Willoughby: The saga of Oyster Scotty
During the Great Depression, the Midnight Mine hired several unemployed drifters to work at the mine. Few stayed for very long, but this helped them save enough to move on to another opportunity. Most of them had over-sized personalities or life experiences. One my father remembered from 1935 was nicknamed “Oyster Scotty” (last name not remembered).
Scotty arrived in Aspen in the summer looking for employment. He ended up in my grandfather’s Midnight office. After learning that he had carpenter skills, Grandfather hired him to do work on his own home. He had been planning a porch addition. Scotty had good skills and did a great job on the porch. His work output was slower than you would expect from most carpenters, but in Depression dollars he was not being paid much. Grandfather, after the porch was finished, had him make repairs and turn an old large shed on the property into a garage and fixing the roof.
The mine had several buildings needing repairs before winter, so Grandfather hired him for work at the mine and Scotty moved into the Midnight camp. That is where my father got to know him. Scotty fixed some of the buildings and because there was turnover at the mine, work in the mill opened up, so he was also put on the mill schedule. There he operated the crusher and helped with overseeing the drying of the concentrates at the end of the milling process.
Scotty mostly kept to himself. The Midnight had a cook, but Scotty did not want to eat that food nor with the other miners. There was a stove in the cabin he was living in, so he cooked his own food. At that time the road to the camp was being improved, so the miners walked halfway up and down Queens Gulch to go to town. Most lived in camp rather than go back and forth to town and went only on weekends. Scotty preferred to stay in camp on the weekends.
Materials and food were hauled to the camp once a week. On one trip the driver mentioned to some of the miners that, “That fellow Scotty must live on canned oysters from the amount I bring up. I have not brought any meat for him at all.” Going all the way back to the California Gold Rush, oysters were a favorite of miners. That is how he got his camp nickname.
One day when the camp miners were about to leave for the weekend and were gathered at the cook’s cabin, the cook said he had noticed the crusher that Scotty was operating was running but not crushing ore for about 20 minutes. Something seemed suspicious, so they ran over to the crusher. It was running, as was the conveyor belt that fed it. They found Scotty on his stomach, his arms and hands nearly in the flywheels of the crusher with his head only inches from the crusher jaws. They shut off the crusher.
They thought maybe he had a heart attack, so they carried him to his cabin and discussed taking him to the hospital. He was still breathing, but out. One miner noticed an alcohol odor coming from a pot on the stove that was being heated. There was wine simmering, with oysters mixed in. They concluded Scotty was only drunk. That was the closest the mine had come since its beginning in 1913 to having a fatality.
When Scotty regained consciousness, he was told about how close he had come to being killed. He was embarrassed and left, never to be heard from again.
Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.