A 1917 coal mine explosion in southern Colorado killed 121. But it’s just a faint memory in the state’s history. – by Jesse Paul (Denver Post – April 27, 2017)


A strike of a match probably led to Colorado’s deadliest disaster. In an instant, the Hastings Mine, outside Trinidad, became a mass grave, leaving 121 men — most of them immigrants from Europe — entombed by an explosion and collapse triggered by a well-respected safety inspector.

Just outside the mine’s entrance, groups of children and weeping women crowded around and waited for news of the men. Those tasked with searching for survivors quickly came to the grim realization that there were none. “I won’t say we found three men,” a rescuer told a reporter, according to historical records, “but we did (find) parts of them.”

It was April 27, 1917, just a few weeks after the U.S. joined World War I. The explosion was the blackest mark among a series of mining disasters that over decades had killed hundreds of men who were working risky jobs to provide for their families. And yet, it’s not been a major narrative in Colorado’s economic history.

“This was the biggest mine disaster in Colorado history — and yet mines in the southern coalfields exploded so regularly as to numb the general public to the suffering mine workers experienced there,” said Thomas Andrews, a history professor at the University of Colorado and the author of “Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War.”

More than 200 miners were killed at mines within a few miles of the Hastings in 1910 alone, Andrews said. “All of these tragedies are commonly forgotten today,” he said, “even though the sacrifices of coal miners played such a crucial role in the modernization and industrialization of Colorado’s economy.

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