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Mining Disasters - An Exhibition

1900 Winter Quarters No. 4 Mine Disaster
Near Scofield, Utah - May 1, 1900

The Day 200 Miners Died 100 Years Ago

1900 Winters Quarters Disaster - Scofield, Utah

Smoke curls from the chimney of the Edwards boarding house in Winter Quarters Canyon a few days after an underground coal mine explosion 81 years ago claimed the lives of 200 Utah miners. The boarding house briefly served as a makeshift undertaking parlor immediately after the disaster.
(George Edward Anderson photo courtesy of Robert W. Edwards Collection).

Readers of Salt Lake City's Deseret Evening News raced over those few introductory lines the day after an explosion tore through the workings of Winter Quarters No. 4, near Scofield, Utah, 115 miles southeast of the state's capital. On the day of the explosion, May 1, 1900, the News reported that "an army of men" had been killed in an explosion that very morning. When the last body would be recovered, that army would number 200 Utah coal miners. At the time, the United States had never recorded so many lives lost in a single coal mine tragedy; since then the death toll has been exceeded three times in different states, all within 14 years of the Winter Quarters disaster.

Salt Lake City's three daily papers tried to make sense of the chaos and emotional convulsions that wracked the small but growing mining communities of Scofield and Winter Quarters in the northwest corner of coalrich Carbon County. Early estimates of the number of dead ranged from 200 to 350, and articles about the explosion sometimes included conflicting accounts, mistaken identifications, charges and countercharges (some directed at competing papers), and passages dripping with editorial venom for specific ethnic groups among those immigrants who worked the coal mines in eastern Utah. Despite these shortcomings, the papers succeeded in capturing the courage of those who searched for survivors, the pain of the many widows and orphans and the resilience of human nature as hundreds of Utahns and others contributed to a massive relief fund established by Utah Governor Heber M. Wells to assist bereaved families. The melodramatic prose of these papers painted an evocative landscape of Scofield those first weeks in May, but in that landscape of gray clouds that clung to the valleys and canyons, of mourning clothes and of faces streaked with tears and coal dust, the predominant color was black.

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