100th anniversary of mine disaster

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The Associated Press

There’s little left of Dawson except for building foundations and a dusty cemetery, but the former mining town in northeastern New Mexico lives on in history books.

Tuesday marked the 100th anniversary of the Dawson coal mine disaster in which the Mine Safety and Health Administration says 263 miners were killed Oct. 22, 1913.

The tragedy made Dawson, located northeast of Cimarron in Colfax County, the site of the second-highest death toll in a U.S. coal mine accident.

The state mine inspector blamed coal dust for the blast that sent flames 100 feet out of the mine’s entrance, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

Rescue teams who entered the mine told grisly tales.

“One man, unidentified, was found leaning against a wall with both hands elevated to his face, as though he was striving to ward off a sudden and unexpected blow,” reported the Albuquerque Morning Democrat. “Another was found standing erect with his pick still in his hand, just as he had struck his last flow into the coal.”

Most of those killed were recent immigrants from Italy, Greece and other countries. About 25 miners survived.

At the time of the accident, Dawson was a town of several thousand with a company-owned department store and an opera house that showed motion pictures on weekends.

“As long as they were working, everybody was happy there,” said Raton resident Edward “Lalo” Zavala, 82, who was born in Dawson in 1931. “We had everything there. The schools were some of the best we ever had.”
Dawson closed in 1950 after the mines were closed that May.

Phelps Dodge Corp. gave residents until the end of June to leave, then razed most of the buildings and fenced off the area, except for the graveyard.