Las Animas County, Colorado
1904 Mining Disaster

Morning Chronicle Volume 13 Daily News Volume 17


At about one o'clock a terrible explosion occurred in a new mine opening made by the Rocky Mountain Coal and Iron Company at Tercio. The headquarters of the company in this city were immediately notified of the explosion but no details were obtained up to two o'clock. It was intimated however that it is quite probable that at least twenty men had lost their lives. All but three or four of the men missing were coal diggers who were working in the mine at the time. The other missing men are company employees in charge of the miners. This opening was made about a year ago and extends into the hill for a distance of about two thousand feet.

There is great activity in both the Colorado and Wyoming office and of the Rocky Mountain Coal and Iron Company office. Superintendent O'Neil and his men being very busy on receiving the news giving directions towards rescuing the entombed men calling  out doctors and making other hasty preparations for clearing the debris and getting out foul air that rescuing parties might enter the mine.

The news of the explosion threw the camp into the wildest excitement and the people rushed to the mine trying to get word who might have been buried in the awful tomb. The mine clerk was besieged to know whose names were on the list of the seventeen miners who went in to work this morning, and though he had more than he could do in directing operations he went over the names patiently for the anxious women who could not otherwise be satisfied - when the name of one of the family would be called out the women interested would hurry to the opening of the mine there to await the results obtained by the rescuing party.

As soon as it was possible to enter the mine the rescuing party went in and close to the entrance found a driver named Trinidad Duran, with his head split open.

At 2:15 Robert O'Neil, superintendent of the southern division, and a larger number of minor officials, left on the Colorado and Wyoming for the scene of action. Dr. Forham from Trinidad was notified and company doctors were picked up all along the line. Dr. Corwin, the head of the company's hospital staff wired Dr. Forham to tender all the assistance possible to Dr. Conway at Tercio, and to take all the available physicians with him to Tercio. The train gets into the camp at four o'clock.

Morning Chronicle Volume 13 Daily News Volume 17


John T. Kebler and Fred Herrington arrived on the Rio Grande at eleven-fifteen this morning and went out directly on a special for Tercio. Up to noon no new developments had been reported from the mine except that every man available had been pressed into service for the work of clearing the mine in efforts to rescue. It will not be possible however from present indications to get anybody out before tomorrow at the earliest.

Early this morning the workers encountered a huge rock weighing many tons, which completely blocked further progress. How large it is, cannot be ascertained, but it will have to be blasted out, and this will probably prevent any further progress into the mine till tomorrow at the very earliest.
Trinidad Durand, unmarried

Joe Columbia,

Ed Haddon, has wife and five children at Redstone.
Thomas McCue, wife and three children at Tercio.
Chas. Blackburn, unmarried.
Frank Sutler, unmarried.

Of the twenty-one or more miners who were caught in the terrific explosion at Mine No. 3 North at Tercio yesterday, there is not one chance in ten thousand that any are still alive, or that any lived more than a few minutes. The force of the explosion was so fearful that in all probability none of them ever knew what had happened, and if so the tremendous volume of smoke generated would in all cases have produced death in almost no time.

The catastrophe was as unexpected as it was awful, and it seems likely that it will be at least several days before any of its victims can be taken out. Not until the mine can be cleared can there be any explanation of the accident beyond remote surmise.

The mine is at present completely wrecked. A great fall of rock blocked the entrance, and it took all yesterday afternoon to prop up the roof at the pit mouth sufficiently to permit any one to venture inside at all.

Almost every prop was blown from the inside of the mine, and the whole entry blocked by one huge rock fall after another. By crawling through crevices and over great piles of rock, rescue parties yesterday afternoon managed to reach a point about three hundred feet inside the mine, near room thirteen, but the men in the mine who were nearest the entrance were in room twenty-four, hundreds of feet beyond this, and the most distant were at the further end of the mine, more than two thousand feet underground.

