On May 1st, 1900, the towns of Scofield and Winter’s Quarters located in Carbon County, UT, suffered one of the worst mining disasters in United States history. Scofield was once a thriving town with over 1,800 residents, many of different ethnicities, including Greek, Irish, Chinese, Dutch, and English. Winter Quarters and Scofield were built into mining towns as several mines opened in Carbon County. In 1877 several coal miners were stranded in the new mining town due to a severe snowstorm giving it its name Winter Quarters. The bad weather did not deter any miners from leaving the towns of Scofield and Winter Quarters, and soon both towns were growing in size and population. Only several years later would many decide to pack up and leave the two towns, reducing them to merely ghost towns.
On May 1st, 1900, in the early morning, many headed to the mines in Carbon County. The day was supposed to end in celebrations commemorating the anniversary of Admiral Dewey’s victory over the Spanish navy in the battle of Manila bay in 1898. As the miners went off to work, the women and children prepared the Odd Fellows Hall for festivities that were to take place after the workday was over. Unfortunately, the hall would not be used for any celebrations that night.
Around 10:28 A.M, a dust explosion occurred at the Winter Quarters mine in shaft No. 4. The sound of the blast shattered windows in the nearby towns and was heard from miles away. Many townsfolk at first believed the sound to be fireworks set off for that day’s celebration. People standing closer to the mine rushed to the scene to see shaft No. 4 blown to pieces. They quickly gathered help to clear the entrance and try to rescue the remaining miners inside. When the opening was cleared, what they saw inside was devastating. Miners near the explosion had been burned, disfigured, and many had suffocated on the gasses released from the blast. When the miners in Shaft No. 1 heard the explosion, they began to rush to the nearest entrance to escape. Unfortunately, the closest exit was in shaft No. 4. Unaware of where the blast had come from, many miners began to head towards the explosion and began to suffocate from the toxic gasses.
Over the next two days, the bodies of the miners were dug out of the mine and brought to the schoolhouse where mothers, wives, and children waited to claim their loved ones. Over 200 men died that day. It was the worst mining disaster in U.S history at that point in time and ranks number 5 on today’s list of worst mining disasters. On May 5th, two large funerals were held in Scofield. One for the Lutherans and one for the members of the Church of Jesus Christ.
President McKinley sent a wire expressing his sorrow for the communities of Scofield and Winter Quarters and his sympathy to the families who had lost loved ones. The Pleasant Valley Coal company provided the necessary materials to properly bury the dead, shipping coffins from Denver and Salt Lake City.
After the mining disaster, many felt that the mining company had failed to implement proper safety procedures, but an investigation into the catastrophe declared that the accident was not the company’s fault. Many miners and their families felt they were being ignored by their employers and that mining companies did not implement the proper safety protocols. The disaster led to a strike by miners calling for better treatment and safety. Many families left Winter Quarters and Scofield to start a new life away from the towns that now felt soaked in tragedy. The mine continued to operate but lacked many professional miners after the accident and closed in 1923 after a new mine opened nearby. Winter Quarters is now a complete ghost town, and Scofield is currently the smallest town in Utah, with a population of 23 residents. Many empty buildings still stand, and a cemetery where many of the miners were buried is located on a small hill near Scofield.
Due to the Winter Quarters and Scofield mine disaster, many mines across Utah and other states implemented workers’ compensation funds in case of another disaster.