COULTERVILLE MINING ACCIDENT
January of 1883
©Susan Cook; Illinois Trails History and Genealogy
St. Louis, January 10, 1883
A special from Coulterville, Ill., says the excitement in view of the terrible
explosion in the Jones and Nesbet mine, Monday evening, has subdued.
Ten strangled and burned bodies lie in the public hall dressed and arranged
for burial. Their names are:
Henry STARR, Sr.
James W. KING
A. H. COOMBS
Henry STARR, Jr.
Eight of them were married. Among them they leave 25 orphans.
The explosion was heard at the top, and when the hoisting cage was pulled
up a few minutes later, a man and boy staggered from it, blackened with smoke,
and so exhausted that they had to be supported. The man was Sylvester
MASON, the foreman of the mine. The other men were known to be in the
The details are meager, the clearest account of the catastrophe being that
given by Sylvester Mason, one of the survivors. Mr. Mason said that
the shaft was 320 feet deep, and at the bottom a corridor seven foot wide,
leads eastward for over two hundred yards. On each side of the corridor
are the mining rooms where the men work during the day, drilling into the
seven foot vein of coal. It is customary to fire the blast all together
late in the afternoon. Each man lights his fuse, and then all hands
run for safety to some niche, the blasts all being fired at once. Foreman
Mason said that he went down the shaft shortly after 4 o'clock Monday afternoon
and found that the 13 charges were ready to be fired. He told the men
to light the fuses. After giving the order he started for the foot of
the main shaft 200 yards away, accompanied by William Starr, a boy whose father
and brother were at work in the pit. "I stood at the foot of the shaft,"
said Mr. Mason, waiting for the men to come out so that I could check them
off, and see that none would be left. I heard three shots a few minutes
apart, and then a fourth followed, in an instant by a terrible explosion
in the gallery where the ten men were. Next came a rush of air, followed
by a great volume of fire that filled the whole corridor. I was blown
against the side of the shaft and my leg badly hurt. The boy Starr
was stunned. First I thought I would wait and try to save some of the
men, but the flames were coming up to us very fast. The fumes became
almost stifling, even in the shaft, and I felt that it would be suicide to
remain any longer. I stepped on the cage, dragged the boy, who was
insensible, after me, and rang the hoisting bell. When we reached the
surface I was almost strangled and the boy was apparently dead."
S. DAVIS, engineer at the time, was the first man above to hear the explosion.
He said he was startled by a half muffled explosion, which shook the ground
like an earthquake. Looking from the engine room to the mouth of the
shaft he soon saw a volume of heavy black smoke pouring up in great clouds.
Before he had time to think, a sharp ring at the signal bell told him that
somebody was alive, and he set the machinery in motion as quickly as possible.
In a minute he saw Foreman Mason stagger out of the cloud of smoke at the
mouth of the shaft, dragging the boy with him as previously described.
The engineer gave the signal of a disaster in the mine, two sharp whistles,
and soon the whole Coulterville population was rushing to the shaft, which
is a little way out of town. The scene was heartrending in the wretchedness.
Women and children stood around, crying and wringing their hands in a way
that showed they had relatives or friends in the pit. One young wife
told through a flood of tears how her husband had promised to come up from
the mine and spend the afternoon with her, and how the nice dinner she had
prepared for him was waiting on the table when she heard the distress whistle.
Wives with children in their arms crowded around the opening of the shaft
and had to be held back from jumping into the smoking pit. Soon after
the accident, Mr. Nesbet, one of the mine owners, and a small party boarded
the cage and endeavored to go down in the rescue, but were driven back by
the smoke. Another attempt was made with the same result and one young
fellow, Harry LONGSHORE, was so determined in his efforts that he was dragged
up almost dead, and he is now in a critical condition. About 8 o'clock
in the evening the smoke had entirely cleared away from the mouth of the shaft.
Again a party went down in the cage, and this time reached the bottom.
They found the smoke still very thick there owing to the absence of air.
After an hour's hard work they penetrated about one hundred yards through
the debris. Then they found James W. King, the first of the dead, lying
on his face. The poor man had clearly crawled halfway to the shaft
after the explosion as his body lay on top of a pile of slate which had been
torn down by the explosion. The digging party worked through another
hundred yards of debris and then they found the nine remaining victims, all
lying dead a few feet apart. Three of the men were badly burned; the
other seven were dead from suffocation. One of them, Frank BROWN, was
found crotched upon his knees, his head close against the floor, to get away
from the smoke, and his clothes and flesh were burned from his back.
The corpses were hoisted up two at a time. At the top of the shaft
the bodies were washed, the legs were tied together and the victims were
carried in spring wagons to the town, where they were laid out in the assembly
room of the Coulterville band. It was midnight before the work was
over. The town is in mourning. The explosion was evidently caused
by fire damp. The mine was extremely badly ventilated, there being
but one opening and no air shaft at all. Nesbit and Jones opened the
mine about 10 years ago. The president of the town board issued a proclamation
advising that all business houses to be closed, which has been done.
Coulterville is forty-seven miles from St. Louis and has about one thousand
The coroner held an inquest yesterday on the bodies of the dead miners at
Coulterville, and returned a verdict that they came to their death by suffocation
or burns caused by an explosion in the mine. Eight of the ten bodies
will be buried at Coulterville today. The other two will be taken to
a neighboring town. Twenty-five orphans are left by the sad calamity.
The mine worked about forty men and had the explosion occurred earlier in
the day probably four times as many lives would have been lost. The
cause of the explosion is a mystery.
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HERRIN MINE DISASTER
©Susan Cook; Illinois Trails History and Genealogy
Carbondale Illinois, May 11, 1904
Five were killed
Powder explosion in Herrin, ILL., Coal mine attended by dire results
Three fatally injured and about 20 others hurt - electric current is supposed
to have been the cause.
In an explosion today at the shaft of the Big Muddy Coal and Iron company,
in Herrin, five men were killed outright, five seriously injured and twenty
others slightly injured.
The disaster was one of the most serious in the coal district in this section.
Six kegs of powder had been placed in the mine during the ?, intervening
between night and day shifts, for distribution in the morning. John
MILLER, a driver, had charge of the distribution.
Ten minutes after MILLER was supposed to have completed his task, the electric
current which runs the machines was turned on and the explosion followed.
It is supposed that through some mistake the current was switched on before
MILLER had distributed the powder. On reaching the passageway rescuers
met a frightful sight. The body of MILLER was literally torn to pieces.
Evan WILLIAMS was found a short distance from MILLER and four whose injuries
may prove fatal, were found in the same vicinity. The three others
killed were farther from the pit and not so badly disfigured. The injured
men were found in all parts of the mine. The dead and injured were
taken to the top, the dead to the morgue and the injured to their homes.
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