Henry P. Ewing, The Blind Miner

MondayMeanderingsWhile researching possible topics for today’s article, I was thinking perhaps mining history and then ran across a link to a story about a blind miner in Mohave County, Arizona.  Hmm … that sounds interesting, so I researched a bit further.  Just the story about Henry Ewing as a blind miner is fascinating enough, but I thought there must be more to his story, and indeed there is.  But, first the story of Henry P. Ewing, the blind miner.

The astonishing tale of a blind miner in Mohave County began to show up in the local newspaper in 1906 after Henry had a few mishaps.  In his book Arizona, Prehistoric, Aboriginal, Pioneer, Modern: The Nation’s Youngest Commonwealth Within a Land of Ancient Culture, Volume 2, James McClintock had a short paragraph about Henry:

A Blind Miner and His Work

Mohave County has given the world many instances of rare courage in its pioneer days, but nothing finer than the tale how a blind miner, Henry Ewing, unaided sunk a shaft on his Nixie mine, near Vivian, not far from the present camp of Oatman.  It was in 1904, after Ewing, a gentleman of culture, had lost his eyesight.  Despite the warning of friends, he persisted in returning to his mine, where he rigged up leading wires, to assure him a degree of safety and then set up a windlass over his twenty-foot hole.  He blasted and dug and hauled the ore buckets to the surface and care for himself in camp, his worst adventure an encounter with a rattlesnake and narrow escape from death on the trail.  Another experience was falling from a ladder a distance of thirty feet, receiving serious injuries, yet managing to climb out and to seek assistance at a nearby mining camp.

Obviously, Henry, although blind, was a very independent-minded person.  In one of the first newspaper stories I found in the Mohave County Miner (19 May 1906), it appears that everyone would have known about him as he was always referred to as “Henry P. Ewing, the blind miner.”  Henry had just returned from a two-week stay in Kingman where he visited friends.  It might have been his friends who tried to convince him that perhaps he was in a dangerous line of work (at least for a blind man):

Henry P. Ewing, the blind miner, after a visit of two weeks in Kingman with friends, departed Wednesday last to his mines near Vivian.  He says that he cannot stand the monotony of town life and wishes to live close to nature among the mines of the great San Francisco district.  Mr. Ewing is engaged in writing a sketch of Indian life and some articles on the mining history of this county.

Writing books (not to mention mining!) would seem a bit ambitious for a blind man, don’t you think?  About two months later, the Miner reported that “Henry P. Ewing, the blind miner,” had a serious mishap.  On June 14 he had fallen down the shaft of the Nixie mine, so badly injured that when he finally extricated himself from the shaft he remained in his tent until July 14 when he was discovered by George B. Ayres.

Henry had been working alone and while going down the ladder he mis-stepped and fell thirty feet.  He lost some teeth, one leg was badly wrenched and he was bruised all over.  With very little water and food he managed to hang on until the day Ayres found him and took him to receive medical care.

A week later the paper was reporting that someone had taken personal items from Henry’s tent, one a solid gold chain with a “K of P charm” (possibly something to do with the Masons, as he was a member) which was described as being a “circle with eagle on top, Bible on one side and crossbones on the other.”  The community apparently watched out for Henry, crazy though they might have thought he was: “Should the thief try to sell or pawn these articles, please notify the sheriff of this county.  Anyone who will steal the contents of a poor, blind miner’s cabin is indeed low down in the scale of humanity.”

Apparently Henry recovered from his injuries and adamantly returned to his camp.  On September 29, 1906 the Miner reported another unfortunate incident — his tent was destroyed by fire.  Henry, in the tent at the time, was badly burned.  The paper again noted, “Ewing is totally blind and has been living alone at his mine, where he is doing some work.  He refused to remain in Kingman, where he would be cared for, preferring to live alone miles from the nearest camp.”

Again, Henry must have been undeterred and returned to his camp (or what was left of it), for on April 6, 1907 the Miner reported that Henry had been brought to town by sheriff’s deputies.  Doctors assessed his condition and determined his mental state was poor and had him committed to the territorial insane asylum in Phoenix.  With this article the newspaper’s tone changed a bit: “For some time the condition of Henry P. Ewing has been pitiable.  Aside from being rather queer, he is totally blind and at times would refuse aid from friends and others.  He lived alone at his mine near Vivian and made a pretense of mining.”

On February 16, 1908 Henry died at the asylum.  In his obituary, I began to get hints of his story prior to becoming “the blind miner”.  The Miner reported that Henry had come to the area about twenty-fives years prior and was actively engaged in mining.  “He was a bright, but erratic fellow.”

