Tombstone Tuesday – The Immigrant Miners of Dawson, New Mexico

One hundred years ago today, on October 22, 1913, a massive coal mine explosion occurred in Dawson, New Mexico at the Stag Canyon Fuel Company’s Mine No. 2.  Today’s “Tombstone Tuesday” pays tribute to some of the immigrant miners who perished on that horrific day.  This story was a bit heart-wrenching after going through the immigration records and wondering had these men known what was ahead would they have come to America after all.

In looking for the grave records for that fateful day (what little there are), I found name after name listing October 22, 1913 as the date of death.  Above that would be a notation regarding birth as “Unknown”.  Most were buried with only a Miners Cross and no grave stone.  A memorial has been erected in the cemetery listing the names of the dead.  The list of immigrants killed included those from Greece, Italy, Russia, Hungary, Austria, Slavic nations, Ireland, Mexico and Bohemia.

miners cross

I wondered what brought these immigrants to America.  Economic conditions abroad in the early 20th century were less than perfect for many I’m sure.  From 1912 to 1913 the First Balkan War was fought, a precursor to World War I which began in 1914.  During the first two decades of the 20th century, there were revolutions, realignments and upheaval … the world was in a state of turmoil, especially in Europe.

Because most of the immigrant miners had not lived and worked in the United States very long, the search for U.S. records was futile.  I did, however, find some interesting information by just researching passenger lists of immigrant ships.  NOTE:  Some of the images below appear smaller, but you can click on them to enlarge them for better viewing.

Emmanuoil (or Emmanuel) Anezakis

Emmanuel Anezakis sailed into New York harbor on March 4, 1912 on the immigrant ship Athinai.  He had departed from Piraeus, Greece on January 31, 1912.  Emmanuel was 25 years old and had less than $50 (amount is illegible) with him on arrival.  His hometown was on the island of Crete – Lakos (sp?).  He had purchased his own ticket and had a ticket to his final destination of Dawson, New Mexico.

Waiting for Emmanuel in Dawson was his cousin Thelfano, Box 101, Dawson, NM.  Thelfano was also killed in the explosion (although Thelfano’s surname is listed as “Andrios” at Find-A-Grave, I would assume some sort of misspelling or the passenger listing was incorrect).

Antonio Badiali

Antonio Badiali, aged 23 and a laborer, arrived on April 11, 1913 in New York harbor after departing from Le Havre, France on April 5, 1913 on the immigrant ship SS France.

Antonio’s hometown was Monfestino, Italy.  His father Bedini(?) Anselmo is listed as his nearest relative.  NOTE: in the column regarding marital status it first says “S” for single but an “M” is placed over it indicating he is married.  There is no wife, however,with him and she is not listed as his nearest relative.

Antonio arrived with $30 in his pocket and his destination is Dawson, New Mexico where his brother Celeste awaits his arrival (Box 984, Dawson, NM).  NOTE: There appears to be an error on the passenger list (perhaps information on the wrong row with the wrong immigrant.  I’m fairly certain it is an error because included in the list of the dead on October 22 is Celeste Badiali.)

antonio badiali immigration info

Enrico Simoncini

On September 6, 1913, Enrico Simoncini departed from the port of Le Havre, France headed to America on the La Savoie immigrant ship, arriving on September 13, 1913 in New York.  He was 24 years old, single, 5 feet 9 inches tall with brown hair and eyes and fair skin.  His occupation is listed as “miner”.  He could read and write and his hometown was Villafranca, Italy.  His nearest relative is listed as his father, Pietro, who also lived in Villafranca.  Enrico had paid for his trip and and arrived with $25 and a paid ticket to his final destination of Dawson, New Mexico.

Awaiting Enrico in Dawson is his cousin (also named) Pietro Simoncini whose address was Box 991(?), Dawson, NM.  Here’s a side note of interesting information about Pietro.  It appears that Pietro had, for several years, gone back and forth between Villafranca and Dawson. I found a passenger list with an arrival date of July 17, 1893 (age 21) and perhaps the first time he comes to America.  He is also shown on passenger lists in 1904 and 1907.  Pietro arrived back in America on November 4, 1911 (age 39) and was returning to Dawson, New Mexico.

In a little over a month after his arrival in America, Enrico Simoncini is killed in the massive explosion in Mine No. 2 of the Stag Canyon Fuel Company.

