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The Lake Superior Mine Fatalities

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  • Martin O'Connor (1883 - 1913)
    ACCIDENT No. 30 - July 4, 1913 - Martin O'Connor, No. 6 Hecla, C. H. Martin O'Connor died on this day from injuries received on July 3. An inquest was held by Justice Fisher. The following testimony w...
  • Joseph Stefani (1882 - 1906)
    ACCIDENT NO. 24 - July 5th, 1906, Quincy Mine, Joseph Stiffini. Joseph Stiffini, a trammer employed at the 61st level, No. 7 shaft, Quincy Mine, was killed by a fall of rock. Inquest held by Coroner Fi...
  • William John Conley (1838 - 1887)
  • James Marks (1853 - 1874)
    Dualine Explodes at the Phoenix Mine, Clifton, Michigan. Six Men Killed and Bodies Hurled Three Hundred Yards. A Terrible Warning. [From the Detroit Free Press.] From our correspondent at Clifton we...
  • Joseph Marks (1843 - 1874)
    Dualine Explodes at the Phoenix Mine, Clifton, Michigan. Six Men Killed and Bodies Hurled Three Hundred Yards. A Terrible Warning. [From the Detroit Free Press.] From our correspondent at Clifton we...

The Lake Superior Mine Fatalities (This project is intended to hold profiles of all the mining deaths that occurred in the Lake Superior District.)

The Lake Mines 3 districts are:

Including now the Marquette Iron Range Mines.

The underground copper mines were a treacherous place, where danger lurked at every turn. The air was thick with dust and toxic fumes, making it difficult to breathe. The tunnels were narrow and claustrophobic, with little room for maneuvering. Accidents were common, from cave-ins to explosions, leaving no room for error.

Despite the risks, the miners persevered, driven by their determination and the promise of a better life. They braved the depths, their hands calloused and their spirits unyielding. But for some, their journey ended tragically, their lives cut short in the pursuit of copper. Their sacrifice should never be forgotten, as they played a crucial role in shaping the world we live in today.

In the darkness of the underground copper mines, lives were lost but a legacy was born. These brave miners, who faced danger head-on, deserve our utmost respect and admiration. Their sacrifice serves as a reminder of the price paid for progress, and the importance of honoring those who came before us. May their memory live on, forever etched in the annals of history.

From 1855 to 1975 it is estimated there have been 2,000 mine related deaths for Keweenaw county, at least 1,700 for Houghton, and 100 for Ontonagon.

✵Please scroll below ⤵ to the highlighted links to access the each mine project, or over to the right, ↘ under the “related projects”. Please look to your top right,↗ and you can see the discussions tab, click here for additional information, and links for the glossary & index, OR scroll to the bottom ↓ for links to the glossary & index.✵

This project is dedicated to the thousands of men who were Husbands, Fathers, Sons, Uncles, or Friends who have perished in the unmerciful perils of the mines, to honor the men, who risked their lives, to find the true identities and the families of the employed miners and laborers, and help identify each miner properly in each profile, with sufficient evidence.

The first mines were located in the 1840s in the northernmost section of the peninsula near Eagle River (Cliff Mine, National Mine). Over the course of the next one hundred years, more than 150 locations were explored, attempted, or thrived as viable copper mines. From these, three primary companies emerged and became the major producers and players in the Keweenaw: the Quincy (Hancock area), Calumet and Hecla (originally Red Jacket, name later changed to Calumet), and Copper Range (primarily the area south and west of Houghton).

Employed typically the Cornish, who had considerable experience with mining in their homeland of Cornwall, England. They were often followed by the French Canadians and Germans. Later immigrants with limited English, such as Finns, Italians, and Croatians (lumped with Slovenes as Austrians from the Austro-Hungarian empire), were assigned less-skilled positions in the workplace and, consequentially, were on the bottom rung of the housing pecking order.

The mining operations led to two facilities that were linked, but not necessarily at the same location: the mine itself and the mill. The focus at the mine was getting the ore-laden rock out of the ground; the milling entailed the crushing and separating of the ore from the rock with the use of large amounts of water. The latter process led to major accumulations of tailings, discarded ground rock from which much of the copper had been removed. These caused environmental damage, both visually and in soil contamination, but also left an opportunity for later reprocessing for less rich copper content. The mines needed to be where the copper veins or lodes were, and the mills needed access to water, whether Lake Superior or the inland lake, Portage, between Hancock and Houghton. The final player was the smelter, where the copper was melted down into bars or ingots for shipping. The smelters would normally serve several mines and even companies. The final destinations via either water or rail were distant industrial centers for fabrication into copper sheets, tubing, wire, and so on.

                                                                               UNDERGROUND CONDITIONS.

The mines in the Michigan copper district are entered by shafts, either incline or vertical. At the top of each shaft is a shaft house which contains a powerful engine. This engine operates a drum on which is wound the cable that is used for lowering empty skips or cars into the mine and for drawing skips loaded with the copper-bearing rock to the surface. In the same way, man cages conveying the underground workers are lowered into the mine and hoisted to the surface.

