Extracts From Story of #5 Mine Explosion at Almy, Wyoming, by William Moroni Purdey
Perhaps, nowhere else could you have found a more united group of people than lived in Almy in those days. Socially and religiously they were knit together like one family. Their successful events were known far and wide.
The 20th of March 1895 began the same as other days in Almy with no indication that it would be any different. Men and boys left their homes for work, little dreaming that they had looked upon their loved ones for the last time in life.
My father and I walked along with the other men. When we arrived, the drivers were having trouble getting the mules to enter the mine. They always had some trouble every morning to get the mules into the mine, for they were more stubborn than mules generally are. But this morning was different. They were determined not to go in, and the drivers were determined that they would. It took the combined effort of all the men to force the mules into the mine. With deep regrets, we later recalled this incident, feeling that the mules sensed the impending tragedy.
The day progressed as usual… Father and I were loading a car of coal, when suddenly I heard a voice say, "GO HOME". I stopped shoveling and looked around to see who had spoken. No one was there but Father, and he was busy shoveling, and I knew he had not heard the voice. I began to think I was imagining things and started again to shovel coal. Then a feeling of heavy depression settled upon me. It became more intense every moment until I could not put forth any physical effort. My feelings became indescribable. It was practically a matter of minutes until the mantrip would be there to take us to the top, and our day's work would be ended. I thought of that, but it gave me no comfort. An urge to get out of the mine and take Father out, took possession of me and I stood like one petrified, not being able to move.
Father finally became conscious that I was not working, and glanced up and asked why. I blurted out, "Let's go home." He looked at me as if I had taken leave of my senses and said, "It's almost quitting time and our car is about loaded. The driver will be here in a minute or two to get it." Even as he spoke, I could hear the rumble of cars in the distance, and presently the driver whistled to let us know that he had left another car for us. I still stood rooted to the spot as Father reminded me that our new car had come. I wondered if I should go home alone, but knew that I could not go without Father. Suddenly he stopped his work and gazed at me intently. I was afraid he was going to scold me, so I quickly said, "Let's go home, Father." "We'll go," Father answered. He later told me that he suddenly had a feeling to listen to me and do as I had asked.
We got our lunch buckets and wraps and started off. As we passed the empty car the driver had just left for us, Father paused and I realized that what we were doing was in direct violation of mine ethics. The driver would be inconvenienced and angry. I heard, as something apart from myself, the snubber singing at the top of his voice. He too, would be inconvenienced at our leaving.
We had to pass a room just being turned off the entry, where William Morris and his son, Johnnie, worked. Common courtesy demanded we pass the time of day with them. Father stopped, but I took a few steps forward, hoping it would cause Father to hurry. I heard Mr. Morris ask, "Why are you going home this time of day? The mantrip will be here almost as soon as you are. We are going to drill this hole and shoot it, and by then the mantrip will be here." I was afraid that Father would be influenced by his remarks , so hastened to call Father to hurry. I was relieved to hear Father say, "I guess we'll go, Bill." I was very nervous and set a rapid pace. Father had difficulty keeping up with me. I knew we must get up and out of that mine as fast as we could. Doubts and urges filled my mind as we climbed the manway.
When we came out of the mine and started home, everything looked natural, but I felt no better. Father left me to go to the blacksmith shop, I think, and I continued homeward.
Suddenly, the ground began to shake under my feet, and I heard a great rumbling noise. I could scarcely stand on my feet. Fearful and startled, I turned around and looked back at the mine. I was only about 250 feet from it. At that moment, a sheet of bluish flame shot out of the fan shaft, reaching hundreds of feet into the air. It was accompanied by a terrific blast which seemed to shake the very earth. Simultaneously, the shed over the slip was blown in a mass to the tipple. Timber and debris of all description flew through the air, and a cloud of the blackest smoke I have ever seen, rolled over the hills. Then came a hissing noise as the air rushed back into the mine to fill up the void caused by the explosion. One log pierced the side of a railroad car; another struck a boy named Jerry Crawford, in the neck and he died in a few minutes. This boy and his father had worked in the mine that day and were out because they too, had not waited for the mantrip. He lost his life just the same. I narrowly escaped injury.
