Saturday, February 25, 2017

Six Miners Killed in Sudden Mining District Fire [otd 02/25]

On Tuesday, February 25, 1902, about three o'clock in the morning, the residents of the connected Standard Boarding and Lodging houses slept quietly. Most of them worked for the Standard Mine, located on Canyon Creek, about five miles northeast of Wallace, Idaho.
Standard Mine, ca. 1910. University of Idaho archives.

Placer miners prospected Canyon Creek for gold in 1884. However, as happened for many Coeur d’Alene strata, they failed to note the valuable lead-silver lodes buried in these ridges. The following spring, four partners explored the area and located the Standard Mine plus over a dozen other claims – collectively referred to as the Standard Group.

The claims proved so promising that the owners built an ore mill the following year. They located their mill closer to Wallace, near the mouth of the Creek. After awhile, rail lines served many claims along the canyon. By the turn of the century, observers considered the Standard Group the most productive properties in all the Coeur d'Alenes.

On this morning in 1902, flames suddenly flared in the wood frame structure of the Boarding and Lodging houses. The fire probably started from the stove in the room where the men’s work clothes hung to dry. However, the destruction was too complete to be certain later.

The fire moved so quickly, there was no time to use the building's fire fighting apparatus. Some men had no warning at all. Even those who awoke in time had to resort to desperate measures … the flames blocked the internal staircase leading to the building exit. About a dozen men, some also with severe burns, were injured leaping from the top floor windows.

Fearing that the fire would spread to the Standard Mine works, firefighters dynamited the home of one William Fletcher. That stopped the flames, but the home was a total loss, along with the residence halls.

Searchers found the bodies of four men – all but one under twenty-five years old – among the ashes and charred timbers.  Newspapers as far away as Boise, Portland, and Seattle reported about the fire. The Portland and Seattle articles provided complete lists of the known dead as well as those of the seriously injured. The Oregonian, in Portland, said, “There is no hope for the recovery of McCallum and Bowhay, and very little for Yarbrough.”
W. J. McConnell, Early History of Idaho.

Indeed, doctors and their hospital assistants were unable to save the first two. Thomas Yarbrough survived despite excruciating burns. Nine men required treatment for lesser injuries suffered in the fire or in jumping to safety. The report in the Idaho Statesman said, “W. C. McConnell, who is named as among those less seriously injured … is a brother of Mrs. W. E. Borah.”

Besides being brother-in-law to future U. S. Senator Borah [blog June 29], William C. McConnell was also the son of former Idaho Governor and U. S. Senator William J. McConnell [blog, Sept 18].

The Illustrated History described the event as "one of the worst disasters of its kind in the history of the Coeur d'Alene."
                                                                                 
Reference: [Illust-North]
Newspapers: “[Deadly Mining District Fire],” Seattle Daily Times, Idaho Statesman, Boise, The Oregonian, Portland (February 25-26, 1902).

1 comment:

  1. My great grandparents (Solomon and Charlotte Richardson) were living in Burke at the time. Life was full of tragedies from fire, floods, snow slides, disease and mine explosions. Thank you for the story. Solomon died in 1906 from dropsy (whatever that was....kidney related, I believe) and Charlotte lived to 101. We have four of their houses still in the canyon.

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