Who remembers, today?
In our recent history, a disaster in one small town or one company that killed 263 people would stand out. But the Dawson, New Mexico, coal mine explosion of October 22, 1913, is mostly forgotten today.
100 years later, all ten of the town’s mines are closed, victim to increasing use of petroleum as fuel in the U.S. The town itself is a ghost town, though once its schools produced scholars from children of immigrants, and state champions on the athletic fields. A strike by miners in Colorado may have contributed to the explosion, as corporate executives tried to goose coal production in Dawson to cover shortfalls from mines closed by the strikes. Unions then grew to major influence in American life, including increasing safety in coal mining. But unions, today, hold waning influence generally.
Many or most of those who died didn’t speak English. Instead, they spoke the languages of their native lands, Italy, Greece, Germany, and other European nations. Despite its location in New Mexico, there were few Native Americans, or residents or immigrants of Hispanic origins.
Today’s anniversary should be a departure point for rich discussion of many threads in American history, the rise of industrialization, the changing industries of the cowboy frontier towns, the changing ownership of lands from Native Americans to big corporations, the changing nature of work and union influence, the dramatically different views of government and government regulation, the role of immigration and immigrants.
In your state’s standards, Common Core State Standards or not, can a teacher intrigue students with real history in any of those ways?
The second-deadliest coal mining disaster in U.S. history occurred 100 years ago this week in a northern New Mexico town that no longer exists, save for the small cemetery bearing the remains of many of the 263 miners killed in a massive explosion on the afternoon of Oct. 22, 1913.
Though the town of Dawson and the Stag Canyon No. 2 coal mine are mere footnotes in history to most people, the men who died there a century ago – mostly Italian and Greek immigrants lured to the coal fields by decent-paying jobs and all the amenities a company town like Dawson could offer – are far from forgotten.
In ceremonies today at the Raton Museum, the miners killed in what has become known as the Dawson Mining Disaster will be remembered by descendents, historians and New Mexico’s Italian and Greek communities.
“I think it’s important to honor these men, and all immigrants who helped build America,” said Nicki Panagopoulos, a member of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Albuquerque.
A second disaster a decade later killed another 123 miners.
Who remembers? How should we study these events in our history classes? Do we study such events at all?
- Article in the Santa Fe New Mexican commemorating the 100th anniversary of the disaster; 12-photo gallery of historical and current Dawson, at the New Mexican
- Dawson Days reunion of residents and descendants occurs in even-numbered years; Albuquerque Journal story on the 2012 event
- 17-minute film from the Prelinger Archives on the Dawson disaster, silent; probably a re-enactment of rescue work shot a few days after the events (compare opening shots of the cemetery in this film with photos from newspapers today)
- Timothy Hughes Rare Newspapers site features papers from the 1923 disaster in the same mine
- “Disasters!” from American history that should be available in U.S. history curricula
- Tombstone Tuesday – The Immigrant Miners of Dawson, New Mexico (historydepot.wordpress.com)
- ‘Dad was the last man rescued from 1913 Senghenydd Colliery disaster’ (walesonline.co.uk) (Mining is dangerous everywhere in the world)
- New Mexico Remembers Dawson Mining Disaster of Oct. 22, 1913 (fggam.org)
- FamilySearch.com series of resources on old Dawson and the mining disaster — suitable for student research, student projects or a long-term project on the town and the era
- Mattivi Family website, with a story of Dawson
- Tombstone Tuesday story on Dawson immigrants, at Diggin’ History