Ralph Larkin- Black Hawk Mine Machinist

This blog post is about my paternal great grandfather, Ralph LARKIN.  If you’d like to read past blog posts about him to refresh your memory before moving on, you can find information about him in these blog posts:

Week 4- Weekend Wrap-Up (has a couple of newspaper articles)

Weekend Wrap-Up for Week 2 (includes a document)

Ralph Larkin and the Mystery of His Missing Sibling (includes photographs of Ralph and Bessie)

Savory Saturday- The Kitchen is the Heart of the Home (includes a section about Bessie and Ralph plus a photograph)

Medical Monday- Know Your Health History! (includes a document)

Black Blizzards- The Second Dust Bowl, Abilene, Texas, 1954-1957 (includes photographs)

Close to Home, Close to the Heart- Part 2

This past week I traveled down to Texas to spend some time.  Bart and I enjoyed the beach in Galveston and I researched in a couple of different places.  If you are ever in the Houston, Texas area I highly recommend the Clayton Library Center for Genealogical Research at 5300 Caroline Street.  I barely scratched the surface of all they have there.  I didn’t come away with anything I feel like I can share here on the blog yet but it was worth the trip.  I had hoped to make it to the Sterling Municipal Library in Baytown, Texas but didn’t quite get there.  On Thursday and Friday, in addition to visiting family, I got to go to the National Archives in Fort Worth, Texas.  I had called ahead and let them know what I wanted to look at and to make an appointment so they were ready for me when I got there.  I definitely recommend doing that if you get to go to the Archives.  It will make your trip go much more smoothly.  When you get there, you can expect to spend a few minutes getting a researcher card.  You’ll have to provide state or federal photo identification and go through a short tutorial before getting your card and being allowed to research so plan your trip accordingly.  Also, their last document pull is at 2:00 p.m.  Anything you request after that time will have to wait for the following day.  You should call ahead to confirm they will be open.  While I was there they were talking about a potential shutdown as of midnight tonight due to the federal government not being able (or willing??) to finalize a budget for this country.  So those types of things do affect the National Archives and you need to be aware of that.  One last thing to be aware of- they do have restricted documents.  Most times these documents will be removed before you get to see the files.  From what I understand though, sometimes the documents are simply placed in an envelope and marked restricted but left inside the file and you are not allowed to photograph those documents.  If the envelope is sealed you cannot unseal it to take a look.

Researching in the National Archives requires a different strategy than researching in a genealogical library.  In the National Archives, you’re looking for records created by a government agency so you have to think in terms of how your family interacted with that agency.  It takes a bit to become accustomed to the different way of thinking but it’s worth it.  In this case, I went in knowing that I was looking for records created by the Bureau of Mines.  Both mine and Bart’s families, as well as our daughter-in-law’s family, had miners who worked in the tri-state mining district of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri.  Specifically, I had seen photo identification/health records that another researcher had obtained and I believed these records were held by the National Archives.  The Bureau of Mines operated a health clinic in Picher, Ottawa County, Oklahoma.  The clinic had two sides.  The side where they did examinations of miners for employment in the mines and for other issues (especially Tuberculosis and mining-related lung diseases) called the Picher Clinic as well as a second side of the clinic that treated venereal diseases.  Apparently in the heyday of mining, Picher had a massive outbreak of syphilis and gonorrhea and the government felt it needed to bring the situation under control so they set up both a health clinic and a sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinic.  The STD clinic was called the Picher Cooperative Clinic.  It was called this because it was a cooperative effort between the Tri-State Zinc and Lead Ore Producers Association, the U. S. Public Health Service (office of the Surgeon General), and the U. S. Bureau of Mines, along with the help of various medical researchers.  So, you’ve got medical researchers, the U. S. government, and an association that was led and governed by mine owners.  What could go wrong??  Seriously though, they did a lot of good but they were also doing some experimental work on the miners.  Having said that, we didn’t get where we are today in the medical field without experimental drug trials and studies, etc.  Overall, I think there was a lot of good done by the Clinic and the head doctor, Frank V. MERIWETHER, whose official title was Acting Assistant Surgeon and who was appointed by the then-U. S. Surgeon General, Hugh S. CUMMING.  Both Dr. MERIWETHER and Surgeon General Hugh CUMMING served under President Woodrow WILSON.

