Granby’s lead and zinc legacy, and the last miner who saw it firsthand

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Granby miners in the Klondike mine.
(Courtesy of the Granby Miners Museum)

GRANBY – For a century, the little town of Granby was fueled by buried treasure.

Initially discovered in 1850, it was lead — and later, zinc — that gave the community a mark on the map. Such discoveries launched the “Granby Stampede,” a rush of miners intent on finding their fortunes within the Ozarks.

“There are numerous stories of miners who struck it rich at Granby,” reported the State Historical Society of Missouri in 1950. “After the Civil War, Jasper Moore worked the No. 1 shaft and netted $20,000 in five months. Three other miners, Holman, Godspell and Ainsworth, mined 3,000,000 pounds of lead ore in one year and netted $48,000 among them. Trevaska and Day netted $21,000 in a few months.”

Most didn’t strike it quite so rich, but generations of families were comfortably sustained through valuable finds in the mines.

“It was a really big, big deal for this area for about 100 years,” says R. J. Savage, an administrator of the Granby Miners Museum. “They were quite a breed of people. Most of the old timers, the few of us who are left, remember them very fondly.”

Granby’s thousands of mining men are simply memories today. All, that is, except for one known to remain: 94-year-old Carl Judd, who worked in the mines after returning home from World War II and still lives nearby.

“It was the best job I ever had,” says Judd. “I enjoyed it down there.”

Starting the mines

Part of Granby’s mining operations in undated photographs. (Courtesy of the Granby Miners Museum)

Judd’s start with the mines came in the late 1940s, which was very near the end of the town’s lead and zinc legacy.

At the time, Granby’s operations were part of the Tri-State Mining District, an area that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources defines as around 55 miles between Kansas and Lawrence County, and 30 miles from Neosho to the north fork of the Spring River.

A variety of mines were located within that district. Some were “big” and overseen by publicly traded companies, the names of which changed with mergers and acquisitions. Thousands of small mines also existed within those boundaries at various times, and were operated by individuals.

And much it can be tied to Granby — and miner William Foster, who according to one story who was out digging wells in 1850 when he noticed something unusual.

That something turned out to be galena, the world’s primary ore of lead.

The story was told in the Springfield Leader in 1887:

“On his way back, he stopped over night at the Richardson place, near here. In looking about next morning he was struck with the geological formation, and he readily got permission from Richardson who was holding a little farm under a squatter’s right to do some prospecting. A knoll which showed an outcrop of flint was selected as the most likely place, and Foster proceeded to dig.

“Within two feet of the surface he struck fine galena, and went to mining in earnest. This was the beginning of Granby. The news of this discovery spread and other prospectors flocked in.”

The discoveries continued to thrill: Miner Madison Vickery quickly came, and made a second strike. Another family, the Brooks, made a discovery worth $50,000 — more than $1.25 million in 2017 when adjusted for inflation.

Granby is shown on an Atlantic & Pacific Railroad map from 1873. When mining began in Granby, the railroad owned the land. Mineral rights were leased later. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The land was originally owned by the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, but was occupied and mined by squatters until a group called Kennett, Blow and Company leased the mining rights from the railroad in 1857. The company, in turn, charged miners a royalty fee of $2 per ton.

It evidently was worth the price. The town grew to 8,000 people by 1860, half of which were miners working throughout the hills.

Ups and downs

Granby miners (Courtesy of the Granby Miners Museum)

The mines at Granby have experienced waves of prosperity and dips of depression.

One of the booms was during the Civil War, which caused thousands to scatter from Granby and the mines to be temporarily shut down. However, before those things happened, lead from the mines was used for bullets.

“More than 35,000,000 pounds of lead was produced and shipped out from the Granby diggings in the five or six years before the outbreak of war shut down operations for the 4,000 miners who worked the famous ‘Section Six,’ noted the state historical society.

Things resumed mining-wise by 1866. That year, an article in the Holt County Sentinel noted that the town’s lead mines were turning out between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds of lead every single day with potential to greatly increase.

In 1868, Granby began its journey to becoming official: Its petition for incorporation was accepted by the state. Seven years later, it was officially chartered.

