Coal Mining

The following are word-for-word transcriptions of two newspaper articles in the Belleville News-Democrat describing the disaster. Portions of the transcriptions are graphic!

While there is substantial genealogical information regarding the families of the deceased miners, this exhibit is presented primarily as a source to those wishing to know a portion of the history of Clinton County, and specifically of Breese.

Belleville News-Democrat

Monday, Dec 24, 1906
[Page 1, columns 2 & 3]
The Dead Miners Laid to Rest With Church Rites --
Thorough Investigation Made by Coroner's Jury --
Exact Cause of Accident Still Unknown --
The Bodies Were Frightfully Mutilated --
Deaths all Instantaneous --
The Dead-List
Family Records

By a Staff Correspondent of the News-Democrat:

Breese, Ill., Dec 24. This city is literally draped in heavy mourning. The evidences of sincere grief are imprinted unmistakably on every countenance. Never before has such sorrow experience here. Everybody is downcast. The reaction of Saturday's excitement has not set in with full force. It was hoped that the first reports of the mine disaster were exaggerated and that things were not so appalling as was thought. The citizens of Breeze are only just beginning to realize that the horror was complete and without a parallel in its kind.

The miners always realize that danger lurks in the mine itself. They become so accustomed to this feature of their hazardous calling that they become unconscious of it and never worry about it, and sometimes even joke about it in a good-natured way.

But the cage that carried them to their daily work down there in the bowels of the earth was regarded as safe beyond cavil, equipped as it was with the modern appliances and safeguards. The protection provided was deemed perfect.

The Breese accident only proves again the old saying in miners' circles that when the miner dons his clothes in the morning he does not know but what they will have to serve as his funeral shroud and that his parting with family and friends will be the last forever.

The list of the dead is as follows:

Henry MIDDEKE

Herman SCHLEPER

Walter SCHAFFNER

August FOPPE

Frank ZEHRER

Hermann HOLTMANN

Outside of those men, who were all killed outright, no one was injured except Mine Manager William FRITZ. He was not injured seriously. He was at the bottom of the shaft when the ill-fated cage with its load of doomed miners shot into the sump through the irresistible force of the law of gravitation. He was struck in the back of the neck by a missile from the flying debris. He was not even inconvenienced by his hurt. Mine Manager Fritz is a brother of ex-Mayor Fritz.

It took from 7 o'clock in the morning until 3 o'clock in the afternoon of the hardest and most strenuous labor to rescue the bodies from the death-hole. The water in the sump was read with blood. Cage and men had been jammed into it in one shapeless mass. The entries about the shaft resembled a shamble after the fragments of mangled human bodies had been laid on dry ground around and about.

Only August Foppe was not wedged into the sump with his other comrades in death. His one leg went down with them, while his lifeless body was hurled 50 feet up the entry by the power of the precipitation.

Henry Middeke's head was completely severed from his body and was not recovered until a long time after his trunk was laid out. The search for it was almost given up in despair when at length it was brought to the surface and placed in proper though ghastly position.

The bodies were all reclaimed in frightfully bruised condition, and the fact was very plain that the victims of the disaster perished without suffering. All of the deaths were instantaneous. There were no cries nor shrieks and the suffering of any agony was reserved for the survivors of the unfortunate miners.

Of this there is much, and it is keen. Not that there will be pangs of poverty to endure by the families of the dead men because the providers were all so ruthlessly removed and utterly without premonition or warning. They tell me that all of the dead were industrious, thrifty and saving in their habits. They owned their homes and leave some property. They were all identified with religious organizations.

But the shock was something awful for the families. I will leave that for someone else to describe. However, that story will never be told. It is beyond the power of human speech to tell it. All of the dead were Germans, and they were good citizens and good men. They were all married.

Henry Middeke leaves a widow with nine children.

Hermann Holtmann's widow has four children to mourn with her.

Frank Zehrer left three orphans with his surviving wife.

Walter Schaffner left two. His widow is a daughter of Fritz DORRIES, the Postmaster of Breese.

August Foppe leaves a widow with one child.

The only one leaving no children is Hermann Schleper. His widow has no loved little ones to share her grief with her. She mourns alone so far as immediate family is concerned. She is an own sister of Father TOENNIES of New Baden.

Of the men killed five were members of the Catholic Church. Walter Schaffner belonged to the Lutheran Church. The funerals all took place today. The Catholic men were buried in the forenoon in accordance with the well-known customs of that church. All were buried with the rites of the Catholic Church. Nine o'clock was the hour announced for the funeral. Walter Schaffner was buried at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. People from miles around attended the funerals. The services were touching in the extreme.

