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InterviewsErma Godbey

Great Projects: The Building of America

EG: Oh, absolutely. You bet I had my children with me. I had four, Torn and Jim and Laura and then Ila was the baby. She was 5 months old.

EG: Oh, yes. We had to stay together. I had been up in Silverton alone while my husband was tryin' to get work, you know.

EG: Oh, my mother, yes, but her husband, he had a job as city marshal. So that they had work back in Silverton.

EG: Oh, sure. Well, that's the best way to be is all together. My husband would see that we got some food, if he had to steal it.

EG: No. No. There was a lot of people that had been camped there for pretty near a year that had come earlier when the mines and everything had closed back East. Now my husband's uncle and aunt and a cousin, they had come up to Silverton to try to get work when the mines had closed in Oklahoma a whole year before, but they couldn't get work in Silverton either, because they weren't hiring, and so they had been down there camped for, oh, 6 months maybe waiting for this job to start.

EG: Hoping to get a job. And everybody didn't get a job even after they were livin' there. Just as many as they needed, but -- but there was everybody there. There were college professors. There were lawyers and everybody and -- and they didn't know a damned thing about mining.

EG: Everybody was tryin' to work in the tunnels. And he was so anxious that he just jumped off the boat and went into the tunnel too quick and there was a delayed blast in the tunnel and it went off just as he put his shovel in. And it hit the shovel and the handle of the shovel disemboweled him. Well then, all she could do was try to get his remains back home or bury him in Las Vegas and go back home herself. So then we bought her little tent. So then we had a tent. And then I got two dynamite boxes . . . everybody used 'em for chairs or they would take 'em apart -- they were dovetailed -- and make a floor or anything with 'em. So I got a-hold of two dynamite boxes and I put 'em in this little tent and somehow or other, I had brought my ironin' board along. Couldn't iron a t'all, but I brought the ironin' board along and I put it across these two [dynamite boxes]. And then I had a bench in the tent that about 5 people could sit on, on the ironin' board, see?

EG: Well, we had to go to the river to bathe. And you'd hang onto your kids by their hand and you wash up underneath their clothes and everything -- nobody showed themselves. We would stand in the edge of the river and wash. And I almost lost Ila one day. I was hangin' onto her by her leg. I yelled for her dad and he grabbed her, because she was slippin' outta my hand and I was washin' the other kids.

EG: Why did I leave? I'll tell you why I left Ragtown, was on account of there were three women died right around me. On the 26th day of July, three women died right around me and they -- they took -- well, there were four that died. The first three, they got them takin' the bodies into the Las Vegas to the mortuary, or wherever, and this other woman was just three tents from me. And she had a big dog and she was sick -- they were from New York -- and her husband was on the afternoon shift in the tunnels and she was so hot, she had sent the dog with a note on his collar to Mr. Williams, who was the head of Williamsville [Ragtown]. He was the ranger. And to ask him if he would come and take her to the river so she could get cooled off. Well, anyway, when the dog found Mr. Williams and he went and he found her dead. And she was layin' cross the bed. Well, then he told some of us women that were close by and we went over and we lifted her up and put her in the bed, laid her down, and he, the ranger, went down to the tunnels to get her husband out of the tunnels to come home. And so when the husband came home, he jumped straddle of her and he starts to give her artificial respiration. Well, she had probably been dead an hour by then. So, of course, that didn't do very much good. And then he just turned real quick to some of us, we three women that were there, and he said, "Anybody want to buy a fur coat?" And we thought, "Oh, my God, in this heat?" And none of us had any money anyhow. He said, "You want to go to Alaska?" And we thought, "The man's gone crazy." But I'll tell you what, later on I figured what he was tryin' to do was sell her fur coat that they had brought with 'em from New York so's that he could bury her. I went back to my tent and I told my husband, I said, "We've gotta get out of here. I can't stay here any longer. I've got to get somewhere where I can get a doctor if we need one." And so we went to Cowboy Bill's camp in Las Vegas.

EG: Well, I was worried about my children 'cause we couldn't get a doctor or anything closer than Las Vegas, you see. And I didn't want us to die like this woman did, like these women did. And so we went into Cowboy Bill's camp in Las Vegas.

EG: Simms Ely? Yes, I remember him very well. [Simms was appointed Mayor of Boulder City by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.]

EG: I tell ya', anybody that crossed him, why, they got a floater out of town. There might be one woman maybe was letting her washing machine water run out and it would run into another woman's yard and that other woman would fuss to Simms Ely about the water runnin' into her yard. And he might tell the people whose water ran into the other one's yard that they had to move. And he'd kick 'em out of town. He ruled with an iron fist. Anybody didn't cross Simms Ely.

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