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Mountain King Mining Company
Mountain King Mine Asphyxiation

Mariposa County, California
April 28, 1917
No. Killed - 7

Rescuer Deaths

On the day of the accident, the electric power plant was shut down, and, as a result, there was no compressed air for ventilation.  However, the superintendent gave the foreman permission to do repair work on the 1,200-foot level, but it was agreed by both that no work could be done on the 1,400-foot level because of powder smoke and lack of natural ventilation at that depth.

When the shift entered the mine, two men obtained permission from the mine foreman to investigate the results of blasting on the 1,400-foot level.  When they did not return, the foreman went to investigate, returned, and with two others climbed down to the 1,400-foot level, where all three were overcome.

Before proper supervision could be obtained and rescue work begun, three others had attempted to help by going to the 1,400 foot level (all at different times).  Only one was able to return to safety.  Seven men lost their lives from asphyxiation.

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

Mine Causes Death of Seven Miners
Merced Express
May 5, 1917

An accident which caused the death of seven men occurred at an early hour last Saturday morning at the Mountain King gold mine in the Merced river canyon on the Yosemite Valley railroad fifty-five miles from Merced, the accident being caused by the breaking of a flume which shut off the motive power and prevented the pumping of fresh air into the mine.

The miners who lost their lives are:
  • Petter DeFau, foreman of the mine, aged 42, of San Francisco
  • Carl Frank, aged 40, of Mariposa
  • John Esclose, aged 40, of Mariposa
  • Joseph Garino, aged 42, of Coulterville
  • John Locher, aged 36, of Bagby
  • Ili Clayton, aged 26, of Lodi
  • Peter Bruschieo, aged 40, of Stockton
The men were at work in the first level of the mine and a blast had been fired in the 1400-foot level shortly after midnight Saturday morning.  Because of the breaking of the flume Superintendent Austin and Foreman DeFau had given orders to the miners to stay out of the lower level , and were shortly followed by their foreman, and all were overcome by the poisonous gases and died of suffocation.

Frank Stehr, another miner, made a heroic effort to rescue his comrades and almost lost his life in the attempt.  He descended into the lower level, found the foreman and endeavored to carry him up the ladder.  Feeling himself becoming affected by the impure air he fastened the body of DeFau to the ladder and came up for air.  Again, he descended and found the body of another miner, which he succeeded in bringing up twenty feet before he was again compelled to seek fresh air.  In descending the third time he was overcome and dropped.  A rope was dropped to him and he was brought out in a weakened condition.  Stehr is still suffering from the effects of the gas, and he was brought to the city Wednesday for further treatment.

A call for help was sent from the mine to Bagby, El Portal, Coulterville and Mariposa, and 300 men responded and at once began the work of repairing the flume so that fresh air could be pumped into the mine.  A hand pump was also put in operation, but it was not powerful enough to clear the mine of the poisonous air.  The bodies were recovered and brought to the surface shortly after the flume repairs had been completed at 3 o'clock Sunday morning.

Dr. D. W. Zirker of Merced and Dr. D. I. Aller of Merced Falls were summoned to the mine to render medical aid to the miners as they were brought to the surface, but all had been suffocated before the bodies were found.

Following the inquests held by Coroner Johnson of Mariposa county the bodies were taken care of by W. N. Griffin of the undertaking firm of Welch & Co. of this city, several of the bodies being brought to Merced and prepared for shipment to burial places.

The mine is owned by the Mountain King Mining company, of which H. T. Harper of San Francisco is secretary, and it has been extensively operated especially during the past year.

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