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47 Down - The 1922 Argonaut Gold Mine Disaster

Argonaut Mining Company
Argonaut Gold Mine Fire

Jackson, California
August 27, 1922
No. Killed 47



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Argonaut Mine Disaster Memorial
Forty Five Gold Miners Buried Alive in California
Stevens Point Daily Journal, Wisconsin
August 30, 1922

Jackson, Cal., Aug. 28 -- Scores of anxious relatives cheered when word was brought to the surface today that the 48 miners entombed in the Argonaut mine had a chance for their life.  Word of cheer came from the rescue crew said that at least some of the men had made their way to the 2,700 foot level where they found good air.  Until this time all word which had come out from the mine had indicated there was little chance of saving the entombed men.

The disaster occurred at 11 o'clock last night.  Clarence Bardshaw, foreman, along with two men were coming to the surface from one of the lowest levels of the mine.  At the 3,400 foot level they encountered dense smoke.  Rescue crews were immediately organized and sent underground equipped with oxygen masks.  They found fire burning at the 2,800 foot level, while a cave-in in the shaft also had cut off all means of communications with exists below that level.


Jackson, Cal., Aug. 28 -- The fate of approximately 45 miners entombed by fire and a cave-in on the 2,800 foot level of the Argonaut gold mine here remained unknown at 9 a.m. today.  At that hour a voluntary Red Cross crew, headed by Superintendent Downing of the mine, had been under the ground for an hour in an attempt to check the number and identity of the miners entombed and arrange for first aid.  All available men in Jackson were sent into the mine in a frantic effort at rescue.

The cave-in, which occurred just after the midnight shift entered the mine, closed the main workings for a distance of about 500 feet.  All communication with the entombed men was broken off.  Indications were that either tunneling in from one of the open shafts of the mine, or digging away through 500 feet of debris were the only possible means of rescue.  Although mine officials refused to make any statement, it was known they doubted seriously the chances to bring the entombed miners out alive.

Fire Breaks Out

It was understood fire had broken out on a 2,800 foot level of the mine, calls for aid were sent to the United States bureau of miners at Berkeley, Cal., and a mine rescue car was being rushed to the scene.  Mine officials went into the workings early today to conduct an investigation and call a roll of employees in order to determine how many men may be imprisoned.  Shortly after midnight the foremen went into the workings taking with them all available men to start rescue work.

May Force Food Through

Nothing was learned to indicate the condition of the imprisoned miners.  Lines through which air can be pumped were being installed and arrangements made for driving other lines through the wall of earth, through which food would be sent, should such procedure prove necessary.


Rescuers Go Into Argonaut
The News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana
September 18, 1922

Jackson, Cal., Sept. 18 -- Mine rescue crews which entered the Argonaut mine today in search for the 47 miners imprisoned there for three weeks, were expected to begin actual search for the imprisoned men this afternoon.

The first party, which entered following word that the tunnel driven from the Kennedy into the Argonaut mine had broken through, was unable to proceed with its work, the opening being found unsafe.  Work of timbering was started immediately and the exploration party remained at hand, ready to resume its search.


Jackson, Cal., Sept. 18 -- Rescue crews broke through into the Argonaut mine shortly before 7 a.m. today.

Exploration parties immediately entered to take up the search for the 47 miners who have been imprisoned there for 21 days.

A strong air draft rushing through the Argonaut mine proved that it was clear of cave-ins and gave hopes of speedy progress of the search.

When the flash came that the last rock had been cleared away, the work of the miners was finished.

They were replaced at once by Bryon O. Pickard, of the government mine rescue bureau.

The rescue men had been at the surface, ready to go as soon as the word came.  Four teams, each containing four men headed by a captain, entered the Argonaut.  Each man wore oxygen apparatus.

Rodney D. Hecox, United States Bureau of Mines, headed the first team to crawl through the narrow opening into the Argonaut mine.

R. J. Johnson, headed the second team which followed close behind.  The rescue workers went forward into the Argonaut carrying canary birds and lighted candles.

The birds acted as detectors of the carbon monoxide and the candles tested the amount of oxygen in the air.

To light their way, the men carried electric flashlights in addition to the regular carbide lanterns on their helmets.

While the first two teams, known as group A, went into the burning mine, Group B, waited at the 3,600 foot level of the Kennedy, ready to relieve the first men at the end of two hours when the oxygen tanks would be exhausted.

A third group waited at the collar of the shaft to relieve group B.

