Your Amazon purchases made using this link will benefit the United States Mine Rescue Association


united states mine rescue association
Mine Disasters in
the United States


Dunbar Furnace Company
Hill Farm Mine Fire

Dunbar, Pennsylvania
June 16, 1890
No. Killed 31



From the Google News Archives:  External Link
(news links open in a separate window)


Perils of the Pit
Chillicothe Constitution, Missouri
June 18, 1890

Dunbar, Pa., June 17. -- Yesterday morning at 11:10 o'clock a sullen roar shook the miners' dwellings on the Hill farm, in Fayette County, near this place, and hundreds of affrighted persons, who knew the sound well, feared another mine disaster and they reasoned far too well.

In a moment the news had spread that the Hill farm mines, owned by Philadelphia parties, had exploded.  A rush was made to the mouth of the pit, but ingress was impossible as smoke in dense volumes was issuing forth.

Fifty miners were in the slope when the explosion occurred.  Of these fifty eighteen were in the left heading and thirty-two in the right.  Those in the left got out all right, but the retreat of the others was cut off and not one escaped.  The men were at work about 510 feet from the mouth of the slope when the explosion occurred.

Near the point at which the heading started an air hole had been drilled and gas and water had accumulated in it.  Patrick Kerwin penetrated the air hole with his pick, whereupon a strong stream of water gushed out.  Kerwin, alarmed, sounded the danger signal, and his assistant, Patrick Hayes started hurriedly for the main entrance and had scarcely moved when the foul gas was ignited from his lamp.  The explosion that followed was terrific.  What little air there was in the place drifted to the right of the main entrance.

The fire followed swiftly and before the men could be alarmed all hope of escape was cut off by the flames.

Following is a list of the missing miners:
  • E. Joseph Brigner, married
  • Richard Brigner
  • Milt Ferney, married
  • Barney Moss
  • Peter Eagan, forty-four years old
  • Robert McGuill, single
  • Martin Cavaner
  • John Cope, married, and andy Cope, his son
  • Pat Devlin, married
  • John Debanney, married
  • John Debanney, son
  • John Joy, married
  • Delvin Davis, married
  • Thomas Davis, son
  • Pat Cahill, married
  • William Cahill, single
  • Pat Courtney, married
  • John Courtney, his son
  • Jack Mitchell, married
  • Dan South, married
  • James Shearn, single
  • David Hayes
  • William Hayes, son
  • James McCleary, married
  • Thomas McCleary, married
  • Elmer Dewey, single
  • Joseph Bigler, aged thirty, wife and three children
  • Barney Maust
  • Emanuel Maust, his brother
  • John Mitchell, married
At a point near where the explosion occurred, the bodies of Daniel Shearn, fire boss, and David Hayes were found.  They had evidently attempted to escape through the flames.  The miners from the left drift escaped blackened and bruised, but safe, and they tell a fearful story of the sight.  Just beyond the blazing coal on the right, where half imagination and half fact, showed them a score of terrible faces walled in by a flame no man could pass and live.

The explosion was one of the most disastrous and deadly in the history of the coke regions.  In the West Leisenring disaster of 1884, nineteen men lost their lives.

Thousands of people gathered at the mouth of the mine yesterday afternoon.  Among them were the parents, wives, children and sweethearts of the unfortunates, and a strong guard of police was necessary to prevent any of them, mad with anguish, from rushing into the deadly hole.  Wives, widowed by the horror, stood about scantily clad and sore footed, lulling to sleep their babes in arms.  Mothers rung their hands and cried for their boys, while children from eight to fifteen years of age hurried about looking into the blackened faces of the escaped miners in the hope of finding their fathers and brothers.

Their suffering was pitiable and while the authorities of the company were exerting all their energies to recover the bodies, the total absence of information regarding the fate of the missing men made their distress more severe and moans and groans went up consciously from many of the pinched lips in the unhappy crowd.

Early this morning Martin Markey, pit boss of the Anchor mines, made a daring attempt to reach the driftings of the Hill farm mines from the Mahoney entrance, one and one-half miles away, across the hills.  He crawled over drifts and fallen slate to within 100 yards of the fatal chambers and sounded again and again, but listened for a response in vain.  The men were either smothered or were fighting the fire that was now steadily approaching on their narrow territory, and Markey, cut and bruised, abandoned the hopeless quest of seeking an answer from 100 yards of solid dumb slate.

The sight about the pit's mouth is all the more pitiable because of the twenty-four hours of anguish that has rolled over the heads of the relatives and friends of the entombed miners, and hundreds stand steadily at the mouth, gazing wretchedly at the black columns of smoke that seem to grow thicker every hour, indicating that the coal was now burning instead of timber and roofing.  Cries for volunteers to relieve the workers were constant, and responses came before the sentence had been finished, for there were no idlers.

They are telling stories about the mine today and one of the most touching is that of a man named Kelly and an old man Hays.  The latter had safely carried Kelly from the pits in Lancashire, England, three successive times, and Hays bore terrible scars to show the fight he had with fire for the sake of his friend.  When Hays rushed into the mine after the explosion yesterday to find his son, whose unguarded lamp had set the damp on fire, he fell dead within a stone's throw of his boy's body.  Then there came crawling in after him a gaunt, blackened specter, who gathered his scorched form tenderly in his arms.  Kelly carried all that was mortal of his three times savior to the open air, and fell burned and blind.

