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Chapter Five
College Days, 1909-1911

Upon graduating from high school I chose to go to Colorado School of Mines. It was an easy natural choice, but actually I just went. My father had been in a branch of the mining game as were many of his and our friends. Also, and probably the real reason, was that going to Mines in those days was the glamorous thing for a lad to do. In those days any fellow who was a Mines man was looked up to sort of in a romantic way, by both young and old alike and especially by all the girls. To date a Mines man then was almost the ultimate in any girls life. At that time Mines was prominent in athletics, especially in football, they played all the largest universities in the Rocky Mountain area and were in general the equal of any. To be on the Mines football team was one of my great boyhood ambitions, as it was of many, many lads.

Many are the tale I could tell of the life I had at Mines, with no girls at the school, all students being engineers, approximately half the enrollment being older post graduates from eastern colleges, all trying to live and appear like rough mining and western men, this all tended to a unique rough life. We looked upon such schools as the Universities of Denver and Colorado as being for the sissies. All of this had changed in recent years, and properly so, but it was rough in my days. We played hard but we also had to study hard. Of course my then immediate ambitions were to join a fraternity, preferably Sigma Nu, and get on the football team. I am stating this as the actual fact not because it was right, but as yet I did not know the need of purpose in life. I pray that none of you make the same mistake, best profit by the mistakes of your grandfather.

Fraternities were really exclusive in those days at all schools. They kept their memberships down to a chosen few and tried to keep the number of fraternities down on each campus. Probably at mines, only about fifteen per cent of the students were Greek letter men. I was fortunate and had several proper contacts from fellows there from East Denver. Also I benefited from my football. I was rushed by three of the four fraternities, but not by the fourth that was Sigma Nu. I gave up hopes for the latter and was pledged to one of the others. Just then the Sigma Nu's became interested and I did the rash thing and joined them. I dwell on Sigma Nu all through this tale because my life at Mines was built around it then. Many of my adult and life long friends were based on it, and it became important to three of my boys in their college life.

I went out for football my first year. They allowed freshmen to play on the varsities then. As we new candidates lined up the first day the head coach looked us over and asked each one what position we had played in high school and which one we wanted to try out for. When it came my turn of course I said center. Later I realized that only one other freshman had chosen to try for center. Later during our first rough scrimmaging I soon found out. Athletic rules in those days were lax, freshmen could play, frequently a fellow could cover up and play six or seven years of college football by moving from one state to another. For some reason, many of the mines players were some of the post-graduates from eastern universities who had already played their four years. A Roy Ostner was out for center that fall. He had played four years back east and had been chosen as center on the second All-America, was a big fast fellow weighing well over 200 pounds. It seemed like everyone knew about this excepting me, so I was the sucker in choosing to go out for center against the great Ostner and could not then back out. Actually in the long run it paid good dividends.

Ostner certainly put me through the ropes all during practice season, I always being the second team center backing him. I then weighed less than 170 pounds. How he use to maul me around at his will, but all of the time he was teaching me the game and all the tricks, actually was a great fellow and good friend. Word got around the conference that to beat Mines you had to beat Ostner. Our first real game was against Denver University, these with a mighty good team. Of course they were laying for Ostner and really got him after ten minutes of play, broke several ribs, nose, etc. Football was a tough, rough, mauling game in those days, the open forward passing game had not yet developed. With Ostner out, I went in as center and was varsity center from then on, probably one of the lightest centers of that day, so I was lucky after all. The next year, I started as tackle, but finished the season at half-back.

In general I suppose my rather brief college life was somewhat normal for a lad at an all boy engineering school, excepting, as mentioned before, I did not have a real purpose or aim, hence I was too interested in social and athletic activities. I did about average in my studies, but certainly did not know where I was going or why. I continued to emphasize this with only one purpose; i.e., to caution each of you to always have an aim in life and real worth while purpose in all of your activities and interests. This is only fair to yourself and those dependent upon you. I did not learn this early enough in life. However, a few things about my college days may interest you. At least they were out of the ordinary.