The accident happened at just one thirty o'clock, camp time or one o'clock standard time. Without the slightest warning, there burst from the pit mouth near the tipple, and from the air shaft far up on the side of the mountain, and from a nearest air shaft now disused, three huge belching columns of smoke, accompanied by two detonations scarcely a second apart, louder and more awful than the reports of the heaviest cannon. The smoke columns filled with rock and timbers, shot nearly five hundred feet into the air, and according to the report of scores of witnesses, rose fully one hundred feet above the crest of the mountain, beneath which the mine lies. Several witnesses state that it was fully half a minute before the rock and other debris ceased to fall, and from the residence part of the camp the smoke clouds looked like volcanoes in violent eruptions.

A moment more and a great pall of smoke had overspread the whole mountain side obscuring it from view.

The shock of the explosion was felt at Weston, twelve miles away, with sufficient violence to shake the earth and a telephone message was sent from that town to Tercio almost at once to inquire what had happened. The whole population of Tercio rushed almost at once to the mine entrance, but there was absolutely no chance of doing any work, immediately effective to help those within. About fifty feet outside the entrance, was found the mangled body of Trinidad Duran, a driver who had been standing just at the entrance when the explosion occurred, with his mule and a trip of cars. The body was as limp as if it had been run through a crusher, the trunk being disemboweled, and the head spilt open, while fragments of clothing lay scattered about over a space of fifty feet. He had been caught in a perfect whirlwind of rocks and timbers, and blown outwards with them. Death must have been instantaneous. Joe Columbia, another driver was picked up in a frightfully bruised condition at the bottom of the tramway embankment about 150 feet from the entrance. He had been standing on the track about one hundred feet outside the mine and a little to one side, so that the direct force of the blast did not strike him. He was none the less carried nearly fifty feet through the air, and was fearfully cut about the head and back, his back being literally flayed by the hail of gravel which struck him. His clothing protected him so that none of the wounds were deep, and after the doctors had dressed his wounds, and bound up his head, he rejoined the crowd at the mine entrance borne up by the excitement of the horror which had so nearly ended his life. At the moment of the explosion he had just left the mine with a trip of cars.

Just inside the entrance stood Duran's mule, half buried in rock, but still alive. Tons of rock stood between him and a rescue, and the poor brute was so maimed that after watching the rescuers work for nearly three hours, he died.

As an illustration of the fearful impact of the blast, a huge piece of timber nearly fourteen inches thick, which had been lying near the mine entrance, was completely torn in two, and one piece of it nearly twenty feet long, was carried out upon the tipple nearly one hundred feet away.

At the air shaft, about eight hundred feet north and three hundred feet up the side of the mountain, the heavy timbering was torn completely away, not a vestige or shred of it remaining in place. Heavy planks and joists lay scattered about, some of the larger pieces having fallen clear to the base of the mountain, but the shaft itself was as clean as if it had been swept.

When the afternoon train arrived, there were already nearly fifty men at work, part of them at the mine entrance propping the roof, or clearing away the rock fall, and another squad carrying lumber to put in a new air shaft in order to clear the mine of after-damp as quickly as possible. There were scores more ready to work, but there was no room for them. The other mines of the camp, two on the north side of the tipple, and the three on the south side, had ceased work long before, and back from the mouth of the ruined mine stood a crowd of nearly one hundred persons, waiting for a chance to do some thing. But by that time, four o'clock, there was no longer any excitement. The afternoon sun shone warmly and brightly over the beautiful valley, and save for the crowd about the mine mouth, and the rock fall, and Columbia, with his head tied up, there was nothing which one might interpret as significant of a catastrophe. Groups of miners strolled up and down over the camp, to talk a little and ramble on, and ramble back again, but without noise or terror. The suddenness of the accident seemed in a way to have dazed them all into diffidence, and though their looks were sober and their demeanor strangely calm, their faces showed almost no emotion, only the stolidness and vacancy of an inward dread not yet really awake.

One cause of this peculiar attitude was that up to sundown no one really knew just how many men were in the mine, or who they were. It usually employs about seventy, but more than half of them had come to Trinidad to be naturalized, and others were taking a holiday.

