Kansas April 11, 2018
The Horrifying Mine Explosion That Haunts Kansans To This Day
Kansans know well how bloody history can get, especially the farther you look into the past. History has shaped us to be the state we are today, but this event in particular was unforeseen and devastating. We might not have been alive to witness this tragedy first hand, but we’ll remember it as part of Kansas’ history. Have you ever heard of the mine explosion in Pittsburg, Kansas?
The first underground shaft mine near Pittsburg was built in 1874, closer to Scammon. Before coal's peak in Kansas, there were once almost 300 mines in the bi-county area. Strip mining took over in 1931, causing the need for underground mining to almost disappear. However, Kansas didn't avoid disaster when it came to the dangers of the mines.
The year was 1888, and the Pittsburg-Weir Coalfield (also known as Weir-Pittsburg Coalfield and Cherokee Coalfield) opened and started work for that day in November. The company was overloaded with orders, and had been sending in extra miners to help keep up with demand. They made the decision to send in 164 men into the mines for the day, and at noon they took a scheduled break and went back in that afternoon. At 5:30 that evening, they were ready to pull everyone out, but before they could, a rumbling noise came from inside, and a black cloud rushed out the mouth of the mine. It tore away the tracks needed to hoist people from the mine before they could even react.
People were coming up from anywhere they could, gasping for breath and nearly suffocating. Those above the mine pumped fresh air into the mine, to keep poisonous gases at bay and keep people from suffocating. They then worked on repairing the mechanism for lowering and raising the cart, but it wasn't ready until at least two in the morning. By four o'clock, five people had been rescued, with four more shortly behind them. They worked long into the morning and the next afternoon bringing up the living and counting their dead.
Today, there sits a beautiful memorial of what happened at 2nd and Walnut in Pittsburg, Kansas. Engraved stones with names of those who lost their lives stand silently, among information about the mine, an old cart, and the statue of a miner from the time period. Though we haven't lived to experience this tragedy, it's one that made a mark on Kansas as a whole.
Do you remember any terrifying industrial tragedies in your lifetime? Feel free to share your stories (or your family’s stories) of what Kansas was like back then in the comments.
Additionally, if you’re interested in learning about other disasters nearby, check out
what happened in Kansas City in the early ’80s.