Eureka Pit Mine Disaster 1912

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Date: 7 Jul 1912 [unknown]
Location: Ruth, White Pine County, Nevada,map
Surnames/tags: Mining_Disasters Nevada Disasters
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Disasters | Mining Disasters | United States Mining Disasters | Southwest United States Mining Disasters | Eureka Pit Mine Disaster 1912

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History and Circumstances

  • Date: Jul 7, 1912
  • Location: Ruth, Nevada
  • Victims: 10 casualties
  • Cause: Explosion

Area History

Today, there are 752 mines in the almost 8,900-square-mile White Pine County, and 75% of them are closed. [1] As the mine goes, so goes the town.
The gold and silver mining heyday was over when copper was discovered. The area around Ruth did not show promise in gold and silver deposits so the claim holder, D.C. MacDonald, optioned his claim to Edwin Gray and Dave Bartley, who tunneled into a hillside and discovered vast quantities of copper in 1902.
The county seat, Ely, was a stagecoach station around 1880. Riepetown, Copper Flat, Ruth, and Veteran were built as housing for miners after the copper discovery. The population for all of these places is a bell curve that follows the boom-and-bust cycle of mining.
Riepetown, Veteran, and Copper Flat are gone, eaten by the open pit mine. Ruth was moved two miles away and is still there, greatly reduced in vigor. Ely has had a resurgence with the reopening of mining operations, the building of a state prison, and tourism.
Mine History


The famous open-pit copper mines of Robinson Mining District in eastern Nevada was named for Thomas Robinson, who found the area in 1869. Early settlements were Copper Flat, Kimberly, Ruth, Riepetown, and Veteran. Most of the original towns were moved as the mine moved.


The Nevada Consolidated Copper Company began underground mining in 1904 after buying the assets of the White Pine Copper Company and the Boston & Nevada Copper Company. By 1907, steam shovels began stripping the overburden (unuseable ore) above the Eureka mine.


Daniel and Simon Guggenheim were voted in as directors of Nevada Consolidated Copper and the Nevada Northern Railway. Construction of the smelter and mill at McGill was under way. Three hundred men were employed in the work. Cottages for personnel of Nevada Consolidated had been completed, along with barracks for the construction crews, a dining hall, and an electric lighting plant.


The Cumberland-Ely Copper Company and Steptoe Valley Smelting & Mining owned 650 acres of mining property. Steptoe Valley was building a concentrating and smelting plant 14 miles from Ely at McGill. The first train of ore was shipped from Copper Flat to McGill in 1908.


1908 was the beginning of the mining company mergers, consolidations, trades and shares sales. The Guggenheims wanted to merge Boston Consolidated Copper and Gold Mining Company, Nevada Consolidated Copper, and Utah Copper Company. In 1925, Cumberland-Ely Copper was dissolved and taken over by Nevada Consolidated - the company that ended up with all of the marbles.


Kennecott Copper Corporation offered to acquire Nevada Consolidated. From 1932 until 1942 was the second wave of mergers and consolidation.


The Ruth mine ceased production.


Kennecott Copper Corporation acquired full ownership in 1958 and replaced the 14 miles of railroad tracks and trains in the open pit with trucks. The last of the pit locomotives were retired.
Magma Nevada Mining Company purchased the property in 1991 and BHP merged with Magma in 1996. BHP ceased operations in 1999. Quadra Mining Ltd. purchased the mine from BHP in April 2004, and immediately recommenced operations.


Ruth - named for Ruth McDonald, daughter of the original owner of the mining claim.
Riepetown - named for Richard A Riepe, a first-generation German immigrant who surveyed the area.
Copper Flat - Copper Flat began as railroad yards for the loading and switching of ore cars coming from the Liberty Pit. It became a small residential area on the eastern rim of the Liberty Pit.
Kimberly - founded in 1877, it had over 500 resident in 1920, the townsite is now an open-pit mine.
Veteran - the first settlement was a Cumberland-Ely Copper Company town, its buildings were moved to Ruth, now it’s an open-pit mine.
McGill - named after nearby ranch owner, William N. McGill, who sold land to Nevada Consolidated. Copper ore was moved by train from Eureka/Liberty Pit to the smelter in McGill.

Mine Disaster Circumstances

While loading a surface drill hole, 10 men were killed by a premature explosion. The cause was not determined, because all evidence was destroyed by the explosion.

Ely, Nev., July 7. -- A. H. Cooke, powder man of the Nevada Consolidated copper flat pit, seven (sic, eight) Austrians and one Greek were instantly killed this afternoon, when a heavy charge in a churn drill hole exploded.

The hole contained several hundred pounds of black powder and a large quantity of dynamite.