Nearly all the men working in No. 3 North are Slavs speaking little English. They themselves did not really know whether their friends who were missing were in the mine, or in Trinidad, but in most cases they seemed at least trying to believ that the absent ones were among those who had come to the city. The company men working about the mine and on the tipple know most of the Slavs by sight and often by Christian name or nick name but very few of them by full name. Furthermore, the accident had happened almost immediately after the noon hour. Some of the men had come out for dinner and not yet returned. Others had decided to take the rest of the day off, and still others had taken their dinner pails into the mine with them.

Seventeen diggers and five or six drivers and trip riders, etc, went into the mine in the morning, but this force was to have been increased in the afternoon. Many had not yet got back to work, however, and the tipple boss states that besides the drivers, there were but twenty-one men in the mine. No cars from the afternoon work had come out of the mine, so that it was impossible to tell who was inside by examining car checks.

There should have been six drivers inside. Two of these are accounted for in Duran and Columbia, and it was rumored at the camp that two others had quit and gone up town.

Among those whose presence in the mine is generally accepted are four Americans, by name Ed Haddon, Charles Blackburn, Thomas McCue, and Frank Sutler. Haddon and Blackburn were partners working in room 24, the one nearest the entrance, among those being worked yesterday. They were both very energetic men, Haddon by common report being one of the best coal diggers in Colorado, and both of them put in every minute they could during the day. They had been out to dinner and hurried back to work. Blackburn is a single man. Haddon has a wife and five or six children living at Redstone, from which place he recently came. He was about to take a lay-off to bring his family to Tercio.

Sutler was also a single man, McCue had a wife and three children living at Tercio, Duran, the dead driver was unmarried.

Mine number three has its entrance directly in front of the tripple. It was opened about a year ago, and extended about two thousand feet into the mountain. The entry is level, but unlike other coal mines in this county, the Tercio vein has a pitch of about forty five degrees, and the rooms lie to one side and above the entry. The explosion blew down the rock and coal from these rooms into the entry below, so that it is probably completely blocked through the greater part of its length.

The most plausible theory is the explosion was caused by dust, which sometimes ignites suddenly and without cause, as in flour mills, producing explosions of fearful impact. The violence of the Tercio explosion seems accountable for in no other way. It is possible that the explosion was due to a combination of both these causes. Several parties reported having seen a small flash at the mine entrance a few seconds before the big explosion. A small explosion of gas would be sufficient to stir up the highly inflammable coal dust particles and a heavier explosion would result.

A peculiar incident of the tragedy lay in the fact that about thirty miners were returning from Trinidad on the afternoon train. They knew nothing of the tragedy, though they eyed the company officials, who were carrying safety lamps, with some curiosity. Then, as they reached Tercio, they saw the crowd about the mine entrance and they realized the whole situation almost instantly, and to a man scrambled off the train and to the mine.

Although the fall of rock was so enormous, there was some circulation of air through the mine from the very first. About five o'clock a big gang of men brought a huge cable from the tripple up to the air shaft three hundred feet up the side of the mountain, and several volunteers went cautiously down into the black and smoke stenching hole, but about one hundred feet down were stopped by bad air. Until nearly midnight the rescuers here, and the party from the entrance who by this time under Superintendent Robert O'Neil, had succeeded in getting about six hundred feet into the mine, made all the noise they could, but no answer met them.

The airshaft timbering had, by this time been replaced and the bad air was being rapidly drawn out.

Coroner Sipe and Drs. Forhad and Jaffa went up to Tercio on a special at nine o'clock last night, taking several nurses, coffins and medical supplies. The coffins are all that are ever likely to be needed.

C. H. Plumb, division engineer for the company, who visits the mine several times a month, has never found any gas in the mine, and this report is confirmed generally by all persons acquainted with the property.

Superintendent Mattison of Tercio puts the number of men in the mine at between fifteen and nineteen.


Full list of the dead.

After three days and nights of the hardest labor, the relief workers at Tercio have not yet been able to reach the bodies of the victims of Friday's catastrophe, though their recovery is now only a matter of a short time. The death list, however, has now been reduced to eighteen. Superintendent Mattison and Pit Boss Ralph Brukop, under the direction of J. F. Kebler, and Robert O'Neil, spent all Saturday afternoon and yesterday canvassing the camp, and listing the missing, and this list, after careful verification, shows but eighteen persons unaccounted for. While the public curiosity had been disappointed because the list was not given out earlier, the officials felt that should it be made public before it could thoroughly know that all upon it were dead, it might perhaps cause many a heart pang by listing some who might turn up later. The list is at the head of this column.