Thus ended the lives of sixty-one men and boys. Five of them were killed on the surface, among them James Bruce, the foreman.
Screaming women and children came running from their homes toward me, for I was directly in their path as they rushed toward the mine. I hope I never have to endure what the next few minutes brought to me, again in my life. They rushed upon me in wild disorder, grief-stricken and terrified. They could not control their emotions. I tried to soften the blow by telling them that the powder magazine had exploded, but they knew better. I was lying on my back when my sister Millicent arrived on the scene, and made her way through the women to me. She was overjoyed to see me, but in despair when she saw that Father was not with me. I could not be sure that he was safe, but I told her he was not in the mine. We found him safe at the mine.
I began to feel the effects of what I had been through, becoming weak and very confused. In a few hours this wore off and I spent most of the night at the mine with the rest of the populace of Almy.
All through that dreadful night, women and children crowded around the pit mouth, their screaming subsiding through exhaustion, giving place to moans of despair and soft cries. In the excitement, they had left their homes without wraps and consequently suffered much from the cold. The children clung to their mothers in terror, falling asleep as the night wore on. There was no light except the feeble flames that came from pit lamps, which merely served to intensify the surrounding darkness. To add to the suffering, a typical March storm, with its wind, snow and rain arose, casting a dreary, eerie aspect over all. It would be difficult to imagine a more pitiful, heart-rending scene. Loving friends and relatives did all they could to comfort the broken hearted, and finally realizing there was no hope, they were persuaded to go back to their homes and wait.
Rescue squads made attempts to enter the mine all through the night, but without success. It was yet too soon; all ventilation had ceased through the destruction of the fan and stoppings throughout the mine. The deadly afterdamp resulting from the explosion, made all attempts futile for the time being.
It was the next afternoon when Father arrived home from the mine, in a state of collapse, and in no condition to talk. However, he managed to tell us that they had penetrated far enough into the mine to know that no living soul could have survived the explosion.
Each man who entered that mine as a rescuer was indeed a hero. It took great courage and stout hearts, for there was no means of making it safe in any way for the men; no modern inventions as we have today. A sponge soaked in vinegar and placed over the mouth and nostrils, was at best a crude and dangerous makeshift. It was a miracle that not one rescuer was lost during the seven days it took to take all the bodies from the mine. Time and again, men were overcome by the deadly gases, but no one lost his life.
We could not remain idle, so Father asked that we be transferred to #6 mine. His request was granted, and as our tools were still in #5 mine; the gas watchman, Joseph Bird, accompanied us down the mine to get our tools. He handed each of us a safety lamp, warning us to be careful and not set the lamp down anywhere. I felt quite frightened. The lamps gave little light and many obstacles were in our path. A peculiar odor pervaded the atmosphere, affecting our breathing somewhat. The terrible havoc caused by the explosion, beggars description. We climbed over big caves; stoppings were blown out, and in one place on the slope, I noticed rails that had been torn up and twisted beyond repair. I saw broken pit cars piled up in one mass.
On arriving at the place where Father and I had worked, we were surprised to see what little damage had been done there, in comparison with what we had seen, for it remained much as we had left it. Mr. Bird directed Father's glance toward the partly filled car we had left, and said, "It didn't do much damage here, John, just blew a little coal off the top of that car.: Father answered, "It didn't blow any coal off that car, Joe." "Do you mean to tell me that you went home and left that car so nearly loaded?" Joe was astounded and said just two words. I will not repeat them. For our deliverance from that terrible disaster, I am most grateful and feel humble before the Lord."
