Fred Pearce: Son of a ‘cousin jack’
December 24, 2003
Fred Pearce has cold winters in his blood. He was born in 1928 straight into a tough mining town during the Great Depression.
“I remember a ramshackle town,” Pearce said of Aspen. “It destroyed many who couldn’t make it here.”
Pearce’s family were “gouger” miners ” English immigrants repudiated for their ability to mine in cold, wet conditions. The mining life eventually ground down Pearce’s father. He died of consumption, the miner’s “black lung,” when Pearce was 5 years old.
The Pearce family came to the United States in the mid-19th century, first stopping in Michigan before news of mining claims brought them to Colorado in the late 1870s. Pearce’s grandmother raised chickens while her husband worked the mines.
The English miners were called “cousin jacks,” a slang term that could be a slur or a term of endearment. The name became popular because “cousin jacks” were always trying to get family members across the Atlantic to work. “If you need another good miner, my cousin Jack in the old country is your man.”
Recalled Pearce: “There were different ethnic groups of miners back then. Slavs, English, Americans. There was a lot of tension.”
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Pearce’s parents, Edward and Ethel, were born in Gold Hill, Colo. Aspen offered them the immigrant dream of owning land in the new country. They owned several lots at the top of Mill Street.
Pearce, who worked most of his life as a graphic artist and sign painter, decided to shirk the family tradition of mining, but still feels a close bond with miners.
“I still keep in touch with vets who worked in the Midnight Mine with my father. They are getting on now in years, so there’s not many left.”
Pearce and his son are the last of the family in the valley. He still refers to towns like Aspen and Telluride as “mining towns.” At 75 years old, he’s seen a town transformed.
“Everything is so speedy now. The lifestyle is so different from the Depression time, especially Depression time in a small, mining town.
“But that’s not all bad. Think of the great culture, art, and music in town today. That was inconceivable in the Aspen I grew up in.”
Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is email@example.com