R. G. Griffee
I recently retired from the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum in Leadville, Colorado where I worked for five years. During my career, I spent 15+ years working for mining-related companies. Now my focus is on my two passions, writing and history. I hope you will join me on this journey and see where it leads.
Living in the Colorado mountains has given me a unique insight into the social, economic and environmental challenges we all face in today's world. While I write fiction, these topics will be recurring throughout my stories.
Central Colorado Writers - member
Western Writers of America - member
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers - member
Bullfrog District, A Second Boom
is a historical and technical study of the Bullfrog Mine in Nevada. This was written and published when I was an employee of Bond International Gold, then owner of the mine.
Mysteries from the Museum
is a group project through Chaffee County Writers Exchange
where we took a theme and published short stories with a mining theme. The book was sold at the National Mining Hall of Fame & Museum gift shop with proceeds being donated to this awesome nonprofit. An excerpt from my short story Floored! follows.
by Robin Griffee Hall
Argent Silverman sat grumbling at her desk as she watched her computer screen while another opportunity passed her by. As curator for a national mining museum, it was her responsibility to look for traveling exhibits as might befit the museum’s mining theme, to bring in and display to their guests. The fact that the museum was just barely squeaking by financially made this task particularly difficult. They did have a fair amount of traffic in the summertime, but things like replacing that roof over the mineral wing and installing a new boiler so the staff and collections wouldn’t freeze, took an awful lot of funding and none of that came easy. What a shame though, this exhibit showing famous mine robberies would have brought people in the door. But forty thousand dollars! Ouch.
Closing her browser on that website, Argent switched to her email account to find something to distract her from feelings of frustration. Methodically opening each message, she automatically copied the same reply to the five people who were searching for ancestors in the mining camps. Not that she was unsympathetic with their efforts—she was interested in genealogy, too. But the truth of the matter was that back in the heyday of Leadville, Colorado, there were thousands upon thousands of men and women who came through the city to try their hand at mining and making their fortune. Most barely made a living, many didn’t survive, and those that did usually moved on to other places and occupations.
Living at 10,200 feet above sea level isn’t all that easy for many people today. In the late 1800s it was even more of a challenge. Most people, then and now, eventually adjust to the high altitude of Leadville, although some aren’t cut out for it and have to go back to a lower elevation. Winters were extremely tough in the 1800s. There weren’t snowplows, gas fireplaces, or Mr. Coffees to share the load then. It was a daily dose of hard work and ferocious energy that kept them going to survive.
Ah, and here was an email with another history inquiry. As curator, she frequently received photos of all manner of things which people thought might be mining related. She did her best to identify them, but all too often had no idea what she was looking at. Hm, this one, though. This photo was sent by a local man living on the outskirts of town, claiming to have come across an old miner’s lunch bucket, a common enough item. As Argent began to type her explanation to reply to the sender, her eye was caught by some type of crude carving on the lid of the bucket in the picture. What was that? Probably just scratches from rocks that damaged the case after all those years in a mine. Still, it might be worth a closer look. At the end of her message explaining the history of the item, Argent asked if the sender would be interested in bringing the lunch bucket in for closer examination. She explained that it was probably nothing important, but she would like to take a closer look at the lid.
In the Works
I am working now on my first novel. This is a mining-related mystery that takes place in the Leadville, Colorado area. Have you heard of rhodochrosite? You might be surprised to learn that it is the Colorado State Mineral! In its less spectacular forms, it usually appears a pale pink, and often gets thrown out of the ore pile as worthless. However, the best pieces are extremely valuable and are sometimes mistaken for rubies. In Colorado, the premier producer of this amazing mineral is The Sweet Home Mine, near Alma.
Claiming Rhodo Red © 2023
Reginald Covington III loosened the lead on his mule and paused to look down at what was once a bustling town. Gone were the hundreds of tents that once filled the clearing. Only a few structures remained to show that a thriving town of human souls filled with ambition, greed, and dreams for the future once inhabited this meadow. When the railroad to Leadville came through here a few years back, little towns like Cranston were no longer needed to transport supplies to the mines. Better quality and lower priced goods could now be sent by rail.
Few trees were still standing in any direction, so there was little left to burn. Most of the remaining structures had been torn apart, and their materials taken for use somewhere else. Here and there, the remains of a cellar stared up at the clear blue sky. A steady stream of smoke billowed from the chimney of one of the cabins that still stood upright. Chickens strutted around the scraps of a summer garden, finding what nourishment they could. Of course, not much grew in the short summer; only those things that sprouted and grew very quickly like lettuce, peas and spinach. Some folks planted potatoes because tubers wouldn’t freeze until later on.