According to the 1880 census Henry was enumerated in Leadville, Colorado as a miner, so probably around 1883 he migrated to Arizona Territory.   In the ensuing years, “he held various positions of trust, having been assessor of the county, under sheriff and deputy sheriff under various administrations, and was agent for the Wallapai Indians.”  This last position is verified with the 1900 census when he was enumerated at the Hualapai Indian Agency, Mohave, Arizona Territory and his occupation was listed as “Supt. Indian School.”

TruxtonCanyonSchoolThe job as superintendent of the Indian School had likely been his for perhaps at least two or three years, since in 1898 land was set aside for the Hualapai Indian School Reserve at the Truxton Canyon Agency in Valentine.  It would have been considered a boarding school since it was about fifteen miles west of the reservation.  In 1900 Henry’s job probably involved laying the ground work for the school’s opening in 1901.

Historically, the purpose of these schools was to assimilate Indian children into the white man’s culture.  Beginning in 1870 and continuing through 1930, this education model was the centerpiece of U.S. Indian policy and mandatory.  While students spent some time in academic classes, Truxton Canyon was an industrial training school where boys learned skilled trades and girls practiced domestic skills.  As one can imagine, the separation from family, not to mention the bouts with epidemics of measles, influenza and tuberculosis, was difficult for the Indian children.

Prior to his job overseeing the school’s opening, Henry had been appointed as an industrial teacher and special disbursing agent in 1895 “under the jurisdiction of the Colorado River Indian Reservation with oversight of the Hualapais, Yavapais, and Havasupais,” according to We are an Indian Nation: A History of the Hualapai People by Jeffrey P. Shepherd.  His job was not an easy one it appears:

Lacking support from Washington, he distributed rations from Hackberry and Kingman to elderly or sick Hualapais and tried to monitor Hualapais on and off the reservations.  He also had responsibility for the small boarding schools that the Indian Office built in Hackberry, Kingman, and eventually Valentine.

With President William McKinley’s executive order setting aside the land, Henry was then appointed as the full superintendent and agent in 1898.  Immediately upon assuming the position of full superintendent, Henry was presented with numerous demands – everything from concerns about water, jobs and health care.  The Hualapai also wanted a tribal-controlled cattle business on their reservation.  Their idea was to tax ranchers who used their land; Henry agreed with tribal leaders.

The government it seems, however, was more interested in agriculture even though the Hualapai resisted.  Their line of thinking was that the white man had already taken the best springs on the reservation.  So instead of pursuing occupations as strictly farmers, Henry agreed to help them find work as laborers, such as cowboys, wood-haulers and hay-packers.

In the early 1900’s, a young teacher by the name of Flora Gregg took the train from Oklahoma to Arizona to work at the school.  She later wrote a book about her experiences called People of the Blue Water.  Apparently Henry was a kind of “nose-to-the-grindstone-type” taskmaster.  Flora related a story about asking for time off during the Christmas vacation, which she (mistakenly) assumed would be similar to that observed in public schools.  Henry, barely looking up from his work, told her, “one day will be enough.”  She protested, asking for at least two, but he prevailed and she received only the one day of vacation.

From the tone of the two books where Henry’s work is discussed extensively, it appears that he had a great interest in helping the Indian tribes he superintended.  That likely did not win him any friends among the Anglo population, however.  Using Google Book previews is sometimes a bit “iffy” because there are usually just portions of the book to sample.  Such is the case here, because although I found that Henry was removed from office while Ms. Gregg was away at another location, the reasons for his removal are among those not included in the preview.

Whatever the reasons, Flora had her own opinions:

I soon learned how completely things had changed during my stay in Supai.  Mr. Ewing had been removed from office and had gone to his farm somewhere out in the desert.  I never learned the exact charges against him.  He had bitter enemies – cattlemen and ranchers he had forced off the Indians’ land and others who accused him of being arrogant, rejoicing to see how the mighty had fallen.  He also had staunch friends.  No jury would convict him, but he died a broken and disillusioned man.

As it turns out, her opinions mirrored the closing lines of his obituary in the Miner:

In his last named position he became involved in trouble with the government, which possibly hastened the decay of his mental faculties.  He was buried by the Masonic order in Phenix[sic].

No evidence could I find, however, regarding how Henry Ewing lost his sight and became known as “the blind miner.” So not entirely a “mining history” article, but a new category – Monday Meanderings – has been introduced — hope you enjoyed it.

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


  1. Ghost Towns of the Mother Road: Valentine, Arizona | Diggin' History - […] the way, if you missed Monday’s article about “Henry P. Ewing, The Blind Miner,” check it out here.  Henry…

Leave a Comment