The First Fatality at the Star Mine

                        Jerry Bowen  © 1999

It was just another Sunday work-day on July 10, 1881 for Thomas McGrath as he got up that morning and prepared to go to work at the Star Mine near Cherry Creek. He had finally recovered from the 4th of July festivities at Pete Weber’s New Hall and as he ate his breakfast, he thought to himself, “I need to get away from all this. I think I just may head for Yellowstone for a while.”

Arriving at the mine he heard the shocking news of the assassination attempt of President Garfield  which was all the talk amongst the miners since it hit the White Pine news the day before. “Too bad,” McGrath mused, “What’s this world coming to.”

Teaming up with his working partner, Robert Sargentson, they headed to their assigned stope at the 270 foot level of the mine where they prepared a hole for blasting. Then McGrath dropped down to the next level to inform another miner, William Ainscoff, that he was preparing to blast. Ainscoff was also ready to do likewise and they agreed to shoot their charges at the same time. At about 9:30 am McGrath went to the powder box which contained twelve giant cartridges to prepare a charge for the hole.

About two or three minutes later Ainscoff felt a tremendous blast that temporarily numbed his senses.  He re-lit his candle and hurried to give assistance to his comrades, but was suffocated by the smoke, and came near losing his own life. He crawled out and was able to give the alarm.

Even though they were seasoned miners, the sight of the fearfully mangled McGrath with one arm blown off and the upper part of his body badly mangled caused them to stop in their tracks. Recovering quickly they checked McGrath, but it was too late for the hapless miner, he was dead. Then they noticed Sargentson lying about 30 feet away. He was still moving!

Sargentson was removed from the mine and taken to Mrs. Brown’s lodging-house in Cherry Creek and made as comfortable as current medical skill could provide.

McGrath’s body was taken to the undertakers and an immediate inquest was held. Testimony taken at the hearing decided that the only reasonable theory for the explosion could be that McGrath was standing next to the powder box which was nailed up to the side of the drift. While attaching the cap to the fuse, he must have used his knife and in some way struck the cap or caused a spark setting off the explosion.

The verdict of the jury at the inquest was published as follows in the White Pine News on July 16, 1881 ľ “We the undersigned jurors, summoned to appear before J. H. Lander, Justice of the Peace, and ex-officio Coroner of the town of Cherry Creek, White Pine County, Nevada at his office on the 10th day of July, 1881, to inquire into the cause of death of Thomas McGrath, having been duly sworn according to law, and having made such inquisition, after inspecting the body and hearing the testimony advanced, each and all do say that we find the deceased was named Thomas McGrath, was a native of South Troy, New York, aged about 36 years, and he came to his death on the 10th day of July, 1881, in the county by the accidental explosion of giant powder in the Star mine. All of which we duly certify by this inquisition in writing, by us signed on this 10th day of July, 1881. A. D. Parker, P. Keogh, W. Cary, James Hagar, John Madden, G. F. Stockle.”

After the inquest, McGrath’s body was moved to Miner’s Union Hall, where the funeral took place.  A long procession of comrades, wearing the insignia of the Miners Society, and many of the local citizens attended the funeral.

As for Sargentson, once before he’d had a narrow escape in the same mine. A few months prior to the explosion,  he ran a car into the mouth of a vertical shaft and fell down after it, striking the side of the shaft some 20 feet below, which threw him out from the wall. He caught the cage rope and saved his life. About a month after this occurrence, his hair which had been jet black, turned white as snow.

This time he was not so lucky. Even though he miraculously escaped with his life, his eyes were badly damaged. Sargentson said he could discern light with the left eye, but sight in the right one seemed to be totally destroyed.

His friends and the doctor decided to send him to San Francisco for treatment. A subscription was taken up by the citizens and miners of Cherry Creek and over $550 raised to defray expenses. The miners at the Star Mine contributed $400 of the amount. On July 23, 1881, he left for San Francisco in the company of fellow miner, John George , who remained with him throughout his ordeal.

For a while, it appeared the doctors would be able to save partial sight in one eye, but it was not to be.

On August 13, 1881, a letter from Mr. George was received stating that the doctors in charge of Robert Sargentson had pronounced both his eyes utterly lost, and that nothing more could be done for him regarding restoration of his sight.

It is believed that Sargentson returned to England to live out his life with relatives.


Last Updated on 07/10/2001



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