Custer County, Colorado
Disasters



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Contributed by Karen Mitchell

Sierra Journal 11-19-1885 The Bull Domingo Horror Ten Miners Die by the Gross Carelessness and Cheap John Management of the Mine A few minutes past 7 o'clock, Friday evening, an explosion occurred at the Bull-Domingo mine, two and one half miles from Silver Cliff, which totally destroyed the large shaft house and a large portion of the machinery, and entombed ten miners who were at work in the mine at the time.
Several stories are current as to how the explosion occurred, but the most probable one is that told by some of the miners who were on the grounds at the time of the catastrophe, and only missed meeting their doom by being a few minutes late in going to work.
Their theory is that a large amount of giant powder, nearly a hundred pounds, which was placed on top of one of the boilers to warm, and a part of which was made up into primers: with caps and copper wire attached ready to put into holes for blasting, was set off by one of the wires coming in contact with the side of the boiler, and that the explosion bursted the boiler, and set the building on fire.
The engineer, Mr. Chamberlain, and the foreman, Thomas Armstrong, were standing by the engine at the time and were thrown to the ground by the concussion. They were badly stunned, but when they recovered their feet they realized what had happened and the danger that threatened the men in the mine.
The engineer grabbed the throttle of his engine but the explosives had broke the connection and the large hole in the boiler has caused steam to escape, so the engine would not work and all hands turned their attention to the task of putting out the fire.
Men soon arrived from Silver Cliff, where the shock was plainly felt and the flash of the explosion was seen.
What water that could be had was used, but the flames had gained such headway that the remains of the large building was soon consumed. A crowd of about 500 people had gathered about by this time and a bucket line was formed from a well in the gulch below, and the work of getting the burning timbers from about the mouth of the shaft was commenced. A rude hoister was improvised but the timbers were hot and the work of excavating them was slow, they had been burned out for a distance of thirty feet and the shaft had to be re-timbered before anyone could get down, and, although many miners were ready and anxious to render assistance, but a few could work to an advantage. Those who could worked assiduously all night and many refused to rest the next day. By four o'clock in the evening the shaft had been cleared to a depth of 440 feet, but there the fallen timbers were wedged in so tightly that it took an hour to get them out, after which the remaining distance was found to be clear of obstruction.
The workers were then hoisted out and Messr. J. Jones, S.J. Prisk, Wm. Keener, J. Rohrback and Foreman Armstrong were lowered to make explorations.
They had not been down long when the signal to hoist was given and the crowd waited eagerly to hear the fate of the entombed miners. Foreman Armstrong was the first to come up, and as he stepped upon the ground he whispered to those nearest "They are all dead." and the sorrowful news was soon communicated to the crowd.
The wives, children, and relatives of some of the unfortunate men had stayed close about since the occurrence of the explosion, and had been consoled by what small hopes that could be found, but now their lamentations were most heart rending to witness.
The bodies were found on the 550 foot level five at one end of the tunnel and five at the other end. The men in the rear end of the tunnel had evidently been working at the drill at the time of the explosion, their bodies were lying on the ground. They were probably killed by the concussion of the explosion or died of suffocation.
The bodies at the mouth of the tunnel were also lying near to each other. The work of removing the dead was begun at once. It was slow work and sad work. The bodies were placed upon the little iron ore cars, carried to the bottom of the shaft and thence hauled to the surface by the hoister. The five found in the mouth of the drift had climbed to that place after the explosion occurred, and some of them, realizing that death was inevitable, had undertaken to write a parting word to their dearest relatives, but died before they had finished writing.
When found they were all but one lying on their faces, and the blood had burst from their mouths and ears showing that they had died from suffocation. The bodies were taken in charge by Coroner Burke who had them washed and laid out, and then empaneled a jury which met on Sunday at 3 p.m., and surveyed the bodies, after which it adjourned until Monday at 10 a.m.
The names of the unfortunate miners are:
H. Westfall
William Strong
Elmer Heister
William Patten
Napoleon De Grosslier
John Lobby
George Smith
Simon Baptista
B. Baptista
Conn Nourse
Strong, DeGrosslier, Patten, Smith and B. Baptista were married men, having families living here. The funeral of all the dead miners except Westfall, Smith and DeGrosslier was held at the Bull Domingo mine on Monday, and the sermon was preached by the Rev. Francis Byrne. A large concourse of people from all parts of the county attended the ceremonies.
DeGrosslier was buried Monday at 11 o'clock from the Catholic church. Westfall was buried on Tuesday under the direction of the Silver Cliff lodge A.O.U.W., of which he was an honored member. Smith's body was shipped to relatives in Michigan on Monday.
The sad accident has cast a shade of sadness over the entire community. About all the miners were old residents of the county and were as fine a lot of men as are often got together in a mining camp, and the heartfelt sympathies of every miner who hears of this sad affair, and of all our people, are with the relatives of the dead.
(Same column) The Bull Domingo mine has been a bone of contention a major portion of the time since its discovery in 1878 and has been the subject of over one hundred lawsuits in the various courts of the county and state.
Although it is claimed by responsible parties to be one of the best mines in the county, mismanagement at times has been the cause of a great deal of trouble and now the saddest trouble of all seems to be that the company working on the most economical plan possible; the engineer had to do his own firing and keep a lookout for fires in the building, as there was no watchman to do this work. Properly there should have been three men instead of one, and had there been a watchman the accident could not have happened as the management claimed that it did, that is "that the roof of the building caught fire from the smoke stacks directly over the boilers, and that falling embers set off the powder."
It was criminal carelessness, or thoughtlessness, in having so large an amount, or any other amount of powder more than sufficient for immediate use in the building at one time and it was the most profound foolishness to place giant primers on the boiler at any time.
The company is alone responsible for the lives of the ten miners, by having no means of escape from the mine in case of such accident had there been a ladder in the manway they could easily have climbed to the surface before the fire had spread to that part of the shaft.
Strong talk was indulged in for a time against Superintendent Foss for keeping the powder in the building and this crime of putting it in so dangerous a place as on the boiler, and the infuriated miners and relatives of the unfortunate ones, for a time, were only prevented from adding his name to the list of the dead by the advise of some of the more quiet business men who were present.
Many thanks are due the firemen and other citizens of Silver Cliff who worked night and day from the time of the explosion up to the time the bodies were recovered refusing to rest while there was even a shadow of a chance of saving the lives of the men in the mine.
Miners from Rosita and Querida also went as soon as they learned that assistance was needed and would cheerfully have done more had it been possible.
Thomas Armstrong, as true and brave hearted a miner as walks on God's soil, worked manfully and several times placed his life in momentary danger in his efforts to reach the men while clearing the shaft of the fallen debris.
Coroner Burke has been making a most diligent inquiry to ascertain who the ones are that are most directly at fault for the deaths of the men and got through taking evidence a few minutes before we go to press. We will give full particulars of the facts elicited by the inquest in our next issue.