Francesco Merlotti

In 1902, Francesco Merlotti arrived for the first time in America on May 24 in New York harbor.  He had begun his journey at Le Havre, France on the immigrant ship La Savoie.  Francesco was 16 years old and was from Turbigo, Italy (WNW of Milan).  He arrives with $30, having paid his own fare and has a ticket to his final destination of Castle Gate, Utah.  The passenger record indicates that he will be joining his brother-in-law in Castle Gate.

On December 16, 1911, Francesco Merlotti again arrives in New York harbor – this time with his wife, Regina.  NOTE: I first researched this passenger list and having found that he listed his address as “Dawson, NM” I realized he had gone back to Italy to bring his wife to America.  Thereafter, I searched and found the record for his first trip in 1902 described above.  On the 1911 passenger list, Francesco lists his father Antonio as his nearest relative, living also in Turbigo.

francesco merlotti 1902

francesco merlotti 1911

In less than two years after returning from Italy with his wife, Francesco is killed in the mine explosion.  An interesting side note here – on Saturday, March 8, 1924, an explosion occurred at the coal mine in Castle Gate, Utah.  This was the first mine that Francesco likely worked in (see above his first destination in 1902 was Castle Gate, Utah).

francesco merlotti grave stone

Two Other Individuals of Note

Two other men killed on that day I found interesting enough to mention, although one wasn’t an immigrant. The mine superintendent, William McDermott (listed as Irish) was also killed.  He was buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Trinidad, Colorado.  He had been preceded in death by his wife in 1902 (died at the age of 30) – not sure if there were any children.

I found an interesting piece about another person killed that day while reading through various newspaper accounts of the explosion.  Among the dead was Henry P. McShane, 19 years old.  In a story about the explosion in The Batavia (New York) Times on October 27, 1913, Henry is specifically mentioned as the son of Mrs. E. R. McShane, one of the major shareholders in the Stag Canyon Fuel Company.  The news story stated:

McShane’s mother is wealthy and he would have inherited her fortune.  Young McShane last summer came to Dawson for actual experience.  He was put to work like any other man and shown no favors.  He hobnobbed with the miners few of whom know who he was.  His body will be sent to his mother in New York.

During the rescue, hundreds of miners and rescue workers converged on the scene from near and far.  Striking Colorado miners came to help, as well as miners from the neighboring states of Arizona and Utah.  I read several newspaper accounts of the events surrounding the disaster.  I found one story in the Lincoln Daily News of October 24, 1913 to be particularly riveting:

Conditions in Stag Cannon (sic) mine number two are becoming worse.  They are killing the rescuers who have braved death constantly during the past twenty-four hours in an effort to save some of the 260 men imprisoned by Wednesday’s explosion.

At 6 o’clock this morning two rescuers and helmet men, William Payser and Jim Laird, died in the fire-filled shaft.  They had been on duty since 8 o’clock last night and had refused to come out when ordered.  Their refusal cost them their lives….

…. The number of men rescued alive still stood at twenty-six at 10 o’clock.  Forty-two bodies had been taken out and it was estimated that 260 had perished, including the two rescuers who died this morning.  The dead will be buried together this afternoon – if enough coffins can be obtained.  Coffins are coming form Denver, Las Vegas, El Paso, from Trinidad and other points.  In box cars, on flat cars and even in baggage acars of the trans-continental flyers, they are coming.  The coffin supply for several weeks of Colorado, New Mexico and western Texas is to be used, all at once, in Dawson.  Embalmers from distant points are hastening here.  Shrouds and embalming fluids are at a premium.

The air in the mine is very bad and fears are felt for 120 rescuers in the inner passages.  Despite the fact that all wear oxygen helmets, a majority of those who emerged from the shaft reported conditions desperate and coal dust thick, threatening a new explosion to add to the horrors already endured….

… Groups of women and children gathered at the pit mouth at daylight today, eagerly watching for the appearance of rescuers with corpses.  They are being kept back by ropes.  The explosion must have been more severe than had been thought as the tops of several men’s heads were blown off.

