ZIE MUSE RECOUNTS EXPERIENCE OF BEING LOST, DESPERATE IN MAZE OF ABANDONED COAL MINE
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
Ozias (Zie) Muse has recorded his experience of being lost in a coal mine. He has written several of his personal historical accounts, one of which I shall use this week. He has authored a booklet entitled "The Truth shall Make You Free," found at the Campbell County Historical Society in LaFollette. After reviewing this fine work I decided to use, with his permission, his account entitled "Lost in an Abandoned Coal Mine." Since I can't possibly improve upon his writing, I will simply transcribe it in his own words. (Some editing was done.) He writes:
"Most everyone has heard the song I once was lost in sin. But being lost in sin no where near compares with being lost in an old Coal Mine which was worked out and abandoned for 22 years in the year of 1964. I experienced this ordeal. I, with some neighbors, was opening a small mine. Entry was close by the old mine entry, and after working back about 100 feet, we cut into the abandoned works. One day I decided I would crawl into the old works and see if there was enough coal left to continue the new entry we started.
"I crawled through a hole about 24 inches wide and crawled down an entry about 400 feet, then turned left and crawled about 600 feet. I then decided I would go back to the outside, but each entry I passed looked the same with each one. Having occasional roof falls, I then began to panic. I knew I was lost. But I had to hold myself as steady as possible. What really frightened me was that I know those miner lamps would hold out only 12 hours.
"I would holler for the boys outside, then I would pray for a while asking God to show me the way out. I hollered till I was hoarse, and crawled until my knees were swollen and felt like boils. I knew not which way to turn. Each place I went into looked like the one I came out of. My heart was in my throat pounding away like some one beating my chest with a heavy hammer.
"I was becoming weak and tired. I would set down on a fallen rock and try to rest, but there was no rest for me. I knew I must keep crawling. I would holler for Elmer, who was one of the boys outside, but received no answer. Then I would pray for a while, then begin crawling, this procedure continued less than 7 hours. But to me it seemed to be an eternity.
"I was not particularly religious at the time; I had been affiliated with two different religions, baptized by each of them. But when I would set down to rest and pray, the following scriptures would come into my mind. Isaiah 26:9, II Tim. 1:8-10. Those scriptures did give me a certain amount of confidence, but could in no sense relieve my fast pounding heart.
"Although I did not necessarily fear going to hell or anything of that nature, I simply did not want to die of all places in a worked out coal mine.
"The tire tracks from the equipment used in the old mine well over 20 years ago was still plain. I followed those tracks up to a large roof fall which had the entry blocked. I then turned right and crawled about 300 feet. My lamp was going dim. I panicked again. I stopped and prayed for a couple of minutes, I bowed my head with tear filled eyes and said, dear God, you created me, now will you please help me get out of here alive.
"I was now at a cross entry. I could see four directions which all looked practically the same. I had a sudden urge to crawl the left-hand entry after about 200 feet. I felt some air circulation, which gave me much better hopes. I well knew if I fell asleep from carbon monoxide, or lack of oxygen, I would die in this darkened tomb.
"I crawled several hundred feet climbing over one roof fall after another. I had now passed the point where the air circulation was coming from. I rested and prayed again, my lamp be almost gone out. My last and final hope was to crawl slowly up the right side of the entry and try to find the air circulation again.
"Although it was cold in this place, the sweat was popping out all over me. But I continued crawling and feeling my way. I had become so weak and nervous with a pounding heart up in my throat, and chilling all over with cold. My last hopes had almost expired. I was becoming short winded with each breath harder to breathe.
"I panicked again and was just about ready to lie down for my last time. I prayed for what I thought would be my last time, asking God to please answer my last prayer. The thought struck like someone was telling me to turn around and crawl back the way you came.
"I turned on my sore knees and slowly crawled, feeling my way up the left sides of the entry and finally came to the air circulation. I crawled directly the way the air was coming from and found the small hole I had crawled through. I could hear the boys working on the new entry, but of the many prayers I had prayed during this traumatic ordeal, I did not include a long line of false promises to God, if He would get me out alive. As a matter of fact, I did not make Him any promises at all. I felt like the thief who was being hanged beside Jesus for his lengthy array of crimes. I only asked that He be merciful to me and help me get out alive, or the man who smote himself on the breast and related to Jesus, be merciful to me a sinner. I knew there was no reason to make such promises never to keep them.
"But when I stuck my head out through the small hole and heard the boys working, I knew God had heard my prayers and I rejoiced till I cried, thanking God for hearing my plea for life. After getting my eyes dried, I slowly walked out where the boys were working. I related to them that I had been lost. They were tamping their dynamite shots getting ready to leave for home; they knew I was over due to be back out.
"But that they were going to crawl in looking before lighting, knowing the dynamite smoke would finish me up, but they wondered what I had been doing all day.
"After relaxing and drawing a few long breaths of cold fresh air, I explained to the boys what had happened. I then related that I once was lost but now I'm found, was blind but now I see.
"This, however, was not the only close call I have had in old abandoned mine works. Back in 1956, I went into an old mine entry looking for iron rails. I was wearing a carbide lamp on my head. I walked about 400 feet and turned right into a cross entry and walked about 600 feet. I began getting short winded and my lamp was going out. I knew that I must turn and try to get back outside. I had heard that 'black damp,' as it was called in those days, would put you to sleep. I was going blind and my lamp was practically out; feeling my way along the entry, wading through water, and climbing over roof walls.
"But I was practically exhausted when I reached the main entry where I could see the precious daylight. I set down and rested for a while before rushing into the fresh air. But I could feel the life slipping away from me. From that day forward I was very cautious about venturing into a worked out and abandoned coal mine."
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