by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
Keller and Berry: The back-to-back deaths of two teenagers
The dangers of underground mining have been recounted in nearly every “Miner Recollection.” Too many men died in the black tunnels of the Georges Creek Valley, but 1909 and 1910 were particularly tragic years. Twenty miners were killed in 1909 and fifteen in 1910. John Donahue, mine inspector, spoke to this situation in his annual report: “To make mining of coal absolutely safe is beyond the range of possibility. Accidents will happen under the best laws, methods and care.” He went on to explain that most of the accidents occur at the working face and blamed the carelessness of miners for many of the disasters. He recommended more systematic and frequent inspections by the mine foremen, with a view of aiding the miners in keeping their spaces safe. He stated, “I regret very much that this and other suggestions were not adopted.”
In 1910, two back-to-back accidents occurred in Mine No.5 of the George’s Creek Coal Company. Each resulted in the death of a teenager. Branson Keller, born September 19, 1893, was the son of William Noah Keller and Miranda (Stewart) Keller. In the census of 1900, William and three of his sons (19 year-old William, 14 year-old James, and 11 year-old Lorenzo) were listed as day laborers. Four other children rounded out this robust family: Sally, 17; Ada, 15; Branson, 7; and two year-old Wilson. William and Miranda had already lost one child. Ten years later, they lost another. Branson Keller, age seventeen years and six months, was instantly killed by a fall of rock on Friday, March 18, 1910. Before the next census was taken, Mr. Keller lost his wife. His son Lorenzo continued to mine coal, but Mr. Keller and his other sons took up farming, a less hazardous occupation. The day following Brandon’s death, Saturday, March 19, 1910, eighteen year-old Samuel Berry was killed in a freak accident. Samuel was working as a “roadman” and was in charge of a small tool car. While pushing the tool car, three slate-filled cars approached from his rear. The brakeman could not control the trip, and the cars crashed into Samuel, breaking both legs, one arm, and inflicting other serious injuries from which he could not recover. Samuel, son of Charles Daniel Berry and Hannah Berry, was born in January of 1891. He was raised in a family of four brothers (William, Edward, Joseph and Harry) and three sisters ( Edith, Helen and Annie.) As they became of age, all the boys joined their father in the mines around their home in Pekin. Samuel Berry died three months before the census of 1910 was taken. On that census, his father Charles was listed as not working. Had grief consumed him? Was he suffering from the effects of over 40 years in the mines? We don’t know the answers, but we do know that Charles eventually went back to work as a stable boss at a Barton mine. He worked there until Sunday, May 2, 1916, when he was kicked by a mule. Charles’ broken ribs punctured his lung, and he died, two days later, at Miners Hospital in Frostburg. Charles Berry was 68 years old. Of the 35 men who died between 1909 and 1910, twenty-two were crushed by rock or coal, six were killed on an incline plane, five were crushed by coal cars, and two were struck by wood props. Mine inspector Donahue was correct when he said accidents will happen under the best laws, methods and care. Perhaps his call for an emphasis on safety was set-side in the haste to extract for the almighty dollar. It was a high price to pay for the 35 lives that were lost in a two-year period of time.
The Coal Miners Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the junction of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all our Georges Creek miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to the
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact Polla Horn at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Bucky Schriver at email@example.com
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”