If the lives of any more men are saved the credit will be due to Joseph Smith, former superintendent of the mine, who left the employ of the Dodge-Phelps company, owners, eighteen months ago.  Smith lives in Trinidad, Colorado, but as soon as the news of the disaster reached him, he boarded the first train and arrived here yesterday.  Since then he has been almost constantly in the mine.  He knows the underground passages intimately and has spent his entire time directing the rescuers…. Shortly before noon today he slept for the first time since he heard of the explosion….

….An incident that has aroused hope is the fact that a mule came out of the mine alive during the night.  The animal emerged of its own accord and immediately brayed for something to eat.  It was not hurt….

…..A thrilling story of the death of Laird and Payser was told by Roy Simpleman and Walter Kerr, who accompanied them into the mine last night. The four men were working together in entry 14 east, when Laird dropped.  Simpleman said: ‘The heat and smoke were terrible and I cannot now understand how I lived through it.  Laird had no helmet and when he dropped we told Kerr to rush away and get help.  Payser and I worked for several minutes to revive Laird, but was no use.  Finally I turned to Payser and said, ‘he’s dead, Billy; let’s get out of this hell hole.’  We started away and just then Payser’s knees gave way beneath him and he sank to the ground.  ‘I guess I’m gone too, kid’ was all he said.  I waited I don’t know how long for somebody to come and finally Kerr returned but we could do nothing and after a long time we fought our way out.’

From the October 24, 1913 Reno (Nevada) Evening Gazette:

Scenes at the mine today were particularly pathetic.  Added to the women who have pressed the guard lines since Wednesday were added the wives of the volunteer helmetmen, some of whom piteously beseeched their husbands to turn back.

From the October 25, 1913 Reno Evening Gazette:

Funeral services were held this afternoon over the second group of dead miners.  The first rites were observed over the long line of plain black caskets, laid out on the floor of the temporary morgue.

The burying of the dead has brought keener realization of the horror of the disaster to the townspeople.  Business was suspended for two hours during the services and hundreds of men, women and children gathered at the morgue.

dawson picturesSo that’s my tribute to the immigrant miners of Dawson, New Mexico.  I hope you found the article (albeit long) interesting and informative.  Tragically, on February 8, 1923, another explosion occurred in Mine No. 1, killing another 120 miners.  I’ll talk some more about that tragedy tomorrow (Ghost Town Wednesday), because eventually Dawson dwindled away and is now a ghost town, although not forgotten for its place in history.

Discussion Topics:

I have seen a few stories written in recent days commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the explosion, but had not seen any mention of specific individuals.  What kind of feelings were evoked as you read this account of the immigrant miners?

Do you think these miners would have come to America had they known what was ahead for them on that fateful day?

Reader Update:  I was contacted on July 5, 2015 by a descendant of one of the miners mentioned.  Originally, I had the name as “Roy Simpion”; instead his name was Roy Simpleman.  According to his great grandson, Roy became a mine rescuer and was later paralyzed in a mining accident and passed away a few years later.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

6 Comments

  1. Very interesting. Good Job!

    Reply
  2. Well, in hindsight most of would do something different the decisions we make daily. There was a strong inclination that the grass was greener over here and they would have to overcome some obstacles to achieve their goals. Even though they passed, a seed was planted to have a better life for the generations that would follow.

    Reply
  3. Badiali Antonio was born in S.Dalmazio (Monfestino) the 29/03/1890 from Badiali Sante and Cassanelli Vittoria. He was married with Aramini Diomira. He had a daughter named Natalizia
    (born 08/5/1912). Just one year later he left for America. 6 month later he arrived to Ellis Island he died in stag canyon n.2 mine.
    He was Brother of Badiali Celeste born in S. Dalmazio 12/03/1888
    he was Brother in law of Giordani Umberto born in Monfestino 06/12/1882
    he was cousin of Gorzanelli Attilio born in S. Dalmazio 01/12/1896
    he was related with Mesini Marino born in Monfestino 24/08/1887
    They all died in the same day: 22nd of October 1913 in the explosion of Dawson mine

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for the information. That was a fascinating (and heart-wrenching) article to write but I learned so much about immigrants and their sacrifices to come to America.

      Reply
  4. fascinating article. Recently while doing genealogy research I realized that my step mom was born in Dawson in 1922. I had been there visiting on a few occasions over the years but didnt know it was her birth place. Does anyone know if there is a record of names of the men who died in the 1923 disaster?

    Reply

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