The Fourmile Mine Disaster, Part 6

Jadon Gibson

The mine at Fourmile was sealed and rescue attempts stopped because of deadly fire and gases in the Bell County, KY, mine after explosions on December 26, 1945. Responding to United Mine Workers Association pressure, public indignation and protests, authorities decided to unseal the Fourmile mine in August of 1948.

When the shaft was reopened a ventilation fan was installed to rid the mine of deadly gas. Recovery crews cleared debris and made paths. Passageways were timbered and stoppings were built.

On September 11, 1948, the bodies of seven victims were found more than two miles inside the mine but it was over a month before they could be removed. Rock falls and dangerous gas prevented them from bringing the bodies out earlier.

Seven other dead miners were found about 40 feet from the mantrip that took them into the mine on the day after Christmas in 1945.

After the recovery of 15 bodies heavy gases were again encountered and forced a temporary halt to the search. The last five bodies were removed when recovery efforts were continued. They were found scattered within a 1,000 foot radius near the deepest part of the mine.

Findings indicated that several of the men lived for several hours following the explosions.

“God bless us all is my prayer,” was written in a message by Jim Fain, age 50, who was found near his final written words.

Another man had simply written, “Dear God, 3:30 o’clock, O.K.” in his late hour he evidently found peace with his maker.

The bodies of the following 20 miners were removed after being sealed in the depths of the mountain at Fourmile: John Brock, Jim Tom Fisher, George Mathews, Frank Mills, Hugh Westerfield, Jim Bain, Bill Carroll, Jim Tom Gambrell, Harmon Lovell, Delbert Lockard, Bill Brock, John H. Branstetter, Dave Sharp, H. Reed Lawson, Jim Emery, Bud Partin, Floyd Gambrell, Jim Collins, Champ Patterson, and Henry Honeycutt.

The arrangements for proper burials were made by the individual families and United Mine Workers District 19 assumed all funeral expenses “in order to relieve the families who were left destitute by the holocaust.”

“Fifteen were taken from the mine on October 18 after months of procrastination and delay by public authorities,” reported the United Mine Workers Journal.

Taylor Maddox, safety director of District 19, added “Recovery was made by federal and state mine officials and volunteer crews in air that would not turn an anenometer, in a mine that a rat would not feel safe in.”

Maddox replied to the comment by A. D. Sisk that the explosion may have been caused by one of the miners lighting a cigarette.

“I was present during the inspection following the removal of the bodies and I emphatically disagree with the report of Mr. Sisk because no cigarette was found after a thorough search was made for smoking material.

“A match allegedly found near the body of Henry Honeycutt could not have been there during the explosion. The evidence of intense heat was clearly shown as the ribs from top to bottom for more than 360 feet along the entry were charred to a depth of one-eighth of an inch. The heavy timbers along the entry were also badly charred.

“Certainly the intense heat which charred the coal to a depth of one-eighth inch and the heavy timbers which were damp from mine moisture would have completely demolished a match had it been there at the time of the explosion.”

The Fourmile Disaster, the worst in Bell County history, left 125 children and 23 widows without a breadwinner. The mine was not covered under the State Workmen’s Compensation Act but the disaster did focus national attention on the coal-mining industry leading to improved safety laws.

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It also led to improved benefits for the men, and the families of the men who work deep in the belly of the earth.

Editor’s note: Jadon takes a final look at the Fourmile Mine Tragedy next week. He is a freelance writer from Harrogate, TN. His stories are both historical and nostalgic in nature and can be read weekly at bereaonline.com. Don’t miss a single posting!

A Voice for God – A Voice for Good

My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me.

“Life is like a bowl of cherries! Not!

My wife came down with a cold ten days ago. I have’nt had much of a cold for maybe fifteen years. I caught her cold a few days ago – without even trying. Times get pretty rough in the southland sometimes, as Jimmy Martin sang in his autobiographical song Freeborn Man.

Chris and I were on the radio for about thirty years. We missed once when we visited my son at Cherry Point, North Carolina, once when we had a huge late-winter snow and several times when the station wat inoperable. Otherwise we were there.

I recall going in a few times when I was about to catch a cold or just getting over one. The show required a good amount of talking and it wasn’t long before I began to lose my voice. Now I don’t want you to think I’m a curmudgeon because I’m not. I generally have a smile and a kind word.’

I gave a talk in Springfield, Illinois in about 1975. They asked that I pick one word as my topic and I chose attitude. A person’s attitude is most important to their success and happiness in life.

Don’t think your champion golfers, tennis, football, basketball and baseball players and other athletes achieved their goals without a great attitude of confidence. People who do well in sales have developed great confidence in what they do. It allows them to say the right thing and behave in the right way at the right time. When George Riley, ace General Motors salesman in Sedalia, Missouri in the late 1960’s demonstrated the firmness yet softness of a truck’s seat from outside the vehicle, he emphasized it by moving his whole body up and down.

My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me. Life is like a bowl of cherries! I’m a cancer survivor, praise the Lord! I had two major surgeries last year. I may have come down with a cold but we’ve got food on the table and in the pantry. We’ve got a roof over our head and we have promise of a brighter tomorrow. My good Lord in Heaven has been so good to me!

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