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Big Muddy Coal and Iron Company
Big Muddy Explosives Disaster

Herrin, Williamson County, Illinois
May 11, 1904
No. Killed - 10

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On May 11, 1904, occurred a terrific explosion of powder in the mine of the Big Muddy Coal and Iron Company, Herrin, Williamson County, which resulted in the death of ten men and the serious injury of twelve others.  The cause of this explosion is not fully known, but it would seem that proper precaution had not been taken in sending powder into the mine, and the driver of the car containing six kegs ran into a live wire which was down, and the powder became ignited.

(From the 1904 Illinois Annual Coal Report)

May 11, 1904 - This date records the terrible explosion of powder in the mine of the Big Muddy Coal & Iron company, Herrin, Williamson county. Four men were instantly killed as follows:
  • Richard Raines, driver, aged 34 years, married, leaves a widow and two children
  • John Miller, driver, aged 22 years, single
  • Fred Selberg, pumpman, aged 24 years, married, leaves a widow and one child
  • Evan Williams, driver, aged 21 years, single
Eighteen other employees were more or less severely injured by this explosion, six of whom died as follows: On May 16:
  • Sherid Busch, miner, aged 29 years, married, leaves a widow and four children
  • John Swafford, miner, aged 40 years, married, leaves a widow and four children
  • Carlo Lualdi, miner, aged 29 years, single
On May 25:
  • Thomas Green, driver, aged 36 years, married, leaves a widow and three children
  • Louis Branco, miner, aged 29 years, married, leaves a widow and two children
and on May 26:
  • William Stagner, miner, aged 24 years, married, leaves a widow
In addition to the ten men here enumerated as meeting death by this explosion, 12 others were so severely injured that they were not able to return to work July 1, 1904.

In explanation of the causes leading up to this explosion, it would seem that there was a lack of proper precaution in sending powder into the mine.  It was the custom at this mine, up to the time of the explosion, for a driver to take the powder that was to be used by the men in the mine, into the mine in the mine cars and deliver it to the miners, a limited time being given the driver to reach the inside workings before turning on the electric current.

On this fatal morning a driver started with six kegs of powder in his car; with him were one or two other drivers.  It is supposed that the car ran into the wire, which was down: the cause of the explosion, however, can only be conjectured, as the drivers who were in the car were instantly killed.

It is understood that the company at once took up the matter of damages with the widows and other representatives of the men who were killed or injured and have made liberal settlements with all with one exception.

Powder Explosion in Herrin, Illinois
Decatur Herald, Decatur, Macon County, Illinois
May 13, 1904

Carbondale, Ill., May 11--In an explosion today at the shaft of the Big Muddy Coal and Iron company, in Herrin, five men were killed outright, five seriously injured and twenty others slightly injured.

The dead:
  • John Miller
  • Dick Reins
  • Fritz Seiberg
  • Evan Williams
  • Thomas Green
Fatally injured:
  • John Swofferd
  • Frank Lazonia
  • Angelo Scaronia
The disaster was one of the most serious in the coal district in this section.  Six kegs of powder had been placed in the mine during the time intervening between night and day shifts, for distribution in the mornings.  John Miller, a driver, had charge of the distribution.

Ten minutes after Miller was supposed to have completed his task, the electric current which runs the machines was turned on and the explosion followed.  It is supposed that through some mistake the current was switched on before Miller had distributed the powder.  On reaching the passageway, rescuers met a frightful sight.  The body of Miller was literally torn to pieces.

Evan Williams was found a short distance from Miller and four whose injuries may prove fatal, were found in the same vicinity.  The three others killed were farther from the pit and not so badly disfigured.  The injured men were found in all parts of the mine.  The dead and injured were taken to the top, the dead to the morgue and the injured to their homes.

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