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Spring Valley Coal Company
Shaft No. 2 Mine Fire

Spring Valley, Bureau County, Illinois
April 20, 1890
No. Killed 3

Rescuer Deaths

Following efforts to extinguish the fire, John Eustice, the foreman of the mine, along with two volunteers, entered the mine to examine the extent of the damage.  When they did not return, others commenced the difficult task of finding the three men amid the smoke and gas given off by the fire.  The three were found within 130 yards of the shaft where they became victims of asphyxiation.  The two volunteers assisting Eustice were N. P. Akeyson and Jacob Williamson.

Three men, N. P. Akeyson, John Eustice and Jacob Williamson, lost their lives while attempting to extinguish a mine fire in Shaft No. 2, operated by the Spring Valley Coal Company at Spring Valley, Bureau county.

The actual cause of death in this case was inhaling the fumes and gas given off by the fire, probably carbonic oxide (C. O.), known generally as "white damp."

This being the most lamentable accident that has occurred in this district since the inception of the present mining law, more than ordinary notice is necessary.

From information gleaned from the most reliable sources, it appears that early on Sunday morning, between 2 and 3 o'clock, April 20, while part of the night force employed in shaft No. 2 were passing from the face of the workings along the intake air-course towards the bottom of the shaft, they discovered a "stopping" on fire.  This was built of boards and packed with hay to make it air-tight, and located at the entrance to an abandoned roadway.  They attempted to extinguish it by the best means at hand, but failing in this gave the alarm to John Patterson, the night foreman, who summoned his whole force of men and commenced the removal of the burning boards, timbers, hay, etc.

In the meantime, Mr. John Eustice, the foreman of the mine, had been notified and arrived on the scene and took charge of the work.  After three or four hours hard work it was supposed the fire was practically under control, and Mr. Eustice became desirous of passing around to the lee side of the fire to learn if possible, its extent.  For this purpose, he called for two volunteers to accompany him, and Williamson and Akeyson at once responded. They passed along the intake air-course to the bottom of the shaft (south side), passed across the shaft bottom to the north side, and the moment they did so they entered the return air-course and had to encounter the smoke and gas generated by the fire.

Their companions waited what they thought to be a reasonable time, and when they did not return raised an alarm and commenced the difficult task of finding the three men amid the smoke and gas given off by the fire.  When found they were dead, and from the position in which their bodies were found (faces down, heads toward the shaft) and the distance they were apart it is reasonable to suppose that they were retreating towards the shaft when overcome.  Williamson was found on the main north entry, 77 yards from the bottom of the shaft.  Akeyson was found on the first east entry, 86 yards from the bottom of the shaft, and Eustice on the first east entry and 130 yards from the bottom of the shaft.

John Eustice had been the underground manager of the mine in which he lost his life since 1886 and had the confidence of the company.  He was greatly and deservedly respected by the miners of Spring Valley for his uniformly fair dealing toward those under him.

One problem remains unsolved -- how did this fire originate? That it was not the result of spontaneous combustion is almost certain, because fires of this kind generally give timely warning of their approach by a gradual rising of the temperature until the ignition point is reached, thereby giving off an offensive smell that is unmistakable to those accustomed to mine fires.  In this instance no such evidence was noticeable and the conclusion must be, that the wooden stopping was set on fire, either by accident or design.

The deceased:
  • N. P. Akeyson, of Spring Valley, roadman, aged 37 years, married; leaves a widow and three children.
  • John Eustice, of Spring Valley, mine forman or pit-boss, aged 38 years, married; leaves a widow and six children.
  • Jacob Williamson, of Spring Valley, roadman, aged 39 years, married; leaves a widow and five children.

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