While the mining industry of the 1800s and 1900s played a major role in the development of Colorado, this era is also marred with several dark moments – one of which is the Hastings mine explosion that killed more than 100 workers.
The Hastings mine explosion took place in Las Animas County, near Trinidad, in April of 1917 at a coal mine owned by Victor-American Fuel Company. When a large explosion occurred, it trapped more than 100 men inside of a broken and burning mine with little known about their status on the surface above. As smoke was noticed coming out of the mine entrance, rescue attempts were quickly conducted, but failed, with the disaster eventually resulting in 121 deaths.
During rescue efforts, crews were able to penetrate a reported 2,000 feet into the 3,600-foot deep mine, though wreckage and collapsed tunnels made this initiative extremely dangerous. Intense heat and heavy smoke further complicated this process. While rescue efforts took place, officials at the time knew that there was little hope of saving anyone trapped in the mine by the explosion.
Surprisingly, the explosion is thought to have been triggered by the very person meant to ensure that the mine was safe for operations, mine inspector David Reese. A report from the Denver Post indicates that it was likely Reese's safety lamp that triggered the blast, probably while he was attempting to reignite its flame. As gases and flammable dust is released during the mining process, any spark can become dangerous under the right circumstances.
While the Hastings explosion is the deadliest mining disaster in Colorado's history, many other explosions and fires had been responsible for killing miners during the surrounding years, along with rock falls. The many risks and dangers conditions faced by miners had previously culminated in the infamous 1914 Ludlow Massacre, an attack on striking miners that resulted in more than 20 deaths including some children. At the time, miners were on strike while seeking better working conditions, among other things. By 1917, first successes of the strike in Ludlow and the greater Colorado Coal Strike were being seen.
Today, a small monument can be found in Ludlow, Colorado at the intersection of County Road 44 and County Road 51 that commemorates those killed by the Hastings mine explosion. While the memorial only honors "the 121 men who lost their lives in the Hastings mine explosion, April 27, 1917," it's worth noting that 12 miners had died in a previous explosion at the same spot in 1912. In total, sources state that at least 181 people were killed from 1896 to 1917 at the Hastings Mine.
A deadly disaster that's been, for the most part, forgotten to time, the Hastings mine explosion is one example of the risk faced by those helping to build an early mining economy in Colorado. Now remembered by a small grave-like stone likely to go unnoticed by most, the Hastings mine explosion provides a window into one of Colorado's most tumultuous times.