Picking through the tailings

On a recent episode of “Gold Rush,” the television reality series about gold miners in the Klondike, the owner of a dredge that resembles nothing so much as a giant mechanical dirt-eating dinosaur is frustrated by the paltry extraction of gold from the thousands of yards of paydirt that is being devoured by the machine. He examines the tailings — the processed rock that is ejected after the various tumbling and washing operations have attempted to extract the gold — and he quickly discovers that there is still some of the precious metal clinging to the waste material.

Improvements are made to the rig — additional water sprayers and agitation (“grouser”) bars are installed — and the next “cleanout” yields much more gold. The lesson is that sometimes, it’s worth going over material already examined to see if something of value was missed.

Such was the case today, when I decided once again to look into L. E. Waterman’s employment history in the early 1880s. In Blotting Out the Truth, we had conclusively established that Waterman had been the Corresponding Editor of the periodical National Car Builder from January, 1881 through August, 1882; that proof came in the form of his name on the masthead of the publication every month throughout that time period. We had read reports that prior to that stint, he had held a similar post at another train publication entitled Railroad Gazette, but we did not have primary source evidence. David Nishimura pointed out that in testimony Waterman gave at one of the Wirt trials just a few years later, Waterman had stated that he had indeed worked at the Gazette before moving to National Car Builder; that was quite strong evidence, but given the mythology that we know can be created in this realm, we still couldn’t consider it absolute proof, a later endorsement for the Waterman pen by an editor at the Gazette notwithstanding.

And so, I decided to pick through some of the tailings of our information dredging effort of the past two years to see if any nuggets of evidence had made their way through the extraction process. And they had. On the very same page of the January, 1881 edition of National Car Builder where Lewis E. Waterman’s name appears for the first time as Corresponding Editor, this announcement appeared:

LEW appointment as NCB editor
Still some gold in the tailings…
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