Catching his breath, Reggie rested on one of the tree stumps and swigged the last of the water in his canteen. Three days ago, he left Leadville to make this trip northeast over the mountain. He determined to take a chance that the man he met in a saloon the previous summer might be able to come through with what he’d promised.
Maybe I’m just gullible, and this will turn out to be a big joke on me.
But John Flagg’s eyes said he was telling the truth, that he knew the right people to make this dream happen.
His journey over the mountain in late autumn sunshine was pleasant but wearying. He had done a little prospecting along the way, half-heartedly hoping to hit that windfall that would set him up for the rest of his life. He ached from the effort and felt ready for a good meal and a proper night’s rest. After so much physical effort, seeing his destination within shouting distance brought a big sigh of relief.
Breath restored, he stood and began the final downhill trek. Clicking his tongue to Gerty, Reggie moved forward, heading towards the cabin and the welcome that he hoped awaited him there. As he neared John’s cabin, he dared to hope that the axe and blood on the tree stump meant real meat on the menu that night. The dried jerky in his pack had lost its appeal.
“John Flagg,” shouted Reggie as he neared the cabin. He stopped, listening for a response but heard nothing. His stomach growled in anticipation of tasting freshly cooked food, if he could be so lucky. Unsure just which dwelling to find Flagg in, he focused on a structure off to the left, looking for any signs of movement or color in this drab meadow. John appeared in the doorway, smiling and waving to Reggie. He seemed to be just as glad to see another soul as Reggie was to see him. Hefting a small burlap bag in one hand he stepped forward, offering his hand.
Flagg proved to be a generous host and the evening passed quickly with a meal of fried chicken and some spirits that added warmth to Reggie’s belly.
“Mind if I take a look now, John?” asked Reggie, nodding at the package sitting next to John on the wood table.
Flagg pushed the bag towards his guest.
Loosening the string and barely able to contain his excitement, the prospector gave a soft whistle. “This must weigh five pounds!”
“Damn near, without the box,” said Flagg.
Opening the bag, Reggie removed a tin box. Quickly pulling off the lid, he impatiently unwound a piece of leather and gasped when he saw the stone underneath.
“My God!” Reggie held the stone up to the light from the fireplace, causing facets of brilliant red to linger in the room. Black and white crystals surrounded it like a blanket of fairy dust. For a moment, the stone seemed to throb in his hands as if it would come to life.
“It’s spectacular! So much more than I dared hope for!” He caught his breath and frowned for a moment, wondering if the twenty dollars he brought could possibly be enough to buy this treasure. That’s what they’d agreed on three months ago at Red’s boarding house.
Flagg nodded. “It’s the finest piece of rhodochrosite I have ever seen. And that shape! Do you see it looks almost like a heart? The geologist said that’s the way it came out of the pocket, you know.”
“It couldn’t be more perfect, just right for my Red,” he said. “But the price? I only brought the twenty dollars we talked about.”
“I had to pay a bit more for it than I planned, Covington. But I figured if this woman is as special as you said, you’d want the best of the stones.”
Reggie squirmed a little in his chair, waiting for the final sales pitch. “I do,” he admitted. “But I only have the twenty dollars.”
Flagg stared at Reggie with twinkling brown eyes.
Sizing me up.
“I have a couple more stones and you can have either one for twenty dollars,” said Flagg. “Want me to get them out for you to look at?”
“No. Not really. I like this one,” he replied. “But…”
Flagg knows I don’t have the money, so what’s his game here?
“I figured. That one will cost you thirty dollars. You can pay me the twenty now and the other ten when I get over to Leadville again. Maybe for your weddin’, eh?”
“You mean, you’ll let me take it? On faith for the other ten?”
Flagg nodded. “Maybe I’m gettin’ old and soft hearted. Been married myself, you know. Twice. First one died on me, and the second one just took off with the first fancy gambler that come through here.”
“It’s a deal!” Reggie almost shouted, holding out his hand as his pledge for the ten dollars. Flagg shook it.
“So tell me more about this geologist, and about rhodo…cross….”
“Rhodochrosite. That’s what this geologist says these stones are. It’s all over the place up here in these mountains, but mostly it just gets thrown away.”
“Thrown away?” remarked Reggie, shaking his head. “Why would they throw it away? Like rubies, you said, when you told me about it. A ruby this size would be worth a fortune!”