One Austrian in the crew escaped death. C. B. Phay, drill operator, who was fifty feet from the scene of the explosion, was injured by flying rocks, but not seriously.

The cause of the premature explosion is not known. It is possible that a cinder from a passing engine on another pit level caused it. The accident occurred on the level next to the top. There are seven levels, each sixty feet above the other.

Cook's remains, partially dismembered, were identified by the clothing. He was from Roanoke, Va., had been here two years and was about to return to his old home in the east.

A portion of a car was found 1000 feet away, where it had been blown by the force of the explosion.

The pit where the accident occurred is fifty feet deep below the entrance, while on the west side it raises more than 400 feet.

Churn drills are used ahead of the steam shovels. The holes are drilled and fired to loosen the ore, which is then handled by steam shovels.

A group of men were engaged in charging the hole, which was in the capping on what was called the Berry High Line level. Holes of this type held a relatively large quantity of powder and were usually loaded by five or six men, who dropped the powder into the hole. Sometimes as much as a ton of dynamite and black powder is used in a charge.

In this case, Trojan powder had been first charged, and there remained, it is believed, five boxes of Hercules Special reported to contain 20 percent nitroglycerin and 20 percent ammonium nitrate.[2] Two boxes were unexploded.

The reason for believing that three boxes exploded is that three craters were blown out in the ground; but it might have happened that the boxes were piled one on another, in which case each crater would represent more than one box.

Rescue Efforts

There were no rescue efforts; dismembered bodies mostly recovered.

Results and Findings

Safety First Monthly Bulletins
The 7 July 1912 was the first major accident to strike this company and immediately focused attention on the safety measures which were then employed at the mines and at the reduction works. The fact that the workers killed were of the so-called "foreign" labor gang also focused attention on a particular problem faced by the company in reference to its steam shovel mining operation. The introduction of open-pit mining in the copper mines of the United States corresponded roughly with a change in the nationality make-up of immigration to the United States. Thus, the demand for laborers by the copper companies; particularly, the demand for unskilled and semi-skilled laborers, was met by the introduction of large numbers of workmen from central and southern Europe. The institutional barriers met with in regard to these national groups, especially the language barrier, made additional safety precautions necessary, particularly if these persons were employed handling explosives or in other dangerous positions.[3]
The Nevada Consolidated Company and the Steptoe Valley Smelting and Mining Company recognized this problem by passing a law, effective January 1, 1914, prohibiting employment in underground mines or handling explosives of workers who couldn't speak or understand the English language.[4]
The 1912 disaster was responsible also for additional emphasis on safety through the issuance of Safety First Monthly Bulletins, which started in November 1913. The company issued, as a general supplement to its other precautions, a book of safety rules in three languages besides English; the most unusual appearing was the book in the Greek language.[5]


Name Sourced Bio Connected Category
George Bougious yes yes no yes
Haley Cook yes yes no yes
Stjefan Crnkovic yes yes no yes
Juro Cvitkovic yes yes no yes
Toma Gasparovic yes yes no yes
Martin Mesic| yes yes no yes
Nikola Mesic yes yes no yes
Ivan Novacic yes yes no yes
Anton Rajkovic yes yes no yes
Stjephan Rubcic yes yes no yes
Eight of the men were from the same place: Udbina, Croatia, Austria.
A.J. Cartwright, Coroner, signed the death certificate for all ten miners.[6] The death certificate lists town of death as Star Pointer, which is incorrect. Star Pointer was an underground mine. The accident was on the east side of Eureka/Liberty Pit, which is Riepetown and Copper Flat.
All eight Croatian miners are in unmarked graves in the Ely Cemetery.
Unmarked Austrian Graves, Ely Cemetery

Miner Survivor

C. B. PHAY, drill operator, who was fifty feet from the scene of the explosion, was injured by flying rocks, but not seriously.
Fallen Miners Memorial
A memorial will be dedicated in Ruth, Nevada, at the park this Saturday at 10:00 a.m. The event will honor and remember over 501 members who have given their life mining in White Pine County. Organizer and author, Mary Sorenson, was inspired to recognize their contributions and has received the support from the mining community for the memorial. Sorenson said when she began putting together her first book, she listed accidents and it was then that she noticed several were not buried in the cemetery and no records after they died, and that’s what started her quest to research fallen miners.
The memorial includes a 1920’s grader donated by Consolidated Mining, a small train engine, a massive rock from the mine, benches all with plaques presenting the names of the fallen.[7]

Further Reading


  4. Copper Ore (McGill), September 26, 1912
  5. Copper Ore (McGill), October 3, 1912
  6. Nevada Death Certificate

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