Of these eighteen men who passed on suddenly and tragically into the great beyond, the bodies of two have been discovered, although it has not yet been possible to bring them out.

It became an assured fact early Friday afternoon that to get to the rooms where the men were working through the main entry would take days and an attempt was at once made to get to them through the air shafts. Pit Boss Ralph Prukop went down into air shaft number one, on a rope for some distance, but found the after-damp so heavy that he had to come back. This enters the mine at room thirteen. Just before dusk Roy Richardson, who works in the Vega mine, made a similar venture down air shaft number two, which opens high up on the mountain side, its lower and striking the entry near room twenty-eight. He went down two hundred and fifty feet, but here encountered heavy after-damp and had to return.

Saturday morning a series of ladders was put down air shaft number two, and a party went down, consisting of George Word, Jack Cone, and Ed Sutton of Tercio, Superintendent Bouchat of the Bowen mine, whose experience in the explosion there two years ago made him a valuable director, and who volunteered his services, and Division Superintendent Robert O'Neil. They succeeded in reaching the bottom of the shaft and spent some minutes in the entry. A little way from the foot of the shaft they found two bodies, one that of Frank Satler, fire boss of the mine, and the other that of an Italian wearing red boots and a red sweater, and later identified by these garments by Ralph Prukop as Curino Tundi. Both men lay in the entry much as if they had fallen asleep. Satler lay face up and Tundi on his chest. Both were cold. There was a little rock upon Satler's body but Tundi was entirely free from any debris.

It would seem that these two had in all probability, succeeded in reaching the air shaft before the after damp choked them.

The rescuers found it impossible to do anything to bring the bodies out, owing to the bad air, the first three of the party being nearly over come by the after-damp even in their short stay. They had to be assisted to the ladder by Superintendent Beuchat and O'Neil. Other attempts to go down the air shaft were made during Saturday, but the damp had begun to rise from the mine and by noon it was impossible to go down the shaft more that thirty feet.

Meantime work in the entry was progressing as fast as possible, but in the face of tremendous difficulties. The vein being on a steep pitch, with the rooms above, as fast as the debris was removed from the entry itself, more rock and debris slid in from the rooms above. It thus became necessary to close the openings to each room as soon as it was reached. Yesterday morning the crew was at room nine, and worked there nearly all day in constant danger and with fearful labor, but getting on to room nine about nightfall. There is a good deal of damp in the entry, in spite of its being clear to the exit and the men were only able to work a short time without resting. Superintendent Mattsion and Pit Boss Prukop have divided the workers into three shifts each of which stays on duty four hours with eight hours off. Each shift has 4 timber men, and 6 crews of rock men of three men each. Each set of 3 works but 5 minutes and then rests till its turn comes again. There are thus 66 men working in the drift, besides car men, and scores of others at work between the entrance and the rock fall and outside.

It will not be definitely known how the explosion was caused until the mine is cleared up. But one theory, however, seems to prevail at the camp and that is that it originated from what is known as a solid shot. Nearly all the coal at Tercio is mined by shooting. The shots are put in during the afternoon, and it is an absolute rule of the mine that miners must undermine the shot so as to give plenty of room for explosion. The shots are fired at night after the men have left the mine, by the fire boss, who goes about from room to room for that purpose. But there are always some miners who disobey orders and it is not unfrequent for them when they think they can do so without detection, to put a shot into the face of the vein, without undermining, and fire it themselves. This is absolutely forbidden, and any man caught putting in a "solid shot" like this, is peremptorily discharged, both in mines here and all over the country. When a solid shot is fired, instead of its throwing down the coal without danger, it shatters the whole face of the vein, and also blows back into the room with terrific force, filling it with flame and gas, and setting the dust off rolling, which is often ignited by the heat and flame. Fine coal dust, this stirred up, has the explosive power of dynamite.

