The Scofield Disaster
The mine blast in 1900 killed 200 — the worst calamity of any kind in Utah; each household in town lost someone.
By Carma Wadley, Deseret News
Deseret News Archives:
Thursday, April 27, 2000
The world stopped at 10:28 on the morning of May 1, 1900, at Winter Quarters No. 4.
An explosion far inside the mine ignited highly flammable coal dust, which covered mine floors in deep abundance, and sent death and destruction racing through the underground tunnels. And what fire and falling debris did not destroy, the perilous "afterdamp," a combination of poison gases and lack of oxygen, did.
At first those on the outside, who heard only a dull thud, thought the sound had something to do with town festivities planned for later on to celebrate May Day.
But the realization soon hit that there would be no celebrating that day -- nor for a long time to come in the mining town perched on the hills just above Scofield in Carbon County.
As the count of what the next day's Deseret News headlined "Death's Awful Harvest at Winter Quarters" mounted, it became clear that the scope of the disaster was almost beyond comprehension, larger than any other mining calamity seen before in the state -- or the nation.
"Every house, without exception, is a house of mourning," wrote the paper, "and every household is preparing to receive its dead. The awful scene of yesterday had passed away when the day dawned this morning and the awful calm of despair had taken its place."
In that "awful calm" the numbers reached staggering heights: At least 200 men killed, leaving 107 widows, 270 fatherless children. Families decimated: fathers, brothers, sons gone; uncles, nephews, cousins, in-laws all lost.
There were more bodies than there were caskets in the state, so 75 caskets had to be brought in from Denver.
Victims' bodies were lined up under sheets
No mining community anywhere in the country had ever suffered such horror, and shock waves shook the entire country.
(Sadly, since then, other mining disasters have occurred; the Winter Quarters blast now ranks fifth on the all-time national list. But it remains the worst disaster of any kind in Utah.)
President William McKinley wired his condolences: "I desire to express my intense sorrow upon learning of the terrible calamity which has occurred at Scofield, and my deep sympathy with the wives, children and friends of the unfortunate victims of the explosion."