“Well, it’s not a ruby. It’s rhodochrosite, not really a gem. It’s soft for one thing. Brittle. You don’t want to go having anybody try to carve that stone, you hear?”
Looking at the stone again, Reggie couldn’t imagine wanting to carve it anyway. It couldn’t be more perfect.
“The thing is, the rhodo they find all over these mountains is usually the pink stuff. Not worth anything. They dig it out of the tunnels and just throw it in the waste heap. This geologist said pieces like this can only form when the temperature inside of the earth gets unbelievably hot. Then it gets stuck in pockets of veins and has to be sealed up tight. Can’t have any air or light getting in while it cools down. He also said that if it sits outside in the weather for a really long time, it just turns black. That’s why it’s all wrapped up like that, in leather, and stored in a tin box.”
“Wouldn’t it be a fine thing, to find a whole mountain of this rhodochrosite?” Reggie mumbled, mostly to himself.
Flagg nodded. “There’s supposed to be a silver mine up on Mount Bross, not that far from here, where they’ve dug a lot of pieces out. Similar to this.”
“My goodness! Do you think this one came from there then? What’s the name of the place?”
“Sweet Home Mine, they call it. Not worth a plugged nickel as a silver mine, but lots of this deep red rhodochrosite. Geologist thinks this one came from somewhere else, though. Wouldn’t tell me where.”
Reggie nodded, sinking back into his chair.
“You interested in looking for a rhodochrosite mine, Covington?” asked the old man.
Reggie shook his head. “No, I’ve had enough of this life, Flagg. Looking for gold or silver that’s not there. Always a rumor to entice you to keep looking. Give it one more try to hit the big pay dirt. It’s time for me to move on and settle down with my Red. I don’t mind hard work, but I’ve got little to show for it. I’m looking forward to other kinds of rewards.”
Flagg pulled out a jug of whiskey and two coffee cups.
“Figure it’s time we celebrate! How about a drink to toast the successful conclusion of our business? Oh, and to say congratulations on your upcoming nuptials,” he laughed.
All too soon the morning light flooded through the cabin’s single window. Reggie packed his few possessions for the return trip to Leadville.
Over the next two days, he trekked back over the mountain, and on the third day worked through his descent. The afternoon light was quickly dissipating as the skies filled with huge gray clouds. An occasional brief gust of wind blew arctic cold in his face, so he stopped to add a woolen to his garb.
Might get us another taste of winter tonight.
Although eager to get back to Leadville and present his treasure to Red, Reggie decided it would be best to find some shelter for the night. Gerty struggled a bit as they made their way down the western side of the mountain. Walking a few steps ahead with her lead off, Gerty struggled a bit as she made her way down the western side of the mountain. His gear was a burden for her to carry down the sketchy path.
Reggie felt ecstatic that he had finally succeeded in obtaining his wedding gift for Red. At 31, he knew he had to get busy making something of his life. Here in the high thin air, his joints and bones ached most of the time, and when the cold weather set in, he felt a lot older than his years.
For the past two days unseasonably mild weather settled over the high mountains. Some of the first light snows melted, leaving mud in the path, but crusting over in the shady spots where the sun didn’t reach. Gerty and Reggie alternately slipped in the mud and yanked their legs out of the crusted snow in the shadows as they wound down the slope toward Leadville. The exertion took a toll on them both, and Reggie watched for the clearing that he knew was not far ahead. His vision blurred as a few snowflakes fell on his eyelashes, then melted and ran down his cheeks.
As he gazed out over the valley far below and still some miles away, the last rays of the sun peeked through the snow-laden clouds to reflect off the spires of the new churches built over the last couple of years. They seemed to add a sense of stability and permanence to the mining town, though he wondered how long the town would last. It would be mined out some day, and then what would happen? The air thickened and far below the valley was socked in from all directions while the wind kept kicking up.
A sudden movement ahead pulled Reggie back from his musings. Too quickly for him to react, Gerty’s back foot slipped on some ice. The loss of balance was just enough to cause some of his gear to tumble off to the right. She let out a loud bray as she hit the icy path with her knee and went down hard on her side. Reggie rushed to her side, pulling the rest of his gear off her back. Talking softly to her, he ran his hands down her neck and behind her ears.
“I’m so sorry old girl. The weather is going downhill fast. Let’s get you up on your feet and we’ll find a place to make camp for the night.” After picking up some of his gear and packing it himself, Reggie was able to coax Gerty along the path at a slower pace.
That had to have hurt.