In between those events, Joplin’s mines began in 1870. It was an event that helped the area’s mines upward on their journey for fame and fortune, success illustrated by the Post-Dispatch in 1887:

“The lead and zinc fields of Jasper County have often been called the poor man’s paradise. They derive the name from the exceptional opportunities given men of limited capital to enter into mining ventures which may realize extensive fortunes for them.

There it is usually the poor miner who leases a strip of mining land and developed it by his own hard labor who realizes a quick return from his investment. There is always much of the lottery about mining, but down in Jasper County the tickets are cheap, and if a man does not draw a capital size he is more than likely to take out a comfortable little sum which will more than double his investment.”

Another high point was before the turn of the 20th century, when the value of zinc was discovered.

“Granby was in the right place at the right time for the exploitation of zinc,” published the River Hills Traveler years ago. “A new process for refining had just been invented. The railroad had come to town to provide easy transportation. And a need had arisen; the use of zinc for galvanizing steel being produced by the new, cheap Bessemer process.”

Ongoing efforts

Granby miners in 1917. (Courtesy of the Granby Miners Museum)

There have been other times, however, when things weren’t as great. Instances, in fact, when the “big” mines shut down altogether.

One of those times came around the onset of the Great Depression. Judd remembers those days, but not because he was mining. Instead, it was his father who was out in the fields trying to make a living.

“Him and one or two more would go out and sink a shaft,” says Judd, of miners going out and digging — or sinking, as they termed it — into the ground to find lead and zinc.

“They’d go out and sink their own on private property,” he says. “Pay what they call ‘lease’. Pay about five percent commission, I guess you’d call it.”

Some of those independently operating miners used what was called a windlass — a bar-based apparatus across each shaft — that allowed heavy buckets to be brought up to the surface.

“You turned it,” says Judd of the machinery. “When you stopped, it had a bolt you could pull out and a handle set against it to keep it from falling back in. Quite a contraption.”

After finding natural treasure down below and bringing it above, the next step was cleaning what they found. “They had what they called a mill, where they’d bring all the ore,” says Judd. “Had to pay the city for the water. But they’d clean their own ore, get the ore out of it. Throw the waste away.”

The results were sold to buyers in Joplin.

“They did for a long time,” he says. “In fact, that’s how this town got by for 20, 30 years.”

Mining operations near Granby (Courtesy of Granby Miners Museum)

But then came World War II — and, once again, a need for lead bullets came along, too.

“This quiet little farming community — once a mining boom town — today prepared for a new boom with the re-opening of the long unused lead and zinc mines,” proclaimed the Jefferson City Post-Tribune in July 1941.

“Work necessary to get the mines in shape for operation already has started,” the reporter continued. “New equipment is being installed and the mines are being pumped dry of the water that seeped in during the years they were idle. After the water is pumped out, new safety devices will be installed.”

Personal memories

Miners at the Crabapple Shaft in 1944. (Courtesy of Granby Miners Museum)

While Judd didn’t mine during the war — he was off fighting for freedom — he was still part of the prosperity brought back to Granby.

“Whenever I got home from World War II, I went out here to the mines and got on out there,” he says. “That’s about the only place there was any work.”

He recalls the mines and their names, which were unique: Ones like Golden Rule, Millshaft, Mascot, Ida M. and Sand Quarry, pronounced Sanquerry, says Judd.

Other names that proved colorful were the miners’, since most of them went by nicknames. “Everybody, every miner, had a nickname,” says Savage, the museum administrator. “They hardly ever referred to the miners with their real names.”

Daily mining

Local mining operations in 1946 (Courtesy of Granby Miners Museum)

Going down (Courtesy of Granby Miners Museum)

The days would start around 8 a.m., when Judd entered the mine by bucket.

“They’d have a hook on one of them, three or four men’d get in, down we’d go,” he says. “We’d get out, they’d come up, down some more would go.”

While down below, his primary job was to shovel earth and ore — containing valuable deposits — that came loose when “shot” from the walls.

“We had a railroad track — a little’n,” says Judd. “And we pushed the cars up on it … and they’d have about three boards on each side of that. Maybe one in between the tracks.

“And the dirt’d get on them, and then you’d shovel it off (those boards). Then you’d get up to the end of the boards, and you had to clean off and move your boards up for them to shoot some more on it.”

That crumbling material was “shot” from the walls with dynamite. “I ended up helping load all the holes with dynamite,” says Judd. “That was my last job — called a dummy.”

Judd notes that a drill man would create holes, and then he — as the dummy — would put bits on all the rods to be used. “Then everybody’d get out of the mine and we’d … shoot ‘em,” he says.

There were other times when he was in a mine when the dynamite exploded.

“Funny feeling,” he says of the loud sensation, and notes that miners would stand in shafts when it went off. “So there wasn’t any rocks to be hitting us,” he says. “But they’d be hitting behind us.”

Looking back, Judd says that his job was “the best he ever had” for a variety of reasons — including the fact that it was the same temperature down there year round. That would’ve been especially desirable in a day and age when farming brought extreme heat in the summer and freezing cold in the winter.

Another was financial: Miners “made better money there than anywhere you could make money back then,” he says.

For Judd, that income was based on the number of cans he brought back at the end of the day. “I got 21 cents a can,” says Judd of the barrel-sized containers. “My checks run around $125 a week. That’s when $1 an hour was good wages.”

Since miners were able to work at their own pace, it gave an opportunity for ambition. “I’ve gotten as high as 100 cans a day,” says Judd. “All of them down there working said they didn’t see how I did it. I worked. I didn’t loaf.”

Cans were used to collect ore. (Courtesy of Granby Miners Museum)

Judd’s time at the mines, however, was abruptly and unexpectedly cut short.

“The last day I worked in the mines, my job in the morning was to go around and take a bar and punch little rocks off the roof — we called that up there the roof — so they wouldn’t fall and hit someone,” he says. “And I punched one off, and a slab about six feet round … come right down,” he says.

He knew then that it was his last day at the mine — but out of superstition, he didn’t say anything right away.

“I didn’t tell anybody, because there were two or three (miners) that said they was going to quit that night and got killed that day,” he says. “When I come out on top that night, put my clothes on, I told the boss, ‘I won’t be back.’ He said, ‘I know that.’”

Even though Judd escaped injury, other local miners weren’t as fortunate. It was considered newsworthy in 1929 when 70 mines went one week without an accident. “Properties of eighteen companies worked 28,036 man-shifts without a mishap,” the Joplin Globe headline proclaimed.

There was also illness that came with working underground.

One who faced the latter was Morris “Hawkshaw” Farmer. Today, a photo of the miner hangs on the wall of JJ’s Restaurant, on the main drag in Granby. It was placed by Douglas Farmer, the miner’s son, who owns the restaurant.

A photo of Morris “Hawkshaw” Farmer adorns the wall of his son’s restaurant in Granby.

Farmer says those long hours gave his father more than a living. It gave him a disease, one that disabled him because of lung and breathing issues.

What illness he had has never been officially proven. Back then, miners were required to visit a designated doctor, who diagnosed Farmer’s father with tuberculosis (TB).

Farmer says he doesn’t think his father had TB. What he does know is that communicable TB wasn’t considered to be the company’s fault.

However, silicosis — a lung condition caused by exposure to respirable silica dust — would’ve pushed responsibility onto mining companies, Farmer says.

“If it was because of (silicosis), the mine could have to pay,” says Farmer. “But if it was TB, which was common, they could write it off and he could draw social security.”

Because of the diagnosis, Farmer and his 13 siblings were tested annually for the disease and no one was ever positive. “So that makes me believe he didn’t have it,” he says.

Regardless of the ailment, the facts left Farmer’s father depressed.

“He never told me this, but I think he was pretty discouraged,” says Farmer. “He drank a lot.”

Today, the photo reminds of lessons; both of hard work and history.

“I work a lot of hours here, and when I feel myself get tired, I look at his picture and think about the long hours he spent down in the shafts,” says Farmer.

Shuttering the mines

Despite their shining years, the mines at Granby weren’t destined to live forever.

“After the war, the demand for lead and zinc took a nosedive … and therefore the mines just kept going down and down and down,” says Savage.

