Page 5

NOTICE:  100th Anniversary Memorial -- Friday, December 9, 2011

View results of the 100th Anniversary Memorial and Public Tour

View a youtube link of story:

Cross Mountain Mine Disaster
and Rescue

Like the Coal Creek War a decade earlier, the Fraterville Mine explosion of 1902 devastated the Coal Creek watershed.  As they had done after the Coal Creek War, miners and their families rebuilt from  the ashes of the Fraterville Mine explosion.  New miners and their families moved to the Briceville-Fraterville-Coal Creek area, which soon regained its position as the most populated area in Anderson County, Tennessee.

National Register

The Cross Mountain Miners' Circle will be dedicated on the 100th anniversary of the mine disaster at a free public tour on December 9, 2011.  The National Register plaque will be installed at the cemetery.

View of beautiful Cross Mountain
from Interstate 75 North
in Tennessee today
(6 June 2007)

Click on image to enlarge

Cross Mountain Mine Tour
October 2005


Turn up your speakers!!
Listen to Tony Thomas sing the
Cross Mountain Mine Disaster song here

Increased public awareness from disasters like Fraterville, resulted in the formation of the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1910. Dr. Joseph A. Holmes was appointed as the first Director with a mandate from Congress as follows:

It shall be the province and duty of said Bureau to make diligent investigation of the methods of mining, especially in relation to the safety of miners and the appliances best adapted to prevent accidents, the possible improvement of conditions under which mining operations are carried on, the use of explosives and electricity, the prevention of accidents, and to make such public reports as the Secretary may direct, with the recommendations of the Bureau.

Knoxville and the surrounding areas were able to rebuild after the Civil War faster than many parts of the South due in large part to the manufacturing and mining jobs created by the Knoxville Iron and Coal Company.  Cross Mountain was one of their mines and it opened in 1888.  By 1911, the Cross Mountain Mine had two power plants to generate electricity for the operation.  The main entries and haul ways of the mine were lit by electric incandescent light.  Coal was cut by electric chain machines and hauled out of the mine by electric motor cars.  Miners loaded the coal onto the cars and used carbide and open oil lamps for illumination.  Mules were used to pull coal cars from remote areas to the main entries so the electric motor cars could transport the coal out of the mine.   

Friends and relatives awaiting news of the
rescue efforts after the Cross  Mountain
Mine explosion in Briceville
on December 9, 1911

Cross Mountain Mine Disaster
& Rescue
91st Anniversary

Click on image to enlarge

Map of explosion area
in the
Cross Mountain mine


Headstone of
Eugene Ault
with his farewell
message enscribed

Prior to the explosion, Cross Mountain was classified as a Class “B”, non-gaseous mine.  The Coal Creek coal seam at this location is about 46 inches thick.  Main entries were cut to a height of 6 feet and cross entries were cut to a height of 5 feet.  The mine was ventilated by a 7-foot diameter Johnson disc exhaust fan that was mounted in an airshaft that was 12 feet in diameter and 102 feet deep.  The fan had an electric motor that turned at 300 revolutions per minute and pulled air from the mine at a rate of 40,000 cubic feet per minute.

Explosion on Saturday, December 9, 1911

The normal workforce for a Saturday consisted of approximately 125 miners.  The fire boss examined the mine that morning and reported nothing unusual.  The day engineer who ran the power plants also reported nothing unusual.  Only 89 men rode the first mantrip into the mine.  The remainder of the workforce remained outside due to a lack of railroad cars that day.

At 7:20 am, the Cross Mountain Mine exploded.  The night engineer who ran the power plants had gone hunting that morning after work, but rushed to the mine when he saw dust and smoke rising 100 feet in the air from the mouth of the mine.  The remainder of the workforce had already boarded the mantrip to enter the mine and begin work, but was able to escape the explosion.  All hands began a rescue operation for those trapped underground.

Because the fan was damaged by the explosion, another fan was brought from a nearby mine and assembled at the drift mouth to force air into the mine.  Meanwhile, a bonfire was set at the airshaft to induce ventilation out of the mine by throwing bales of burning cotton down the shaft.  Also, the fan at the adjacent Thistle Mine where George Camp was superintendent, normally operated as a force fan, but its direction was reversed in an attempt to induce ventilation.  Coal pillars had previously been robbed between the two mines causing the ground adjacent to the mines to cave.  The effort at Thistle was done to draw out afterdamp (i.e. poisonous gases that form after an explosion) from the Cross Mountain Mine through the caved ground that separated the two mines.  It worked.  Afterdamp was detected at Thistle 10 minutes after the direction of the fan was reversed.  The success of that effort was also evidenced by all the rats in the Thistle Mine being killed by afterdamp.

Americus Alonzo Haynes (Lonzo) and
his son John Frank Haynes
perished in the
Cross Mountain Mine and are buried
together in Briceville Cemetery. 
Photo is Lonzo and his wife Nancy.