It really was so interesting to read all the letters and reports and studies talking about the work that Dr. MERIWETHER did.  (I’ll admit I reminisced a little about my time as a paralegal at Hawley, Troxell, Ennis & Hawley law firm in Boise, Idaho where I worked on Superfund cases with reports similar to these.)  Dr. MERIWETHER was constantly conducting medical research studies and trials on various health issues, traveling around the country to conferences, observing other doctors and allowing other doctors to come in and observe his work.  He was even involved in a First Aid and Mine Rescue Contest.  He was one of the lead researchers on Psuedo-Military Tuberculosis which you can read about on Wikipedia.  The exact photo that’s on Wikipedia is in his files at the National Archives.  I held it in my hands just yesterday!  He led an interesting life.  But I’m not here to talk about Dr. MERIWETHER today.  I’m here to tell you what I found about my family!

It was more than 3/4 of the way through the second day and I was a little discouraged.  Then I opened up a hand-tabulated chart for one of the studies that Dr. MERIWETHER was working on and there it was-  ‘LARKIN, RALPH’!!  I was so glad to find something!

nara picher clinic ralph larkin doc 2

nara picher clinic ralph larkin doc

(I apologize for the photos.  When I pulled out my camera to take pictures it wasn’t working so I had to resort to cell phone photos.  Also, names of other persons have been marked over in case any of them are still living.)  There is no title to this chart nor any letter that I could find to explain it’s existence.  So, going off the general work that Dr. MERIWETHER did and including the column titles on this chart, it looks like my great grandfather (Ralph LARKIN) went to see Dr. MERIWETHER about his teeth.  Or at least, on the day Ralph went that’s what Dr. MERIWETHER was concerned about.  The chart tracks the following information for the patients listed: Name, Occupation (at the mines), Eye health, Ear health, whether the miner had artificial teeth, whether the teeth were dirty, whether the miner had pyorrhea (another term for periodontitis, or an inflammation of the tissue around the teeth – Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 25th Edition), whether the miner had any teeth missing, whether the miner needed or wanted his teeth clean (I’m guessing on this one based on the fact that he already covered whether the teeth were clean and this column basically is yes or blank; the actual column title is ‘Clean’), whether the miner’s teeth are decayed, and a column each for Silicosis and Tuberculosis diagnoses both of which were a major reason for the Picher Clinic in the first place (and both were major areas of clinical research performed by Dr. MERIWETHER).  Silicosis (also called Pneumoconiosis or Miner’s Lung or Black Lung Disease for coal miners) is a lung fibrosis caused by the inhalation of dust from stone, sand, or flint which contains silicon dioxide.  (Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 25th Edition).  The study of silicosis was a major, and apparently career-long, undertaking of Dr. MERIWETHER so I would not be surprised at all if the whole reason for checking patients’ teeth was because he had learned or suspected that silicosis caused certain dental conditions.

Miners with silicosis would eventually develop a cough that would progress into difficulty breathing and sometimes sharp chest pain when breathing.  It could cause death if contact was continual and long term and the condition wasn’t treated.  The disease would present very much like Bronchitis and when the doctor listened to your lungs he would hear them wheezing and crackling when you breathed.  Miners with silicosis had an increased risk of other problems such as Tuberculosis, lung cancer, and chronic bronchitis.  (Lung.org)  Chronic silicosis might eventually lead to your legs swelling, an increased breathing rate, and a bluish discoloration of your lips.  Chronic silicosis created an angel wing pattern on x-rays that was called “Angel of Death”.  The disease ultimately led to respiratory failure and death if left untreated and/or with continued, prolonged exposure.  Remember, in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s there was no OSHA to force your employer to provide you with health protections like breathing masks.  They were also still trying to make advances on controlling and healing Tuberculosis and other diseases.  (Also, just a little side note that surprised me: I say “him” when referring to miners but there were female miners as well.  I was surprised by this.  When you see photographs it’s always men but I did see at least one woman identified as a miner in Dr. MERIWETHER’s records.)

Angel of Death silicosis xray

Photo is an example of the wing formation called “Angel of Death” that is caused by silicosis.  Photo was found at Learning Radiology.

