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America 1900 | Article

1900s Labor

Mining Disaster in Scofield 
The Winter Quarters coal mines in Scofield, Utah provided a relatively rewarding standard of living for those accustomed to the boom-or-bust cycles of farming the land. But coal mining was far more dangerous than farming. Each man who went into the tunnels was well aware of the mining disasters that had claimed the lives of so many before them. The promise of steady work, however, kept the workers coming. With a newly signed contract from the US Navy in place, the mine's owners, the Pleasant Valley Coal Company, needed every coal miner they could get. The owners were pressing their workers to extract an additional 2,000 tons of coal per day. All seemed fine until May 1, 1900 when Scofield joined the list of other mining towns whose names symbolized tragedy. 

Shortly after 10 a.m., with over 200 men laboring underground, an explosion ripped through mine Number Four, trapping the workers within. A keg of black powder had accidentally been set off in mine Number Four and had sent flaming dust racing through other sections of the mine. So intense was the heat that the relief party was prevented from entering the mine. Over 200 men perished, leaving 107 widows and more than 260 fatherless children to fend for themselves. Still, the demands of production had to be met. Days after the worst coal mine disaster in the US to date, the Pleasant Valley Coal Company reiterated its intention of meeting the demands of their contract with the Navy. Applications from all over the country flooded their offices as men, eager to earn a higher wage, sought to fill the jobs left behind by the recently deceased miners. 

Mexican Railroad Labor 
In 1900, El Paso became the scene of intense recruitment efforts of Mexican workers as American railway companies struggled to fill their labor needs. Asian immigrants had provided much of the building labor on the first transcontinental railroad, but the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted immigration from China. US railroad companies, which had done extensive work in Mexico, encouraged the immigration. Southern Pacific and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroads hired the most Mexicans, giving them six-month contracts to lay track in California. By one estimate, 16,000 Mexicans were working on the railroad in the Southwest and West by 1908; the number of Mexicans hired for rail work peaked between 1910 and 1912.

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