Orders to the rescue crews called for them in advance slowly close together and look for living men.  Each company carried oxygen tanks to use for resuscitation, a vial of spirits of ammonia and a stretcher.

Explore Lower Levels

The first levels to be explored were the 4,200 and 4,300 in the Argonaut.  Water is believed to have risen in the 4,400 foot level.

All drifts and cross cuts, slopes and main ways on each of these levels were to be thoroughly searched.

The second duty of the rescue crew was to establish ventilation in the mine.

These crews were to handle the actual work of removing the dead, and to adjust and inspect the ventilation system.

At the same time, searching of the drifts was to progress.

Work was started to build a bulkhead across the Argonaut shaft below the fire.

Also, at the 3,600 foot station were Dr. C. E. Kendall and Dr. C. E. Endicott, surgeons.  Hospital equipment, sufficient to care for the entire 47 men was there ready in case of a miracle -- that they should be alive.

An information service resembling that of an army was functioning on the surface.  Step by step, progress underground was telephoned to Fred L. Lowell, engineer of the state industrial accident commission.  As Lowell received the information he dictated it to a stenographer.  A representative, chosen by the press committee, heard all that transpired.

As the stenographer finished her work, she handed a carbon copy of the official report to a courier, which he delivered at once to the press.


Losing Battle Against Death is Bared When Miners are Found
The Lima News, Ohio
September 19, 1922

Jackson, Cal. -- (Associated Press) -- Jackson, mining town in the Mother Lode country, has paid the toll demanded of those who delve in the earth for gold and stands unafraid but not dry-eyed today.

Forty-seven of her men died in the Argonaut mine early on the morning of August 28, she learned last night and today she awaits the bringing of their bodies from the rock tunnel that has been their tomb for three weeks.

It was California's worst mine disaster, in one of California's greatest gold producers, and it was the hardest blow Jackson ever has had to suffer.

Three weeks ago last Sunday night men deep in the Argonaut believed they smelled smoke.  A shift boss took two men and went to investigate.  They found the shaft afire at the 3,600 foot level.  Then began the work of fire fighting which merged into one of rescue.  Men came from all over the west to offer their services.  The Kennedy Mining Company, operators of an adjoining shaft, sunk the bitterness of a lawsuit in its willingness to be of service and loaned all its property and facilities to the work of rescue.

Drill Driven Thru

For many weary days rescue crews drove thru the choked tunnel that once had connected the two mines, or battered at the rock separating one of the Kennedy's drifts from the Argonaut's 4,200 foot level.  Early yesterday a drill was driven thru the last barrier of rock into the Argonaut.

Sweating shoulders and unbreakable wills drove steel picks at the rock until this hole was enlarged so that a rescue crew could pass and all day exploration went on without any result.

The levels were clear, there was no sign of any miner left in them, either dead or alive.  The rescue men turned their attention to exploring the crosscuts and drifts leading from the tunnels already traversed.  In one they found a bulkhead that had not been there when the miners went below three weeks ago.

The rescuers pressed on.  They found another bulkhead, not built of planks and timbers and stuffed with torn clothing like the first, but erected or earth, rock and debris.

Bodies Found

And then came word that rescuers had broken thru the bulkhead and that the bodies of 42 men had been found and counted.

Not long afterward word came up that the other five also had been found dead.

Jackson took the blow calmly and found comfort in the knowledge, gained from notes left by tow of the men from the reports of rescuers regarding the men's work before they died, that a quick, merciful death had come to them instead of agonies of starvation.  Records scrawled on paper by one man and scratched on a timber by another showed they had lived but little more than three hours after erecting their pitiful barricades.

Two notes were found.  One, scrawled by William F. Fessel, said:
"Three o'clock.  Gas coming in strong."
"Gas too strong.  We will have to go."
An effort had been made to scrawl a third but the figure "4" rudely scribbled, was all the man had been able to accomplish before death numbed his fingers.

Identification Difficult

Identification will be difficult.  The length of time since they died, the temperature of their casual tomb, the lack of the clothing they had torn off to stuff into cracks in their first bulkhead, combined to remove from most of the bodies any distinguishing characteristic.

The Red Cross has received a fund of $8,000 for the miners' dependents and it is estimated that the California state compensation insurance fund will pay an average of approximately $4,200 to dependents.

Red Cross officials said $10,000 was provided by the Argonaut for temporary relief.

A revision in California mining safety laws will be urged in the next legislature, according to Fletcher Hamilton, state mineralogist.  He said he thought it would be feasible to have independent exits and to have underground safety stations with a separate source of supply of air and supplies of food and water.



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