By Robert Neff
A miner's life is often lonely and the Western gold miners in northern Korea during the early twentieth century were no exception. Very few Western women visited the mines and those who did were generally missionaries or their daughters, White Russians, or visitors from Seoul or Pyongyang - curious to see Korea's Wild West.
It was partially due to this shortage of Western women that some of the miners sought wives amongst other nationalities. Some miners married Japanese women. Amongst them were Ebeneezer Barstow, the transportation supervisor for the Oriental Consolidated Mining Company (OCMC); Soldan Blain, a young miner from Indiana; and Brede Pederson whose son, Charles Pederson, was born in Busan during the Russo-Japanese War and later went on to win a Nobel Prize. Most of these marriages were happy and long ones.
Surprisingly, very few of the miners married Chinese women, and apparently none married Korean women. Harry Fessenden Meserve, the supervisor of the OCMC's mines in the early 1900s, thought it prudent to give all the young miners upon their arrival "good advice about the Korean women", but what this ambiguous advice was is unknown. For the most part the Koreans kept to themselves, especially the women, and it is hard to imagine any of the Korean women associating with Westerners.
Not all the miners sought wives; some sought nothing more than the temporary companionship of a mistress. During the early 1900s there were many Western miners who kept young Japanese mistresses, especially at the smaller and outer mining sites. One such miner was C.F. Chase whose young mistress was named Kimmie. Kimmie was from Nagasaki and apparently came to Korea not in search of a husband, but for financial reasons. She lived in a small house at Suan mines with a couple of other Japanese girls, all of whom were mistresses of the miners there. Chase cared deeply for Kimmie and made clothing for her with his own hands and bought her gold rings. Despite his loving attention she eventually left him.
He wasn't the only miner to have been abruptly deserted by his mistress. One Japanese mistress left her Western miner boyfriend for another man, because he could not give her as much money as she wanted. Why Kimmie left is unknown, but Chase was extremely bitter about her departure and insinuated that she was crazy, but he quickly found Solace in the arms of another Japanese mistress.
Shortly after Kimmie departed the mines she discovered to her great horror that she was pregnant. On April 24, 1908, at the Palace Hotel in Seoul, in a room paid for by one of the miners, she gave birth to a large girl with red hair, blue eyes, and fair skin that she named Ethel.
Kimmie wanted to marry, but Chase balked at the idea. He was, however, a responsible man and frequently sent Kimmie money to help support the baby. Dejected, Kimmie returned home to Nagasaki with the baby, but was ridiculed by her family's neighbors who claimed that all the other Japanese girls who returned from Korea "brought money back home with them but, that Kimmie brought back a red haired baby for a presant [sic] to her father". With no other choice, she and the baby returned to Korea where they eventually won Chase's heart and moved in with him in early January 1910.
Fate is fickle at best; just a month later Chase died from a sudden attack of apoplexy and once again Kimmie and the baby were alone. Their fates have faded from the pages of history.
Robert Neff is a contributing writer for The Korea Times.
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