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Valeria Coal and Mining Co. Accident of 1886


Posted By: JCGS Volunteer
Date: 8/26/2019 at 06:57:54

Frightful Occurrence
A little before noon on Thursday last, a frightful occurrence took place at the mines of the Valeria Coal and Mining Company that caused the immediate death of one man, the fatal wounding of another, and will probably be the death of a third. Coroner Newell furnishes us the facts, but we copy the details from the Colfax Clipper:
The men were preparing to make the usual shot before going out to dinner. In one room George Storms and J. C. White, alias “Texas,” were buddies (partners), and in an adjoining room Theodore M. Frace and Louis Evans, while across the entry worked Peter Angstrom. Before making his last shot, Louis Evans found the supply of oil in his lamp (the one he wore on his cap) exhausted, and went to the room of Storms and “Texas” to borrow enough to replenish it. He entered the room just as “Texas” raised his pick and drove the point of it into a 25 pound of blasting powder. A blinding flash and terrific explosion followed, and through the dense smoke arose the cries of men in agony. Frace rushed into the entry and found Angstrom screaming and trying to escape from the terrible smoke. He tried to help him to the surface but he became so weak through breathing the sulphurous smoke that he had to leave him to save himself. Near the entrance to the mine he was told by Storms, who (with all his clothing burned from him and himself terribly scorched) had escaped in company with “Texas” from the room where the explosion occurred, that his partner, Louis Evans, was still in the fateful room. Twice died Frace attempt the rescue of his “buddie,” and was finally compelled to leave the mine half-dead from breathing the smoke. Later A. W. Carlson and two others succeeded in reaching the room, where they found Evans’ lifeless body. His limbs bent over a large piece of coal, his body resting upon the floor and his head against the rib (wall) of the room. His neck as broken. He was removed to the surface and by direction of Mr. Moxham, the mine superintendent, laid upon a rough bench in the office.
Upon coming to the surface Storms, Angstrom and “Texas” were found to be entirely denuded, their persons were horribly burned and their hair and whiskers singed and burnt off, while they presented a blackened surface wherever the powder had touched. They were removed at once to convenient shelter and physicians were hastily summoned.
The custom of opening powder cans with picks is said to be almost universal with coal miners, and this is the first accident ever known to have occurred from the custom.
Louis Evans was a quiet, industrious, gentlemanly young man, and his loss is generally mourned by those who knew him.
Peter Angstrom died of his injuries on Friday night, and at this writing it is believed that White and Storms will recover.
The third one of the victims died on Saturday. For the purpose of general information we give a part of the evidence taken before the Coroner’s jury as well as the verdict jury.
A. W. Carlson (Sworn):
Aged 33, reside in Colfax, occupation a miner.
Myself and Albin Johnson wee the men who found the dead body of Louis Evans, who was killed by the powder explosion in the mine of the Valeria Coal and Mining Company today. We went into the room and found him (Evans) lying on his back with a large piece of coal under his bended knees and his head against the “rib.” (wall of the room.) We carried him out into the entry to where the air was better, and I put my ear to his breast. I thought I could hear his heart flutter, and so I sent for Dr. Collins, who came down in a few minutes, and upon examination pronounced Evans dead. I believe that Evans’ death was the result of the explosion of the can of powder in the room in which J. C. White and George Storms were working. The roof of the room was uninjured, and everything was undisturbed except the powder can, which lay about four feet from where we found Evans’ body. The can was split down the seam and the open side was towards Evans. One end of the can was gone, and the can was colored as though powder had been burned inside of it. It was colored a grayish white, both inside and out. I met Storms coming upon the cage, which came up the shaft as I went down. I sent all the injured men home as soon as I could. I am the Pitt Boss for the Valeria Coal and Mining Company. Have worked in coal mines, off and on, for 18 years, and it is customary to issue powder in 25 pound cans, in all mines where I have worked, and it is customary also among miners, to open their powder cans with a pick, in the way in which White opened the keg which exploded on Thursday. I saw White and Storms on Thursday evening after the accident. White, himself, told me that he had stuck the pick in the can, that he had struck three licks into the can, and the third time it exploded. White was at the south side of the room with the keg of powder between him and Peter Angstrom and Lew Evans, who were sitting on a large piece of coal about four feet from the can. George Storms was loading the coal into a car in the mouth of the room, and had just turned to ask Evans and Angstrom to get off of the chunk of coal so that he might load it on the car, when the explosion occurred. Never heard either of the men in the room blame anyone for the accident. At the time the explosion occurred, the current of air through the mine was up the hoisting shaft. I at once reversed the air so as to convey the powder smoke backward and allow the men in the mine to come out in safety. I then made a search, in company with the Superintendent, through the mine to find if all the men were out, and established the fact that there were none others there. Lewis Evans was a married man, and Angstrom, White and Storms were all unmarried. Angstrom was born in Sweden, but had been in the United States five years, four of which he had been in Iowa. He was about 28 years old. White was about 25 years old, and was and American born. He had worked at the mine only about one month.
Edgar C. Moxham, sworn:
Aged 27 years; residence, Colfax; mine manager; now employed was manager of the mines of the Valeria Coal and Mining Company, at which the powder can explosion occurred on Thursday, January 7, 1886; reached the mine about 20 minutes after the accident had happened. The body of Lewis Evans had just been brought to the surface, and the other injured men were on their way home, I found that the course of the air had already been changed. I was told that there were still injured men below and accompanied by Mr. Carlson; I at once went down the shaft. The current of air had already swept away most of the smoke. Having made a complete search through the entries and rooms affected, I found no one in them. The explosion has had no injurious effect whatever upon the mine. We found some clothing burning in the entry, about 250 feet from where the explosion occurred. I went into the room where the explosion occurred; I saw a lump of coal and a powder can, as described by Mr. Carlson. There was no evidence of wreck about the mine. Every room was secure, and neither brattices nor doors were injured. There was a good current of air. The men who came out of the mine alive, those I saw, had no fire on their clothing. Powder is issued by myself to the miners, one can at a time; I deliver it to the mine boss, and he in turn delivers it to the miners in the room. Thus the mine owner cares for it and is responsible of it until it is delivered to the miner in his room.
I desire to say in conclusion that Mr. Carlson acted with great wisdom and forethought in so promptly turning the sir. I know of no precaution which my Company could have taken to have prevented the sad accident, nor of any alleviating measures, of which we failed afterwards. There were upwards of 70 men employed in the mine at the time of the accident. Edgar C. Moxham
State of Iowa, Jasper County, ss: An inquisition holden upon the bodies of Lewis Evans, J. C. White, (alias “Texas”) and Peter Angstrom – these lying dead – by the jurors whose names are hereunto attached, these 7th and 9th days of January, 1886. The said jurors on their oaths do say that the said Evans, White and Angstrom came to their deaths by reason of the explosion of a can of blasting powder accidentally exploded by the blow of a pick in the hands of White (alias “Texas”) in a room at the mines of the Valeria Coal and Mining company; that the explosion was the result of a reprehensible custom among miners; and that no blame can be attached to the company or its management. J. R. Rogers, Jesse Slavens, H. W. Robinson.
Source: The Journal (Newton, IA); Wednesday, January 13, 1886


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