Texas Surgeon: an Autobiography Page: 22
This book is part of the collection entitled: Rescuing Texas History, 2010 and was provided to The Portal to Texas History by the University of Texas Health Science Center Libraries .
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of rock. When Mr. Aiken's picking stopped for a moment, in-
dicating that he was easing a crick in his back or biting off a fresh
chew of tobacco, an eerie silence blanketed me. The feeble light
from the lamp I wore on my head moved as I did, constantly
changing the pattern of the omnipresent shadows and making
them all the blacker by contrast. Coal, shale, clay, shadows, and
myself, a small boy, all were lost in the vaulted depths.
Actually the work was not too hard, and it was far easier
than the miner's. Sometimes almost ten minutes passed between
cars and time passed so slowly that when Mr. Aiken, from
above, tipped the hammer of the gong to signal that he was
ready, I would jump a little.
Very soon, too, I noticed odd scurryings and squeaking sounds
in the dark. When I saw gray rats coming tentatively toward
me through the yellow light cast by my lamp, the hair rose on
my arms. Rats I had seen often enough in barns and sheds, but
down in a mine they seemed a dangerous incongruity. I kept
close watch on them until the noon break, a piece of shale at
hand to ward them off if necessary. But Mr. Aiken told me I was
not to kill the rats. They could smell the explosive firedamp
where humans could not, and by scurrying off, give the miners
warning. Then he told me how, in the great explosion at the
Spring Hill mines a couple of years before, in which a hundred
and thirteen men had lost their lives, miners who had seen the
flight of the rats had followed them upward, and escaped.
Thereafter I fed the rats on the scraps from my lunch pail,
so far as I could see the only source of food they had. Soon
they were emboldened to creep into my lap and lie there, squeak-
ing for more favors. But this pastime rapidly palled. Mining,
except in times of crisis, was a dreadfully repetitious occupation.
For lack of other ways to pass the time, therefore, I began to
study my surroundings minutely. This I did day after day. I
observed how the seam had been progressively cut away to leave
a floor of sandstone below and a roof of clay and shale above.
This roof, I saw, was ingeniously held up by pit props, made of
Here’s what’s next.
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Atkinson, Donald Taylor. Texas Surgeon: an Autobiography, book, 1958; New York. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth143566/m1/34/: accessed June 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting University of Texas Health Science Center Libraries.