CROSS MOUNTAIN EXPLOSION
The following article was taken from Lake City Banner, December 1, 1977.
It was a cold, overcast Saturday morning the Dec. 9 in 1911 as the dawn greeted the families in the hollows that lace the ridges along the narrow valley called Briceville. Many of the families in one of those hollows, Slatestone, prepared for another hard day in the Cross Mountain coal mine much as they had done for years.
The men and some of their sons had risen early. Dressing in the dark, they had put on clothes still stiff from the sweat and dirt from the work of the day before. They had eaten a breakfast of honey and bread, or, “if times were good,” they had eaten some meat and gravy.
Gathering their tools, the miners walked the short distance to the mine. On that fateful day, of the 150 regular miners who normally worked at the mines, only 89 reported for work because of a shortage of coal cars.
As the men entered the mine entrance, called by some the “Bank,” it was 6:30 a.m.
As they walked farther and farther into the deep tunnels that lead into the very heart of the mountain, small crews of men separated off to go to their work areas for the day’s labor. The sounds of the hoofs of the nearly 50 mules could be heard up and down the long corridors.
At 7:20 somewhere deep in one of the rooms or in some passageway, it happened. Perhaps it was a spark from a squibb used to ignite a powder charge. Or maybe it was the flame from a miner’s oil lamp.
In a moment frozen in time, a luckless miner realized that the most feared of all things in a mine had come, an explosion. In one split instant, the place where he stood was filled with blinding light and then a thunderous explosion. A pocket of methane gas or coal dust had ignited, and before it would run its course, 85 lives would be taken.
Racing down the headway toward the surface, the concussion twisted and killed as it went. At the mine entrance a clean up crew was blown back by the blast.
Within minutes the entire community knew of the explosion. Rescue teams began to form almost at once.
Deep in the mine, most of the men weren’t killed by the blast, but now faced an even more deadly threat, the dreaded after damp, or carbon monoxide.
Many of them began to barricade themselves in the rooms. One such group was a father and son, William and Milton Henderson from Clinton. With them were Irwin Smith, Arthur Scott and Dore Irish.
Mr. Henderson later told what they did.
We barricaded up the entrance to the mine room. With our coats we fought back the after damp the came through the cracks in the brattice, and then stuck our coats and other articles of wearing apparel in the holes in the brattice. We had lights, our dinner, and each of us had from half to three quarters of a gallon of water and coffee in our dinner pails.”
Other miners were trying to do the same thing.
A large 10-foot exhaust fan was installed to clear the mine of the smoke and gas. When the rescue teams thought it safe to go in, they took with them a canary which could detect the deadly after damp.
The team had gone into the mine only a short distance when the little bird fell dead. Thinking they had reached a current of poisonous gas, there was a wild dash to the outside.
But then the men realized that it was the smoke from their own lamps that had killed the bird. Getting another bird and safety lamps, the men started back in.
In Henderson’s group, late Saturday night Scott and Irish decided to take a chance and try for the outside. They left the safety of the room and started for the entrance. It was the last the other three saw of them until Monday when they met on the outside.
Henderson reported that on Sunday the remaining three attempted to leave but were forced back to the room. “We remained there until discovered on Monday at 8:15 at night.”
Those killed in the Cross Mountain mine were:
James A. White
T.A. Leatherwood Jr.
James A. Marlin
John Allen Jr.
and Charles White.