Have you heard of the Scofield Disaster?
'Tis a heartbreaking story to tell;I was there and partook of the sorrow and grief,
I remember, remember so well.
Oh, mothers and wives of the miners,
Who perished so suddenly there,
Did you give them a loving embrace that morn,
Did you bid them "Goodbye" with a prayer?
On May 1, 1900, a narrow, remote canyon more than 8,000 feet above sea level and a mile west of Scofield in Utah's Carbon County was the scene of what was then the most tragic coal mine disaster in the history of the United States.
At least 200 men lost their lives in an explosion that rocked the Winter Quarters Number Four Mine at 10:28 a.m. on a day planned to honor the victory of Admiral Dewey over the Spanish navy at Manila in the Philippines two years earlier. In fact, some thought the roar of the deadly explosion was a blast set off by someone beginning a midmorning celebration of Dewey Day.
The men and boys died either directly from the explosion or were suffocated when the afterdamp or carbon monoxide following the blast robbed them of life-sustaining oxygen.
About 20 of the victims were young boys who worked at various tasks inside the mine - helping their fathers load coal, coupling coal cars together, or opening and closing ventilation doors. The official number of dead was placed at 200; however, miners counting the bodies at the mouth of the tunnel claimed 246 had died. A week after the explosion, Finnish miners maintained that 15 of their countrymen had not been recovered.
The disaster left 107 women as widows and 286 children as fatherless.
Some of the miners escaped death in extraordinary ways. James W. Dilley, an eyewitness to the disaster, reported the story of John Wilson:
"We hastened to the mouth of the mine, where one horse was found dead but his driver could not be seen until someone looking down the gulch saw the form of someone, supposed to be the driver, John Wilson. A few of the men hurried to his side and found that life was not yet extinct, although he had been blown eight hundred and twenty feet, by actual measurement.
"He was tenderly picked up and conveyed to his home where it was found that the back part of his skull had been crushed, besides a stick or splinter had been driven downward through his abdomen. He was in critical condition and no one supposed he would live to be carried home, but, strange to relate, he has recovered rapidly."
One 15-year-old boy, Thomas Pugh, who was working with his father inside the mine at the time of the explosion, immediately ran 1 1/2 miles through the blackness with his nose covered until he reached the mine entrance, where he fainted. His father died from asphyxiating gases left in the mine after the explosion.
Roderick Davis managed to escape from the mine after the explosion and joined one of the rescue parties, but while back inside the mine, he was overcome by the gas and fell unconscious.
Taken for dead, Davis was thrown into one of the cars being filled with bodies. Once out of the mine, he was placed in a row of corpses to be washed. When the men began to wash him, he regained consciousness and walked out of the room.
The dead miners were washed and dressed in white shirts, ties and black suits purchased by the Pleasant Valley Coal Co. and were placed in coffins shipped to Scofield from Salt Lake City and Denver. They were then taken to their homes to await burial on May 5.
Those whose families lived outside of the Scofield area were transported by train to Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, Coalville, Springville, American Fork, Eureka, Richfield, Price and other small towns in Utah for burial.
There were stories of deep tragedy connected to the mine disaster, but none more touching than that of the Louma family. Seven sons and three grandsons of Abe Louma and his wife had left their home in Finland and had come to America, eventually arriving at the Winter Quarters mine.
They wanted their father and mother, ages 70 and 65, to live the rest of their days with them. The sons wrote their parents that they were earning more money than they had ever made in Finland and that it would be unnecessary for the old people to work any longer if they came to America. Abe Louma and his wife arrived in Scofield three months before the explosion. Six sons and three grandsons were killed in the disaster. Only one son, Mataho Louma, survived.
Today, some of the weathered wooden headstones placed on the graves at Scofield 91 years ago can still be seen. In the fall of 1987, a monument to the disaster victims was erected at the Scofield Cemetery under the direction of Harry Liapis by the Friends of Carbon-Emery Historical Sites, in conjunction with the Hellenic Cultural Association.