The Coroner' jury, headed by Coroner J. J. MARONEY, made a most thorough investigation of the accident. The Coroner is a brother of the famous and plucky St. Louis lawyer by the same name. The Coroner's jury was in session all day Saturday and all day Sunday with the inquisition. It located blame on no one. The cage got away from the engineer. No one seems to know the direct cause. Earth or slack may have tumbled on the cage to start the lightning drop. It is all only surmise. That part of the story will remain an untold tale. The only answer one can get is, "We do not know." It has happened, and sad it is that it has happened; but that's all.

The Coroner's jury was composed of the following well-known citizens of Clinton county: Fred KREBS, Hy. KNIES, Jr., Con. WIETER, Joseph MEYER, George REILMANN and Barnhardt THIEN.

Engineer Henry ABELN was closely questioned and carefully cross-examined. He sticks to the story that the cage got away from him and passed his control from causes he is ignorant of and knows nothing about.

Beyond these disclosures the case is shrouded in the deepest mystery.

The mine at which the accident occurred is the property of the Breese and Trenton Coal Company. The manager of the business is the Hon. Henry HUMMERT, one of the most popular men in Breese, and Mayor of the little city.

Breese is situated on the Baltimore and Ohio Southwestern Railroad. It is 39 miles out from St. Louis. The place has between two and three thousand population. It has a bank, a well-conducted newspaper, churches of the different denominations, several coal mines and numerous excellent and prosperous stores.

Belleville News-Democrat

Wednesday, Dec 26, 1906
Are Liable.
Breese and Trenton Coal
Company Blamed for
Saturday's Accident.
Startling Disclosure
The Coroner's Jury Finds That an
Unsafe Air Chamber Ran
From Top to Bottom
Of Shaft.

In the case of the miners who were killed in the accident at Breese, caused by a falling cage, the Coroner's jury did not return its verdict until late Monday evening. The verdict is a lengthy document, recites all of the facts ascertained by the jury, and, while blame is not laid directly at the feet of the Breese and Trenton Coal Company, that very this is done pretty strongly by intimation.

The general sentiment at Breese is that the company was to blame for the accident. The people believe that the company was negligent in its duty to provide a safe shaft for the men to go down in or a safe mine to work in regarding other particulars.

Accidents have been frequent at the same mine. All of them were traceable in their origin to the indifference or the neglect of the big and rich company in its overworked zeal to economize and make a good showing of large dividends at the close of each fiscal year.

It is understood that the Breese and Trenton Coal Company is none less in wealth and power than the Baltimore and Ohio-Southwestern Railroad Company, incorporated under another name and charter to evade the Illinois law, which forbids railroad corporations to operate coal mines and to own them.

The Coroner's jury, in its investigation, disclosed the fact the old air-chamber in the shaft, extending from top to bottom of the shaft, and which was in use only when the shaft was sunk for the protection of the diggers and abandoned when the shaft was finished, was back-filled with cinders and slack in an unworkmanlike and insecure manner. It found that an old water pipe was left lodged in the unsafe back-fill. It found that a portion of the back-fill gave way on the morning of the fatal disaster. It found that some of the buried water pipe, concealed in imperfect casing and running parallel to the shaft, was dislodged with the dirt-slide on the fatal morning, and that a considerable section of this pipe was mysteriously missing and could not be located.

In short, its findings clearly make the company liable for the tragic and untimely deaths of the hard-working miners who were killed in the disaster. The State Mining Board was represented at the inquest.

The evidence before the Coroner's jury proves that the engineer was not at fault and that it was beyond his power to avert the accident. The engineer reversed his engine when the cage was 75 feet from the bottom and applied the brakes in accordance with custom and the company's rules. He used due caution and was in no way negligent or careless. He was in full possession of all of his faculties and had his machinery in perfect condition and under his control. The evidence before the Coroner's jury showed that the accident was caused by the cave-in from the abandoned and refilled air chamber.

There is no doubt that suits will be brought on behalf of all of the surviving and bereaved families against the company to recover damages. The mining law of the state is strong for the protection of the men who perform the actual and hazardous labor of the coal mines. It seems that these laws were disregarded if not ruthlessly trampled under foot at the Breese mine, with its blood-stained sump and its unenviable record of avoidable killings.

Illinois State Geological Survey, Clinton County Coal Data (external link)

Page modified:31 May 2014