Norman Mine Disaster 1911

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 11 Mar 1911
Location: Virginia, Saint Louis County, Minnesotamap
Surnames/tags: Mining_Disasters Minnesota Disasters
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Disasters | Mining Disasters | United States Mining Disasters |Minnesota Mining Disasters| Norman Open Pit Mine Disaster, 1911

Contact: United States Mining Disasters


History and Circumstances

Mine History

Virginia County Mines
The Norman mine in Virginia, Minnesota was a large open-pit mine used to extract iron ore. The mine was owned by the Oliver Iron Mining Company.[2] Leonard C. David, a mining engineer, spent seventeen years developing mines.[2] He was in charge of the original drilling of the Norman Mine, and performed engineering work at other mines in the area.[2] After several promotions, he was appointed the mining captain of the Normon Mine.[2] Today mining is still seen as a valuable resource to the communities. As of 2020 taconite industry (iron formations) supports 11 million jobs nationwide and provides 16% of the nation's Gross Domestic Product.[3] Congressman Pete Stauber feels blessed to have the mining developments in Minnesota and states he will continue to advocate for future mining generations.[3]

Mine Disaster Circumstances

At the time of the accident the large open pit was lined by a crest of dirt and rock that was 358 feet wide (from crest to crest), 51 feet wide at the bottom, and 205 feet deep.[4] The mine employed approximately 1,000 men when running at full capacity.[5][6] The weather had frozen and thawed the ground repeatedly, weakening the massive pile.[4] As the men were working to raise and line up the track to the pit a massive landslide occurred.[7] The slide was sudden that fourteen men were trapped and killed.[4] The mass was estimated to be five hundred thousand tons of iron ore, rock, ice and snow.[5][6][7]
Four of the men escaped with injuries, though only the foreman, Ole Johnson, had less than critical wounds.[5][7]
"A few crushed heads protrude from the mass. Arms and legs could be seen at varying angles as the great lantern of the steam shovel swung over the half-filled pit." The Evening Argus, The Montreal Gazette
"An army of men" grabbed shovels and worked frantically in an attempt to rescue the buried miners.[5][6][7] The work was tedious and difficult and they prayed for daylight to aid them.[6] Women and children were said to have run "screaming to the pit" once they heard, hoping their family members weren't buried in the rubble.[7] Some, like the children of Paul Paulson, were met with the worst kind of news. Their mother had died six months before, the seven of them were now orphans.[5]

Results and Findings

Fourteen men died in the slide,[8] four others were injured.[5][7][9] The foreman, Ole Johnson, was the only one whose injuries were not critical.[6][7] He was taken to the local hospital where he was treated for a severe concussion.[6] The superintendent of the mine, Captain John Gill, declined to comment; instead helping shovel the massive piles of rock with the other rescuers.[5] There was a lot of confusion at first as the mine officials maintained a strict silence.[6] The scene was immediately put under guard by special police and no pictures were allowed to be taken.[10] Only Paul Paulson's name was released at first, as his seven children had no parents left to care for them.[6] Others, like the family of Martin Barkovich, received the bad news later. While his son, who also worked at the mine, was not among the injured; Martin himself was one of those that were crushed. Martin left behind a wife and six children, the youngest of them only five years old. His oldest son, the surviving miner Joseph, was the man of the house at age twenty-three. Joseph later started his own family, naming one of his sons after his father.
The disaster was found to be odd even among the mining community. Instead of the usual explosions or fires, this was a landslide.[6][9] The area that the miners were standing was considered by them to be a "safe area" as that is where they took refuge when any blasting was being done.[11] The investigation that followed found no fault on the part of the mine.[12] Despite this the company paid the maximum amount by law of $5,000 to each family.[12] The orphans of Paul Paulson received even more. The company paid off all of Paul's debts (including his home), and set an allowance of $10 a month for each until they reached the age of eighteen.[12] Nothing could replace the miner's that died that day, but the families at least had some compensation until they could find a way to support themselves. This disaster was seen as "one of the worst disasters to human life in the mining history of the range."[8]
Virginia, Minnesota Iron Mine.

In Memoriam

See the category for a list of the men that died in the iron mine landslide.


  1. "Recover Rest of Bodies From Norman Mine," The Virginia Enterprise, Virginia, Minnesota, 24 March 1911, p. 1, col. 4.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Brunt, Walter Van. "Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota; Their Story and People" (NY: American Historical Society, 1921), p. 1159.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stauber, Congressman Pete. "Fighting For Our Mining Communities," Mesabi Daily News, Mesabi, Minnesota, 26 Feb 2020.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Oliver Iron Mining Company - Norman Iron Mine Rockslide," Mine Disasters in the United States,, as viewed 27 February 2020. [Original information gained from four articles, listed on the site.]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Staff writer, "Swept to Death By Avalanche," The Montreal Gazette, Montreal, Canada, 13 March 1911, p. 1, col. 7.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 "Twenty Track Layers Caught In Pit By Cave-In -- Only A Few Escape," Turtle Mountain Star, Rolla, North Dakota, 16 March 1911, p. 2, col. 2.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 "Thirty Miners Are Buried," The Evening Argus, Ossowo, Michigan, 13 March 1911, p. 1, col. 7.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Minnesota. Dept. of Labor and Industry. "Biennial Report," (MN: Minnesota Dept. of Labor and Industry, 1912), p. 398.
  9. 9.0 9.1 A. L. Swenson, Editor. "Disaster On The Iron Range," Hendricks Pioneer, Hendricks, Minnesota, 23 March 1911, p. 3, col. 4.
  10. "Many Men Killed By Slide...," The Virginia Enterprise, Virginia, Minnesota, 17 March 1911, p. 1, cols. 3-5
  11. Hyvarinen, Johnson, Kennedy. "Norman Mine, Oliver Iron Mining Col, Virginia, Minnesota, March 11, 1911 - 14 Killed" Major Disasters at Metal and Nonmetal Mines..., 1949, p. 13.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "One Corporation's Fairness," The Irish Standard, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 10 June 1911, p. 4, col. 4.
See Also:
  • Norman Mine, Virginia, Minnesota, Minnesota Reflections (, as viewed 27 February 2020. [This has a great picture of an ore train at the Norman Mine, taken in 1895.]

Last edited (16:12, 6 March 2020 (UTC))



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