In the small community fo Krebs, just a short distance from McAlister, OK you will find a small roadside stop that is a bit our of the ordinary. It was at this location that Oklahoma’s worst mining catastrophe took place, but you would hardly know to see the community today, with homes flanking where once stood a large mine and shaft.
It was here that in 1892, profits outweighed precaution and safety was an after thought as miners were sourced from unskilled and untrained labor in the area. Many of those selected were immigrants mostly Russian and Italian, which had little money as they tried to forge their place on the landscape of the newly settled lands and because this area was still regarded as Indian Territory there was not a form of regulation on procedures.
It was said that this section of Oklahoma was a prime location for mines, despite these dangerous conditions the mines themselves were quite lucrative.
Early in the evening on January 7th, several hundred workers were working on the site of the Osage Coal and Mining Company No. 11 mine. It was at this time that the change of shift was taking place and some 400 workers were waiting for the 470 foot ride to the top of the shaft and out to the fresh air.
One of the many inexperienced workers in error set off a small amount of explosives which caused a chain of reaction that ignited trapped methane gas and coal dust in the tunnels. The roar of the blast could be heard for miles and seen as flames shot out of the mine, even launching the lift of the shaft which these workers had been anxiously waiting to ride.
Thousands of woman and children mostly began to congregate near the mine to find out of their loved ones were ok, however what they would find would be gut wrenching. The explosion which left 100 miners burned or buried and 150 workers suffered serious injuries as a result of the incident, had strewn about bodies and body parts, many were burned to the point of being unrecognizable.
The impact of the explosion shook the community to its core as nearly every household was impacted by this horrific event. While some were able to be buried privately others which were not able to be identified were buried in a mass grave.
Over time, the mines closed, the industries moved away and Krebs became a very different community than it once was. The grounds were dozed and made into a residential community property, and not a single trace of the once gruesome incidents remained.
In 2002 finally a memorial was constructed to honor those which had served in the mines and worked to build the community. The hope was to remind people of this chapter of Oklahoma in hopes that it never be forgotten as one of the events which shaped the state.
A coal miner himself, Donalee Boatright found that although it might be 100 years to late, this chapter needed to be told and he began to raise money to do so. $12,000 was raised to bring the memorial to life and permissions were granted to place the memorial in the exact location of the former No. 11 mine. Now engraved upon its surface each of these men lost on that day are remembered and the No. 11 is forever etched on the landscape of Krebs.
If you visit this location it is a mere pull off on the side of the road. No fanfare, no bells and whistles and you might even pass it before you find it if you blink. Expecting to see a large building, structure or anything other than the memorial itself will easily trick your mind into passing by. But a stop in this ground will connect you in a unique way to the past.