Hardrock Miners and Their Lives

Posted on July 15, 2015


         “The Wife of the Jew” section of A Perfect Throw emerged from research that I was doing as a freelance journalist about Nevada and northern California nineteenth century history. I’d published accounts of Cornish and Welsh miners, Chinese railroad workers, beer making founded by German brewmasters, lumber ships, riverboats, pioneer schoolteachers—a variety of personal and ethnic histories about settlers and events that were instrumental in creating the culture that evolved on the deserts, in the mountains and along the waterways after the Gold Rush that began in 1848.

Among the hundreds of fascinating documents was a Nevada newspaper tidbit about a section of a diary written by a Welsh miner’s widow that had turned up amid other books at an estate sale in the 1950s. It wasn’t information that I was able to use in any of the articles I was writing but corresponded to other accounts about hardrock mining in desolate areas of Nevada and tempted me to begin a poetical account based on oral and written immigrant experiences that I’d accumulated in my research.

Among magazine features that I’d published were two or three about European-born Jewish peddlers who traveled from one isolated community to another selling, buying and trading everything from spools of thread to Bowie knives. Eventually many of these peddlers became store owners. I decided to merge two histories—that of a Welsh miner’s widow and that of a Jewish peddler—into one long narrative.

Since I was still freelancing as well as working for an alternative weekly the writing of “Wife of the Jew” came together slowly over a period of four or five months. Individual sections appeared in various magazines and journals but the chapbook-length “Wife of the Jew” didn’t appear as a beginning-to-end entity until A Perfect Throw was published in 2013.


Posted in: Poetry