In mining lingo, high grading was simply pilfering ore from the mine one’s employer. A miner might take a few choice pieces of ore home with him at the end of the shift, set up his own little smelter and in a small way, go into business for himself. It was said that many of the bow-legged fellows in the West got that way, not from riding horses but from carrying their ore-laden lunch buckets home from work. To counter this thievery, the mines would hold inspections after each shift. The men would shed their clothes and stand while various personal and not so personal areas of their bodies were inspected. A man caught high grading was fired and hard-pressed to find another job in the district.
In at least one case, two high graders didn’t fare too well in their nefarious scheme. It seems they had set up a small smelter in their house and breathing the dangerous fumes of mercury caused the pair to lose, not only their hair but their teeth as well. The company felt that justice had been served and didn’t press charges against the hapless pair.