A Tailing Tale
I’m begging you readers out there to send me your tales. I’ve received a number of compliments on the column and folks say they love reading the stories, but I am having great difficulty getting those of you with tales to tell to send them to me.
Therefore, having received no submissions this week, I’ve decided to share with you tales of the legendary Pat Casey, miner and owner of the Casey Mine. His name frequently appears in historical accounts of Central City and Nevadaville during the mining boom of the 1800’s. Pat was such a popular subject of folklore and tales that in 1863, a play entitled, “Pat Casey’s Night Hands” was written and performed at Central City’s Montana Theatre.
According to Robert L. Brown, author of “Central City and Gilpin County – Then and Now,” when Pat heard about it, he threatened to bring the Night Hands down from Nevadaville to wreck the theater and the city if the offensive operetta ever appeared in Central City. However, the show was booked anyway.
On the evening of the premier performance, Casey and his crew came down the hill. They made several rounds of the saloons, uttering dark threats. By curtain time, most of them had passed out in the aisles. The show went on and was an artistic triumph.
Sheriff Bill Cozens escorted Casey and his men out of town, somewhat to the chagrin of the residents who looked forward to observing the threatened attack of Casey and his men.
Although the humorous operetta went on to be performed in Denver and Deadwood, unfortunately, the show’s score has not survived.
Pat was considered to be typical of the Nevadaville “Shanty Irish,” adventurous, fun-loving, energetic, superstitious, and inclined to associate mostly with other Irishmen. His log cabin stood on the south side of Nevada Gulch and he was a character in the most appealing sense of the word. His inability to read or write, plus a love of liquor, led to the profusion of Pat Casey stories repeated with much gusto in Gilpin County, even today. Perhaps ten percent have any validity. Most of them have been embellished with each retelling.
After many months of hard labor, cave-ins, and poor assays, in 1862 Pat Casey’s mine on Quartz Hill became a rich producer. He bought land in Chase Gulch and had a thirty-two stamp mill erected to refine his ores. With his wealth came the notoriety and humorous tales.
Enduring great personal hardship during the lean years, Pat felt genuine compassion for the crews of men working underground in the Casey Mine. His compassion was particularly evident after several drinks when Pat drove his horse-drawn buggy close to the mine opening and shouted down the shaft, “How many of yese [sic] is there down there?” It would normally be an odd number and Casey never mastered subtraction so he would yell back down, “Half of yese come up and the rest stay down.” And then he took those who came out to the saloon and treated them to rounds of drinks before returning them to the mine. He then brought the remaining workers to the surface, treated them to libations and then returned to his cabin for the night. If the master was too intoxicated to handle the reins, his horse always knew the way home.
Another Casey fable describes how Mary York Cozens met Pat on the street one day while soliciting for funds to build a Catholic church. She reminded Pat of his Irish-Catholic heritage and asked for fifty dollars. Because he was ignorant of money denominations, Pat sometimes kept a mathematically astute youngster at his side. On this occasion, he told the boy to give the lady the requested sum. Mary eyed the remaining bulk in Pat’s pouch and commented, “You know, Mr. Casey, if ye was to give us another fifty dollars we could buy a fine new chandelier for the church.
Casey thought for a moment and then replied, “Sure, take another fifty dollars, but I don’t know who in the hell you’ll get to play the thing.”
Another famous Pat Casey tale involves how he got around his Irish-Cornish Catholic convictions of eating fish on Fridays. It seemed he intensely disliked seafood, so on Fridays he would enter Nevadaville’s meat market and inquire, “And would ye be havin’ any whale?”
To which the owner would reply, “No, Mr. Casey, no whale today.”
Pat would cock his head and say, “Then give me two pork chops, and the Lord knows I asked for fish.”
Pat owned a fine watch, but was unable to tell time, so when someone asked him the time he pulled out the watch and said, “See fer yerself sos you’ll know I’ll not be lyin’ to yez.”
And the final tale I share with you comes from Jan MacKell’s book, “Brothels, Bordellos, & Bad Girls.”
After years of ousting prostitutes from the area, Central City eventually fell victim to the same vices as every other mining town in the state. But the proper folk in town were always quick to voice their disapproval of the red-light district and even banned those who patronized brothels or dance halls from other social events. One of those banned was Pat Casey and he retaliated against the puritans of Central City by loading up his favorite fancy girls each Sunday and driving them past the churches just as services were letting out.
Pat Casey was just one of many men about whom tales were spun from the mining days in Glipin County. Perhaps you had a family member or family friend of a similar bent as Pat and you’ve heard tales passed down through generations. If so, we’d love to hear your stories.
Published September 26, 2014 in the Weekly Register-Call
Please send me your tales. If you prefer to remain anonymous, I will not use your name. However, if you do not mind, I would like to tell the readers who sent the story and share any other information you may have.
Mail your handwritten or typed stories with your contact information to Maggie M, P.O. Box 6571, Westminster, CO 80021 or email them to me at Maggie@maggiempublications.com.
I look forward to hearing from you and sharing your stories in the coming months.