By John J. Creedon
This week is the anniversary of the greatest tragedy in the history of Bingham Canyon, for it was on February 18, 1926, that 39 lives were snuffed out by tons of snow and other debris, that came thundering down Dotty Gulch, shortly after 9:00 o’clock a.m.
As I recall, it seemed that it snowed for nearly three days and on the day before the slide, the weather turned warm and for a time the snow became rain. This was probably the cause of the loosening of the new snow on the icy crest.
Adolph Chiara came to work with me the night before the disaster, and slept on a table in the B&G depot, where I was working the grave yard shaft, as operator. The snow was so deep, he had decided to start from there in the morning, as he could walk up the railroad track to the Apex where he worked.
I didn’t wake up till late afternoon, so I didn’t know anything about it until then, and did not visit the scene of the tragedy until the next day.
The Bingham area was stunned by the catastrophe, but responded in the usual manner in times of need and crisis. There were plenty of rescue workers, as the Utah Delaware and Utah Apez mines turned their entire forces over to the rescue work. They were aided by many volunteers and relief stations were set up immediately. Governor George H. Dern and L.S. Cates, general manager of Utah Copper Company and other county and state officials visited the scene and supervised the raising of money and supplies for the stricken families.
I was talking to Ed Johnson the other day about the slide, and he said he was in his shop just below the flat and was talking to Louis Kolman, who had just come in and was commenting on the depth of the snow. Ed said he had to clear the stairs before he could get in the meat market that morning and the snow was waist deep then. As they were talking, the air outside seemed filled with a white mist and then a sudden silence,. then the fire alarm sounded. As he went outside, he said a man ran past the shop at high speed, clothed in his long johns and nothing else. No shoes but he was making knots. He was one of the lucky ones who rode the top of the slide to safety. Questioned later, he said he was too scared to be cold or notice he did not have his clothes on.
Frances Morley told me some time ago that her father, Everett Ball was shoveling snow in front of his house and the little boy next door, Arthur Tibby, seven years old, was playing in the snow in his front yard. Mr. Ball went in the house for a moment, and while inside he heard the roar of the slide and when he was able to get outside, the boy was gone and the huge pile of snow had stopped just short of his house.
There were many tales of tragic deaths and some on the humorous side, if there could be such in a disaster of such magnitude. They tell of one miner, who was taking a bath when the slide hit, and the force of the snow pushed tub and miner through the thin walls of the house and tossed him atop the avalanche and gave him a never-to-be forgotten ride to the bottom of the gulch.
Tony Vlasic, solicitor for the Slavonian Merc. was in the basement of the McDonald Boarding House taking an order from the cook, Jose Atencia, when the snow began to sift through the floor over head and he was unable to open the door to get out. He was soon covered with snow and pinned in a sitting position on the basement floor. Atencia was underneath him with his legs and feet within reach of Tony. He said he would speak to him, but only groans were his answer and after a while, the groans ceased and the cook expired. A short time later, Vlasic was found and was ok, other than suffering from exposure and cold. Atencia’s wife who was making pies in another part of the boarding house was also killed.
While the death toll of 39 in the Highland Boy snow slide was great and the major disaster to visit our district, it could have been greater.
If the avalanche of snow and ice had come down during the night when the children were asleep in their beds and the day shift workmen were also at home, the loss in lives would have doubled at least. It was reported that seventeen homes and three story boarding house were demolished by the tons of snow.
There were many tales of narrow escapes and deeds of daring and sacrifice by the survivors and the rescue workers, who worked without rest for many hours. The local doctors and nurses were at the scene at once and began the difficult work of caring for the dead and injured. Dr. Paul, S. Richards and Dr. Asa Dewey worked at the scene and Dr. W.N. Cain was at the hospital to receive the injured. Nurses who assisted were Mrs. R.G. Frazier, Miss Adeline Kunz, Utah Copper nurse and Miss Van Ee, school nurse.
Later in the day, three other doctors and eight nurses from the county hospital under the supervision of Dr. F.E. Straup, county physician, arrived. Dr. A.L. Inglesby drove the car bringing the mercy workers to help in the crisis. Volunteer women, workers provided coffee and sandwiches to the weary rescue workers when they could spare a moment or two.
The Highland Boy Mine office was turned into an emergency hospital where the dead and injured were taken. As soon as a person was pronounced dead, he was wrapped in a blanket and placed on a sled for the three mile trip to the O’Donnel Undertakers in Bingham.
The telephone office was swamped by calls from friends and relatives of people living in the Bingham district. It was reported that over 600 long distance calls were handled by the local staff. Every operator was on duty under the supervision of Eugene Jenkins, manager.
