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1900: Scofield Mine Disaster

In short:

historical photo

A mine rescue team at Winter Quarters, 1900.

On May 1, 1900, the Winter Quarters No. 4 coal mine exploded, killing 200 or more men and boys either by explosion or toxic fumes.

Many of the dead left behind widows and children. Others left grieving parents or siblings behind. Many had come to a strange land as immigrants, and all were now were bereft of their loved ones and breadwinners.

More of the story:

Coal mining was a dangerous business, and in the 19th century the government did not have safety regulations. The mining companies had few safety rules also. But that began to change after several high-profile, high-casualty mine explosions near the beginning of the 20th century. People realized the need for better precautions and safe practices in the mines. 

The hills shook.

On the morning of May 1, 1900, a gigantic explosion shook the hills near the Winters Quarters mines. The No. 4 mine had exploded, killing at least 200 workers. 

The explosion threw miner John Wilson 820 feet out from the mine opening. Thomas Pugh, 15 years old, ran 1 ½ miles for the tunnel entrance and fainted when he reached it. But his father, standing near him at the time of the explosion, had died. A few who had survived the initial explosion likewise escaped the mine without suffocating from toxic gases, but most died.

The people of Scofield and Clear Creek rushed to the mine to try to save the miners. Rescue teams pulled a few men out alive. Mostly they recovered bodies.

historical photo

The grieving family of Levi Jones, killed in the disaster.

The disaster devastated hundreds of survivors. Abe Louma and his wife, who had come from Finland only three months before, lost seven sons and three grandsons in the explosion. The extended Hunter family lost 11 members.

The United States had never seen such a mining tragedy—it was the nation’s worst ever at the time.

Why did it happen?

Coal dust likely caused the explosion. The dust is very flammable and can explode, and the coal company did not take enough care to wet the dust down. When miners lit a dynamite charge, it ignited the coal dust in the air.

Aftermath.

Volunteers washed and clothed bodies.  200 coffins arrived by train. Men from Provo came to help dig graves. After services, the dead were buried or shipped to their hometowns.

The government never did help the families of the victims. But communities around Utah raised money and sent it to the widows. Also, the families sued the mining company, which finally agreed to pay burial costs and give each widow $500.

After the disaster at Winter Quarters in 1900, mining companies began training first-aid squads in safety procedures. Strikers pushed for better safety measures and better pay. As time went on, both state and federal governments began regulating coal mines, and coal companies inched forward in providing more safety in the mines.