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Murderous Mining Mishaps

January 10, 2001

Historian's Notes

This coal mine explosion demonstrates in several ways just how horrible the working conditions were for early-day Oklahoma coal miners. Not only were the mines in unsafe conditions (the owners didn't want to spend money to make them safe) but also dangerous, life-threatening work was being performed by inexperienced, unqualified personnel (again, another money saving feature). This was a terrible waste of life due to greed and the fact that workers had no mechanism in place to enforce a safe environment.

Resources

Baird, W. D., & Gobel, D. (1994). The Story of Oklahoma. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Brown, K. (1980). The Italians in Oklahoma. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Almanac Transcript

Hello, I'm Steven Kite welcoming you to the Oklahoma Audio Almanac where we turn the pages of history to bring you the stories of our State's past.

Murderous mining mishaps make the news this week.

Mining was one of the primary industries for early day Indian Territory. Both the northeast and southeast corners of the territory held coal, zinc and other valuable raw materials. More than one Oklahoman made their fortune, legally or otherwise, off of the enormous resources found underground in Indian Territory. The lure of these minerals and the mining jobs attached to them attracted many outsiders to the Territory mines including many immigrant laborers.

By the late 1880s south-east Oklahoma was home to many thousands of miners of Italian and Russian descent. The Italian and Russian heritage of these immigrants and their descendants can be seen today in the culture of towns such as Krebs and Hartshorne. Other towns in the area with names such as Coalgate leave little doubt as to the reason for their existence. Because they were located within Indian Territory, mine owners and operators were exempt from federal safety regulations and guidelines. Owners and operators intent on extracting as much money as possible from the mines and their workers, often ignored safety concerns constantly placing workers in life threatening situations. The turn-of-the-century operations in southeastern Oklahoma were during that time considered by many as some of the most dangerous mines in the United States, if not the world.

It was in this week in 1892 that dangerous working conditions led to the worst mining accident in Oklahoma history. In the early evening hours of January 7th, 1892 an explosion ripped through the Osage Coal and Mining Company’s Mine No. 11 instantly killing 87 people and injuring about 150 more. The scene at the mine was horrific with many helpless miners burned or buried alive. Ultimately an inexperienced worker was blamed for the explosion. Hired because he was cheaper than experienced miners, the new worker was given the job of handling, of all things, explosives and of course the inevitable occurred.

A silver lining of sorts emerged from the tragedy in the form of tighter safety regulations concerning the territorial operations, too late however, to save the dozens of miners who lost their lives in the explosion of January 7th 1892.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

 

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