Sunday, November 1, 2015

52 Ancestors #44: New Nipper Killed in the Mine

Ancsestor Name: Ethel Marie (Hakert) Austin Taylor Key (1916-1988)

Clyde Hilton Key, my third cousin once removed, was married twice. His second wife was Ethel Marie Hakert. She had been married two times previously. Her first husband was killed and she and her second husband divorced. She had children by each of her three husbands.

Ethel Marie (Hakert) Austin Taylor Key;
photograph courtesy of Find A Grave volunteer
Dean Key

Ethel's first husband was John Franklin Austin. He was born on 29 October 1915 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Harry F. and Mattie E. (Parker) Austin. By the time John was five years old, his parents had moved to Wyoming and his father farmed land in Johnson County. John must have gotten into a bit of trouble as a young teenager because he was listed in the 1930 census as a prisoner at the Wyoming Industrial Institute, which had been established in Worland in 1911 to house and serve young male felons.

At the age of 24, John married Ethel on 12 October 1936 in Hardin, Montana. In 1940 the couple lived in Buffalo, Wyoming, in a small house at 245 South C Street. John worked as a laborer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Ethel worked as a cook on a ranch. Between 1940 and 1943, the couple had two children. They moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, five weeks before John was killed. John died on 30 March 1943 at the Sheridan Memorial Hospital after being involved in a fatal mining accident.

John Franklin Austin's death certificate

The Office of the State Inspector of Coal Mines in Rock Springs, Wyoming, issued a report about the accident on 2 April 1943.

Fatal Accident Involving John Austin

On 29 March 1943 at 11:30 p.m., John Austin, aged 28, married, two minor children, was fatally injured in the Monarch Coal Mine, property of the Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Company located at Monarch, Sheridan County, Wyoming.

After the injured man was taken from the mine he was removed by ambulance to the Sheridan County Memorial Hospital, where he died at 12:00 a.m. 30 March 1943 from the effects of the injuries received.

The accident occurred in the 15 West Entry just inside of the 2 North Panel Entry, where he had been employed as a Nipper or coal car brakeman, working on two motor trips alternating from one to the other as several different trips were being gathered. The coal was gathered from the 2 North Panel Entry in mine car trips. These cars were being transferred to a storage pocket, in-bye, the 2 North Panel. The motorman riding the front of the trip and the Nipper on the rear car of said mine car trip, the usual positions. At this stage of the operation after the last car had entered the main line, it was the Nipper's duty to step off the car he was riding and throw the switch so that trip or cars could be backed up into its proper position, in the clear, it was then the Nipper's duty after the trip stopped and before the motor was detached from the cars to set the brakes on the two front cars, firmly, as trip was now standing on a descending grade.

When this trip in charge of William Wondra, senior motorman, was being backed into position, he stated that he had not observed anything unusual until the motor had reached its accustomed stop, then he noticed the Nipper was not at his usual place for setting the car brakes. He saw a light further up along the trip, in-bye, and asked "What are you doing up there?" Receiving no answer, he got off the motor and walked toward the light and found the Nipper pinned between the fourth loaded car and right rib of entry and unable to speak. At the time there was no other person present, so he decided to release him at once by dropping the trip slightly down the grade. After the trip had been moved, as aforesaid, Mr. Austin fell to the floor and then Mr. Wondra went for assistance. Mr. Austin had moved in the interim, to a point near the haulage motor and talked to mine foreman, Mr. S. E. Upton, but only concerning his sufferings.

At the point on location where Austin was pinned between car and rib there was only four and one-half inches of clearance, and he was caught about his mid section in an upright position. From the front of the trip in its usual position to a point of no clearance the distance measured thirty-five feet six inches.

His body was found pinned to the rib where the clearance measured four and one-half inches at a distance of forty feet from the front end of the trip. The safe working space where clearance was ample was thus thirty-five feet and six inches. To do the work he was required to do in setting car brakes no more than twenty feet of space was need for safety and the brakes were only set after the motor trip was brought to a standstill. All the time previous to the brake setting the Nipper could and should have stood in the clear.

The only explanation that may be offered relative to the cause of this accident is the possibility that in some manner his clothing may have hooked on to the moving car, and that he was dragged back into the place he was found, against his will.

The Mine Foreman, James Cotterall, S. E. Upton, and the Motorman, William Wondra, all stated the deceased had been given full information and instructions as to his duties and the dangers connected therewith and that for two of the four shifts that Austin had been employed on this job he had had full time assistance in its performance from an experienced old Nipper. His term of employment under the Sheridan-Wyoming Coal Company in the Monarch Mine was only about four weeks, and previous to being a Nipper had been employed gathering and distributing Cardox Shells.

R. E. Gilroy
Deputy Coal Mine Inspector

After John's death, Ethel married Robert Marshall Taylor on 19 October 1944. They had one daughter before divorcing a short time later. She then married Clyde Hilton Key on 20 October 1945. Clyde was a recent widower, who lost his first wife earlier in 1945. He was left with five young children ranging in age from 12 years old to a newborn infant. Ethel and Clyde had two daughters of their own during their marriage. Clyde died on 10 May 1987 and Ethel on 8 November 1988.

How frightening it must have been for Ethel to lose her first husband and be left without a means of providing for her young children. Then, to have a failed marriage before finding a man who would take care of her family. And Clyde must have been more than a bit frightened himself to have to care for five children after the death of his first wife.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge optional theme Frightening.

I thought there were several frightening aspects to the lives of the people I wrote about this week:
  • The fear and horror John Franklin Austin must have felt when he became trapped between the car and the mine wall.
  • The perhaps panicked thoughts of his wife and she had to consider how to provide provide for her children alone.
  • The fright of being in the same position after her second marriage failed with a third child for which to care.
  • The fear Clyde Hilton Key must have felt when he was faced with being both a mother and a father to his five young children after the death of his first wife.


  1. Truly a dangerous job in those mines. Very interesting family story and glad Ethel and Clyde found each other to raise their families.That's what people did in those days. My great-grandfather died of black lung from mine works.

    1. I knew mining was dangerous but there were so many bad ways to die. Like your great-grandfather, my husband's paternal grandfather died of black lung disease. That's also not a good way to die.

  2. Thank you for sharing this information. John Franklin Austin was my great uncle.

    1. I'm glad you found this post about your great uncle's tragic death.