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The Most Dangerous Occupation: The Quest for Safety in Wyoming's Coal Mines

Accidents and disasters have plagued Wyoming coal mines since territorial times. In 1886, legislators created the office of the state mine inspector to help improve safety. Still, explosions and cave-ins killed hundreds of miners in the following decades. The worst accidents happened in Hanna in 1903 and near Kemmerer in 1923. Lawmakers continued to increase safety measures and eventually expanded the duties of the state mine inspector. Modern strip mining is far safer.

Carbon, Wyoming

Founded in 1868, the short-lived town of Carbon provided crucial coal supplies for the Union Pacific Railroad. Its rough reputation was boosted in 1881, when a mob of miners pulled Dutch Charley Burris, accused of the murder of a popular lawman, from a train and hanged him from a telegraph pole. Many Finnish men worked in the coal mines until 1902, when the mines closed. Today, there are only a few ruins to mark the site, but the Carbon Cemetery has been recently refurbished and is still being used.

Sheridan, Wyoming

Sheridan, Wyoming first boomed when the Burlington and Missouri Railroad reached it in 1892. Named for a Civil War general and situated in the center of Indian War country, the town became a regional center for business and western culture. Sheridan developed many local processing industries in its first few decades, and also attracted wealthy residents. However, its fortunes have fluctuated with the nation’s demand for nearby natural resources like coal, and the changing economics of agriculture. Today, Sheridan’s unique identity is still rooted in its distinctive culture and scenic location near the Bighorn Mountains.

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