On Friday Pit Boss Prukop was in Trinidad and it is believed that some miner took advantage of his absence to fire a solid shot. The officials of the company in a spirit of commendable fairness decline to state this as the direct cause saying that they have no opinion to offer until they can look over the whole mine, but this theory seems that current at the camp.

Last evening J. T. Kebler ordered eighteen coffins for the men who are still buried within the mine. The coffins were sent up to Tercio in a boxcar attached to the regular train this morning, and will remain there until the bodies are recovered. The men will be buried where their friends desire, either here or at Tercio. A cemetery site was selected west of Tercio yesterday afternoon. Trinidad Duran, the driver, who was blown out of the mine at the time of the explosion, was buried yesterday morning at the little grave yard near the church at Francisco, a plaza about a mile toward Stonewall, from Tercio. It was attended by scores of Mexicans from the surrounding country. He was an only son, and lived with his aged parents close to the church near which he is buried.

Of the dead men Rocco Degregorio leaves money and other property in the old country and here to the amount of six thousand dollars, and has an accident policy in the Continental casualty company for $750. Frank Satler, the fire boss left about three thousand. He had been at Tercio about two years, coming there from Ruby camp on the western slopes and commonly went by the name of Ruby.

Rocco De Giacomo was also possessed of money various, put at from four hundred to one thousand, part of which he had with him in the mine. De Gregorio and De Camillio worked in room 44, and DeGiacomo in room 45.

Mrs. McKeon and her three children, the eldest of which is only about six, spent a great part of yesterday walking about the camp, going again and again to the mine entrance in the hope that her husband's body might have been reached, but only to turn away again -a pathetic figure, no longer tearful but with a face marked with that sterner, sharper grief that shows itself in a silent calmness. She said that her husband was in room 27, as near as she knew, and that she thought a man named Sam Peasley was with him, though she did not know.

Joe Columbia, the injured driver, stated that he had just come out from the mine when the explosion struck him. "I had cars from rooms 13, 1 4, 16 and 24 in the trip". He said, "I don't know any of the men in the mine by name. I was off about fifty feet to the west of the opening. The first blast filled my back full of gravel, like buck shot. The second carried me off my feet and sent me flying through the air. I didn't know where I was going. I just closed my eyes, and cried, 'Jesus, Jesus,' and then I struck the ground. I was on the tracks near the coke oven. Supt. Mattison found me and asked what had happened. I told him I didn't know but there was a blast. Then he looked at my back and sent me to the doctor".

Pit Boss Prokop would certainly have been among the dead had he not come to Trinidad on Friday, and so would the thirty men who came down with him. He always visits mine No. three north the first thing in the afternoon.

But he seems to bear a charmed life. He stated yesterday that he had been in more than a dozen explosions in his eighteen years of coal mining, having come through one in Austria where 148 were killed, and another in the Ural where the dead numbered over two hundred. He returned to the camp on the evening train Friday, and in ten minutes had changed his clothes and was at work. He has scarcely slept since.

Friday's disaster was the first accident at Tercio by which any one has been killed. The camp has been a favorite with the miners always, both owing to its beautiful locations, and the freeness of the mines from gas. The present catastrophe is the worst in the history of the county, the tragedy most nearly approaching it in the number having occurred at Bowen on August 6, 1902, when thirteen men were killed by an explosion of dynamite and dust.

State Coal Mine Inspector Jones had been at Tercio for several days, and will remain until the bodies are recovered, when an inquest will be held. Coroner Sipe has spent all his time at the camp since Friday, returning here evenings.

Despite numerous reports that the mine is on fire, there has not been a particle of fire in the mine since the blast.

The death list has been verified in every way possible and it is certain that it includes all who were in the mine.

There have been no new developments in the situation today.


Late yesterday afternoon the body of John Urbas was discovered in room sixteen at the Tercio mine, and brought out. Making the second body to be recovered during the day. The remains of John Opeika were removed from the same room yesterday morning. Both bodies were very badly burned.

Of the nineteen men killed by the explosion, the bodies of five have now been recovered. These are Trinidad Duran, who was blown out of the mine when the accident occurred; John and Joe Barge, recovered from room fourteen Wednesday, and Opeika and Urbas.