As usual the telephone operators went far beyond the call of duty in answering the hundreds of inquiries and in trying to soothe the stricken and heartbroken families. No cold tone recording to answer your call in that day before the advent of dial phones. What a comfort the reassuring voice of a devoted operator was in times of stress and emergency.
There are some bodies buried in the abandoned cemetery in the mouth of Dry Fork, just west of the Kennecott Copper Corporation shops. A few of these were unclaimed and buried by the county, and they lie there tody, alone and the graves un cared for.
One of the most tragic deaths in the slide was the case of Mrs. William Rimby, widow of a miner. Her son, Walter, who was a friend and schoolmate of mine, was one of the first to the scene at his home and while attempting to locate where the house had stood, heard his mother scream. The rescue squad speeded up their efforts, but was unable to reach her in time. She was pinned behind the kitchen range and was severely burned. Ed Johnson, an eye witness to this tragedy, said he would never forget the poor woman’s screams.
It was reported that the Jim McDonald’s had purchased the boarding house the day before the slide from his mother, who was in Salt Lake City the day of the slide. McDonald and his wife were separated a few feet from each other, but he managed to dig through the snow to reach her side, where they were discovered by rescue workers, both severely injured, but lucky after all. They lost their place of business, but they had their lives spared.
Fate dealt out some strange hands to the people in the path of the slide.
HIGHLAND BOY AFTER THE SLIDE
By John J. Creedon
The effects of the snowslide in Highland Boy were far reaching of the families that lost their homes in the slide moved from the Canyon, and the others were relocated. Some stayed in the Highland Boy district and others moved to Bingham.
Destroyed in the path of the slide was the little community church that served the needs of the area. The need for such a center of worship and community activity remained great, so out of this disaster, was conceived the idea of building the Highland Boy Community House near the old Yampa Mine. The ground was donated by the mining company and much of the work and labor was also donated by the companies and individuals. This building became a center of social and religious life in Highland Boy and it served the people faithfully until it was removed a few years ago. It did much for the youth of the area and gave them a place to meet and play under proper supervision.
Through the efforts of relief agencies set up at the time of the disaster, a large sum of money was raised and this was used to rehabilitate those who had lost their homes and belongings. The sick and injured had to be taken care of and in that day there was little hospital insurance in force and the only coverage many of the men had was on the job protection.
A unit of the Red Cross was set up and they had headquarters in No. 1 Fire Hall in Bingham. For some reason the people in charge in Bingham Red Cross headquarters antagonized
Some of the charges were that the mercy unit were spending relief money for their own entertainment and were arrogant with some of the victims of the snowslide. They seemed more concerned with their own comfort than doing their work. This feeling of resentment existed for many years and the Red Cross had a difficult time in raising funds for their organization.
The slide marked the end of Doty Gulch as a residential part of Highland Boy and with the exception of two or three houses on the north side of the gulch, it was abandoned, and the houses were never rebuilt.
As mentioned last week how fate dealt out some strange hands to the people of Doty Gulch, one of these was the experience of Margaret Ball, a bride of three months. Her house was carried down the canyon in the rush of snow and she was buried deeply under tons of white snow, but was protected by timbers that warded off the greater part of the mass covering her.
Her father-in-law, Everett Ball, heard her cries and started digging toward the spot where she lay buried. She was taken out several hours later from a bank of fifteen feet of snow and was practically uninjured.
Another lucky spot was the house of Joe Stalkovitch in Doty Gulch. Although the avalanche had already wrecked the McDonald boarding house just above with its terrible toll of lives, fifteen persons in the Stalkovitch home came out alive.
The great mass of snow crushed the McDonald house and the roof was thrown against the Stalkovitch home. Power poles impeded the progress of the slide, which then slid around the home.
Mr. Tolich, his wife and eight children were in the house, as well as A.J. Flowers, Fred Ogden, Doc Nelson and two other men. The fact that this house, directly in the path of death, was given one of the miracles of the catastrophe.
The five men were asleep in their beds. The Tolich family were having breakfast. Two men were in one bed and three others in single cots. They woke up under four feet of snow.
The escape of these persons was more remarkable because the slide took two houses below them and smashed them into kindling wood. Hardly a piece of wood more than four feet long could be found. The rescue work continued until it was determined that all bodies were removed from the slide. It was not until late spring that the snow had melted enough to get to the base of the slide, when the area was cleared up of the debris.
This was the beginning of a series of blows to Highland Boy, that included another slide, a disastrous fire, depression and the closing of the Highland Boy and Apez mines over the next two decades.
But what a town it was and how great was its contribution to the Bingham area and the state of Utah.