Here you will find information as we receive it about the Frontenac Mining Disaster of 1888.
Frontenac Mine Disaster, 1888 — Article provided by: Miners Hall Museum Foundation Board of Trustees
Published in the Morning Sun, 2008, written by Nikki Patrick
There are no flags flying at half-staff today, no proclamations of mourning. But, a little after 5 p.m. on Nov. 9, 1888, the largest mine disaster in Kansas history took place at Frontenac.
A total of 44 men and boys were killed in an explosion at Mine No. 2, owned by the Cherokee and Pittsburg Coal and Mining Company. The blast was so strong that it broke windows in nearby houses.
“The disaster was reported in newspapers across the country,” Jerry Lomshek of Chicopee — who continues to do research about the disaster — said. “On the first day it was said that 100 had been killed, but that quickly dropped down to 52. After doing all this research, we’ve boiled it down to 44.”
The dead included immigrants from France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway and Austria. Lomshek believes that the oldest victim was 45.
“There were six teenagers, including two 13-year-olds,” he said.
Lomshek said that Mine No. 2 was considered one of the best, most modern mines in the state, but was also dry and had problems with accumulations of coal dust. Robert Craig, superintendent of all mines owned by the Cherokee and Pittsburg Coal Mining Company, had ordered sprinkling in the mine to settle the dust.
“It appears this was done sporadically and less than was needed,” Lomshek said.
Another factor was the common practice of miners, whether they were experienced or not, setting off their own explosives or shots.
“Some companies by 1888 had adopted the practice of utilizing specially employed shot-firers who detonated the explosive charges of all the miners in a mine after they had left for the day,” Lomshek said. “The Cherokee and Pittsburg had not.”
Regulations required that no more than five pounds of black powder explosive could be taken into the mines by a miner at one time, but this rule was generally ignored.
A board of inquiry determined that the explosion originated in room No. 9, which was worked by miner James Wilson. He had drilled and placed his shots in the room and lit his fuses. One shot was “windy” and ignited the coal dust. The explosion passed into the entryway, igniting Wilson’s powder keg and killing him. The explosion spread down the entryways and into adjoining rooms, exploding four or five kegs of powder belonging to other miners.
“The explosion caused little damage to the mine itself,” Lomshek said. “The toll of this explosion would be in human terms.”
Every doctor from Pittsburg and many from Girard, Litchfield and the surrounding area responded.
“The injured were cared for in the blacksmith shop along side the mine shaft,” Lomshek said. “Thirteen wounded were treated there, many suffering from burns and from inhaling ‘damp,’ the noxious gases of the mine.”
Each miner in the district was asked to donate 50 bushels of coal for aid to the victims’ families, and a relief committee was formed to solicit aid for the survivors.
And, of course, the dead had to be buried. Lomshek said that the final resting places of 28 victims are known, including two mass graves in Pittsburg. At 11 a.m. on the Monday after the explosion, a Santa Fe train pulled out of Frontenac, flat cars loaded with coffins and passenger cars filled with grieving families.
“Seventeen of the coffins were unloaded and taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church,” Lomshek said. “Due to the lack of space in the frame church, the caskets were left on the wagons outside while Father Zvacek conducted the services.”
Following this, a procession was formed to take the remains to the new St. Mary’s Cemetery south of town. It is now at the south edge of Highland Park Cemetery.
The train carrying the caskets, after dropping off the Catholic families, proceeded to the crossing nearest Mt. Olive Cemetery and the nine remaining caskets were unloaded there. Religious ceremonies were held with nearly 3,000 present.
Gradually, public memory faded and the two mass graves had no marker until Jeff Scott, Pittsburg, decided to make that his Eagle Scout project. Lomshek assisted with many hours of research, which he intends to place in the Leonard H. Axe Library, Genealogy Libraries at Pittsburg Public Library and Columbus, and the Kansas Historical Society.
The first marker, at St. Mary’s Cemetery, was dedicated on June 2, 2002. The second was dedicated April 4, 2005 at Mt. Olive Cemetery.
Each marker is engraved with the names of those buried there.
“The names were kind of hard to follow,” Lomshek said. “The names were messed up so much in the immigration process that it was hard to find what was the true name.”
There is another type of memorial as well — reforms in the coal mining industry. In mid-December, the state convention of miners, held in Pittsburg, sent a delegation to the Kansas governor urging that he appoint a practical miner as state mine inspector, and within a short time George W. Findley, inspector at the time of the disaster, was replaced by John T. Stewart, Scammon, a practical miner.
