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Pittsburg Coal and Coke Company
Port Royal No. 2 Mine Explosion and Fire

Port Royal, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
June 10, 1901
No. Killed - 19

Pennsylvania Department of Mines Annual Report  (3.5 Mb)  PDF Format
Port Royal No. 2 Disaster Victims

Rescuer Deaths

The initial blast occurred at about 6 p.m. on June 10.  About 1 hour after the initial blast, Superintendent William McCune (or McComb), Dennis Wortley, Michael Roy, several other bosses, along with about 20 other men went down Shaft No. 1 in search of 4 missing miners.  About 3 hours after the rescue party had been in the mine, more explosions were heard.

Four hours later, four more men volunteered to enter the mine, but as of 3 a.m. on June 11, they too had not returned.  Shortly after 3 a.m., W. Sweeney, Harry Beveridge and Frank Stratton worked their way out of the mine and were put under the care of physicians.  All three of these men later died.  Lawrence Settler and John Stakes were the only ones rescued from the mine.  While 19 is the official death toll, it is unclear exactly how many were rescuers.  See all related news below:

Successful Rescue

A temporary rescue party entered the shaft after an undisclosed period and started toward the spot where it was thought some of the entombed men may be found.  Lying at the bottom of the shaft were Lawrence Settler and John Stakes.  Unconscious and covered with dirt, the men quickly were taken to the top of the mine.

From the Google News Archives:  External Link
(news links open in a separate window)

Explosion Kills Fourteen Miners
Des Moines Capital, Iowa
June 11, 1901

Pittsburg, June 11. -- At 10 o'clock this morning a telegram was received at the headquarters of the Pittsburg Coal Company, owners of the Port Royal mine, in which it was stated that there were from fourteen to sixteen entombed in the burning mine.  Among the number are William McCune, superintendent of the mine, and W. S. Allison, foreman.  Another relief force was sent into the mine at 9 o'clock this morning.

West Newton, Pa., June 11. -- Another explosion occurred at the Port Royal mine of the Pittsburg Coal and Coke Company shortly before noon, and several of the rescuers were dangerously injured.

Fire Inspector Callaghan and Fire Boss McFee were the most dangerously hurt and may die.  The last explosion, in many minds, settled the fate of the entombed miners, and all hope of getting them out alive has been abandoned.

West Newton, Pa., June 11. -- Time only adds horror to the disastrous mine explosion which occurred late last evening at No. 2 mine of the Pittsburg Coal Company, at Port Royal.  Three men were rescued and seventeen others are imprisoned in the burning mine.  Last night the mine was reported at the offices of the company here to be on fire, and Division Superintendent William McCune and W. F. Allison of this place started for the scene.  They entered the mine with Fire Boss John Keck, who carried an open lamp.  Three explosions followed at intervals of a few moments, the large fan being inadequate to counteract the rush of fire damp.

Many of the miners escaped but the latest reports state that McCune and Allison with fifteen miners are beyond reach of rescue.  Even were there a bare possibility of rescue, these men are over a mile from the bottom of the pit.  Since the efforts of the third rescuing party, which, like previous attempts, were futile, no effort has been made to reach the men and no further attempt will be made until Mine Inspector Callaghan arrives from Connellsville.  The weeping wives and children of the missing men are gathered about the mine shaft awaiting almost hopelessly some news of their loved ones and frantically appealing for their rescue.

Not a practical miner in this district believes that one of the seventeen men entombed is still alive.  There is no fire in the mine, to judge from appearances at the pit mouth, but the force of the explosion was so great that none of the men, so the miners say, could have survived the shock, and the complete list of the dead is:
  • John Peebler, 38, roadman
  • Anton Stickle, 44, pipeman, married
  • Frank Davenport, 37, roadman, married
  • Jerry Daley, 30, laborer
  • Michael Roy, 29, mine foreman, married
  • Dannis Wardley, 57, mine foreman
  • Samuel Hadley, 38, assistant foreman
  • Peter Marchando, 29, boss driver, married
  • Taylor Gunsallus, Sr., 54, laborer, married
  • Taylor Gunsallus, Jr., 28, roadman
  • John Keck, 29, mine foreman, married, 3 children
  • David James, 32, machine runner
  • John Corto, 27, machine boss
  • Barney Bald, 35, car loader
  • William Allison, 52, assistant mine superintendent, married, 4 children
  • William McCune, 53, mine superintendent, married, 4 children
  • Fred Krugar, 29, roadman
  • H. E. Beverdige, 28, coal loader
  • Thomas Smith, 56, mine foreman
See also the official disaster victims list found in the 1901 Annual Report.

William McCune was superintendent of the Port Royal district comprising five mines.  He was a large stock holder in the Pittsburg Coal Company, and his family lives in West Newton.  William Allison was a second cousin to President McKinley.

Early this morning Harry Beverdige and two miners, three of a rescuing party that went into the mine to bring out their mates who were entombed, were sent to the McKeesport Hospital.  Beverdige had both hands broken and the other two miners were badly burned.

At 9:40 a.m. today an inspection party entered the mine, through the shaft on the Baltimore & Ohio side of the Youghiogheny River.  It is their purpose to penetrate as far as possible to locate the dead bodies with hardly any hope of finding anyone alive.  The fans in both shafts, No. 1 being on the north side of the river, were started up to clear the mine of smoke, fire damp and the after-damp remaining from the explosions last night.