Rescue Operation

One of the miners who responded to the explosion was a Welsh miner named Phillip Francis.  He had led one of the rescue parties at Fraterville in 1902 and later wrote in a book about his life:  A few years after the Fraterville mine explosion, another explosion took place at an adjoining mine called Cross Mountain Mine. A message was sent to me to come at once as they needed rescuers. I left Jellico on the morning train for Coal Creek. Many other miners were on the train. As I arrived near Coal Creek, several miners approached and said to me "We have forty miners on the train going to the mine to help. If you would be our leader we would follow you into the mine. We wondered why you would risk your life going into a closed shop Union Mine. We know you have fought our Union for many years with men having been killed on both sides and the fight still continues". I said "Yes, I have fought you hard, but when I see my fellow miners in distress, I cannot fight them for I am one of you".

Bureau of Mines Rescue Crew

On arriving at the mine, the same sorrowful scene greeted us. Women and children were weeping and all in great distress. Once again, I must control myself and not let my sympathy weaken me. I had work to perform. So I went into the mine with those forty men. It was a drift opening. After going in nearly one mile, I came to a body lying on one side of the entry. Black damp had taken his life. The air was foul. I met a man with a small cage with a dead canary in it. I met another man with a gas mask on and carrying his oxygen with him.

The men with caged canaries, gas masks, and oxygen tanks that Phillip Francis wrote about were from the newly formed Bureau of Mines.  Engineers and apparatus crews from the Knoxville Station of the Bureau of Mines had arrived by noon on the day of the explosion and Director Holmes had arrived by that evening.  Apparatus crews explored and worked in advance of the men erecting brattices, extinguishing fires, and recovering bodies.  A water line was laid from the top of the airshaft down into the mine.  Water from a small brook was channeled into the pipe creating 125 feet of water head to fight fires.

Notice left on door by barricaded men
advising rescuers not to shut them in

The first hopes of men still being alive came when writing on a barricade wall was found that said, “Gone to 22 Right”.  Unfortunately, no miners were found alive there.  Hope of finding any miners alive was fading.

Then, 58 hours after the explosion, a door was found open at the 18 Left entry that said, “Don’t shut this door, men in 16 Left”.  Rescuers found that barricade walls had been built between 16 Left and 17 Left entries.  They tore down the barricade wall and tested the air with one of their canaries.  Inside, they found three men.  One of them was crouched against a wall, smoking his pipe.  The others were burned but alive.  Later, two other men who had left the barricaded room to attempt escape were also found alive.  One of the reasons they had selected their location to await rescue was because it was where tubs had been placed for mules to drink and provided the trapped miners with a source of drinking water.

Barricade opened by rescuers from the
Bureau of Mines 58 hours after the
Cross Mountain Mine explosion
(Note caged canary used to test the air)

Farewell messages of Alonzo Wood
and Eugene Ault were written
on a barricade wall in the
Cross Mountain Mine

Ten days after the explosion, another barricade wall was found with writing on it.  Inside, the rescuers found that Alonzo Wood and Eugene Ault had already suffocated.  They also found where those miners had written their farewell messages on an adjacent barricade wall before they died.  Eugene Ault’s farewell message is inscribed on his headstone in Briceville Cemetery.

A listing of the 84 miners who were killed and the five who were rescued at Cross Mountain, and where they are buried, is attached.

Before he suffocated in the Fraterville Mine in 1902, Powell Harmon wrote: “Dear wife and children, my time has come to die.  I trust in Jesus.  Teach the children to believe in Jesus. We are all almost smothered.  I hope to meet you all in heaven. May God bless you all wife and children for Jesus sake goodbye until we meet to part no more. My boys, never work in the coal mines. Henry and Condy be good boys and stay with your mother and trust for Jesus sake.”  Condy Harmon did not follow his father’s advice.  He died in the Cross Mountain Mine explosion and is buried next to his father in Longfield Cemetery.  In the early 1900's, if you wanted to support your family in Coal Creek, you mined coal.  Today, a good education provides students with unlimited opportunities for professions, like Powell Harmon’s great-grandson who graduated from college and owns a computer software development company.

Click on image to enlarge

Arthur T. Scott and
Theodore (Dore) Irish in a
photo taken several years before
their successful rescue in the
Cross Mountain Mine

(Photo courtesy of James Scott)

Cause of Explosion

Although Cross Mountain was classified as a non-gassy mine, methane gas was detected during the subsequent investigation at 25 Left entry.  Based on the evidence, a roof fall had occurred at that location which released the gas.  The gas apparently ignited when one of the miners approached to examine the roof fall. 

Cross Mountain was one of the first successful rescue operation led by the Bureau of Mines. They documented what they found, compiled lessons-learned, and developed methods to reduce the potential for future disasters.  Their success at rescuing the miners at Cross Mountain led to continued funding and allocation of resources which have resulted in safer working conditions for miners today.   