Extracts From Story of #5 Mine Explosion at Almy, Wyoming, by Joseph Matthew Morris
Every minute, the urge to get out of the mine became more intense, until I could stand it no longer, so I knew I must go even if I had to go alone. Then I remembered that my mother had made me promise that I would never leave my brother in the mine and go home. I stopped shoveling the coal and said to Heber, "I am going home and you are going with me. Now, are you going to come, or will I have to knock you down and drag you out?" He put down his shovel, followed me out, grumbling at me all the way. On our way out, we had to pass the room where a fine Welshman, William Edwards and his son worked. As we walked along I called to him, "Goodbye, Mr. Edwards." He turned to his son and said, "That do sound funny. Boy, get your coat." They followed us out.
I arrived home, walked into the kitchen, sat down and had just removed my pit shoes when the explosion came. I was one of those who helped to take the dead from the mine. It was a terrible experience.
My uncle William Morris and his son, Johnnie, lost their lives. Because of that, I must tell of an incident that took place. Not many days before the explosion, I had a strange dream. I could not get it off my mind, so I told it to my mother, and it worried her. My Aunt Mary, the wife of Uncle William, and mother of Johnnie, came to our home; and mother asked me to tell my dream to her. I did, and it was this… a white dove flew into the house and settled on the transom. It held in its mouth a smooth, black stone, much the shape of a headstone. It put the stone down and flew away. Soon it returned with a stone just like the other one, only it was a white stone. When Aunt Mary heard the dream, she said without hesitating, "We are going to lose two from our family; a young person and an older one." We lost them, and the two we lost were Aunt Mary's husband and son.
Extracts From Story of #5 Mine Explosion at Almy, Wyoming, by William F. Robinson
A mass funeral was held for the men at Almy. The weather was favorable, so the coffins were lined up in two long rows on the south side of the meeting house. The main speaker was Joseph F. Smith, a member of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Rocky Mountain coal and Iron Co. gave the widows six hundred dollars each for the loss of a loved one.
Extracts From Almy Centennial History
Over the main shaft, a stone fan housing was constructed and a huge twenty foot fan was installed to pull fresh air into the lower depth of the mine. The main shaft ran at a slope or pitch of eleven degrees. It had been deepened to 1,800 feet down the center of the coal seam with entries running to the right and left of the shaft. Mine #6 was the largest mine which utilized thirty-two mules per shift. Permanent corrals were built in the mines to care for the animals. The mules were rarely brought to the daylight, and with coal dust and constant exposure to gasses, they eventually became blind.
20 March 1895, at 5:40 p.m., an explosion occurred at Almy in the Central Pacific No. 5 mine. The explosion was one of the most destructive that had ever occurred in this Western country. Sixty-two miners were killed.
Under the date of 21 March 1895, the Salt Lake Tribune published:
The greatest mine horror of Wyoming occurred at 5:45 this evening at No. 5 mine, Central Pacific, Red Canyon. The explosion in the mine shook the whole country, wrecked the power plant, fan house and several other buildings. But the death toll far overshadows all other considerations. Edwin Cox, James Bruce, James W. Clark, William Sellers Jr., and James Gerully were killed in the powerhouse, while O. Maltby, Jerry Crawford and Andrew Mason were injured and died soon afterwards. The last thee being about the powerhouse at the time of the explosion.
A few hours later the dead bodies of James Limb and Fred Morgan were brought from the slope. But as this is written there is around the mine a great throng of people, anxiously inquiring about friends and relatives in the mine. all hopes of any of them being alive is gone. No one, after seeing the ghostly spectacle presented by the two bodies brought out, could have hopes of any in the mine being alive. The bodies were burned and blackened, with garments torn to shreds, making it almost impossible to identify them.
Immediately after the explosion Superintendent Bradbury phoned to Evanston for all the physicians, with an extra train. The relief corps, carrying lanterns, got ready to descend, in hopes of rescuing alive some of the victims. The blacksmith shop was turned into a deadhouse, with four bodies lying there, one with its head blown off, the others less mangled. brave men had tried to descend some of the air and escape slopes without success, and it was not until three hours later that a volunteer party entered the mine entrance soon returning with two bodies. Reported cave-ins stopped further progress.
