A disaster in the Winter Quarters mine left hundreds of miners dead and others severely injured. It remains the fourth deadliest mining disaster in U.S. history.
According to the stopped watch on a dead Finnish miner, 10:28 A.M. on May 1, 1900 marked the time of the horrific explosion that ripped through tunnel Number 4 at the Pleasant Valley Coal Company’s Winter Quarters Mine. Many miners died instantly in the explosion and others were severely injured. The blast blew one miner standing in the entrance of tunnel No. 4 800 feet across the canyon, crushing his skull—but he survived. Other miners died from falling debris inside No. 4. More died in mine No. 4 and the adjoining mine No. 1 as a result of asphyxiation on toxic gas, or afterdamp, which resulted from the explosion. Many miners in mine No. 1 ran directly into the afterdamp as they attempted to escape the mine.
Miners on the scene immediately started a rescue effort. The next day, miners from the nearby mines of Caste Gate, Sunnyside, and Clear Creek arrived to help with the rescue and recovery of Winter Quarters’ victims, placing the dead in a nearby schoolhouse. Most of the victims were interred in the nearby Scofield Cemetery on May fifth.
Initially, the blame for the explosion was laid on Finnish miners for using gunpowder to expedite their mining effort. The Finnish miners were vindicated of this charge through investigation—though the direct cause of the explosion, the initial spark, remains unknown. An investigation revealed that better circulation within the mine may have prevented the build-up of coal dust and eliminated the chance for explosion.
The Pleasant Valley Coal Company and the state mine inspector each reported two hundred deaths as a result of the explosion, while newspapers and miners placed the number of dead somewhere between two hundred and three hundred. About twenty children employed by the mine died in the explosion. The Winter Quarters Mine Disaster remains the fourth deadliest mining disaster in U.S. History.
Image: Scofield, Utah Mine Disaster. A group of Scofield residents waiting for the train to transport the coffins to other parts of the state for burial. The explosion in the Winter Quarters No. 4 Mine greatly affected the town of Scofield, killing many of the mine employees. May 1900. Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society.
See A. Kent Powell, The Next Time We Strike: Labor in Utah’s coal Fields, 1900-1933 (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1985), 27-35. Numerous newspaper articles told of the event. See The Deseret Evening News: May 1, 1900; May 2, 1900; May 3, 1900; May 4, 1900; May 5, 1900; May 8; 1900; May 9, 1900; May 10, 1900; May 12, 1900. Also see Davis County Clipper: May 4, 1900; May 11, 1900. See also The Semi Weekly Standard: May 4, 1900, May 8, 1900; May 11, 1900. See The Park Record: May 5, 1900. The articles from The Deseret Evening News, Davis County Clipper, The Semi- Weekly Standard, and The Park Record can be found on Utah Digital Newspaper. See also New York Times: May 3, 1900; May 4, 1900. Also see The Salt Lake Tribune: May 2, 1900; May 3, 1900; May 4, 1900.