SCOFIELD MINE DISASTER


Dedicating graves, Scofield, 1900

The Scofield mine disaster occurred on 1 May 1900 when an explosion ripped through the Winter Quarters Number Four mine located west of Scofield. Men working in the mine were killed outright by the explosion, which occurred when an excessive amount of coal dust ignited inside the mine. Other miners, working in the Number One mine which was connected to the Number Four mine, died from the deadly carbon monoxide gas or "afterdamp." Hearing the explosion, but not knowing where it occurred, the men in the Number One mine tried to exit by the shortest route--through the Number Four mine--and consequently encountered the deadly gas on their way out.

The official number of dead was listed at 200 as rescue units brought the victims from the tunnels. Since there was no record of who was working inside the mine at the time of the explosion, it was difficult to account for all the men. Miners and others estimated that the death toll was as high as 246. At 200 dead, the Scofield disaster was the most tragic coal mine disaster, in terms of the number killed, to that time in American history. Subsequent disasters killed 362 at Monongah, West Virginia, on 7 December 1907; 239 at Jacobs Creek, Pennsylvania, on 19 December 1907; and 263 at Dawson, New Mexico, on 22 October 1913. The dead at Scofield included twenty young boys and sixty-one Finnish immigrants.

The Pleasant Valley Coal Company provided each of the dead men with burial clothes and a coffin, and gave each man's family $500. The company also erased $8,000 in debt that the dead miners had accumulated at the company store. Other private donations came from a number of communities within and outside the state.

One hundred forty-nine of the dead were buried in the Scofield cemetery with two graveside services: one conducted in Finnish by A. Granholm, a Finnish Lutheran minister; and the second by LDS Church apostles George Teasdale, Reed Smoot, and Heber J. Grant. The other fifty-one victims were returned to their hometowns for burial.

The tragic disaster led to calls for greater safety in the coal mines and for better treatment of coal miners. The disaster became one of the causes of a labor strike the following winter, which centered in the Scofield area, as well as a countywide strike in 1903-04 when Utah miners made their first unsuccessful attempt to win recognition of the United Mine Workers of America in the state.

See: James W. Dilley, History of the Scofield Mine Disaster (1900); and Allan Kent Powell, The Next Time We Strike (1985).

Allan Kent Powell