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Colorado Coal and Iron Company
Crested Butte Mine Explosion
a.k.a. Jokerville Mine

Crested Butte, Gunnison County, Colorado
January 24, 1884
No. Killed - 59

Colorado Inspector of Coal Mines Report  PDF Format
Official List of Victims  PDF Format
News articles from the period  (1.1 Mb)  PDF Format
Jokerville Mine Disaster Memorial
Jokerville Coal Mine  External Link
From the Google News Archives:  External Link
(news links open in a separate window)

(From Report of State Inspector of Coal Mines, 1883-84, pp. 12-24)

At about 8 o'clock, shortly after the fireboss finished examining the mine and reported to the miners that their working places were free from gas with exception of No. 18 room, No. 2 level, a violent explosion traversed the mine from that room to the surface.

The fireboss had warned the miner that the brattice leading to the room face was broken near the entry and gas had accumulated.  While the fireboss was on the surface gathering materials to repair the brattice, the miner went into the room and nailed up the loose boards.  The men were not removed from the return side, and the gas was moved out to the entry where it was ignited by the open lights.

The explosion was carried by dust, and many of the men were caught in the flame and force.  Of the men in the mine, 59 were killed and 12 escaped before being overcome by afterdamp.  The damaged fan was repaired, and ventilation was gradually restored; but the mine was not cleared for several days.

More Than Fifty Men Killed By An Explosion
The New York Times, New York
January 25, 1884

Gunnison, Col., Jan. 24. -- At 8 o'clock this morning a terrible explosion occurred at Crested Butte, in this county, in the coal mine of the Colorado Coal and Iron Company.

The explosion was one of the most appalling in its consequences that ever occurred in a coal mine in this country.  Crested Butte, near which the mine is situated, is a coal mining town 30 miles north of Gunnison City, on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.  The cause of the explosion is not definitely known, but is supposed to have been from fire damp.  It occurred in either chamber 1 or 2, just half an hour after the day force of 67 men had gone to work.

Ten men were at work in the chamber.  Four of these escaped unhurt, except one man, John Angus, who was in the passageway just outside the chamber.  He is badly burned, but will recover.  Fifty-seven men were at work in chambers one and two.  These are all thought to have perished.

The explosion was of such force as to completely barricade the main entrance.  The appliances for supplying air were badly wrecked and, the roof of the tramway was blown off.  The men at work on the anthracite mesa, the night force of the Colorado Coal and Iron Company's mines, and the citizens generally have been working hard all day to rescue the men, although it is thought that none of them can possibly escape alive.  The Town Hall has been prepared for the reception of the dead.

As soon as possible the fan was repaired and put to work pumping air into the mine and men were set to work to remove the obstructions so as to reach the chambers and get the bodies out tonight if possible.

Many of the deceased are married men and leave families.  A number of the families reside here.  At present everything is in such confusion that it is impossible to give details.  A special train left Gunnison City at 2 o'clock this afternoon with surgeons and a large number of citizens to render all the aid possible.

The town of Crested Butte is in mourning.  Crowds of women cluster about the entrance to the mine wringing their hands and crying piteously, presenting a most heart-rending scene.  It is said that at the time of the explosion, there were 10 kegs of black powder in chambers 1 and 2, where the men were working, and where the explosion is supposed to have taken place.  The mine has three miles of drifting; consequently it is impossible to definitely locate the accident, at least until rescuing parties can gain admittance.

The mine has long been considered dangerous by those acquainted with it.  While one of the best producing mines in the country, its operation has always been attended with more or less apprehension and real danger.
"It is a fire-damp mine," said Superintendent Cameron, who is now in Denver; "and seems to constantly generate the most deadly gases.  They seem to generate in the coal or under it, and pour out of the seams in the walls of the tunnels and shafts.  Yet the mine is one of the most perfectly ventilated in the world.  The air is forced in along a shaft by machinery, and no less that 56,000 cubic feet of fresh air is forced into the mine every minute."

This is quite sufficient to fully supply the wants of the miners and keep the air perfectly pure, unless some accident happens to cut off or interfere with the supply.  This is a greater amount of fresh air than is furnished to any other mine in the country," Superintendent Cameron added.  "We send a mine viewer through every chamber each morning before any of the men are allowed to go in, and he must have returned this morning before the workmen started in, and everything must have been all right when he passed through the workings."
John McNeil, State Mine Inspector, left for the scene of the disaster this evening.  He said he had no doubt that every man in the mine at the time of the explosion was instantly killed.

At 10 o'clock tonight no bodies have been recovered.

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