A few lives were saved because of the time of the explosion. The miners quit work at 6 o'clock, and it is customary for them to be near the entrance and come out just as the whistle blows. Zeek Baker, his father and brother came out five minutes before the explosion. Zeek was hit by the timber which killed the Crawford boy, but he was not hurt. John Hanna, carpenter, was talking to Cox and Bruce when they were killed, he being wounded only slightly.
Many families are bereft of fathers and sons. A more sorrowful community could not be found; women, children, men, mourning the loss of husband, father, brother or son.
The explosion is described by many as most terrific, shaking the whole town, and causing women and children to run into the streets crying, "Oh, my husband," "Oh, my papa." with raised hands, imploring for the safety of the beloved ones.
This leaves No. 6 mine unharmed, but deprives the company of one-half its capacity. This is the third disastrous explosion in this vicinity. Newell Beeman, manager, arrived from Salt Lake tonight, hastened to the mine, and is doing all he can for the injured and bereaved, and to reach those in the mine.
An article written by church officials under the date 24 March 18895, Deseret News:
There were three distinct concussions closely following each other. Immediately followed by a black cloud, which looked terrific, came debris, timber, coal cars, boards and shedding, flying in all directions. There were three openings, one, the main shaft, then the manway and the airshaft and fan. The fan building was blown to atoms in an instant. A thousand kegs of powder had been exploded all at once. They could not have made worse the disturbance which left its mark on every hand. The shaft was swept as clear and smooth as a cannon carrying everything before it. all the timbers, not one piece being left. Three men outside the shaft and between the manway and main shaft, and near the hoisting works were framing timbers. W.E. Cox, head carpenter and a helper, James Bruce, mine foreman, who had come up out of the shaft to go home. His boy had just arrived with a one-horse carriage to take him home for the evening. The boy came just in time to see his father and the other two killed instantly. Brother Cox, of Herriman was struck in the neck with a pointed piece of board flying with a force of a bullet. It pierced the neck remaining with an end on both sides of his head. All of them fell dead in a pile within a few feet of each other; a pool of blood still showed the fierceness of the tragedy. The boy, in passing over the roadway over the main shaft, which sunk under him, broke the shafts of the carriage. After sometime the boy, horse and damaged carriage were successfully gotten out. The dilapidated carriage is still on the grounds. Near him a father with his head scalped two inches. He picked up his son who was 16 or 18 years of age. The weightmaster was at his work but fortunately another workman was just stepping on the second step of a long, broad stairway as the explosion reached him. He saw fire and smoke, and when he was picked up he was over by the railroad track blown into a hole where the fierce whindblast passed over him. He was there in person to tell us the sad effects it had upon him until he was lost and he recovered his mental faculties. The weightmaster was at his work but fortunately for him the force was partly broken by the great strength of the immense hoisting works. A car was dashed against the beam as well as other heavy timbers, breaking a heavy beam and other timber tearing through the roof. Although there was force enough to craze everything around the two men in the weighing room, and there was the smoke and the fire, they caught each other in their arms, fell to the floor and escaped with their lives. The engineer was blown up unto the broken roof of the hoisting works and the clock stopped at 5:40 p.m. The watch boy was blown up into the broken roof of the hoist works. Everything around was scattered and fragments of timbers were here and there for a long distance. The last victim was taken out last night. After visiting the sickening sight, we passed on to No. 7 mine and took breakfast with Bishop Bowns.
Teenie Bowns Cox...
I remember the terrible explosion at No. 5 mine. It was just at the time the men were leaving to go home. Fifty-seven men killed in the mine had remained after work for a meeting. J. Bruce, E. Cox and Maltbe Marter, mechanic, were watching a dog fight and were all killed by flying and broken timber. Another man was killed in the sheds where the coal was emptied into the railroad cars. His body was blown up into the inside of the tip of the shed and lodged on some rafters. Another, a boy of about 14 or 15, was walking on the railroad tracks a short distance from the mine, he was hit on the head by a piece of flying timber. Being placed in a buggy, he died before reaching home. Altogether 62 men were killed.
