I thought my mother’s ancestors had all migrated to Utah because of the Mormon church. Why else would you go there in the mid to late 1850’s? Coal mining. I am a coal miner’s granddaughter.
My great grandfather, Robert Farish Jr, was a coal miner, just like his father. Robert and his older brother, Thomas, left mining in Tuscarawas, Ohio in about 1883, and eventually settled in Scofield, Carbon County, Utah. Robert and Thomas raised their families and mined in Scofield, until the fateful day.
On 1 May 1900, a dust explosion in the Winter Quarters Mine killed at least 200 men, leaving behind 107 widows and 268 fatherless children in Carbon County. Robert Farish Jr, age 36, lost his life that day.
After the explosion, Robert made it to within ten feet of the mine entrance before he collapsed. His heart was still beating when he was removed from the mine, but he was soon overcome by the afterdamp gas and stopped breathing. Resuscitation measures didn’t exist at that time.
Robert’s wife, Mary, became one of the widows, with 6 children ranging in age from 12 years to a newborn of 33 days, my grandfather, Bill.
The people of Utah took up donations all over the state, and it was a great relief to the widows and children. The Pleasant Valley Coal Company provided $500 to each family affected by the mine explosion. This was all only a temporary measure. After the tragedy Mary moved her family to Sunnyside, and operated a boarding house. It was still very hard to make ends meet.
Two years later Mary married George Fletcher. Grandpa described George as follows, “He was the only Father I ever knew. He was so good and kind to all of us kids. Where ever my dad went I was always with him. He was a good coal miner and a hard worker.”
What a wonderful tribute for a son to give to his father. Grandpa never saw George as his adoptive or step father, he loved him for being his father.
My grandpa became a coal miner, just like his father and step father. He entered the mine at age 13 for $1.50 a day, good pay for a boy. Other than a couple of years in the navy, grandpa worked the mine until it closed in 1959. Although grandpa left the mine, the coal never left him.
Coal mining is a dirty business. Grandpa contracted a disease known as black lung. Coal dust that enters the lungs can neither be destroyed nor removed by the body. Forty five years is a long time to breath in that dust.
I took care of my grandpa for two weeks one summer. He was pretty frail, and I had to put his contacts in his eyes. You don’t forget an experience like that.
I have never been in a coal mine, yet it has played a significant role in my family history. I honor my grandparents and great grandparents for their love of family and their hard work ethic.