Since the nineteenth century, mining has provided significant economic support to the Intermountain West and to the United States overall. Copper supported wars, coal fueled power plants, and silver financed economies. However, mining has long been dangerous business. Deep underground, lights can go out, air can go stale, tunnels can flood or collapse, and coal dust can ignite explosively. Miners have been on the front lines of this work, harvesting products worth so much it sometimes seemed as if buyers and bosses valued the coal and ore more than their lives.
This tour highlights five significant mining disasters in the history of the Intermountain West, ranging a time span of nearly a hundred years from 1889 to 1972. Mine disasters had the potential to both make and break communities. Some towns rallied to memorialize the dead and care for widows and children left behind; others dwindled into ghost towns, too devastated in the wake of who and what they lost.