The First Fatality at the
Jerry Bowen ©
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.
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
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