The first few stories have dealt primarily with the sorrow, death and carnage of the surface of the mine. The next story, by historic writer, Cliff Stuart, entitled "Killer Mine", deals not only with the devastation on the surface but also takes us down inside the mine with the rescue crews. His story gives one an eerie feeling as he sends us nearly a hundred years back through time to witness this terrible tragedy of hope and shattered dreams.
THE KILLER MINE - by Cliff Stuart
On the Morning of 20 March 1895, miners were sitting in the dark rooms relaxing and talking; blasting had filled the air with dust and gas, so much so that the percentage of methane gas and dust had reached the danger point. All work had to be stopped in order to allow the fan to clear the mine. At 9:30 a.m., work was resumed
At 5:30 p.m., miners climbed into the empty mining cars to begin their slow, steep descent into the black caverns of man made hell. As the daylight grew smaller and disappeared altogether, the men were left with a dim light from their head lamps, dropping steadily into the inky blackness.
As the train of cars slowly halted at the 8th level, the men of the night shift climbed out and began the 1,700 foot walk into the north 8th level to their positions of work.
The morning shift began their ascent back out of the darkness to the surface. Too tired to talk, some with the splitting headaches from blasting powder and explosion concussion, the men were nauseated from exposure to gas and fumes. The spirits of the men began to rise as a speck of light came into view, growing larger until the cars passed into the brightness of the day. Sucking in the cool, fresh air of the evening, the men coughing and spitting up coal dust, they were as black as the caverns from which they had just returned.
The 22nd room in the north 7th level was 1,540 feet from the 1,800 foot deep main shaft. The 30th room was 2,100 feet from the end of the main shaft.
In room 22, the hole had been drilled and carefully cleaned, a five pound can of black powder poured in and tamped tight. The fuse was placed in and more powder added. Plugging material was then added to form an air tight seal. The miners ran into an adjoining room as the fuse was lit. Seconds ticked by as the tiny flame sputtered a few times and then disappeared into the sealing material of the charge. Then at 5:45 p.m. on 20 March 1895, the dirty black tombs rebelled and time stopped.
There came an ear splitting blast, followed in 30 seconds by another loud blast, then 30 seconds later a dull "whump." The shock felt for over a mile in all directions. Then the shrill whistle of the boiler house bringing a message of death to the valley. Smoke and dust rising in a cloud over Almy, families trembling in fear, miners numb with shock because No. 5 mine had one of the best safety records.
Surface damage was extensive. Boiler house windows gone, the tipple house had been split in half from the force of the blast. The covering over the mouth of the shaft, to prevent dirt and rock slides, demolished. The stone housing for the huge 20 foot fan, a pile of rubble. So great was the force of the explosion that timbers used as braces down in the main shaft had been blown through the sides of a railroad car 150 feet away. Mining cars on the tipple tracks blown either to pieces or as far as 70 feet away. Two men on the tipple and two more men on the tipple tracks had been killed in a hail of timber and boards from the shaft. One more body was found in the demolished fan house and two more men were killed by concussion alone.
For some quietly sobbing women the tragedy had ended, their men killed on the surface. For others, the horrible nightmare of death and sorrow just beginning.
Smoke had ceased to pour from the shaft entrance and air intakes indicating that the mine was not on fire. There was still hope for the men trapped inside. Rescue workers quickly organized and cleared the debris from the entrance. From the first to the fourth levels supporting timbers had been blown out of laying crossways in the shaft. "Falls" from the roof had clogged the tunnels and boards used to seal abandoned levels had been splintered.
Rescue teams had to come to the surface several more times before the dreadful night would end. Volunteers from the Mormon Church served food to the men of the rescue parties, giving what comfort and consolation to the families of the dead, and hope and encouragement for the men still in the mine.
