for The Frostburg Express
Separate Accidents Kill Three Joseph Mills
Joseph Mills was born at Handsworth, Staffordshire, England, on March 24th, 1837. He immigrated to America and married Mount Savage native Catherine Dean in 1861. By 1890, Joseph and Catherine were the parents of seven daughters and five sons. Joseph supported his family by working as a coal miner.
Joseph and Catherine's son, Joseph Thomas Mills, was born March 13, 1871. He married Winifred Bernadette Donahue in 1892. Together they parented thirteen children. Joseph was a watchman for the B&O Railroad at Red Rock, east of Piedmont, WV. Joseph's brother, Ligouri "Gory" Mills, was also a watchman for the B&O at Red Rock. Gory was just finishing his shift around 3 pm when he heard that Joseph wasn't feeling well. Gory decided to stay in the watch tower in case his brother needed relief. When Joseph didn't show up at the tower at the end of his shift, Gory went looking for him. He discovered his brother's mangled body, lying along the railroad tracks. Joseph had been struck and killed by a train on March 13th, 1920, his 49th birthday. Joseph was buried in Westernport’s St. Peter's Cemetery.
Both Joseph Thomas Mills and his brother, James Oscar Mills, named their sons Joseph Henry Mills. Joseph’s son was born in 1894 and James’s son in 1905. Ironically, the Joseph H. Mills cousins were killed six years apart in the same George's Creek No. 2 Mine near Gilmore. Thirty year-old Joseph (son of James) was killed on April 17th, 1935[see below] while installing “lagging” with Frank McGowan and Leonard Dye. Lagging was the process of placing boards in the ceiling of the mine to prevent rocks from falling. Mr. Mills noticed that the bridge board over the bar wasn't centered. He hit it with a ten pound sledge hammer, causing a roof fall, which buried him.
On March 31st, 1941, 47 year-old Joseph H. Mills (son of Joseph) was also killed by a roof fall in the George's Creek Coal Company's No. 2 Mine. Mr. Mills was working with John Murphy of Lonaconing, loading their last car of the day. They were looking forward to the following day off for the Mitchell Day celebration. The prospect of an extended shutdown was looming if the mine operators failed to reach an agreement with the United Mine Workers by midnight on March 31st. When interviewed at the home of relatives on the day of the accident, Mr. Murphy was so shaken that he was reluctant to speak at first. When he was finally able, Murphy said that he did not know what caused the accident, but that he suddenly heard a loud roar and the sound of breaking timbers. The roof fall knocked him against the coal face, extinguishing his lantern. Murphy had three matches, which he lit, hoping to find some means of escape. He dug for a while and yelled for help until he was hoarse. When seeing a flicker of light through an opening in the fall, he yelled again as loud as he could. His plea was answered by David Brown. Brown had been sent to search for the two miners when they did not come out of the mine at the end of their shift.
Foremen William C. Abbott and Joseph Todd initiated a rescue operation, and Murphy was freed one hour later. Four hours afterward, at 7 pm, they recovered the body of Joseph Mills near the front of the car. He was in a doubled up position, face downward. An hour before his body was recovered, Reverend E.T. Fisher, pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Midland, went to the scene to administer the conditional rites of absolution. Hundreds crowded the site of the disaster, including miners from nearby operations. Joseph Mills' body was later examined by Dr. Henry M. Hodgson at the Eichhorn Funeral Home in Lonaconing. Hodgson said that Mills died of suffocation, sustaining no other injuries. When asked his opinion about the cause of the accident, foreman William Abbott said that it was just "one of those unforeseen things" and declined further comment.
Joseph Mills was wounded in action while serving overseas in World War 1. He was a member of the Holy Name Society of Midland, the Knights of Columbus, and the Midland Volunteer Fire Company. Survivors included his mother, his wife, and seven children, ranging in age from seven to thirteen. Within a span of twenty-one years, the deaths of three family members, all named Joseph Mills, left a total of twenty fatherless children.
Family matriarch, Catherine Dean Mills, died in Lonaconing in 1908, and never lived to witness the deaths of the three Joseph Mills. In her obituary it was written that "the deceased was a good woman in every sense of the word. She reared a large family in the way that they should go, and they have not strayed from it. The Mills family are old residents of Lonaconing, and are good people, every one."
by Polla Horn
for The Frostburg Express
A rugged duo: Coal Mining and the Depression
submitted by Mary Beechie Schmidt
My mother often talked about her first husband, Joe Mills[son of James], and the day he died in 1935 during a mine cave-in near Midland.
Mom, Mabel Frances McKenzie, from Garrett County, married Joe Mills in 1928. She was seventeen and he was twenty three years old. I have a photo of them standing together. Smiling, with his left arm around Mom and his right hand holding a cigarette, Joe is slender and looks to be about 5'5" tall. They lived in Midland.
August 26, 1929 Mom gave birth to a still born baby boy. Unable to get out of bed on the day of his funeral, Joe carried the tiny coffin into their bedroom so Mom could see her little boy. The baby was buried in the Belvedere Cemetery, which later became St. Joseph Cemetery. Joe and Mom had no other children.
A butcher by trade, Joe lost his job during the Great Depression. Mom said butchers were not in much demand during these rough times, and Joe could not find a job. Mom remembered Joe as an easy-going, good-natured guy. When she fretted out loud about owing a business money, Joe would say,
"Well, Mabel, there's no use in two people worrying about the same bill."
Mom received letters from her sister, Freda, living in Los Angeles, saying jobs were plentiful in California, and Joe was bound to find one. By bus they traveled to Los Angeles and moved in with Freda and her husband. Joe did not find a job. In fact, they found themselves so broke in California that they returned to Midland by hopping freight trains when no one was looking. Mom said many thousands of poor, honest people traveled this way. When Joe and Mom got hungry they jumped off the train and stopped at "hobo camps." The camps, constructed of make-shift tents and flimsy structures, were where good men and women, in the same predicament, fed Mom and Joe soup made from begged or clipped ingredients, gathered from surrounding farms and homes. Once home in Midland Joe found work at a Georges Creek Coal Company mine.
Although this tragedy occurred years before I was born, I remember details of what Mom said about it, because it struck me as so eerie.
That morning began as usual. Mom and Joe awoke early. In the kitchen Mom made his breakfast and packed his lunch bucket, while Joe sipped coffee and tied up his boots. Suddenly, a rocking chair began rocking, by itself, with some force. They watched it for a time when Joe said he knew it was an omen. Mom said she had no idea what an omen was. Joe explained that it was a warning that someone, in one of their families, would soon die. He assured her that, since they witnessed the omen, it would not be one of them. He said, that to be on the safe side, he did not want her to do the laundry as she had planned that day. It was better, he said, if she did not go outside to hang the wet clothes on the clothes line. (At this point in the story, I always thought about how much Joe loved Mom, to be more concerned about her than himself.) Joe went to work.
Later that day Mom heard the loud, shrill mining alarm whistle. She ran outside to watch people pouring from their homes and racing toward the mine. She joined them. When she neared the mine, she passed a man who had already been there and was returning to town. She asked him if anyone had been killed in the cave-in. He said,
"Yeah, a little guy."
Joe was buried at St. Joseph Cemetery in Midland. After a State Industrial Accident Commission hearing in Cumberland, the commission ordered the Georges Creek Coal Company to pay Mom a lump sum of $432.68. Joe's funeral cost $416.80.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund would like to thank Mary Beechie Schmidt for her submission to our compilation.
The Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all of 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.”