Deadly mine accidents in the Colorado Front Range

This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise.

Any miner will tell you that working in a coal mine is a rough and treacherous job. During the 125 years or so that coal mining played a significant role in our local economy, the region saw its share of deadly mine disasters.The earliest of these occurred in 1889 at the White Ash mine near Golden. A nearby abandoned mine known as the Loveland shaft had filled with water and on September 9, it broke through. Eleven men were working inside the White Ash when it was inundated with mud and water. A week later, this sludge was still pouring in. Authorities determined that the mixture was so toxic, it was doubtful they would ever find any bodies intact. The eleven miners were never recovered.

Twenty-one years later, in mid-December of 1910, a fire started in the engine room of the Leyden coal mine southwest of Broomfield. Ten miners were missing. Searchers eventually found the bodies of eight men and hopes rose that two missing brothers, Louis and Frank Merrick, may have somehow managed to survive. Sadly, on December 29, searchers finally found the bodies of the Merrick boys, “lying face downward, side-by-side, with their arms folded tight over their faces.” (Aspen Democrat, December 29, 1910.)

Leyden Coal Mine. Drawing by Richard Turner

In December of 1921, six men were killed in the Colorado Collieries mine, five miles south of Golden. Five of the men were inside the mine, building a bulkhead to contain a fire that had been smoldering for several days in an abandoned part of the diggings. A shift in the winds up on the surface created a firedamp that rushed into the area where the men were working. A firedamp is a gaseous mixture – mostly methane – that becomes explosive when mixed with air. All five men died quickly. One of them was 25-year-old Eugene Bovie, Jr. His father, Eugene, Sr., was also killed when he rushed into the mine in an attempt to save his son.

In the fourth of our region’s coal mining tragedies, an early morning explosion rocked the Monarch Mine on January 20, 1936. The Monarch Mine, part of the Northern Coal Field, was located between Louisville and Broomfield.

The explosion occurred deep inside the mine, just before the beginning of the day shift, at which time about one hundred men would have descended into the mine. When the explosion hit, ten men were down below. Two escaped on their own, leaving eight men missing. When rescuers descended into the tunnel, they found seven bodies. Two of these were Broomfield men – Ray Bailey and Kester Novingger. The last man, Joe Jaramillo, Sr., was never found. The mine company later erected a monument to Joe, at a point 300 feet above ground to where he is thought to have perished. The inscription reads “Joe C. Jaramillo 1887 – 1936. A faithful employee who died in the performance of his duty.” (“Death and Devastation in the Depths: The Monarch Mine Explosion,” by Larry Dorsey, Superior Historian, Volume 4, Issue 2, December 2006.)

See also Tragic Lyden Brothers Were Founders of Leyden

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