May 19, 2003
101st Anniversary of the
Fraterville Mine Disaster
Briceville School 4th and 5th Graders
History Field Trip

Link to article in The Courier News

On Monday, May 19, 2003, the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation sponsored the annual history field trip for the Briceville School 4th and 5th graders.  On this 101st anniversary of the Fraterville Mine disaster that took the lives of 214 men and boys, the students learned the history of the disaster, how the families of the miners coped after the deaths of their fathers, brothers, sons and other family members, and how the deaths of these men brought more safety measures into the mining industry.  Back in the early 1900s, more than 2000 men died in the coal mines each year.  In 2002, less than 30 miners perished in coal mining accidents in the United States.

The students also learned how coal mining has been environmentally regulated since 1977, and when coal mining companies mine coal now, they reclaim the land and and return it to productive use as described in this Reclamation Lesson.

We were joined on our trip by several special guests:


Mrs. Louise Nelson, the granddaughter of David Dezern who was one of five brothers killed in the Fraterville Mine disaster.


Tony Thomas and Linda Gunderson who provided their mountain music along the tour, including the song, "When the Mines Grew Still in Fratersville", written by John Rice Irwin.


Six members of the Knoxville Actor's Co-op who are creating an original play about the Fraterville Mine Disaster.  The play will tell the story from the surviving widows' and their children's perspective.  The play will go on tour May 2004.


Reporter Ken Leinart from The Courier News in Clinton, Tennessee.


Reporter Kiley Yarbrough and Photojournalist Hugh Williamson from Knoxville's CBS affiliate WVLT-TV Channel 8 news.

Click on the images below to view photos from our history field trip:

We began with an in-class history lesson presented by
Barry Thacker, PE

First stop was the backyard of Mr. & Mrs. Owen Bailey.  The unidentified itinerant miners are buried at this location where the bodies were brought out of the mine.  Field stones dot their graves.

Tony Thomas and Linda Gunderson perform their historic music for the students.  Their special music tells the story of the disaster.

Owen and Zenith Bailey welcome the students to their backyard.

The students make the walk to the Fraterville Mine site along the former railroad bed that led to the mine.

The students and visitors gather at the entrance to the old Fraterville mine.  We noted that 101 years ago at that very moment, terrified families were gathering in hopes of rescuing their loved ones from inside the mine.

Reporter Ken Leinart, top and students gather on the hillside where the mine entrance was located.

Members of the Knoxville Actors' Co-op stand next to the remaining concrete steam engine foundation used to pull loaded coal cars out of the mine.

Our first stop at Leach Cemetery was to review the kiosk prepared by Drew Justice for his Eagle Scout project.  Historic photos and the names of the miners are listed with a map of the cemetery.

Louise Nelson discusses the death of her grandfather David Dezern in front of his headstone, and how his death affected her family.

The students made charcoal rubbings of the miners' headstones and the monument listing the names of the deceased miners.

Group photo in front of the memorial at Leach Cemetery.

At historic Longfield Cemetery, everyone gathered around Jacob and Elbert Vowell's headstone where they are buried in the same grave as their farewell message requested.

Photojournalist Hugh Williamson and Kiley Niles Yarbrough film their special news segment as the students and visitors gather around Barry Thacker as he discussed the farewell messages left by miners Jacob Vowell and Powell Harmon.


Last stop was Briceville Church.  The church was built by the Welsh miners in the late 1800s.  The Welsh settled the town of Coal Creek which means "Nantglo" in Welsh.  See Nantglo Scholars program.

At the end of the field trip, the students rang the church bell in Briceville 214 times in memory of the miners who lost their lives at Fraterville who are
"gone, but not forgotten", as many of their headstones read.

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