Bates Mine Disaster 1940

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Date: 27 Aug 1940 [unknown]
Location: Bates, Arkansasmap
Surnames/tags: Mining_Disasters Arkansas Disasters
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Disasters | Mining Disasters | United States Mining Disasters | Southeast United States Mining Disasters | Bates Mine Disaster


History and Circumstances

  • Date: Aug 27, 1940
  • Location: Bates, Arkansas
  • Victims: 10 casualties
  • Cause: Explosion

The Arkansas Western Branch of the Kansas City Southern Railroad arrived in the area in 1901. Bates township formed as a community in 1903 and by 1909 it was a thriving community of about 500 people in the western part of Scott County, Arkansas bordering Oklahoma. The Bates Coal Mining Company was one of the largest employers in the area at the time and people came from all around surrounding communities to work at the mine. [1]

The land where the mine was operated was owned by Mrs. Waring of Joplin, Missouri and leased to the New Bates Smokeless Coal Company who in turned leased it to the Bates Coal Mining Company. At the time of the mining accident Bates Coal Mining Company would claim in court they had sublet it to Scott County Development Company and the mine was being operated by Arthur L. Raines, but the lease having been signed by Bates Coal Mining Company on June 12, 1940 was not signed by Arthur L. Raines until September 7, 1940 about two weeks after the accident.[2]

The explosion was the third accident to occur in the Bates mine. On November 27, 1936 five men were killed in a similar explosion and just a few months earlier in May 1940, a second explosion occurred. Fortunately, no one was working in the mine when that explosion occurred, so no lives were lost, but there was substantial damage done to the mine. [3]

Rescue Efforts

On August 27, 1940 at approximately 5:30 pm the third explosion occurred shortly before dark, right after the night crew had started work. They were working about 1,700 feet below the surface in a slope-type shaft. As rescue efforts began, about 200 people, half the towns population gathered outside the mine entrance waiting and hoping for word, miners would be found safe, but shortly before midnight rescue crews cleared the debris and reached the miners only to find all 10 miners had perished in the explosion. The mine manager Ben H Bedwell said all the miners had apparently died quickly in the explosion and rescue workers said it was difficult to reach the bodies because of debris from the blast. The bodies recovered from the mine were badly burned and sent to mortuaries in Hartford, Arkansas and Heavener, Oklahoma which was just a few miles east of the mine.[4]

Company officials identified the miners as J.E. Manning of Harford; Gilbert Johnson and Earl Renfro of Bates; Mayo Johnson of Jenny Lind; Alta Whately of Greenwood; Tom Barkley and Odis Harris of Huntington; Alvin L Yeakley of Mansfield; and Clint Huff of Clarksville. [5]

Bates mine Investigation Drawing

Results and Findings

The accident investigation by the Bureau of Mines determined the mine was operating using the longwall method. Longwall mining is a form of underground coal mining where a long wall of coal is mined in a single slice in 2 to 3 foot sections, 3 inches thick.[6] At the time of the explosion 7 of the miners in the east tunnel died in their place and 3 from the west long wall had traveled about 600 feet before being overcome. Little damage had been done to the mine, some wooden braces and props were knocked out of place, but the bodies were recovered in fresh air.[7] The report further stated,
there are no safety organizations maintained at the mine, or any of the coal mines in the states of Arkansas and Oklahoma.[8] and that first aid or mine safety training has not yet been conducted at this mine for several years.[3]

Testimony from mine workers who worked in the mine said it was dangerous and lacked adequate safety protections. Booster fans in the mine to remove gas build up were improperly placed, because they were set at the bottom of the tunnel floor instead of the top. Gas that is lighter than air flows to the top, but instead of being removed it was simply recirculated around the mine. [2]

The state mine inspector also said equipment used in the mine was not adequately maintained and on a previous inspection he had found open switches with no enclosure to prevent arcs from igniting gas. The report concluded, the explosion occurred from an arc when equipment was turned on/off or a match being struck, that ignited the gas. Their conclusion was this explosion was essentially the same as the earlier explosions and had the mine maintained self-rescue equipment, installed the recommended state rescue stations some lives might have been saved. [3]

In addition to coping with grief, for the first time many widows and family were left with inadequate means of support, after the sudden death of their husband. Mining pensions varied widely from state to state and in many cases paid far below the newly enacted Social Security Act. The federal govermnent paid half of up to $40 dollars a month under the SSA program with state paying the rest, while mining pensions in Arkansas paid $7.14 a month.[9]

Several lawsuits were brought against Bates Coal Mining Company, Arthur Raines and Ben Bedwell by widows and adminstrators representing the decedents that eventually led to a juror awarding $1,500 for each individual, against Bates Coal Mining Company, but not the two named managers. Bates Coal Company appealed the decision but the appeals court upheld the lower court ruling.[2]

This accident drew nationwide attention to safety of coal mines resulting in calls for reform and improvements to mining safety and new Federal Safety rules mandating safety requiremnts in all states.[9]


Name Sourced Bio Connected Category
J.E. Manning
Gilbert C Johnson Yes Yes Yes Died in Explosion
Earl Collins Renfro Yes Yes Yes Died in Explosion
Mayo Johnson Yes Yes Yes Died in Explosion
Alta Whately
Thomas Arthur Barkley Yes Yes Yes Died in Explosion
William Odis Harris Yes Yes Yes Died in Explosion
Alvin Lester Yeakley Yes Yes Yes Died in Explosion
Clinton Houston Huff Yes Yes Yes Died in Explosion
Murray Herndon


  1. "Bates Township ", Accessed 17 Jan 2021
  2. 3.0 3.1 3.2 The Peoples voice. [volume] (Helena, Mont.), 23 Oct. 1940. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. "The Peoples Voice" Accessed 17 Jan 2021
  3. The Evening Independent Aug 28, 1940 "The Evening Independent " Accessed 17 Jan 2021
  4. Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 28 Aug. 1940. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. "Evening Star", Accessed 19 Jan 2021
  5. Longwall mining from Wikipedia “Longwall Mining” Accessed 17 Jan 2021
  6. Humphrey, H. B. Historical Summary of Coal-Mine Explosions in the United States, 1810-1958, report, 1960; Washington D.C.. "University of North Texas Libraries" accessed January 17, 2021), , UNT Digital Library, "UNT Libraries" Accessed 17 Jan 2021.
  7. The People's voice. [volume] (Helena, Mont.), 06 Nov. 1940. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. "The Peoples Voice" Accessed 17 Jan 2021
  8. 9.0 9.1 Morgan County Democrat. (McConnelsville, Ohio), 06 Feb. 1941. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. "Morgan County Democrat"

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This page has been added to Scott County, Arkansas page
posted by Lynette Jester