The rugged individuals that opened the frontier West were prospecting, mining, and attempting to survive in what was a vast wilderness at the time. Many of the basics of survival had to be sourced directly from the miner’s immediate surroundings, and shelter was one of the first necessities of life that had to be addressed.
The most common form of shelter for early miners in many states was the log cabin. In forested regions, logs were readily available and enabled miners to build reliable shelter in relatively short time. The following photos show many examples of these early cabins and the proud miners that built them.
The following image depicts a very early cabin near Nevada City, California in 1852. Of interest in this photo is the massive size of the logs used to build the cabin and the half barrel used as a stand for the sluice the men are working.
Many great photos of miner’s cabin have been preserved and capture what life was like in the late 1800s for these early pioneers. The following photo depicts several of the earliest settlers of the Cripple Creek district of Colorado. Note the two seated men are posing with musical instruments.
This 1870s image from Rosita, Colorado reveals a man with a high opinion of his humble cabin. Undoubtedly many people these days would enthusiastically trade their current daily lives for a few days in the Elkhorn Palace. Dogs where a required accessory for any proper cabin.
This group of prospectors mean business outside of their Colorado log cabin. The dog is ready to do some gold digging.
This late 1800s photo is a rare view of two miners in their cabin. Note the bags and supplies hanging from the wall and the furniture made from tree limbs. This was the original tiny house movement.
This William Henry Jackson photo depicts “St. Peter – Guide and Prospector” at his cabin around 1890.
This Colorado miner sits outside his cabin with the required quota of dogs. Note the contrast between the major mining operation on the mountain behind the cabin, and the simple gold pan to the right of the miner.
A new rush occurred at Jasper, Colorado in 1897 and the following image shows one of the first cabins built at the time. These miners are ready to find some gold. The dog, as usual, is an enthusiastic sidekick.
The following image is an early view of a cabin in California’s Sierra Nevada Range in 1866. Note the very steep roof – an indication that this location received heavy winter snow accumulation.
The gold rush at Nome, Alaska presented new challenges to miners struggling to survive in a very severe climate. No trees grow at Nome, so materials for shelter had to be brought in at great expense, or scavenged from wherever they could be found.
The following photo captures an old-time miner at his cabin built of driftwood at Nome ca. 1905.
While the relatively simple life of a miner might appeal to many people today, after spending a winter scavenging materials for shelter in Alaska, or spending a winter in this Colorado cabin….
….they may want to instead spend their time at this cabin – Miner’s Cabin Saloon at Baker City Oregon. This 1890s photo illustrates that the miner’s cabin captured the imagination of the public at a time when miners were still building cabins in newer districts.
While most miner’s cabins have been lost to weather, fire, vandalism, and the relentless march of time, we can still enjoy photos of these fascinating structures, the miners that built them, and the dogs that kept them warm thanks to the following institutions.
- Denver Public Library Digital Collections
- UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library
- University of Washington Digital Collections
- Library of Congress
- Baker County Library