united states mine rescue association Mine Disasters in the United States
West End Coal Company West End Mine Asphyxiations
August 11, 1885
No. Killed – 10
A Miner's Warning of Death’s Coming
Boston Daily Globe, Massachusetts
August 12, 1885
Wilkes-Barre, Penn., August 11. -- A frightful mine horror occurred at the West End Coal Company's mines at Mocanaqua this morning. For five years not a single fatality has occurred in this mine and it was considered one of the safest in the valley. So general was this belief that men would work in it for less money than in other mines, because the risk of life was not so great.
About 9 o'clock this morning the engineer who was in charge of the "fan" which supplies air to the mine discovered that the shaft was bent and that the fan was running too low a rate of speed and was diminishing the supply of air for the 175 men at work digging coal. The engineer, instead of giving the alarm, attempted to repair the broken fan, but his efforts were without success. All this time the gas in the mine began to exhalate in large quantities.
When the deadly gas came pouring into the different shanties it was too late to escape. The fire boss was the first to give the alarm. He was at the bottom of the slope nearest to the surface, and had a chance to make his escape if he had so desired. But he knew there were 150 of his fellow men in the mine.
Quickly summoning a couple of door tenders he made his way through the dark subterranean passages of the mine, yelling at the top of his voice, "Men there is a fire in the mine; run for your lives, quick." He was not able to reach every quarter of the mine, which covers an area of two miles under ground. When he had gone through the mine half way he was overcome by the gas and prostrated to the ground.
Many of the miners who had heard his words of alarm hastened quickly to the mouth of the mine, and made their escape. Others became exhausted and succumbed.
An eye witness, a miner, who worked in one of the chambers, and who made his escape to the surface, thus describes the scene in the mine:
"About 9 o'clock, I noticed that there was more or less gas in the mine, but thought nothing of it at the time, as I felt that the engineer in charge of the fan had slacked up a little to make some repair. About ten minutes before I heard the fire boss give the alarm I thought that the gas was increasing very rapidly, and so stated to my laborer. For the first time I began to realize that something serious must be the matter."
"I told my laborer we had better make our way to the top. We threw down our loads and took our departure. We had not gone 100 yards till I noticed scampering before us a dozen rats. This meant death. My laborer turned white at the scene. He said, "My God, John, do you see the rats running? We will all be killed." We ran for all we were worth through the dark passages.
When within 500 yards of the opening, I heard the fire-boss give the alarm. We were then almost exhausted from the gas. We could hear the groans of those who had succumbed to the gas and fallen to the ground. Every few yards we went we stumbled over some poor unfortunate miner. Some of them we tried to put upon their feet, but they were as stiff as logs and could not move. At last my laborer gave out. He fell. I tried to drag him but it was no use. He was dead in a few minutes. I knew that if I remained five minutes longer I too would be prostrated. I hastened on, and at last saw the foot of the slope, where men were at work lifting unconscious miners into the bucket to have them carried to the open air. Then my mind left me. I was carried to the top."
As soon as the accident became known a relief party had been organized, with Superintendent John Teasdale at the head.
They went down into the mine, and assisted about eighty men who were nearest to the mouth of the mine. All of them were in an unconscious condition. All the doctors for twenty miles around were pressed into service. The scene was a most pitiful one. Mothers, wives and sisters gathered around the mouth of the shaft and made the air re-echo with their cries and lamentations.
They tenderly cared for the prostrate men, some of whom were carried to log shanties and there soon recovered. At 12 o'clock there were no less than 200 women gathered about the mouth of the mine, patiently awaiting the arrival of the rescuing party from below, which generally brought up a half-dozen men more dead than alive.
The men presented a horrible spectacle when brought to the surface, blackened with coal dust, a cold, white deathlook pervaded their countenances. All attempts to get the fan in running order were fruitless, and at 4 o'clock the rescuing party were compelled to give up the search, the gas in the mine becoming too strong.
They rescued about 115 men, leaving twenty men who are believed to be dead.
Following is the list of the dead thus far:
John St. Clair
All have large families. Many of those rescued will undoubtedly die.