A Turret Tragedy

Article by Dick Dixon

Local History – August 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

The Jasper mine, near the hopeful gold camp of Turret, was about five years old and headed for its heyday when tragedy struck shortly after the turn of the century. Miner Frank Carpenter frantically tried to climb the greasy cable of a stalled mine bucket and fell about 70 feet down the shaft to be “blown to pieces by the explosion of seven shots.”

Turret — all located on private land — survives today as a sunburned ghost town at the end of Chaffee County Road 184 about 12 miles northeast of Salida.

The town was born as Camp Austin in 1884-85 when David E.C. Austin and his family moved there to cut wood for charcoal kilns at Nathrop and ties for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. In their spare time, the Austins prospected, but with little luck.

Their efforts, however, attracted others who scoured Cat Gulch for riches. Bonanza gold discoveries at Cripple Creek, about 60 miles east, spurred prospecting in the hills north of Salida and around Turret. Many men believed it would only be a matter of time before they, too, would find enough gold for fame and fortune. The Jasper was one of those promising holes where men were driving hard for more depth — when the accident happened August 25, 1902.

Carpenter and his partner, Don Hartwick, turned quickly from seven lit dynamite fuses and climbed onto opposite sides of the rim of an ore bucket. They gave the signal to hoist, and the bucket rose obediently about 25 feet above the bottom of the 130-foot shaft. But then the friction wheel on the 12-horsepower gasoline engine came loose, and the bucket stopped.

At the top of the shaft, men worked in feverish haste. As the brakeman kept the bucket from falling, others hurried to tighten the wheel. It took only a few seconds, but to the men hanging on the bucket a few feet above live dynamite charges, it was an eternity.

As engineers worked, machinery remained running, causing the bucket to rise in sporadic jerks. Carpenter became frightened and tried to shinny up the greasy cable while Hartwick, nearly numb with fear, tried to remain still and talk his partner down. Carpenter climbed the cable some distance before sliding back to the bucket rim. The failure “seemed to craze him” even more. Hartwick looped one arm around the cable, and with the other tried to hold Carpenter and convince him to climb into the bucket.

But terror deafened Carpenter, and he paid no heed. Carpenter repeatedly tried to climb the cable, causing the bucket to “sway frightfully,” making it more difficult for Hartwick to hang on. Several feet up the cable, the frantic Carpenter lost his grip and fell. Hartwick caught the man with one arm, but was unable to hold the twisting, kicking miner who plummeted head first down the shaft screaming, “Oh, my God!” Carpenter’s head repeatedly struck timbers as he fell, and Hartwick heard the thump as his partner hit bottom amid the smoke of the dynamite fuses. There was no other sound.

At almost the same instant, men working above gave a final hasty spin of a wrench, and the bucket — relieved of half its load — began to rise steadily toward daylight. Moments after Hartwick jumped from the bucket rim to safety, the shots began to explode deep in the ground.

Men crouched at the top of the shaft, heads in their hands, and said little until the smoke cleared and they recovered enough from shock to descend into the shaft. They found Carpenter’s body “horribly mangled, being almost torn in two at the waist, one arm blown off and one leg torn to pieces.” Hartwick said — more to convince himself than the other miners — that he was sure his partner was dead before he hit the bottom of the shaft.

Carpenter, a new hire, signed insurance papers only minutes before he went to work that day, paying a 50 cent premium. He was engaged to Miss Pearl Abernathy of Montrose and, because the company could not locate any blood relatives, it became her sad duty to bury her sweetheart. She arrived in Turret on the stagecoach, and picked up Carpenter’s remains which the men saved in a metal barrel. Miss Abernathy made funeral arrangements with Haight and Churcher in Salida where she learned she was sole beneficiary of his insurance policy. She received $545.50. Frank Carpenter was buried in Fairview Cemetery in Salida.

At a subsequent inquest, the 4-Bs Mining Company was exonerated because, “the trouble with the hoist was such as is liable to develop at any time with any kind of friction hoisting machinery.”

Years earlier, in 1897, the Jasper had started under happier circumstances when Frank B. Keyes, Charles Klisinger and Emil Becker located the mine. They recorded it the same day they recorded the Vivandiere claim at the head of Cat Gulch. Jumbled boulders on the steep north slope of Cat Gulch hid the Jasper from the world, but it was only about a half mile from the Vivandiere.

A year later, discouraged because they didn’t have money to develop the rich prospect, Keyes and Klisinger sold a one-third interest for $300 to Fred Karger and Anton Hartwick, the father of Don Hartwick. Both men were Turret pioneers.

In the ensuing years, however, the Jasper suffered numerous financial difficulties, and the mine actually closed in December of 1900 due to a wage lien.

But Emil Becker, the only original discoverer still connected with the Jasper, joined with Anton Hartwick. In 1901. the mine was patented with 10.331 acres. During the spring and summer before the patent application, Becker and Hartwick retimbered the shaft, stopping long enough to remove more than six tons of high grade ore which they sacked for shipment. Becker thought his ship had landed when he pulled several samples from the mine which assayed at $1.43 per pound of ore.

On February 17, 1902 the Four-Bs Mining Company leased the Jasper for $24,700, with a lease stipulating the full amount would fall due January 17, 1904. The company inherited a shaft 108 feet deep and several smaller openings on the vein. The gasoline engine which ran the hoist involved in Carpenter’s death was ordered May 15, 1902 and was put to work six weeks later, shortly before the tragic accident.

