CROSS MOUNTAIN EXPLOSION

Read the history of the explosion and rescue

LIST OF MINERS WHO PERISHED
OR WERE RESCUED SHOWN BELOW

The following article was taken from Lake City Banner, December 1, 1977 and was used by permission from Bob Daniels in Gene White's and Marshall McGhee's book, Briceville the town that coal built.

It was a cold, overcast Saturday morning the Dec. 9 in 1911 as the dawn greeted the families in the hollows that lace the ridges along the narrow valley called Briceville. Many of the families in one of those hollows, Slatestone, prepared for another hard day in the Cross Mountain coal mine much as they had done for years.

The men and some of their sons had risen early. Dressing in the dark, they had put on clothes still stiff from the sweat and dirt from the work of the day before. They had eaten a breakfast of honey and bread, or, "if times were good," they had eaten some meat and gravy.

Gathering their tools, the miners walked the short distance to the mine. On that fateful day, of the 150 regular miners who normally worked at the mines, only 89 reported for work because of a shortage of coal cars.

As the men entered the mine entrance, called by some the "Bank," it was 6:30 a.m.

As they walked farther and farther into the deep tunnels that lead into the very heart of the mountain, small crews of men separated off to go to their work areas for the day's labor. The sounds of the hoofs of the nearly 50 mules could be heard up and down the long corridors.

At 7:20 somewhere deep in one of the rooms or in some passageway, it happened. Perhaps it was a spark from a squibb used to ignite a powder charge. Or maybe it was the flame from a miner's oil lamp.

In a moment frozen in time, a luckless miner realized that the most feared of all things in a mine had come, an explosion. In one split instant, the place where he stood was filled with blinding light and then a thunderous explosion. A pocket of methane gas or coal dust had ignited, and before it would run its course, 84 lives would be taken.

Racing down the headway toward the surface, the concussion twisted and killed as it went. At the mine entrance a clean-up crew was blown back by the blast.

Within minutes the entire community knew of the explosion. Rescue teams began to form almost at once.  Deep in the mine, most of the men weren't killed by the blast, but now faced an even more deadly threat, the dreaded after damp, or carbon monoxide.  Many of them began to barricade themselves in the rooms. One such group was a father and son, William and Milton Henderson from Clinton. With them were Irwin Smith, Arthur Scott and Dore Irish.

Mr. Henderson later told what they did:

We barricaded up the entrance to the mine room. With our coats we fought back the after damp that came through the cracks in the brattice, and then stuck our coats and other articles of wearing apparel in the holes in the brattice. We had lights, our dinner, and each of us had from half to three quarters of a gallon of water and coffee in our dinner pails."

Other miners were trying to do the same thing.

A large 10-foot exhaust fan was installed to clear the mine of the smoke and gas. When the rescue teams thought it safe to go in, they took with them a canary which could detect the deadly after damp.

The team had gone into the mine only a short distance when the little bird fell dead. Thinking they had reached a current of poisonous gas, there was a wild dash to the outside.

But then the men realized that it was the smoke from their own lamps that had killed the bird. Getting another bird and safety lamps, the men started back in.

In Henderson's group, late Saturday night Scott and Irish decided to take a chance and try for the outside. They left the safety of the room and started for the entrance. It was the last the other three saw of them until Monday when they met on the outside.

Henderson reported that on Sunday the remaining three attempted to leave but were forced back to the room. "We remained there until discovered on Monday at 8:15 at night."

 

NAMES OF
DESCEASED MINERS

CEMETERY/
PLACE OF BURIAL

Allen, John, Jr.

New Circle

Ault, Eugene

Briceville

Ault, Taylor

Briceville

Burton, Henry

Briceville

Cannon, Harry

Briceville

Carden, James

New Circle

Cooper, J.K.

Indian Creek

Duff,  F. A.

Maryville

Duff, John

Maryville

Duncan, Aaron

New Circle

Duncan, E.F.

New Circle

Duncan, Isaac

Briceville

Elliott, Ernest

Blowing Springs

Farmer, Joe

Robbins

Farmer, W. A.

Robbins

Foust, James

Foust

Galbraith, James

Marlow

Gallaher, Ben

New Circle

Gammon, W. A.

New Circle

Gaylor, Reuben

Indian Creek

Harmon, Conda

Longfield

Hatmaker, P.A.

Briceville

Haynes, A.L.

Briceville

Haynes, J. F.

Briceville

Hill, Charles

Pleasant Hill

Hunter, Robert

New Circle

Hutson, Sill

New Circle

Irick, Will

New Circle

Irish, H..A.

Leach

Johnson, Andrew

Briceville

Kesterson, Charles

Jr. Cemetery

Leatherwood Jr., T.A.

Jr. Cemetery

Leinart, French

Leinarts

Lester, R.J.

New Circle

Long, E.J.

Marlow

Marlin, Charles

New Circle

Marlin, James A.

New Circle

Marlow, Mark

New Circle

Marlow, Thomas

New Circle

Marshall, John

New Circle

Martin, Alonzo

Pleasant Hill

Martin, Dan

Pemberton

Martin, Harvey

Pemberton’s

Martin, Thomas

Leach

McKamey, Melvin

New Circle

McQueen, Joe

Briceville

McQueen, Richard

Briceville

Miller, Emmett

New Circle

Miller, Sam

New Circle

Olvey, C.E.

New Circle

Olvey, Oscar

New Circle

Payne, Coster

Dayton

Peters, Eugene

Briceville

Peters, Roy

Briceville

Peterson, J. S.

Jacksboro

Peterson, Lawrence

Jacksboro

Phillips, Dan

New Circle

Polston, Lee

Briceville

Pryor, Durvin

Leach

Ridenour, Francis

Sharps

Ridenour, Joe

Sharps

Risden, Edd

New Circle

Robbins, Dave

New Circle

Robbins, Eunis or Euins

New Circle

Robbins, James

New Circle

Rolland, Albert

New Circle

Rolland, W.P.

New Circle

Sharp, Herman

Sharps

Sharp, Robert

Sharps

Slover, George

Leach

Smith, Arthur

New Circle

Teno, Lewis

Briceville

Thomas, Thomas

Briceville

Vallalay, Pat

Wiley

Vallalay, Tate

Wiley

Vandergriff, Monroe

Leach

White, Charles

Briceville

White, James A.

New Circle

White, John

Briceville

White, Noah

Briceville

Whitted, Charles

New Circle

Wood, Alonzo

Briceville

Wood, Luther

New Circle

Wood, Lynn

White Pine

 

 

NAMES OF RESCUED MINERS

Henderson, Milton

Henderson, William

Irish, Theodore

Scott, Arthur

Smith, Irving
(later killed in Ducktown Copper Mine)

NOTE: Visit the web page of rescuer Philip Francis' great grandson Bailey Francis to learn more about the Cross Mountain miners and their families at  www.seventyyearsinthecoalmines.org/crossmtn.html

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