Farewell message of Eugene Ault being
read over his grave: "Air is not much now.
All be good and I aim to pray to God to
save me and all of you.  Tell Clarence to
wear out my clothes.  Give Bessie Robbins
a stickpin of mine.  Tell her goodbye."
(Clarence was his brother
and Bessie Robbins was his girlfriend)


Mine safety is now the mandate of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) that led the successful rescue of miners trapped in the flooded Quecreek Mine in Pennsylvania in 2002.  Coal mining is no longer on the list of most-dangerous professions in the U.S.   In 1911, 2,656 miners lost their lives in the Nation's coal mines.  Last year, 28 coal miners died nationally while producing the coal that provides over half of the electricity used in this country. 

Attempts to portray the Coal Creek miners as poor and abused do them a disservice.  They came to Coal Creek from as far away as Wales to seek a future for themselves and their families.  Nobody held guns to their heads making them work in the coal mines.  To the contrary, when their neighbors started losing their jobs to the convict lease system, they literally went to war to protect the mining jobs in Coal Creek.

The legacy of the Coal Creek miners....fueled the industrial revolution, abolished the convict lease system in the South, and made working conditions safer for future miners.... rivals that of any comparable group its size in history.

Patrick and Melda Vallalay
with their daughter
Beulah about 1904

Patrick Vallalay (center standing).  His brother Charles died in the 1902 Fraterville explosion and his brother Henry Tate died with Patrick in the 1911 Cross Mountain explosion.
Melda Vallalay (seated) and her children Beulah, Elnor, Pearl, and Grace, shortly after her husband Patrick died in the 1911 explosion.  Bessie Hatmaker, Melda's sister, may be the one standing behind her.  Bessie later married Albert Vowell who may have been the young boy standing at the mouth of a mine during the Coal Creek War, which appears in the Tennessee Blue Book, a History of Tennessee.

Miner James Foust holding Clarence,
Laura Foust and little Bertha

Miner Calvin French Leinart

Lewis Teno and children,
Delsie and Claud

Photo taken at J.T. Brooks grocery store in Briceville one year before the Cross Mountain Mine disaster.  Three men shown here lost their lives in Cross Mountain: John Polston, 4th from left on the back row; Jim White, 4th from left on the front row, and Arthur Smith, 2nd from right on front row

Entrance of Cross Mountain Mine
in Slatestone Hollow
pictured years after the explosion

Remnants still remain of the old air shaft
at Cross Mountain Mine

Popular Mechanics Magazine (March 1912) discussing advancements in
mine safety made as a result of the Cross Mountain Mine Rescue operation




Coal People Magazine article
January / February 2012
Message from the Darkness

(Back row L to R):
Charles Herbert Irish and George Elbert Irish
(Front row L to R):
Horace Augustus Irish and William Reuben Irish

George was a leader of the miners during the Coal Creek War and his brother H. A. died in the Cross Mountain Mine Explosion
Photo taken after
mine explosion
Click on images below to view photos from the Mine Safety Report prepared
after the December 9, 1911
Cross Mountain Mine Explosion in Briceville, TN:


Briceville Through the Years, Gene White, Action Printing, Ltd., 1994.

Seventy Years in the Coal Mines, Philip Francis, 1936.

Historical Summary of Mine Disasters in the United States, Mine Safety and Health Administration, 1998.

Tennessee’s Coal Creek War, Chris Cawood, Magnolia Hill Press, 1995.

Circling Windrock Mountain, Augusta Grove Bell, University of Tennessee Press, 1998.

Anderson County, Tennessee, A Pictorial History, James Overholt, Donning Company Publishers, 1989.

Coal Creek/Lake City Visions of the Past, Charles Winfrey, 1986.

A New South Rebellion, Karen A. Shapiro, University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Explosion at Cross Mountain Mine, Briceville, TN, by J. J. Rutledge, Mining Engineer, U.S. Bureau of Mines, July 19, 1912.

Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, Inc. web site

To page 1 of Coal Creek:  War and Disasters

[Master Plan] [Map] [Photo Gallery]
[Bank Stabilization Projects]
[Deadwood Removal Days] [Discovery Day 2000] [Scrape, Paint & Clean Day 2000
[Historic Fraterville Mine Disaster Field Trip 2001] [Fraterville Mine Disaster 100th Anniversary]
[Coal Creek War and Mining Disasters] [Mine Reclamation Lessons]
[CMD] [Economic Benefits] [Motor Discovery Trail] [Historic Cemeteries]
[Partners] [Schools in Watershed] [Mark the Trail Day]
[Awards] [Coal Creek Health Days]
[Briceville School History Field Trips] [Ghost Stories]
[Trout Stuff] [Join Us] [Eastern Coal Region Roundtable]
[Articles in the News] [Dream Contest]

Copyright© Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, Inc. 2000 through 2021