But, back to Ralph LARKIN.  Ralph’s exam gave the following information about his health.  He was a machinist.  Ralph’s eyes and ears were “ok”.  Ralph didn’t have any artificial teeth.  His teeth were dirty (as were the majority of miners’ teeth according to this chart).  He had pyorrhea.  According to how I’m interpreting the chart, he was missing one upper tooth and 3 lower teeth.  His teeth were not marked to be cleaned.  There is no notation why they weren’t cleaned.  He had several decayed teeth including 2 upper and 2 lower teeth.  He had Late Stage 1 Silicosis.  He was Class C for Tuberculosis.  I’m not sure what Class C means.  In regard to the silicosis diagnosis though, this is what I learned.  Silicosis.com is a lawyer’s website for both Silicosis and Mesothelioma.  Even though this is a legal and not medical website and their goal is to make money, it really put it into perspective for me when a site coupled Silicosis with Mesothelioma.  I hadn’t realized that Silicosis was in the same class of disease as Mesothelioma.  Although I haven’t been able to find stages of Silicosis, the Silicosis/Mesothelioma site did list stages of Mesothelioma and that website makes it seem as though the two diseases are extremely similar- enough so to be able to compare stages of the two diseases.  Stage 1 of Mesothelioma means the disease is still “localized” or confined to the area of origin.  Ralph was late stage 1.  I’m guessing it was still localized to one small area of his lungs but he was on the verge of the first advanced stage of the disease.  He would have experienced shortness of breath with physical activity.  Possibly a fever and possibly some chest pain when breathing.  Ralph had to have already had large amounts of silica dust in his lungs just for the disease to even be detectable.  If Ralph smoked, the effects of the disease would have been worse.  My dad always told me that Ralph had a lung disease.  I really didn’t realize the extent of the lung disease until I found him on this chart this week and started researching silicosis.

The work that Dr. MERIWETHER did was so important to miners.  He not only was expert enough to be appointed by the U. S. Surgeon General to a clinic specializing in diagnosing and treating miners, he was educating his peers all across the country and doing specialized trips to other mines across the country to help diagnose other miners.  Even so, it wasn’t until the 1960’s that miners started demanding protections for their health.  In 1973 (some 55 or so years after Ralph was diagnosed and 10 years after his death), coal miners received their protections via the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1973.  Those who mined something other than coal were apparently not covered under these protections.  (Black Lung Benefits Act of 1973)

Here are a few short YouTube videos on the subject.

If you’d like to learn more, I’ve read that you can look for a 2006 documentary by Shane Roberts that features interviews with miners suffering from silicosis as well as footage shot in the mines.  I haven’t been able to find that documentary myself.   NPR did an episode on this topic.  If you prefer lighter entertainment, you might try watching the 1939 movie Four Wives in which actor Eddie Albert plays a doctor studying pneumoconiosis- much like Dr. MERIWETHER.  I’ve tried to locate some of Dr. MERIWETHER’s studies and journal articles that were published but I’ve been unsuccessful.  Quite a few recent researchers cite his work in their papers but I haven’t been able to find any of his actual published studies for you to look at.

Ralph’s family always believed it was the lung disease that killed him even though his death certificate does not bear that out.  I’m sure the lung disease was never treated and did give him trouble since he was on the verge of the disease moving from Stage 1 to the initial advanced stages of the disease.  Ralph was diagnosed with late stage 1 silicosis around October of 1927 as best I can tell.  He had been working in the lead and zinc mines of Ottawa County, Oklahoma since at least 1918.  My guess is he was probably already working there earlier than 1917.  In 1918 he was working for Black Hawk Mining Company in Picher, Ottawa County, Oklahoma.

The screenshots below were found at Schehrer at homestead.com.  This is a great website for learning about old Picher mining history.  You could spend hours here just looking at photos.

Black Hawk mine and mill picher ok

black hawk mine waste rock

On the same website I took a screenshot of the photo below of Quapaw, Oklahoma.  The photo was taken about 1920 when Ralph and Bessie LARKIN would have been living there.

quapaw ok 1920

I believe the section of a Superfund government report below gives a better description of where Black Hawk Mine was located based on a more recent geographical description of Picher.  Unfortunately, you won’t be able to find the business ‘Picher Express’ without the help of someone who knew what the town looked like before it was demolished.  The last time I was there, there was practically nothing left of Picher Express except the shell of a building and an old pay phone.  However, for those who remember Picher, it’s a good description of the location of Black Hawk Mine.

black haw mine superfund site

You can get your own copy of this report at the DEQ Superfund website.

Ralph left mining work sometime around late 1929 to early 1930.  I’m sure 10-15 years in the mines without any kind of health precautions or proper medical care took a toll on his health.  I’m going to leave you with a couple of photographs of some minerals found at Black Hawk Mine.

black hawk mine find

black hawk mine find 2

These photos were found on Minerals.net.  Enjoy your weekend.

Peace and health,

Lisa @ Days of Our Lives blog

3 thoughts on “Ralph Larkin- Black Hawk Mine Machinist

  1. Very interesting! Dad also has always said that great grandpa had lung problems. I’m wondering if the letter designations for TB were codes for research studies. If they were doing long-term vaccine studies, they may have grouped the research subjects by which vaccines were used. Any idea how long Meriwether and the Bureau of Mines were working in Picher?

  2. Pingback: Unusual Sources, Part 1 | Days of Our Lives

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