By late January 1889, John Herron, Cherokee, introduced a bill into the Kansas Legislature requiring the use of shot-firers in coal mines, with shots to be fired only once a day, after all miners had left the mine. This was passed by both branches of the legislature by the end of February.
“Despite their lying until recently in unmarked graves, their names now long forgotten, these miners’ deaths had made a difference,” Lomshek said.
Those who died, listed alphabetically, were: Baza Bara, 29, Italian; Auguste Barbier, 29, French; Emile Barbier, 21, French; Joseph Bertinetti, 28, Italian; Louis Bertolino, 30, Italian; Antonio Bianco, 41, Italian; Henry “Harry” Burns, 24, American; George W. Croxton, 28, American; Leon Duez, 32, French; Gustave “Gus” Dufresne, 30, Belgian; William Ellwood Jr., almost 20, American; William A. Foster, 26, American, Harry Hansen, 28, Norwegian; Edward Hetrick, 25, American; Joseph Jolita, 28, Italian; John Jones, 26, American; Joseph Keller, 25, American; George Koerner, 13, American; Alexander LaCalle, 40, French; John Baptiste Lebecq, 31, French; Daniel Limb, 25, English; Thomas Longcake, 38, English; Edward Malle, 30, France; Leon Malle, 32, French; Frank Marschallinger, 34, Austrian; William Peter Miller, 23, American; John O’Connor, 23, Irish; James O’Hare, 34, American; Frank Price, 21, German; Robert Pritchard, 31, Scots; Daniel Randall, 29, English; Charles Raushenberger, 19, German; Frank Roche, 27, French; William Schafers, 28, German; Alexis Siplet, 36, French; Herman Smith, 30, German; Charles Tasco, 30, Italian; Robert Thompson, 13, English; William Timbers, 38, American; David Tweed, 35, Scots; George Weisenberger, 19, German; John Weisenberger, 45, German; James W. Wilson, 17, American; and Alfred Yahnkuhn, 26, German.
Exerts from a newspaper dated: November 11, 1888:
The New York Times New York November 11, 1888 — Source: www.gendisasters.com
NINETY BODIES FOUND.
NUMBER OF VICTIMS OF THE MINE DISASTER IN KANSAS NOT YET KNOWN.
St. Louis, Nov. 10. — A special to the Post-Dispatch from Pittsburg, Kan., gives details of the accident in Shaft 2 of the Pittsburg and Cherokee, or Santa Fe Mining Company, near that place last night. The company had more orders than it could fill, and in its attempt to keep up it has been running an unusually large force of miners. Yesterday morning 164 men were lowered into the mine. At noon the shots were fired all right, and later the miners descended for afternoon duty.
At 5:30 they were ready to fire their shots again. The first shot had been fired, but before a man could be hoisted, a terrible rumbling noise was heard above, and a black cloud of dirt, slate, and dust shot into the air from the mouth of the shaft, tearing away the tracks upon which the cages are hoisted, and filling the shaft with debris. The explosion occurred on the east side, and is attributed to the inexperience of some of the new men. Before the men outside could recover their senses, one of the miners appeared at the air shaft nearly suffocated. He was helped out and followed by others until many had escaped — how many is not known. There was plenty of help at hand, and those at the top devoted their attention to rescuing their entombed companions. The fan house, only slightly damaged, was first repaired, canvass being tacked over the holes that had to be closed. About 12 o’clock the fanhouse was ready, and fresh air was pumped into the mine, driving back the poisonous gas and averting suffocation.
Attention was then turned to repairing the cribbing so that the cages could be lowered. Men lowered into the shaft by rope and bucket could accomplish nothing. At 2 A. M. the cage was ready to descent and the first rescuing party were lowered into the shaft. Owing to the bad air they could not remain long. On the first return of the cage it contained a number of uninjured but badly frightened men. The bottom of the shaft was badly damaged, and it was difficult to get at the dead. As found they were piled together at the bottom, while the living and badly wounded were hoisted to the top. At 4 A. M. five had been rescued, and at 1 P. M. four more were brought out alive. At this time the rescuers struck an entry containing 12 more dead, and at 2 P. M. 25 dead and 9 wounded had been found.