Later reports say that the mine is in the entire charge of Mine Inspector Keighley and that he is making strenuous efforts to enter from the Mahoney drifts.  They tell the women and children that their people may be alive in a distant chamber, but they scarcely hope, and certainly do not believe it, themselves.  Coroner Holbrook was here this morning and viewed the two dead bodies recovered but refused to hold an inquest or render a verdict until the other bodies are recovered and no one seems able to guess when that will be.  An air fan to furnish ventilation to the mine will be put in operation this afternoon in the Ferguson pit, as work will also be commenced there.

There seems to be many views as to the cause of the fire, and the proper place, if any, for the placing of the blame.  Coroner Holbrook has appointed three miners and two others on the jury.  He placed the miners there because they were greatest sufferers, and because they wanted a show if the remedy could be applied.

The mine is so located that flooding the fire is impossible, and smothering it means certain death to the men below, providing any are living.  Nearly all the mines in this region are closed down, and men, money and provisions are pouring in on every train.

A rescuing party this afternoon appeared at the mouth of the Ferguson mine and reported the chambers of that drift rapidly filling with smoke.  This delays, if it does not entirely cut off, all hope of reaching the imprisoned men from that side.

Some slight hope was raised at noon by the return of Walter McCleary, one of the rescuing party, who reported that far down the slope he heard a mule braying as if in great distress.  This leads to the belief that the men may be living.


Miners Suffocated
Middletown Daily Press, New York
June 17, 1890

Dunbar, Pa., June 17. -- Thirty-one miners were killed by an explosion of gas in the coal mines at Hill Farm, owned by the Dunbar Furnace Company, and located one mile west of this place.  The explosion occurred at 10:30 a. m.  The bodies of two of the unfortunates were taken out.  The others are still entombed in the mine where a fierce fire is raging.

Desperate efforts are in progress to clear the way to recover the bodies, but so far without avail.  A rescuing party of 100 men, headed by Mine Inspector Keigley, of this district, spent some time in the pit, but had been able to rescue but two bodies.

The men, it was evident, had died from injuries sustained from the force of the explosion, but their bodies were badly burned.  Their features are distorted and disfigured, and the corpses could only be recognized by the clothing.

Fifty-seven miners were at work about 5,000 feet from the mouth of the slope when the explosion occurred.  Near the point at which the heading started an air hole had been drilled recently in which gas and water had accumulated.

A miner named Patrick Kerwin penetrated this airhole, six inches in diameter, with his pick, whereupon a strong stream of water gushed out.  Kerwin, alarmed, sounded the danger signal.  His assistant, Patrick Hayes, started hurriedly for the main entrance, and had scarcely moved, when the foul gas was ignited from his lamp.  The explosion that followed was terrific.

What little air there was in the place drifted to the heading situated to the right of the main entrance.  The fire followed swiftly and before the thirty-one men could be alarmed all hope of escape was shut off by the flames.

The twenty-six men employed in the left heading were notified of the danger in time to save their lives, although their escape was thrilling and was accompanied by the wildest confusion.  It was at a point near where the explosion occurred that the two bodies of Daniel Sheeran, fire boss, and David Hayes were found.  They had evidently attempted to escape through the flames.

Mad With Anguish

Thousands of people gathered at the mouth of the mines this morning.  Among them were the parents, wives, children and sweethearts of the unfortunates, and a strong guard of police was necessary to prevent many of them, mad with anguish, from rushing into the deadly hole.  Wives, widowed by the calamity, stood about scantily clad and sore-footed, lulling to sleep their babes in arms.  Mothers wrung their hands and cried aloud for their boys, while children from 8 to 15 years of age hurried about looking into the black faces of the escaped miners in the hope of finding their fathers or brothers.

Their suffering was pitiable, and while the authorities at the company were exerting all their energies to recover the bodies, the total absence of information regarding the fate of the missing men made their distress more severe, and moans and groans went up unconsciously from many of the pinched lids in the unhappy crowd.

List of the Victims

Following is a full list of the missing miners:
  • Brigner, Joseph, married
  • Brigner, Richard
  • Ferney, Milt, married
  • Moss, Barney
  • Eagan, Peter, forty-four years old
  • Mcguill, Robert, single
  • Cavaner, Martin
  • Cope, John, married
  • Cope, Andy, his son
  • Devile, Pat, married
  • Debanney, John, married
  • Debanney, John, his son
  • Joy, John, married
  • Davis, David, married
  • Davis, Thomas, (son)
  • Cahill, Pat, married
  • Cahill, William, single
  • Courtney, Pat, married
  • Courtney, John, his son
  • South, Dan, married
  • Shearn, James, single
  • Shearn, Danny, single
  • Hayes, David
  • Hays, William, his son
  • Mccleary, James, married
  • Mccleary, Thomas, married
  • Dewey, Elmer, single
  • Bigley, Joseph, aged 30, leaves wife and two children
  • Maust, Barney
  • Maust, Emanuel, brothers
  • Mitchell, John, aged 40, married



See more about these products


  Rescue Contests     Pop Quizzes     Mine Disasters   •  USMRA Membership     Links Library     Training Repository     Contact