Sierra Journal 11-26-1885 The Coroner's verdict on the inquiry on the Bull Domingo disaster was, in effect, that the Superintendeant of the mine, H.W. Foss had been criminally negligent in his management of the mine affairs and was responsible for the deaths of the ten miners. After the decision of the coroners jury Supt. Foss was arrested and taken before Justice Alexander for a hearing but he waived examination and was bound over to the January term of the district court on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. His bond was fixed at $2,000.

Silver Cliff, CO - Mining accident - 7-2-1891 The Silver Cliff Rustler Mr. Gavin Brownlee was instantly killed in the Globe shaft, on the Humboldt lead, at Rosita on last Thursday afternoon at about two o'clock. He and several others were running a drift from the shaft and Mr. Brownlee had just a fine showing of mineral and called to his fellow workers to come and see it, when some huge rocks gave way and fell, completely burying him. Help was called from an adjoining shaft, and everything possible done to extricate the unfortunate man, but when taken out his skull was found to be crushed, showing that death must have been instantaneous. The funeral services were conducted at the Presbyterian church, this city, at 2:30 on Friday, by Rev. I. W. Smith of Rosita and were largely attended by members of A. O. U. W. and I. O. O. F. and many other citizens. Deceased was a man of estimable character and had many friends. He was 47 years of age and leaves two daughters. Mrs. E. P. Casebeer and Mrs. John Mattes both residents of this place. Our sincere sympathies are extended to the bereaved relatives.


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