Among those who were brought up dead were LEON MOLLE, single; EDWARD MOLIE, wife and two children; JOSEPH BERTINE, single; ALEXES SUPLEY, wife and two children; EMILE BARBIER, single; AUGUST BARBLER, wife; GUSTAVE DUFIERS, wife and three children; LEON DUEGE, wife and three children; JOSEPH JOLITA, single; CHARLES TOCCA, single; BAZA BARA, single; TONY BLARCO, single; FRANK BOCHT, single; ALEX LECAILLE, single; LOUIS, a boy, burned to death; DAN LINN, single; GEORGE KOERNER, boy, horribly burned, and DAVID TWEED, who has a family in Danville, Ohio. A temporary hospital was prepared in a blacksmith’s shop near by, where the most heartrending scenes were witnessed as the mangled and badly-burned men were carried in. DAVID TWEED and W. ELWOOD died soon after being taken to the hospital. Among the injured are ROBERT RICHARDS, family at Danville, Ohio; JOHN MORELAND, family in England; THOMAS CORBETT, family in England; THOMAS LONGCOKE, FRANK LEIGH, and HENRY RUNG.
The work of rescue was continued, and the latest reports state that 90 bodies have been recovered from the mine, and it is believed there are still 46 entombed. Eight injured men are in the hospital. There is great difficulty in ascertaining the names of the victims, because there was a large number of men who were not known to the Pittsburg people, and many may never be identified.
The Lima Daily Democratic Times Ohio November 12, 1888 — Source: www.gendisasters.com
MINE DISASTER VICTIMS.
FURTHER PARTICULARS OF THE APPALLING ACCIDENT.
A FULL LIST OF THE NAMES WILL NEVER BE LEARNED.
OUT OF THE ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-FOUR PEOPLE IN THE MINE, BUT FOURTEEN HAVE BEEN TAKEN OUT ALIVE, THE GREATER PART OF THEM BEING TERRIBLY BURNED AND CANNOT LIVE — PROBABLE CAUSE OF THE DISASTER.
Pittsburg, Kan., Nov. 12. — Additional particulars of the appalling mine disaster at Frontenac on Friday evening, are about as follows:
Out of a total of 164 who descended into the mine only fourteen have been taken out alive, the greater part of them being terribly burned and cannot live. Thirty-six bodies were found on the north and west sides, where the work of rescue had to be stopped until other parts of the mine could be strengthened, so it could be explored for the remaining victims. It will probably be three or four days before the bodies can be recovered, and, many being burned beyond recognition, a full list of the names will never be learned.
The following is a list of those who are supposed to be still in the mine:
J. GRIETZGER; JOSEPH KROSS, LOUIS SOZTE; FRANK ZILLICK; PETER KNELL; FRED YORKAHAN; JAMES QUICK; CHARLES FISHER; WILLIAM SHAPPAREL; WILLIAM TUNLEERS; THOMAS JONES; HUMAN SMITH; ANTON BUTLER; JOSEPH ROMICALA; JOHN D. IBBEY; ED MOLE; A. BARBER; M. ZULK; W. JENNINGS; L. ROMICA; J. W. CROCKTON; H. F. HARRIS; ED LONGAKA and P. E. BENT.
Up to the present a partial list of the dead can only be given and is as follows:
JOHN LABECA; GUS DUFRAC; JAMES BARBLERA; D. MOLLE; AUGUST BARBIORN; ALBERT MOLLE; LEW LEMON; ADAM DUESE; JOHN LEMON; J. WILLIAMSON; HARRY HANSOM; THOMAS LACY; JOHN WEISENBACKER; GEORGE WEISENBACKER; JOHN HORNSBY; ____ JULIETTA; FRANK THOMPSON; GEORGE CRACKSEN; JAMES LACY; JOHN CONNERS; JAMES O’BRIEN; BILLY FOSTER; ROBERT JOHNSON; CARLOS TASCO; CHARLES JOHNSON; ANTON BIERNICHO; GEORGE KONER; BUZIO BARBA; DAVID TWEED; A. LECALLE; DAN LIMB; A. SHIPLEY; W. PETERMULER; DAN RANDALL; HARRY BURNS; HARRY RINGS; LEM LAMOTE; CHARLES LAMOTE and WILLIAM ELLWOOD.
The state superintendent of mines is at the mine and says he is confident that the disaster was caused by the flame of an imperfect blast igniting the coal dust, which on account of the extreme dryness of the mines is a great source of danger. The miners, however, severely censure the coal company for employing incompetent miners, thus endangering the lives of all.