The explosions are supposed to have been between 2,000 and 3,000 feet back from the shaft.  The disaster occurred about 6 o'clock last evening.

An explosion was heard by men at shaft No. 2 and suddenly a cloud of smoke burst from the mouth of the shaft.  It was known that Anton Stickle, John Peebler, Jerry Daley, Frank Davenport and James Setler were in the mine.

A searching party composed of Superintendent McCune and nine others entered Shaft No. 2.  Just before they were lowered the bell was rung from the foot of the shaft.  The cage was already down and it was brought up with Settler on it.  The rescuing party then went down.  Nothing was heard of them, and in an hour another rescuing force, led by James Baily and William Williams were let down the shaft.  They had gone about 290 feet when two explosions were heard in rapid succession.  The shaft lamps in the hands of Baily and Williams were blown fifty feet away and they themselves were thrown violently to the ground.  There was no response to their calls for their comrades, and both men hurried back to the shaft and were drawn up in the cage.

From then until 2 a.m. no others went down the shaft, as it would have meant certain death from the after-damp.  The party that went down this morning was composed of Inspector Bernard Callaghan, General Superintendent John Reese, Fire Boss William McFee, Daniel McCullough, Fire Boss Peter McLindon and Pit Boss Robert McKinney.

At 10 a.m. the body of Taylor Gunsallus, Sr., was brought to the surface by the party headed by Inspector Callahan.  A big crowd surrounded the mouth of the shaft when the corpse was brought out and the weeping was pitiful.  Many women were there looking for their husbands, fathers and brothers and they wildly appealed for the rescuers to save their loved ones.

The Port Royal mine has always been considered dangerous.  There was a similar explosion in the mine seven years ago by which one man was killed.  The use of safety lamps had been made especially imperative in these mines from the danger of gases knowing to exist there.

But careless miners sometimes use open lights because they can see better by them and this helps them to make a bigger day's wages.  This is what possibly caused yesterday's explosion, but the inquiry which will follow may develop a different cause.

The last rescue party had been in the mine about an hour when the muffled report of another explosion was heard issuing from the depths of the shaft.  A dozen men volunteered to go down to endeavor to save their comrades, but their services were not needed, as the signal to hoist the cable was given from the bottom and when it reached the top three of the rescuers were lying on it.

Fire Inspector Callaghan and Fire Boss William McFee of the Wickhaven mines, were the most dangerously hurt of the party and these men were taken to a hotel nearby where two physicians worked with them almost an hour before they could be brought back to life.  So far two dead and three living men have been taken out.

The dead are: J. Kountz, Thomas Smith, Taylor Gunsallus, Jr., Port Royal.

The living are: H. Beverdige, F. K. Heutzer and A. Smith.  Calls have been sent out to all of the mines of the Pittsburg Coal Company for volunteers to aid in the work.

Smoke rose from the mouth of the shaft in volumes during the night.  Great excitement prevailed and the entire population of the town remained all night at the mine eagerly awaiting some news from those thought to be either buried under tons of slate or slowly awaiting death from flames or relief from the outside, with small chance favoring the former.

In the attempt to rescue the men known to be in the mine, other lives were placed in jeopardy and may be lost.

From what could be ascertained last night about 6 o'clock there was a low rumbling sound followed by a roar which sounded like a cyclone, then three sharp and short reports.

While awaiting the arrival of appliances necessary to enter a burning mine, a temporary rescue party entered the shaft and started toward the spot where it was thought some of the entombed men may be found.  Lying at the bottom of the shaft were Lawrence Settler and John Stakes.

Unconscious and covered with dirt the men quickly were taken to the top of the mine.  They could not give no information as to what caused the fire.

About 7 o'clock William McCune of West Newton, general superintendent of the district, Dennis Wardley, pit boss of the mine; Michael Roy, foreman, and several other bosses, with about twenty men, went down shaft No. 1, which is just opposite on the Baltimore & Ohio side of the river.

About three hours after the rescue party had been in the mine, two more explosions were heard.  Meantime, the crowd around the opening of the shaft had increased, the crowd including mothers, wives and sisters of many of the men entombed.

At 11 o'clock four men volunteered to go down shaft Nos. 2 and 3 and one man down No. 1.  Beverdige was brought from a shaft with both arms broken and badly burned.  He cannot live.  His two rescuers succumbed shortly after reaching the surface.

The explosion occurred at a time when the shifts were changing from day to night turn and it is impossible to tell how many were in the mine at the time, but certainly no less than thirty are entombed.

Early today all the rescuing parties have come out of the mine.  They say that the black damp makes work impossible and they give up hope of finding any of the missing alive.

Several years ago there was another disastrous explosion at Port Royal and the mine caught fire.  It was necessary to fill it with water to finally quench the flames.  To do this a hole was drilled in the bed of the river.  This is now closed only with a plug, which was arranged for such an emergency as the present, and to drown out the fire, all that is necessary is to take out the plug and the water of the Youghiogheny will rush in.  This, of course, cannot be resorted to until all the men have been rescued or are known to be beyond rescue.

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