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Mine Disasters in the United States


Alva Tompkins Company
Eagle Shaft Explosion

Pittston, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
August 14, 1871
No. Killed - 17

Various news articles from the period  (10.2 Mb)  PDF Format

From the Google News Archives:  External Link
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An explosion of firedamp in the Eagle shaft killed all the men in the inner workings of the mine.  It is thought that a fall forced gas out of worked out places onto the open lights of the workers.  The shaft was sunk in 1856 and the mine is nearly worked out.


(From the Miners' Journal, Pottsville, Pa., Aug. 19, 1871, and the Philadelphia Public Ledger, Aug. 16, 1871)

About 10 o’clock in the morning an explosion of firedamp in the Eagle shaft killed all the men in the inner workings of the pit.  Men at the foot of the shaft heard the explosion and felt the shock and a harmless gust of air.  They went into the gangway to see what might be done for those inside and found one body outside a fall of rock that blocked the passage.  Hope was given up for the lives of the others.

Rescuers dug through the fallen rock but could not get inside until they put out the fire in the furnace and turned water down the shaft.  Some of the brattices that were destroyed were replaced to provide enough air to reach the bodies which were brought out by the night of August 15.  It was thought that a fall forced gas out of worked places onto the open lights of the workers.  The shaft was sunk in 1856 and the mine nearly worked out.  Gas was very troublesome.  One of the men killed had been the only survivor of an explosion that killed 5 men in this mine in 1860.

Editor's Note: No disaster from the year 1860 as described above could be found or is included in the CDC/NIOSH list.  External Link


Terrible Mining Disaster
Indiana Progress, Pennsylvania
August 30, 1871

Another fearful mining disaster occurred at the Eagle Shaft, about a mile south of Pittston, Penn., occasioned by an explosion of fire damp.

Eighteen men were at work in the chamber in which the explosion occurred, and there is no hope but that all in the mine have met with death.

In going to and from their work the miners used an air shaft, which they ascended and descended by means of a ladder, the main opening not being provided with a safety car, and therefore considered unsafe.  It is supposed that the explosion blew away the props, and a consequent fall of the roof followed, completely blocking up the passages, and cutting off the means of escape, should the men escape death from the explosion which is not probable.

On hearing the explosion, volunteers at once proceeded in the direction of the noise, without lamps, and, in about three-quarters of an hour, brought up the body of a miner named Benjamin Davis.  Scores of willing hands immediately proceeded to repair the brattice, a board partition used to keep the fresh air from rushing into the worked-out chambers, so that it will enter only to those where men are working.

At about 3 o'clock the body of Evan E. Jones was found and brought up.  During the afternoon the dead bodies of Thomas Leyshon, James Morgan and David Harris were found and brought up.

On entering the chamber in which the explosion occurred, a fall of rock was first found, which lay partly upon a car, completely blocking up one side, and leaving a space on the other just sufficient for a man to force himself through.  Some distance further in there was another fall, which completely filled the passage, and behind this the men are walled so completely that it will take hours of the most persistent labor to reach them.

Volunteers are now at work endeavoring to get around this fallen rock, so that they can reach the entombed miners, but the density of the black-damp prevents them from prosecuting their work with full effect.  They are continually being brought up in an exhausted condition, but their places are immediately supplied by other volunteers, and so the work goes on unremittingly.  All that mortals can do was done to rescue the unfortunates, but only blackened and disfigured remnants of mortality have thus far rewarded the toilers.

Outside the scene is heart-rending in the extreme

Thousands of sympathizing citizens, miners and others are present, and rendering all the assistance that is possible under the circumstances.  Women and children are weeping, wringing their hands, and mourning aloud for the loved and lost, and waiting, in anxious, hopeless expectation, for each new report from the poisonous pit.

Words of sympathy fell like empty sounds upon their anguished souls and nothing can still the aching void within.  Women are everywhere doing what they can to minister to the wants of the exhausted volunteers as they are borne like helpless children back from the mouth of the pit.

Great cauldrons of steaming coffee are ready, and all the known restoratives are at hand.  Woman's hearts and woman's hands are first in the work, and where brave men falter and turn pale, they neither shrink nor turn away from their ministering mission.  Sad hearts are everywhere tonight; some in sympathy with the bereaved friends, and in mourning for their dead.

This mine has been nearly exhausted, and was known to be filled with the black-damp and yet it was considered safe, and has been constantly worked since the conclusion of the strike, although not to its full capacity.  It is owned by Mr. J. Schooley of Wyoming, and worked by Mr. A. Tompkins, who is extensively engaged in the business of mining coal, and owns and operates several openings.

Twelve feet of gas was found in a heading just off the gangway, which had been traversed all day by explorers with a naked light, and the merest accident would have caused another and a worse explosion, involving a loss of at least 50 lives.



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