After the accident, work was pushed harder. By October of 1902, the shaft was 150 feet deep and a level ore station was being cut and timbered with square sets and lagging. By December, Don Hartwick was in Salida bragging that the shaft was down 195 feet and that 12 men were working two shifts. He explained the first carload shipment of ore — hauled by wagon to the D&RG mainline in Brown’s Canyon — was on the siding at Hecla Junction and that it would be processed at the new Ohio and Colorado Smelter in Salida.

In June, the Jasper was 240 feet deep. Anton Hartwick became superintendent, and by July the shaft was 275 feet deep. Shipments continued in one and two carload lots, but were delayed by bad roads made worse by summer storms and inability to get gondolas from the Denver and Rio Grande.

In August, the mine was 300 feet deep. Miners paused, allowing photographer Frank Hall of Turret to take their picture. It didn’t show in the photograph, but the men were particularly impressed with a three-foot-thick vein of high grade ore they discovered.

When the men started drilling for another 100 feet of depth, water began seeping into the mine, but a steam-driven pump solved that problem. A gasoline engine had been used at first because there was no water for a steam engine. But as depth increased, water began to collect, and it became feasible to use a small steam engine. Owners predicted that flow would be ample for a heavier steam boiler if it became necessary.

Four-Bs officials claimed they had enough money in the treasury to pick up the $24,700 bond in one payment when the time came. Payment was on time — in the form of a large block of stock rather than cash. Officers attributed their “success” to good management by David Allen.

Every strike in Turret District was the “biggest ever made,” but the one May 13, 1904, in the east drift of the Jasper 300 foot level honestly seemed to have merit. Bad air slowed progress a little, but a pipeline and blower solved that problem.

A chunk of Jasper ore, two feet thick, four feet long and two feet wide, was hoisted to the surface. It was displayed on a platform in Turret. To prove how good the ore was, a tub of water, a gold pan and a hammer were provided at the display so that “doubting Thomases” could “pan the gold out for themselves.” There were a few streaks where spectators could whittle a little free gold from the rock with pocket knives.

Shipments continued, and stockholders must have started figuring what they would do with their dividend checks. By September 9, every ore bin around the Jasper was filled.

But shipments were delayed by heavy rain which made the road to Hecla Junction “impossible.” Still, work by two and sometimes three shifts continued at a hectic pace.

Shipping resumed September 14, 1904, — the same day new stock was offered at 25 cents per share. Within two weeks, the Jasper reportedly was shipping an average of two cars per month. The Turret mine received national fame in 1904 when Dr. Bancroft shipped a 500 pound piece of Jasper ore — all that was left of the larger chunk hauled out in the spring — to the Kansas City Board of Trade for display.

On November 11, company officials reported their most recent car of ore returned a $250 profit. Yet, in spite of shipments and profit claims to newspapers, the 4-Bs Company ran out of money, and litigation by creditors followed.

In 1906, a writ of attachment from Chaffee County District Court amounting to $2,111.25 was slapped on the property. Also, Hartwick and Becker eventually won their damage suit against the company as did August W. Johnson who held a labor and supply lien. On March 2, 1907, the Jasper was sold to Philip Graff of the Jasper Mining and Development Company for $2,576.25 in a sale conducted by Chaffee County Sheriff W.S. Brewster.

For many years, the Jasper was little more than a conversation piece in Turret. In 1933, it became the property of Carl Sondregger and others on a $10 mining deed. They formed the Gold Queen Mining and Milling Company which bonded and leased the Jasper to G.E. Devereaux. The mine was worked for a time, but the bond was never picked up, the sale was never consummated, and taxes weren’t paid.

In 1941, a treasurer’s deed for $1,200 turned the Jasper over to Chaffee County for taxes owed from 1933-35; in 1955, Volney Newton Perry and Esther M. Perry got the mine on a county deed for $116.67.

Perry leased out the Jasper twice, but little happened. He lived in a cabin there through the winter of 1977-78 and continued to prospect the claim for the next 15 years. Until his death on June 16, 1994, Perry maintained the faith evidenced in the Jasper by Emil Becker — that the Jasper would someday be a paying mine.

In all the hustle and bustle of development and litigation, Frank Carpenter was forgotten. He was simply one of the unfortunate casualties of the rush for gold in which every little mining camp in Colorado — including Turret — hoped to rival the glory of Cripple Creek.

This is adapted from the chapter “Boom and Bust … Mines Need a Railroad” in Dixon’s book Trails Among the Columbine, A Colorado High-Country Chronicle: The D&RG’s Calumet Branch and the Turret Mining Area, which has just been published by Sundance Publications Ltd. Dick Dixon has lived in Salida for 25 years. He teaches journalism and Colorado history at Salida High School, and, on occasion, for Colorado Mountain College. His other books include Off The Beaten Path, Back Country by Automobile and Smokestack, The Story of the Salida Smelter.

He began research on the Turret book in 1972, completing the first version in 1985. It sat on the shelf for want of a publisher until Sundance agreed in 1993 to publish it. At the last minute, about 120 photos became available from the family of Frank L. Hall, who was Turret’s resident photographer for about four years.