MULBERRY — Tuesday marked the 106th anniversary of an accident in Mulberry at Mine Number Seven of the Spencer Newlin Coal Company. A cable from which suspended a cage carrying six men to their work broke when the cage was halfway to the bottom of the approximately 130-foot deep shaft, killing five people and injuring several others, according to a news article from a Hutchinson newspaper from 1914. Reportedly one more person died from his injuries days after the incident.
“It was quite a catastrophe,” Miners Hall Museum Board Member Jerry Lomshek said.
For several Mulberry residents, including past resident Kathleen Henegar, it was important to remember such a day in history. Henegar, who was born and raised in Mulberry, has collected information about her hometown for many years and regularly posts stories and little tidbits of history on a Facebook page she follows called Mulberry Memories. Regardless of where she lives, she said, Mulberry is still her hometown to which she travels several days a week.
Henegar said she recently shared this piece of history because it’s anniversary was Tuesday and “any kind of history is important to me, as far as Mulberry is concerned,” she said, adding, “I’ve just always been, for years, been interested in any history of Mulberry whether that’d be the mines or the schools, or anything about my hometown.”
Families of the people who had died in the incident — along with many others who worked in the mines at Mulberry throughout the years — would appreciate mining history being shared, she said. This includes her own family; her father and brothers worked in mines.
“Yes, Mulberry was a mining town,” she said. “The biggest population in Mulberry, starting from 1872. The first mine in Mulberry was Miller Mine Number One, so from there it just really shot up, really prospered.”
Henegar said it may be hard to believe, but the day they passed the law for an 8 hour work day there was a celebration in Mulberry that thousands of people attended.
“That was because of the mining industry,” she said. “That was a big thing for them that this law was passed. Mulberry was not small at that time.”
The town’s population may be much smaller today, but Henegar keeps the history going with her research, which she keeps together in five booklets at her home, she said.
Also preserving mining history is the Miners Hall Museum located in Franklin. Lomshek said southeast Kansas has a “really colorful history” because of the coal mining, the many people from across the world who traveled to live in southeast Kansas, and the area’s “unique” politics for the time.
The boom years for coal mining in deep mines started in the mid-1880s up until 1910. After that it declined. Around the 1920s there was more strip mining than deep mining.
At the top of the mine shaft would be a structure called a tipple from which an elevator would bring the miners and the coal up.
“In mining terms they called it the cage,” Lomshek said.
People were looking for jobs, Lomshek said, and they were willing to place themselves in danger to feed their families.
“Mining was a really dangerous occupation,” Lomshek said, adding there were “all kinds of injuries and deaths.” There were explosions, he said, but they weren’t the biggest danger; the leading cause of injury and death was rock falls.