When the Cornish Miners, also known as "Cousin Jacks", came to America to work in the mines, it appears they brought more than their lunch pails of Cornish meat pies, or pasties, with them. Elfen like creatures, standing anywhere from two to three feet tall, with great long beards, extended arms, wrinkly crinkly faces, and extra large sized heads came to the mines with them. Although rarely actually seen by anyone, Tommyknockers are well known by all of who have ever worked in the mines for any length of time.
Some say these mine fairies are actually the souls of dead miners. There are those who say the souls are of the Jews who crucified Christ and were sent to work in the tin mines as slaves. Some claim the "knockers" have never been heard working on the Sabbath and other Jewish days and at Christmas time the sounds of their Christmas caroling whispers through the tunnels. Regardless of origin, it is agreed by all, that Tommyknockers can be welcome little souls to have around.
Noted particularly for "knock-knock-knocking" their warnings of danger to come in the mines, Tommyknockers have saved many a miner from impending disaster. They are also particularly fond of playing games. Missing tools, drills, dynamite fuses, an occasional blown out miner's candle, can often be accredited to the imps. An unsual light in a tunnel that leads to a rich ore vein can be a sign of their handy work as well. Watch out if you leave your lunch around, in fact it's best to deliberately leave a few bites just for the Tommyknockers, so you'll still have some for yourself.
It's advised to stay on the good side of the Tommyknockers. Occasionally, a few ornery fellows have started a mine collapse on their own with their incessant knocking. In recent years, they've even taken to playing a few pranks outside of the mines. Someone reported that the Yellow Grade Road to the Cerro Gordo Mines was chained a couple of winter's ago, and he never was able to get up there to visit the historic ghost town. Having been up that way many many times myself, including the weekend previous to this incident, I know there are no chains or gates anywhere near that road. My only thought is that perhaps the Tommyknockers got a little more brazen and ventured out of one of the many open tunnels up there, to play a prank on this poor fellow.
In addition to the Yellow Grade Road, the Tommyknockers appear to like to play games on the other side of the mountains as well. In the Death Valley region, particularly around the town site of Skidoo, there have been several reports that the Skidoo Stamp Mill was missing. However, last November, I had no trouble in finding the place, so I can only assume once again the elves of the hardrock mines are at work for whatever reason.
Several years ago, some young friends and I went through Burro Schmidt tunnel in the El Paso Mountains of the Western Mojave area. We noticed that throughout the tunnel in nearly every little nook and cranny, there were M & M candies. Now, it was Halloween weekend, and we figured that current tunnel owner, Tonie Segar was leaving trick or treat candy out for the visitors. I now realize, that she was actually leaving snacks for the Tommyknockers. Perhaps the Tommyknockers were responsible for the obsession old William Henry had to dig that tunnel to begin with.
Also in the Western Mojave area, near the towns of Randsburg, Johannesburg and Red Mountain, the Atolia Union head frame towers for all to see. One weekend we looked down the shaft and were surprised to see a fullsize pickup. Two weekends later, and it was gone. Tommyknockers at work again?
A very recent visit to the Mesquite Canyon area, in the Western Mojave as well, and a quick look at the mouth of a mine on a hillside, almost proved fateful for me. I managed the climb up the steep slippery slope without a problem, but on the descend, I fell and thankfully only slightly bruised my tailbone. Now, which do you suppose it was? Were the Tommyknockers responsible for tripping me, or did they actually save me from slipping further down and really injuring myself?
Should you ever wander around an old mine or an old mining camp, in addition to all of the many safety precautions one should take, it might be a good idea to bring a gift for the Tommyknockers, so they will only treat you well! I'm including a couple of links on Cornish Pasties, just in case you might need it. I've known a few Tommyknockers that could be bribed with Mrs. Fields Chocolate Chip Cookies, and the elves at Cerro Gordo are particularly fond of miniature triple chocolate bundt cakes available at Trader Joe's Markets. Regardless, never go around these areas without having the appropriate bribes, and be safe in whatever you do.
Written by Cecile Page Vargo
Special thanks to the Tommyknockers
and to the following websites: