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The Mexican Mine Disaster at Juneau, Alaska - March 1910



Northern Mining

Highlights of History from The Whitehorse Star


The Weekly Star - Friday, March 11, 1910.

Deadly Explosion - 39 Lives List in Disaser at Treadwell Mines, 1910

    Last Wednesday night, March 3, about 11:30 an explosion took place on the 1,100 foot level of the shaft of the Mexican mine, one of the properties of the Alaska Treadwell Gold Mining company, located on Douglas Island, and as a result 39 miners were killed and about a dozen others were injured, several of whom may be so badly hurt as to cause death later on.

    There is a rule of the company which provides that the men, after the shift is over, shall stand before the skip and be sent into the cage as the shift boss directs. This practice prevails in order that crowding may not result. It was while the men were assembled in a group last night, waiting for the cage to come down to take them off shift, that the disaster took place.

    The powder magazine is so located, as are all of the magazines of the company, that, should an accident take place, the air currents will carry the fumes up the shaft to the surface at once. Thus it was possible last night, on account of the excellent provision for air, for the rescue party, headed by Assistant Superintendent Kennedy, to get down to the spot where the dead miners were lying within twenty minutes after the news of the awful happening had reached the surface. The timbering in the mine was not much damaged, but enough of it had fallen to handicap whe work of the rescuers and it was in several cases necessary to lift heavy timbers to get at the bodies of the unfortunates who had been covered by the falling debris. One of the remarkable features of the explosion was that but a small portion of the walls or roof fell.

    The magazine destroyed stood about thirty feet from the spot where the miners were standing waiting for the cage to be lowered for them. They had finished their work and the last shots had been fired twenty five minutes before the magazine exploded. None of the miners are allowed to go into the magazine and lights are never used inside the walls of the magazine under any circumstances. Electric lights, which are fastened in the roofs of the magazines, furnish the light and a powder man is at a small desk just outside the door. When a miner wishes powder it is given to him by the powder man and is carried away to such a spot as the miner may happen to be working near. Usually there is stored in the mine sufficient powder to permit three rounds of shots being fired and an estimate was made this morning by the miners that, after one round of shots, which were set off before the accident took place, there was left in the magazine in the neighborhood of 275 pounds of dynamite. This was the store that wrought the life loss.

    Within twenty-five feet of where the group of bodies were found stood two horses. One of them had been knocked down and doubtless never moved, while the other, whose position must have been within @ foot or two further away from the magazine, was calmly nibbling oats a half hour after its mate had been killed.

    What caused the accident will likely never be learned. There was no fire near the magazine and the doors leading into it had been locked by the powder man, who was one of the unfortunates at the skip landing waiting to be hoisted. Had the accident taken place either five minutes before or after the time it did the probabilities are that no life loss would have resulted.

    There was but one occasion where there was a mutilation of the body of the victim. In most cases the men were badly bruised and in others the awful force of the powder had stripped the dead of their clothing. It was noticed by the men at work in the rescue party that in four or five instances, when the bodies of the unfortunate men were picked up and placed on stretchers to be sent up to the mouth of the shafts, the shoes had been torn from the feet of the dead. Close to the magazine one body was found scattered into fragments. The poor fellow had likely gotten the full shock from the magazine and all of the portions of his remains wil likely never be found.

    All of the men killed were experienced miners and the members of those who perished in last night's disaster were reckoned as one of the very best shifts employed by the Treadwell company.

    But few of the men were married and in consequence the mouth of the shaft did not present the usually pitiful scenes which follow when miners are killed and the widows and orphans group about the opening of the shaft to see the dead hoisted to the surface. Some of the victims may have had families in the old country, but, so far as could be learned this afternoon, not more than four had families living on the island.

    Throughout the day, Saturday, the island towns are cities of mourning. Every business buuse is closed and the silence is broken only by the occasional tolling of bells.

    Few people remember when Douglas island was so silent. Here where for years the mines and mills have worked night and day, except on the Fourth of July and Christmas, not a wheel is turned, not a stamp falls, not a sound is heard. Often before some mine has been closed down for a few days, a mill closed for repairs, but everyone hopes and trusts, that never again will there ever be an occasion when all work is suspended for so sad a cause as that of today - Juneau Daily Record.