A massive mine explosion leaves nearly 100 dead in Krebs, Oklahoma, on this day in 1892. The disaster, the worst mining catastrophe in Oklahoma’s history, was mainly due to the mine owner’s emphasis on profits over safety.
Southeastern Oklahoma was a prime location for mining at the turn of the 19th century. Much of the land belonged to Native Americans and thus was exempt from U.S. federal government laws and regulations. Although the mining company’s indifferent attitude toward safety was well-known, there were more than enough immigrants in the area willing to work in the dangerous conditions at the Krebs mine, where most miners were of Italian and Russian descent.
The Osage Coal & Mining Company’s No. 11 mine was notorious for its poor conditions. This led to a high turnover of workers, and the company routinely hired unskilled labor, providing little in the way of training to get them up to speed. This was true for even the most dangerous jobs, like handling explosives and munitions.
In the early evening of January 7, several hundred workers were mining the No. 11 mine when an inexperienced worker accidentally set off a stash of explosives. Approximately 100 miners were burned or buried in the explosion. Another 150 workers suffered serious injuries. Nearly every household in Krebs was directly affected by the tragedy.
It wasn’t until 2002 that the victims of the Krebs mining disaster were honored by a memorial built at the site of the old mine.