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Union No. 1 Mine Disaster Memorial, Adamson, Okla.
McAlester News-Capital Staff Photo by Kevin Harvison

Union Coal Company
Union No. 1 Mine Collapse

Adamson, Pittsburg County, Oklahoma
September 4, 1914
No. Killed – 13

Oklahoma Labor Unit News Article  (614 Kb)  PDF Format

Men or mules?
By James Beaty, Senior Editor
McAlester News-Capital
September 2, 2014

In a Sept. 4, 1914 mining disaster in the Pittsburg County community of Adamson, the mules came first - leaving 14 men entombed to this day beneath a now-tranquil setting of leafy trees and green grass.

A few feet away though, concrete abutments remain near what had been the entrance to Union Mine No. 1.  They serve as a reminder of a tragedy that occurred a century ago.

And at the top of a rolling hill, on private property, a weathered concrete memorial lists the engraved names of the 14 men who died in the disaster.

"I always feel like this is a sacred place," said Hartshorne resident Ron Cunningham, a member of the Oklahoma Mining Commission and a fourth-generation coal miner.

"Fathers and husbands came to work that day," Cunningham said.

"It was a Friday.  They never came out."

Cunningham, who is also a member of the Underground Advisory Council for the Oklahoma Department of Mines, has learned about mining disasters as part of his professional responsibilities.  Beyond that, he heard some of the stories related to the disaster firsthand while growing up in Adamson and Hartshorne, when some of the survivors were still alive.

Accounts of the tragedy indicate the morning started as a normal day, but conditions soon deteriorated.

First signs of the impending disaster occurred when the mine’s hoisting engineer saw a long, two-inch crack in the ground.  Although the cracks were reported to the mining foreman, it’s not known if he responded.

That afternoon some of the underground timbers holding up the slope and shafts began to creak and groan.  As the timber continued "working," mine operators made a decision at 2:45 p.m. to remove workers from the mine’s ninth entry, 650 feet below the surface.

Around 4 p.m. the elevator-like lift known as a man-trip in mining jargon was lowered to the tenth entry, 700 feet deep and the deepest point in the mine.

Some 18 men were safely hoisted to the top, then, with miners still underground, operators lowered the lift to pick up the next load -the company mules used to pull the loaded coal cars through the dark mine tunnels.

Miners who were around at the time said the mules were always brought up on the second lift, because if the animals were brought out last, the underground mule drivers demanded extra pay.

That wouldn’t make what happened next any easier to bear for the soon-to-be widows and orphans of the miners about to perish.

Stella Jiles, a reporter for the McAlester Democrat who also grew up in the Adamson area, heard a firsthand account of the disaster from one of the survivors.

"Tony Benedict, the shot-firer, and James Frame, along with five other men were waiting in the eighth entry when they heard the timber start to pop and crack.  Being veteran miners, these men knew disaster was about to strike," she said in an article she wrote in the 1960s.

"The men ran for the slope as they finally realized the mine was caving in."

Benedict would later say Frame remembered a new dinner bucket he’d left behind, turned around and ran back down the underground slope to retrieve it.

Benedict never saw him again.

Racing up the slope, Benedict tried to outrun the coal, dirt, stone and timbers from the collapsing mine.

Cunningham said he later heard how Benedict literally outran the cave-in as the mine fell in behind him.

"A lucky man I was that day," Benedict would say.

The other 14 miners still underground weren’t so lucky.

Miners were hoisted to the surface from other entries -but efforts to lower the lift to the ninth entry to get the last group of men failed when it got stuck in a huge pincher of falling rock and coal.

Meanwhile, in Adamson, the violent cave-in caused water to drain from wells at the homes scattered around the community.  Wives left the still-hot meals they’d placed on supper tables untouched as everyone in town ran toward the collapsed mine.

Several rescue attempts were made, but all were thwarted.  Deadly methane gas halted a rescue attempt on Saturday and a second attempt ended because all passageways were blocked.

Would-be rescuers made another attempt on Sunday, only to find the shafts and slope blocked by tons of dirt, coal, rock and broken timbers.

"The reason they couldn’t do a rescue was the whole slope fell in," Cunningham said.  He said tons and tons of rock and dirt had collapsed into the slope and shafts.

After the Sunday rescue attempt failed, the mining inspector at the site marked the entrance sealed, forever entombing the miners inside.

"I hope they died quickly," Cunningham said.

The mine never opened again.  To this day, it’s sealed just as it had been when the mine collapsed in 1914.

Cunningham remembers when he was a kid he heard some of the old-timers around Adamson talking about how armed guards were soon called in to protect mining officials from friends and family members of the miners who died.

They believed that if all the men had been brought out of the mine before the mules were removed, the miners would have survived.

"It’s not that this was the worst mine disaster," Cunningham said.  However, in most of the other mining disasters in southeastern Oklahoma, crews were at least able to remove the bodies of those who died, he said.

"I was thinking about their friends and families, how they must have mourned," Cunningham said.

They were longing for a miracle, he said - but this time, no miracle occurred.

No one could be found who remembered who placed the monument near the site of the mine entrance.  Cunningham said he thought it may have been family members of the miners who died.

The entombed miners are:
John Betsavich
William Carp
John Complin
Dave Edwards
A. Mattess
John Molet
John Mosser
K. D. Parmentor
M. Rink
A. Schuster
J. Sexton
Victor Stabingess
J. Stewart
John Wyonis
Cunningham wondered if some of them might still have family members who would be glad their relatives who died in that long ago disaster haven’t been forgotten.

"I just felt like they should be remembered, after 100 years," said Cunningham.

Editor’s note: Stella Jiles, who wrote about the disaster in a 1960s article, is the mother of News-Capital Senior Editor James Beaty.

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