An inclined shaft follows the pitch of the copper lode. At the depth of every 100 or 125 feet, drifts or levels are dug from the shaft along the lode in either direction and from these levels, stopes are dug upward from one level to the next one above. A “stope” is a section of the lode from which the ore is being taken out. Along the levels are laid tracks on which tramcars are pushed by men or drawn by motors or mules. The tramcars are loaded at the stopes with the copper-bearing rock, and when they reach the shaft, the rock is dumped into the skip. Cutting a drift is called “drifting” and cutting a stope is called “stoping," but the first cut that is made above the drift is called “drift stoping.” All of these operations are done by drilling and blasting.

In the Michigan copper district, the ore is in either conglomerate or amygdaloid rock. Most of the mines are amygdaloid, and the only conglomerate mines are operated by the Calumet & Hecla Mining Co. A conglomerate mine is one in which the rock consists of rounded and water-worn debris of rock or pebbles, united into a compact mass containing mineral deposits. Amygdaloid means almond-shaped, and it is an igneous rock containing almond-shaped nodules in which mineral has been deposited. In the conglomerate mines, it is necessary to use a great deal of heavy timber, which is placed between the floor and roof in the drifts and stopes to prevent the roof from falling in. Amygdaloid is a much stronger rock, and in amygdaloid mines but little timbering is used, and the roof is supported by pillars or sections of the rock which are left undisturbed. In some mines, rock walls are built along the sides of the drift. Timbers called “stulls” are placed across the drift on top of the walls, and other timbers called “lagging” are placed lengthwise on the stulls to form the roof.

Following is a brief description of the work that is done by underground men:

Miner. —Bars down loose rock; operates drill machines; charges and fires blasts. The last work done on a shift is blasting. After an interval of two hours a new shift comes on and the first work done by the miner in that shift is to loosen the broken rock resulting from the blast, using a bar for that purpose. Miners work singly or in pairs, according as they use one-man or two-man machines.

Trammer. —Loads tramcars and pushes them to the shaft. Usually, there are two men to a car, sometimes three. In some mines, the trammers dump the rock from the cars into the skip in which is hoisted up the shaft to the crusher in the shaft house on the surface. In some mines, there are other men who do the dumping, and in some mines, the cars are dumped by mechanical tipplers.

Timberman. —Places timbers in shaft, drifts, and stopes to support the roof of the mine.

Laborer. -—Drags or picks down the rock from the stopes to the drifts; builds rock walls and fills stopes with poor rock; helps timbermen.

Trackman. —Builds and repairs tramcar tracks.

Boy. —Carries drills; operates small hoists that raise dirt from the bottom of new shafts.


Employees were identified and paid based on their tasks, as well as whether they worked above ground or underground. Below-ground miners did the actual drilling, trammers the hauling, and timber men the installation of support timbers and braces. (The mining companies used much of the “first cut” of Upper Peninsula forests below ground.) The support the timbers provided was a necessity although also viewed as a fire risk. The rock-laden nature of the underground cavities meant that less support was needed than in some other mining locations. Some mines employed boys as young as twelve years old to sort rock and run errands underground. Their pay ran from one-half to two-thirds of the normal minimum wage.

Miners were frequently paid as “contract” workers whose compensation was calculated by the distance (feet or fathoms- fathom is a mining a unit of volume - equal to 6 cubic feet) they progressed. Mine payment was to the miner teams rather than directly to individuals.

Another system, also inherited from Cornwall, was the “tribute” system, normally implemented when a mine was closing out. Individual miners were paid on the value of the ore they delivered to the surface. When the ore vein ran in a vertical and angular direction (which was frequently the case), called a stope, the drilling was especially challenging.

Other employee wages were calculated by the day: initially a ten-hour day, it was gradually reduced to nine and eventually eight hours. Employees were usually charged one dollar per month for medical care that included their families. Whereas each mine would typically have one doctor, the hospital would tend to serve several mining communities.

Approximately 1,900 counted for deaths happened in these mines, (quota from Larry Lankton)

According to the Mine Inspector Reports of Houghton County, years, 1887-1913 reports a total of 978 deaths. The highest being 1909 with a total of 63 deaths. Ultimately, the highest number of deaths per ethnicity was of the Cornish, Austrians, and Finnish. Deaths recorded being over 250 per ethnicity, during the research of this project, the statistical and estimating information may change.

Main causes of injury or death:


  • By fall of rock or ore from roof or wall
  • By timber or hand tools
  • by Explosives
  • By haulage accidents
  • Falling down chute, winze, raise or stope
  • by a run of ore from chute or pocket
  • drilling accidents
  • electricity (shock or burn)
  • machinery (other than mine locomotives or drills)
  • Mine Fires
  • Suffocation from natural gas
  • inrush of water
  • other causes


  • Falling down the shaft
  • Objects falling down the shaft
  • breaking of cables
  • overwinding
  • other causes


  • Mine cars and locomotives
  • Railway cars and locomotives
  • run or fall of ore in or from ore bins
  • boiler explosions
  • electricity (shock or burn)
  • machinery
  • other causes

CK'S INDEX OF MINE DEATHS ON GOOGLE SHEETS - (please view on desktop as mobile version does not allow all year tabs to be shown.)