Being an all boys school with more than half the fellows being older post graduate students and all of us trying to emulate men out in the rough engineering world, we dressed like miners and engineers and frankly tried to play rough; however, when we were supposed to be gentlemen, particularly where girls were concerned, we behaved as well as any Ivy league college. We frequently gave school and fraternity dances, more like balls. Almost all the invited girls were from Denver. We would bring our girls up from Denver via old electric suburban street cars early in the afternoon and turn our fraternity house over completely to them. We fellows would move out to hotel rooms or double up with friends for the time being. We always had at least two adult alumni couples as chaperons. Ordinarily there were many bottles of liquor in the various rooms, but we had a strict house rule, as did all fraternities, that when we had such a house party or dance, no liquor bottles, empty or full, were allowed on the premises; the house always was thoroughly inspected for this and woe be unto the offended. It just was not considered decent nor the thing to do in those days to drink with or in front of nice girls, only rough-necks did so and nice girls would never re-date such a rough neck. Usually after the dance was over we would all gather together in the house, singing, etc., until dawn, when we fellows went out for a few hours sleep and left the place to the girls and chaperons. About noon we would get together again for sleigh rides, if there was snow, or hay rack rides up into the hills, then to Denver to some good show, before the days of movies. As rough as we generally tried to be, we were gentlemen at these affairs, and through the many years the ultimate socially for any Denver girl from the state university was to be invited to a mines affair. Again, I am glad I was young in those days rather than now. We had good, clean fun, paid attention to the niceties and courtesies, certainly were not stiff prudes in anyway and, above all, sort of put our girls on pedestals and always treated them like ladies. I believe they wanted it that way and still do, if men would be gentlemen enough to so treat them. Nuff of that!

One of the boys in Sigma Nu then was Jim Ferrie, 'Hoot-Mon' as we called him because he was quite Scotch. His step-father, Mr. Greer, was then general manager of the great Homestake Mining and Milling Company at Lead, South Dakota, then the largest gold mine in the world, and the mine where the great Hearst (newspaper) fortune was made. At the end of my first year at Mines, I along with others wanted to work for the summer, so we asked Hoot-Mon to ask his dad for work for us, which he did by letter. His dad wired back for as many of us to come s wanted to. We should have smelled a mouse, but didn't. Rather we were just happy we had jobs. So eight of us went to Lead by the old Burlington Railroad. When we were about 25 miles from Lead a couple of big rough looking men got on the train and walked through it looking everyone over. When they came to our group they inquired as to where we were going and why. When we told them, "...going to Lead to work in the Homestake," they got pretty rough and told us we were to, "...turn right around and go back home," because all the mines, some 3,500 of them, were out on strike and they, these two, were members of the committee to see that no 'scabs,' strike breakers, came to town to help re-open the mine. This was too much for the eight of smart-aleck Mines men, we were in no way interested one way or the other in any labor troubles, but we just were not being punched around by anyone telling us we could or cold not do that. We were just a group of rather ignorant boys and rather enjoyed the possible chances of getting into a row. So on we went to Lead and took jobs as 'muckers' in the re-opening of the place. I was No. 30 on normal payroll of almost 4,000.

Most of the strikers were foreigners, Hungarians, and were pretty rough, did lots of drinking, fighting and some property damage; many openly carried guns. The Company had Pinkerton men as guards all over town, it being largely a Hearst town, also the state had a company of militia there. The strikers had notices posted all over town with various warnings against anyone going to work; one of their posted warnings was to the effect that they would shoot any man seen with a lunch bucket. In those days all lunch buckets were of shiny tin carried by a strap over your shoulder. All of us played it safe and carried our lunches in sacks underneath our coats and never walked the street unless three or four pals were along. I never was involved in any actual fisticuffs nor shootings, but twice we had to do a lot of loud talking and bluffing to get out of trouble.

One of our group, Heinie Hines, a post graduate from Yale who had, at Yale, been national collegiate heavy weight boxing champion, was a big brute of a man, afraid of nothing and always looking for a fight when he had just two or three beers. One evening Heinie had a couple of beers and decided he would go down to the Union Hall and tell those union guys off. We did everything we could to stop him, but none of us was man enough to handle Heinie. Off he went down town, with two or three of us following him. He first stopped at the Hearst Mercantile and bought a new, shiny lunch pail, put it over his shoulder and headed for Union Hall. This union hall had a very long bar in its front room, and the front sidewalk windows were painted over up to about six feet high. In Heinie went, with the rest of us notching through the window not knowing what to do for the moment, as there were probably 100 men in this big bar room with possibly 20 lined up at the bar. We could see Heinie step up to the bar with his bucket over his shoulder and wave to the bartender, obviously offering to buy beers for those at the bar. Immediately one of the Union strikers stepped up to Heinie and we could see they were cursing each other. Quick as a wink, the striker pulled a gun and stuck it in Heinie's belly. We fellows were there both helpless and hopeless, but Heinie did not flinch in any way. He just boldly stared the man down, knocked the gun aside with his fist, then knocked the fellow down and out, picked up the gun and walked out. Not a soul bothered him. They were fascinated by his nerve apparently. I am sure we others were much more scared than was Heinie for he didn't seem at all concerned. Eventually someone took this gun, a revolver, back to the house at Golden and it hung on the wall for many years. All this would make a good western play! Heinie later was married, was killed in a mine in Nevada years later where he was superintendent. They had a son who was also Sigma Nu at Mines, whom I met many years after when my son John was at Boulder.

 

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©1958 James H. Zisch, ©1974 James H. Zisch, III