No more bodies will be found until room twenty-two is reached, there having been no men working in the rooms between sixteen and twenty-two.


More Victims of Tercio Disaster Buried Here.
Thirteen Bodies Recovered so Far.

Of the nineteen victims of the Tercio mine disaster, the bodies of thirteen have now been recovered and buried, and the remaining six will be taken out of the mine today. The following were buried here Saturday - John and Joe Baraga, Mike de Giacomo, John Urbas, and John Opeika. Yesterday afternoon occurred the funerals of Frank Satler; John Pilzer, Amigo Calichio, Gurino Tundi, Charles Brandenburg and Ed Hatton. The remains of Thomas McKeon were sent out Saturday night to his former home in Glenwood Springs, accompanied by his widow and children, and his father and mother. His funeral will be held at Glenwood Springs today.


In addition to the bodies of Tercio nine victims whose names are recorded elsewhere as recovered from the mine, the remains of Leopold Lanotine and Jim Ricci were recovered last night and will be buried here late this afternoon, from the Catholic church. There are now but four bodies left in the mine. The work of clearing away the rock fall has now reached room forty-one, and room forty-seven is the last which will have to be cleared.


The bodies of two more miners names as yet unreported, have been taken from the Tercio mine, leaving all but two accounted for. The body was taken out from room twenty-two late yesterday afternoon and the other was recovered further in during the night. The remains will be brought here for burial. The remaining bodies will be reached today.

Last of Miners Buried

The last of the unfortunate victims of the Tercio mine disaster, two Italians, were discovered yesterday. The bodies were brought down to Trinidad today and the funerals were held this afternoon from the Catholic church.


This afternoon at two o'clock occurred the last of the sad funerals of the victims of the Tercio mine disaster. The four bodies that were recovered day before yesterday and which are believed to be the last of the unfortunate victims, were brought down last night from Tercio. The funerals were held from the Catholic church and were attended by many friends of the dead men.


Count Pasquale Corte, Italian consul general over eight states of which Colorado is one, returned to Denver this morning, after spending two days here on business connected with the affairs of the nine Italians killed in the mine explosion at Tercio, on October 28. He reports that all of them have families living in Italy. Rocco Di Gregorio left a considerable amount of money, but the others very little.

A notable banquet was tendered to the count at the Columbian Hotel Saturday night, having been arranged by the prominent Italians of the district. A number of the county and city officials were also present and the members of the committee, Barney Tarbino and Charles Aielio, regret that in the short space of time which they had to get up the banquet, they were unable to invite all those that they desired.

The spread was a most elaborate one, the menu being found below. Severio Vecchio acted as toast master, and toasts were given by Judge Northcutt, Dr. M. Beshoar, F.R. Wood, Fred Herrington, Father Persone, J. K. Abrahams and G. Maio, editor of Corrieredi Trinidad, who made the closing address in Italian.

Oysters on Half Shell
Salted Almonds
Fried Mountain Trout,  Sauce Tartar
Chianti Wine
Potato Parisienne
Larded Tenderloin of Beef, with Mushrooms
Mashed Potatoes
French Peas
Spaghetti au Gratin
Roast Breast of Prairie Chicken
Currant Jelly
Game Sauce
Baked Sweet Potatoes
Champagne Lobster Salad en Mayonnaise
Assorted Cake Gorganzola Cheese Bents Crackers
Cafe Noir

The full list of those present is as follows.
Chas. Aiello B. Tarbino S . Vecchio G. Maio
Dr. Bermingoni Tony Patrick Vito Ricciardi Alfonzo Bacca
Luigi Maio Vinenzo Ciddio Michele Motts Domenico Motto
G. Timpone Guiseppe Norcia Giovanni Mantelli Michele Nigro
Saverio Veltri Guiseppi Veltri Guiseppi Gagilardi G. Ciddio
Giorgio Clerici Leone Bonfadini John Bori Tony Cresto
Michele Albo Guiseppe Albo Felice Antonio Mauro Frank Pellini
Pete Prico S. Salito H.B. Brown Jesse G. Northcutt
Father Persone Dr. M. Beshoar F.R. Wood Casimiro Barcia
J.K. Abrahams Fred Herrington

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