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Alder Mining Company
Kearsarge Mine Fire

Virginia City, Madison County, Montana
November 6, 1903
No. Killed - 9

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Rescuer Death

A fire in this gold mine killed 9 men, among them Superintendent R. B. Turner, of Butte.  About 5 o'clock in the morning, fire was discovered in the tunnel house on tunnel No. 1, and the timbers in the tunnel were ablaze.  How the fire originated is not known.

At the first alarm the 170 employees hastened to extinguish the flames.  Superintendent Turner entered the tunnel through the fire and smoke to warn the entombed miners and to aid them to escape.  He returned and tried to enter the mine by the air shaft but fell from the ladder and was killed.

Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States - Volume I

Nine Men Perish in Fire in Montana Mine
Salt Lake Tribune, Utah
November 7, 1903

Virginia City, Mont., Nov. 6. -- Fire in the Kearsarge mine, six miles from here, early this morning, killed nine men.  The damage to surface buildings is slight.  Among the dead is Supt. R. B. Turner, of Butte, one of the best-known mining men in the Northwest.  Four bodies have been recovered up to tonight.

The dead:
  • R. B. Turner, Superintendent of Kearsarge
  • George Allen, stationary engineer
  • John Tobin, a miner
  • James Powers, a miner
  • Edward Lahardy, a miner
  • William Fleming, a miner
  • Robert Donnelly, a miner
  • Two unknown men, miners
All the dead miners are from Butte and were single men.  The Kearsarge is one of the principal gold mines of the State, and is considered very valuable.  It is operated by the Alder Mining Company.

About 5 o'clock this morning fire was discovered issuing from the tunnel-house on tunnel No. 1.  At the time the flames were discovered the timbers in the tunnel were ablaze.  How the fire originated is not known, but at the first alarm all the miners, carpenters and laborers, some 170 in all, hastened to the gulch to aid in subduing the flames.

Supt. R. B. Turner, whose temporary quarters are high on the hill across the right fork of Alder Gulch, and but a short distance from the burning tunnel-house, at once went to the scene and assumed the directing of affairs and of giving orders in regard to the work of extinguishing the flames with the others, entered the tunnel through the fire and smoke to give warning to the entombed miners and to aid in their escape.

Near the mouth of the tunnel they stumbled over the dead body of John Tobin, who evidently had made an effort to escape, but was driven back by the flames and smoke.  They carried the body to the surface and once more re-entered the workings to rescue their comrades if possible.

According to the story of a miner, Harley by name, he with Turner and another man entered the mine behind him by descending through the air shaft.  Hurley was the last of the three to descend.  After going down some distance through the air shaft, thick with smoke, Hurley heard a cry and then thuds, as of bodies striking timbers, which were followed by a smothered splash in water.  Hurley tried to go farther down the shaft, but was compelled to retract his steps.

Up to a late hour this afternoon the bodies of Tobin, Powers, Fleming and Donnelly were all that had been recovered.

Mr. Turner had been connected with the company for several years as superintendent of the Kennell Mine, and then of the Kearsarge, and it was due to his management that the latter mine has become one of the best known mines in southern Montana.  He is the junior member of the firm of Mitchell & Turner of Butte.  Mr. Turner recently perfected a new process to treat cyanide ores and the papers making application patent thereof left Virginia City only this morning.

As soon as the news reached Virginia City everyone hurried to Summit.  County Attorney Duncan and Acting Coroner N. D. Johnson, who started out to hold an inquest on John Tobin, remained to perform a like duty over the bodies of the others.  Superintendent Turner had a wife and one child, a boy, who were living at the mine.

Despite the fact that Superintendent Turner has been reported killed from the mine and the miners have given up all hope of ever seeing him alive again, W. B. Millard, the general manager, seems confident that he will be found in some slope or winze where the smoke and gas cannot penetrate, and bases his confidence upon the thorough knowledge the former superintendent and of the underground workings of the mine.

The Alder Mining Company is now constructing the most extensive mining plant in southern Montana and with all the new buildings, the piles of loose timber and the dry wood and shavings everywhere, it is a wonder that the whole plant was not consumed by the flames.

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