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Ghost Mines of Yosemite (1958) by Douglass Hubbard


4. EXPLOSION

LITTLE IS KNOWN of the operations of the Great Sierra Mining Company, predecessor of the Great Sierra Consolidated Silver Company. Set up for a winter-long operation at Dana on Tioga Hill in 1881-82, it had substantial buildings, a good supply of food and other essentials.

The miners had their ups and downs but more were up than down on November 17, 1881:

LUNDY, Nov. 19 — A frightful accident occurred at the Great Sierra Mine, Tioga District, about 11 a.m. on Thursday last, by which three men were seriously, one probably fatally injured. It is the old, old story of thawing frozen nitroglycerine powder on a stove.. A short distance east of the shaft and not far from the blacksmith anvil stood a large box stove, which was usually kept glowing with heat. In, on, or about this stove someone placed six sticks or cartridges of frozen Excelsior powder, for the purpose of thawing it out for use in the crosscut on the 100 foot level as the day shift came up for dinner. . . . While James H. Kickham of Lundy, the company carpenter, was near the stove, the blacksmith was further off and near the anvil, and George M. Lee was still further away in a corner of the blacksmith shop near the forge, the powder exploded with a terrific crash, tearing away the outer wall of the blacksmith shop and knocking the men senseless. Kickham was severely and probably fatally injured, receiving a ghastly wound on the head, several lacerations of the arm and body, and being literally torn to pieces about the pelvic region. The blacksmith was also severely injured, receiving several cuts and bruises about the head and body, and possibly some internal injuries. George M. Lee was at first thought to have escaped injury further than temporary shock from the concussion, but when our informant left, 15 minutes after the explosion, Lee was suffering great internal pain. Charlie Benson was dispatched to Lundy for medical aid, making the trip in four and a half hours, on foot without snowshoes, and most of the distance (about 11 miles) through snow waist deep. On his arrival, a dispatch was sent to J. C. Kemp, resident manager of the Great Sierra Company, who was in Bodie at the time. That gentleman at once engaged Dr. D. Walker to go to Tioga to attend the wounded. It was found impossible to obtain a team, however, until 2 o’clock the next morning, at which hour Mr. Kemp left Bodie and drove Dr. Walker to Lundy, arriving here at daylight. Early yesterday morning Moreno’s caravan of pack mules, unloaded, was dispatched to Tioga to break a trail through the snow, and Dr. Walker . . . followed soon afterward.

Nov. 26, 1881 — At last account James H. Kickham, George M. Lee, and Benjamin Martin, the three men injured by the powder explosion at the Great Sierra Mine last week are doing well, and all of them are recovering rapidly. George M. Lee is able to be around as usual, but cannot be induced to sit down, even when engaged with writing. (The fragments of the demolished stove struck George in the rear, below the belt, and numerously.) Kickham received between 150 and 200 wounds from the fragments of the stove and a large tin can that sat on top of it, and is scarified on the left side from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot. . . . A piece of the tin can, rolled into a solid projectile was driven into Martin’s skull about two inches above the eye, and was pulled out by Dr. Walker by main strength; but, strange to say, the skull was not broken. A mule, standing near the building at the time of the explosion, had a large hole torn in his breast. Dr. Walker reached the scene of the accident on the evening following its occurrence, after a most fatiguing climb of more than a mile up the steep mountain, up to his neck in soft, fresh snow and in the dark and immediately proceeded to dress all of the wounds, including that of the mule, for the doctor is as good on mules as he is on men . . . 6

By the end of two weeks Kickham, who lost the sight of his injured eye, had recovered enough strength to be transported to Lundy by five of his companions on a stretcher built over “Norwegian snowshoes”—skis.

Upon this sled-stretcher Kickham was placed at daylight Monday morning, and the volunteers started with him for this place, Lundy, a distance of about 11 miles, involving ascent and descent aggregating fully 12,200 feet reaching here at dark the same evening with the wounded man feeling fresher and perhaps stronger than any one of the strong-limbed but now exhausted giants who had left the summit with him in the morning. 7

The Great Sierra Hoisting Works is down, amidst the ruins of Dana village, but the visitor today can see mute testimony to this tale of suffering in the pieces of the cast iron stove lying about the ruins of the old blacksmith shop, at the summit of Tioga Hill.

POWDER HOUSE, BLACKSMITH SHOP ON SKYLINE
[click to enlarge]
POWDER HOUSE, BLACKSMITH SHOP ON SKYLINE
RUINS OF BLACKSMITH SHOP, GREAT SIERRA MINE
[click to enlarge]
RUINS OF BLACKSMITH SHOP, GREAT SIERRA MINE


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