At the 4th level a steep 19% grade began with even more falls and debris than they had encountered before. At the 7th level hope again flared with evidence that perhaps some still lived. Frayed ends of a broken rope used to lower loaded cars down form the level to the slope were not burned or singed. But the men were confronted with more falls and timber than at any previous place in the mine. However, in the 15th room of the 7th level there was unmistakable evidence of a powder explosion, three destroyed cans of powder were found. In rooms 17 and 18, the ropes were badly burned. Room 19 held a miners scorched coat and vest. In room 20 the walls glistened white in places where seething flames of another powder explosion had licked them. Six cans of powder had been destroyed. The hope of survivors faded. The blast would have been too severe.
The end of tension and anxiety, the beginning of incredible sorrow began in the 21st room, where they found the crumpled, broken bodies of three men. From then on no one counted, bodies, charred beyond recognition, and each room the body count was higher. In the 22nd another powder explosion and farther beyond the evidence of intense heat. More burned bodies in room 24, where the heat had been intense. Two ladders still burning in room 25. From rooms 26 to 29, powder explosions had taken place. The whole level swept by fire.
Passing down to the 8th level, in one room 18 bodies were found. Some dying from flying timber, some burned, concussion and still others had suffocated. No one escaped.
When the bodies were brought back to the surface, the scene was chaotic. Wives and mothers sobbed, tear stained faces of fathers and sons, identifying the burned and battered bodies of their loved ones. The final death toll was 62.
The dead were loaded into horse drawn wagons and brought into Almy where a temporary morgue had been set up.
Perhaps for the men of this day shift, life seemed a little more precious from that day on. Had the explosion happened 15 minutes earlier the death toll would have been doubled. Officially, the combination of explosive gas with finely divided particles of coal dust was blamed for the explosion.
The first explosion was on the 7th level, 2nd room. The second, the 8th level, 18th room. It was conservatively estimated that 300 pounds of powder exploded from the intense heat. But a more realistic estimate placed the figure at 600 pounds.
In future operations No. 5 mine reached a total depth of 3,600 feet, comprising of 12 huge levels, 5,000 feet in width, almost twice as large as when the explosion occurred.
The mine was closed in 1900 for a brief period then reopened. Finally in 1909, the main shaft caved-in for a distance of 200 feet. While workers were trying to clear this, the mine caught fire and burned out of control. This marked the end of Almy No. 5 mine.
Cliff Stuart's story has been shorted due to the space needed in our Centennial Book. The story in its entirety can be found in the Uinta County Library and it is well worth reading.
Some of the names of the 62 men killed in the Almy explosion of 1895 may sound familiar, as many of their descendants are still living in Almy and surrounding areas. The Almy Cemetery stands as a memorial to many of these men who were killed in Almy, Red Canon, No. 5 mine. The ages were taken from their headstones.
Please note Woodhouse, James, was noted in the Shaw, Patterson history as being killed in No. 5 Mine.
A.E. Bradbury, superintendent of No. 5 mine, was instructed to give each family $15.00 to $20.00 as temporary relief and he also ordered their coffins and boxes. He further stated "that the mine had been inspected in the morning of the day of the explosion and that the days work was done."
History hints that the companies did not take proper safety precautions, proving very costly in the lives of the men and their families in Almy.
After the explosion in No. 5 mine, State Mine Inspector David G. Thomas wrote in his 1896 report that the Almy mines had recently installed water-sprinkler systems to keep down the coal dust.
WILLIAM F. ROBINSON, No. 5 mine explosion, by Alice Graves
I was working at No. 6 mine a the time of No. 5 explosion. I had just returned home from Evanston when No. 5 exploded. It was an awful thing. As I recall, three men, had left the mine, but turned back to watch a dog fight. They were all killed by falling debris.
The Rocky Mountain Coal and Iron Co. gave the widows $600.00 Each for the loss of a loved one."