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Mine Disasters in
the United States


Smuggler-Union Mining Company
Smuggler Union Mine Fire

Pandora, San Miguel County, Colorado
November 20, 1901
No. Killed 31



From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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Colorado Mine Horror
Salt Lake Tribune, Utah
November 22, 1901

Telluride, Colo., Nov. 21. -- The developments today in the Smuggler-Union Mine disaster have not served to remove the doubt as to the number of the victims, and at a late hour tonight it seems unlikely that the exact number will be known for several hours.  As yet the list remains the same as last night, twenty-two dead and one in a precarious condition from inhaling the deadly gas and smoke drawn into the mine from the burning buildings about the mouth of the Bullion tunnel.

It is possible that a search of the ninth level, which is still in part inaccessible on account of the gas, will reveal the bodies of the other victims, but a party headed by Superintendent Edgar Collins this afternoon went through all the other portions of the mine and found no more bodies.  The unexplored portion of the ninth level is about 400 feet in length.  It will not be safe to enter this part of the drift before tomorrow morning, and perhaps much later.

Superintendent Collins said tonight that he did not believe the death toll would be increased by more than one or two and possibly not at all.  It is said two or three men are missing, but it is not certain, as the men are mostly foreigners and many of them did not report after making their escape from the mine.  It was only by the most careful searching that many of the survivors were located.  The work of clearing away the debris of the burned buildings and repairing the tramway has already begun, but it is said that it will be some time before the mine can be reopened.

The funeral of the twenty-two victims will be held on Saturday afternoon.  Mayor Higanhaus has issued a proclamation asking that all business houses close during the afternoon.

How many bodies remain in the mine is simply a matter of conjecture and the full number of dead will not be known until a complete roster of the employees has been secured and those who escaped accounted for.  There may be fifty more bodies in the mine.  It is certain that every man who was imprisoned in the mine is dead; no living being could exist in the awful sulfur flames for more than a few minutes.

The work of bringing down the bodies of the victims thus far recovered is slow and laborious, the steep trail making it very difficult to carry the bodies.  The bodies were placed upon improvised stretchers and then raised upon the shoulders of twelve stalwart miners and brought to the Coroner's office, where they were laid in rows.  From 150 to 200 men were engaged in this work.

Shift Bosses Hergelson and Barkley sacrificed their lives in a vain attempt to save the lives of their mine associates.  They had ample warning of the fire and could easily have escaped from the tunnel.  Instead they went back into the workings to spread the alarm.  They succeeded probably in warning only a very few of the men in the mine before they themselves were overcome by the deadly sulfur fumes.

A large crowd began gathering at the Smuggler-Union mine early this morning, every man volunteering to join the rescue parties.  Only the most experienced miners were chosen for this dangerous work and those selected made every preparation to safeguard themselves in case large bodies of smoke and sulfur gas should be encountered in the workings as the search for the dead progressed.

At 9 o'clock this morning the first rescue party entered the workings.

At 2 p.m. an attempt was made to enter the ninth level north, but on account of the density of the smoke it was impossible to do so.

It is stated by one of the officers of the company that there are only three or four men missing and that the total number of the dead will not exceed twenty-five.

The mouth of the Bullion tunnel, through which the Smuggler-Union mines are worked, is located not over fifty or sixty feet from the burned buildings.  The smoke from the start seemed to be drawn to the mouth of the tunnel, and it encircled that point as if there were no other place of escape.  This was due to the suction, as the air in the mine was warmer than that outside.

On account of this suction movement the majority of mine and tunnel entrances have iron doors ready to lower in place at a minute's notice to stop smoke or fire.  Unfortunately the Bullion tunnel did not possess one of these safeguards.

It appears that much of the stupefying effect of the fire was due to the flames in the converter house, which was saturated with oil and which emitted the darkest smoke imaginable.

The tunnel is situated about midway between the top or apex of the mine and the ninth level.  It is an intermediate working tunnel.  The seventh level is 1750 feet below the surface, and the ninth level, where between seventy-five and ninety miners were working when the fire occurred, is 2000 feet below the surface.

Seventeen of the twenty-two bodies recovered were found in the seventh level.  The fire did not penetrate the mine workings and the frightful loss of life was due entirely to smoke.

Many of the victims were married men and several left families.  There is already talk of raising a relief fund for the widows and orphans, and it is quite likely that the State at large will be asked to assist the people of Telluride in caring for those who have so suddenly been bereft of their support.

The coroner will hold an inquest upon but one body, the verdict in this case being deemed sufficient to cover all of the casualties.

The damage caused by the fire in the loss of buildings is estimated at $18,000, fully covered by insurance, but the mine will have to be closed down for at least a month.

The mine was originally owned by a company, of which John Porter of this city was the president and A. H. Fowler, secretary and treasurer.  About two years ago the mine, with a number of others in the same locality, was absorbed by the New England Exploration Company, of which J. B. Lawrence is now the head and one of the principal stockholders.  The New England Company is controlled by Boston capitalists.

Mr. Lawrence went to New York about a week ago.  Arthur Collins, manager of the mine, is also absent on a trip to Mexico.

In 1878 a snow slide occurred just above the Bullion tunnel in which twenty-seven people lost their lives, and it was here on July 3rd last that the fighting consequent upon the miners' strike occurred.

Names of the Victims:
  • Hugh O'Neil
  • Joe Nelson
  • Alex Fellman
  • John Ahone
  • Billy Jones
  • John Peterson
  • John Rals
  • Oberto Rafati
  • Thorvald Torkleson
  • John Nevala
  • Carey "Red" Barclay
  • Karl Maki
  • Gus Sundborg
  • Louis Borzaga
  • Autoine Anesi
  • Mark Zadra
  • William Merrifield
  • Matt Stark
  • Iva Sundstrom
  • August Kaanta
  • Emil Dahlstrom
  • Allen Hendrickson
  • William A. Graham
  • Frank Zadra



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