Finally, in 1950, the mines shut down completely in Granby.

“The Granby mines had always been fairly small mines anyhow, and that’s one of the reasons that they went out first,” says Savage. “It just wasn’t economically feasible for them to continue to mine here.”

After Granby’s mines shuttered, some miners tried to work in other local operations, which continued for several years.

“If they were still young enough and healthy enough and strong enough, they were able to go to Duenweg and Joplin and Pitcher and continue in that business,” says Savage.

Ultimately, the mines’ disappearance was devastating for the small town.

“We didn’t really have anything to take its place,” says Savage, who is a Granby native and remembers those days. “At one point, we got a garment factory in, and that employed quite a few women but not very many men. There just wasn’t very much of an economic base in Granby at that time. By the mid-’50s, it had really gone downhill.

“Today, it’s kind of a shadow of what it had been back 50, 60 years ago.”

Remembering the miners

Today, a few things tell of Grandy’s mining legacy — but the mines aren’t one of them.

“Almost without exception, Granby’s mines were all shaft mines, which meant that you went straight down until you hit a vein of ore, and then you went horizontal. And those shafts, by in large, have all been filled in,” says Savage. “Drifts, or the horizontal sections, they’re probably filled with water. So there’s really no way you’d ever be able to get into a mine in this area.”

The town’s water tower, however, still proclaims Granby as the “Oldest Mining Town in the Southwest.” Old Mining Town Days — a festival that began in the 1980s — also comes around every summer, and started from a desire to preserve the town’s legacy.

Granby’s water tower still states the town’s claim to fame.

That first festival led to the creation of a historical society, and later, the Granby Miners Museum.

Housed in a former mercantile, the museum focuses on various parts of Granby’s history. The bottom level is dedicated to mining, and features photographs, memorabilia, tools and even a recreated mine.

Scenes from the Granby Miners Museum

Originally, there was a healthy-sized group of people who remembered the mining days firsthand and wanted to preserve them. Things have changed since then. “Unfortunately, from that early group, most of them have died or moved away and there’s not very many of us left,” says Savage.

Today, the museum primarily operated by three couples, who each dedicate one day a week to keeping it open during warmer months.

“That’s all we’re open,” says Savage. “Not very much. But we are still open.”

That fact reflects the passage of time. With no miners left in Granby except for Judd, the town’s mining heritage has largely become stories — passed down by parents and grandparents — instead of reality.

“We really have to scurry around to find people who are still interested in this kind of stuff,” he says. “When you mention mining to most people, it’s just a word. It really doesn’t have much meaning for them.”

Want to learn more?

The Granby Miners Museum (218 N. Main St., Granby) is open Thursday and Friday (1 – 4 p.m.) and Saturday (11 a.m. – 4 p.m.) from mid-April through mid-December. Special tours may be arranged by appointment. Admission is free. For more information, call 417-472-3014.

Old Mining Town Days’s 2017 is scheduled for June 30 – July 1. To learn more, connect on Facebook.


“70 mines go week without accident,” Joplin Globe, April 21, 1929

“Both North and South fought for Granby lead mines,” State Historical Society of Missouri, Macon Chronicle-Herald, Jan. 30, 1950

“Dewatering of Granby mines about completed,” Neosho Daily News, Aug. 8, 1941

Granby Miners Museum keeps Tri-State heritage alive,” Jo Schaper, River Hills Traveler

“The Granby mines,” Springfield Leader, Oct. 27, 1887

“Granby prepares for new mining boom,” Jefferson City Post-Tribune, July 24, 1941


“Missouri Mines,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 9, 1887

No headline, Holt County Sentinel, March 2, 1866

“Rich zinc mines and the ‘Ten o’clock Run of Taney County, Mo.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 8, 1900

“Twenty years ago,” Neosho Times, Jan. 14, 1932

One thought on “Granby’s lead and zinc legacy, and the last miner who saw it firsthand

  1. Very interesting article on Granby mining history. I learned so much more. Having moved to Granby in 1965, a transplant from Iowa, I had no appreciable knowledge of so much rich history. Thanks for sharing. Carl Judd’s treasure trove of first hand knowledge is golden.

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