and smoke while waiting for the skip, or hoist, to return to the fresh air. However, he does not tell us why no one else fainted, or mention any effort on the part of the owners to improve the situation. We can only assume that was considered just part of the job in those days. A few days later he reported a cable broke, dropping an ore-loaded hoist to the bottom of the shaft, killing two men; the cable's backlash killed a hoist engineer. Several other men were wounded. Again, just reporting the news. Not quite two weeks later two more men were killed when a slab of rock fell on them. He notes they were Swedes and various miners are quitting now.

The Treadwell mines were said to be among the best at offering amenities to their workers, although Warren mentions hospital and library fees were deducted from his paycheck.

Relations among the multi-national miners were tense and occasionally boiled over. He mentions a near riot between the Slavs (a number of Serbians worked in the mines) and "white men" as he casually refers to them. The fight was broken up by a fire hose.

He preferred going to the Native services in church, but sadly, tells us little of the people, other than missionaries tried to save them and other whites tried to debauch them. There's a mention of a lovely canoe going past (the women helped paddle; anathema to a young man of that day) and a visit with a Tlingit who was flensing the skin of a huge brown bear skin he'd shot on Admiralty Island.

Although Warren was a most upright young man; he disapproved of saloons, work on Sunday, and went to church on during the week and on Sundays, he was still a man of his time; he regretted Audubon's successors, instead of hunting birds with a gun, were "more timid namesakes... with a campstool and pair of opera glasses." He did love his bird-watching and wrote about the different species he saw. The only regret he expressed for home was leaving his beloved golden eagles.

He was called home for some unspecified reason but returned the next April. However, he made up his mind not to work on Sundays, so left for home in mid-May.

Edwin didn't graduate from Stanford, but had all the education he wanted. In later life he lived with his widowed daughter and her children. His grandson, Barry Kibler, remembers him with love and awe. Overall, it would have been nice if Barry had done some research on the people and events his grandfather writes about. If Kibler had found George Bird Grinnell founded the Audubon Society and was immensely respected nationally as an ornithologist and naturalist, this would have added a dimension to Edwin, since he and Grinnell corresponded regularly.

If there was more about mining conditions in general in the early 20th century, pay comparisons with today's wages, even attempts to find out how many nationalities worked at Treadwell and further accounts of animosities among them, this would have fleshed out his beloved grandfather for today's reader.

However, there's still plenty of time for Mr. Kibler to do research and perhaps give us a full account. We can only be grateful he has published the diaries themselves. He also gave copies to the State Historical Library and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, a most generous gift. The originals have gone to Stanford.

The number of typos is irritating, but standard in the vanity presses. Our hero wrote to "Dr. C. Hart (in) Merrian, Washington", which would have been a surprise to the famous C. Hart Merriam of Washington, D.C.

It is also hard not to laugh when he reported reading "Nausea's" Farthest North. That was later corrected to "Mansen", but Fridjof Nansen was not mentioned.

D. L.

 

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