Gerty was a grand old girl and they’d been partners for the last four years. Her age was catching up with her though, and soon it would be time for her to retire. Things like her slipping on that bit of ice were happening more frequently. He hoped he could give her a decent home somewhere she could just graze in a bountiful pasture and enjoy the rest of her days.
Seeing the clearing off to the right, Reggie led Gerty off the path, and tramped on through the remains of several crusty snowdrifts. Reaching a meadow, he scouted around for a somewhat level spot and found one just at the edge of the trees. Setting down his gear, he watched as the mule shook herself and began to wander around the meadow. She favored one back leg, but stopped to drink from a pool of snowmelt, then chewed on a few shoots of grass that poked through the earth. Reggie stretched a tarpaulin out and tied it up to the trees, fashioning a lean-to for shelter. He then walked outside of the camp, collecting wood for a fire. Feeling the temperature drop, he broadened his search and collected a few more armloads as the snow began to fall in earnest.
With the fire laid, Reggie struck a match, and soon a cheerful blaze warmed his hands. He stretched his bedroll out on the ground and watched the fire while his thoughts turned, as they often did, to the one he called Red. Her real name was Henrietta MacDowell and she ran one of the best boarding houses in Leadville. To pay expenses and have a roof over her head, she took in boarders; miners who made their way to Leadville. A fine cook and conversationalist, she made a comfortable home for prospectors or entrepreneurs who came there looking for a new way of life. Her flaming red hair suggested her nickname, but soon she’d have another notable reason to be called Red. When he got back, at least to him, she would be Rhodo Red.
Though not beautiful like the magazine girls, Reggie loved Henrietta’s red hair that shone like sparks in the sunlight. And in candlelight, her green eyes flashed like emeralds. She laughed a lot, and that always boosted his spirits when he was otherwise too tired to talk. Those were the things that attracted Reggie, and other men as well. A well-read, literate woman, her dreams seemed to match his own.
He set out a little pile of grain for Gerty’s supper then punctured the lid of a tin can of beans for his own. He thought briefly about restocking his meager supplies when he got back to town. The prices the storekeepers charged were outrageous, and he’d have to go to work for a while since his pocket money was quickly dwindling.
Maybe I’ll sign on at the Little Pittsburgh or the Sherman for a few weeks. That’d be better than taking more money out of the bank. The superintendent at the Pitt knows I’m a good worker.
Inside the lean-to, he stretched out with his feet to the fire and relaxed. The hard work of the past three days was behind him now. His evening with John Flagg was enjoyable, exchanging news and sharing a few cups of spirits. Plans for the future were next on his agenda.
The crackling of wood as it caught fire and burned became a lullaby to him, and he began to feel drowsy after his skimpy meal. He reached into his panyard and drew out the package he placed there yesterday.
Thank God it wasn’t lost over a cliff when Gerty slipped.
Opening the tin box and unfolding the leather wrap, he gazed at the deep red heart-shaped stone that sparkled in the light of the fire. Reggie couldn’t wait to see Red’s face when he gave it to her. It would be too large to wear around her neck, but he could picture her putting it in the hutch alongside her precious china and crystal in the boarding house.
His imagination conjured scenes of what things would be like when he and Red could settle down. He thought of the good farmland down river. Somewhere down near Buena Vista or a bit further south of there would make a good place for them to buy some land and start a farm. They could raise their own food and sell the rest. Maybe he could raise some pack burros to sell to the miners, and a few horses, too. In fact, before long, they could raise kids there. In a few years he’d have help with all of the work it took to keep up a farm. Or a ranch. Why not?
Reggie took out a piece of paper from the little notebook he carried around, along with his well-used stub of a pencil. He spent a few minutes writing a message to Red, ending it with “for my Rhodo Red, Love Reggie.” When he finished, he slipped the note inside and rewrapped the stone in leather before returning it to the tin box. Too comfortable to get up again, he carefully placed the tin under a rock for safety. Then he pulled his blanket up over his shoulders and closed his eyes.
Outside the little lean-to the temperature kept dropping, the wind kept howling, and the snow continued to accumulate. Reggie wasn’t even aware that while he lay dreaming, the snow piled up higher and higher around him. His last conscious thoughts were about seeing Red and starting a new life together. They’d be moving south, like the Arkansas River, where warmer weather and meadow land were the perfect conditions for raising horses and cattle.
The hastily fashioned lean-to wasn’t really much of a shelter at all. The mountain spirits laughed with the wind as it blew the snow horizontally, whipped around in circles, and then drifted at will.