Friday, October 11, 2013

Coal Mining: A Dangerous Occupation

Coal once fueled the Industrial Revolution and many of my ancestors were miners. Coal was discovered in Illinois, by La Salle in 1683. Father Louis Hennepin, a Recollect missionary, made the first historical mention of coal in the state, describing a day when La Salle became separated from his party:

"On the second day they found him, his face and hand all black with the coals and wood he had lighted during the night, which was cold. There are Indian mines of coal, slate and iron, and lumps of pure red copper."

The first coal seam in Madison county was discovered in 1840 and mine operators were quick to take advantage, opening several drift mines in the county. By 1911 there were 27 mines in Madison County, employing over 4,000 men, who in dangerous circumstances, removed nearly 4 million tons of coal from the ground annually.

Drift mine entry circa 1908. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Using World War I registration cards(1), I discovered many of my ancestors living in Madison County, Illinois, worked for Donk Brothers Coal and Coke Company at the time they registered for the draft.

World War I draft registration card for William Riggin (1890-1967)
  • Henry Wilbur Riggin was a blacksmith at the mine
  • William Riggin was a miner
  • Ova Lawrence Hudgens worked in coal mines for over 30 years, first as a miner then as an electrician
  • William Collins was a miner
There were more, but I didn't capture their occupations at the time I looked at their registration cards. I will have to go back and do that.

The Annual Coal Report of the Illinois Department of Mines and Minerals proves how dangerous mining can be. In this report I found two men who were related to my great great grandmother, Clementine Wells Riggin/Collins that died in the mines:
  • Daniel Boone Wells, Clementine's brother, was killed instantly in 1910 "under a fall of coal at the face of his room." He was 54 years old.
  • William Collins, Clementine's second husband, was killed on 23 Jul 1917 "by a fall of slate." He was 68 years old.
Photograph of a Riggin family reunion in the early 1920s. The woman I believe to be Clementine Wells Riggin/Collins is circled. Her son, Henry Wilburn Riggin, is also circled.

(1)24 million registration cards were created as a result of the draft.

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