Friday, May 25, 2018


During its heyday, at the turn-of-the-century, the tumbling run theater presented many an interesting program.

One August  , 1904 the headliner for the theater was Sen. Frank Bell, who had an experience with the famed James and younger brothers, way back in the 60s that he’ll never forget at the close of the war, Bell who had served in Company D, first Pennsylvania rifles, folktales found himself up against an economic proposition.  In St. Louis he  met a man who had $500 and wanted to go into the show business. Bell, who had $500 possessed of a similar yearning, agreed to do a dancing at got a magician and a violin player the aggregation was then turned loose on the public of southeastern Missouri.


At a little town about 100 miles from St. Louis the company late one night to a seven dollar house, Bell, lightly discussed it was just packing up after the performance when there was a clatter of foods outside the hall and seven or eight tall men rough looking men strode in.


“Where’s the wooden shoe dancer?” Demanded the leader. New sentence none too pleasantly, Bell confessed his identity.

“We want you to dance for us”, said the man. “Can’t. You’re too late, when you come to the performance?” Answered the actor .

“Guess you better shake your feet”, coolly answered the big leader; and Bell, looking up, so half a dozen Army revolvers pointed at his feet.

“Delighted to oblige you,” said the thespian, hurriedly digging his shoes out of the carpet bag

the senator gave them every dancing new the strangers wants to invert terribly and retaining their revolvers in their hands.

“Will that do?” He asked at the end of his quarter of an hour.

“Yes, that’ll do,” were much obliged to you, Mr., it ain’t often we get a chance to see the actor people, sorry we had to trouble you.” And, lifting his sombrero politely, and action that was imitated by his followers, the leader and the after a $20 gold piece walked out, followed by his men

Bell returned to his hotel in a state of some excitement and told the landlord of his experience, including by exhibiting the gold piece.

“They, like the drink here for you, too.” Replied the tavern keeper. “You can get it at the bar.”

“Well, where they, anyway?” Demanded the senator.

“You’ve been dancing for the James and younger brothers,” replied the host.

A few years ago Bell, was flying engagement at St. Louis theater and after a few days was told that Frank James, who became a useful and law-abiding citizen after the breaking up of the band, was a doorkeeper at the house. He met James and asked him if he remembered the incident related above

“Are you the fellow that danced  that night” asked the ex-desperado ,for and when answered in the affirmative he shook hands heartily and assure the senator that he had never had forgotten him, and was glad to meet him again.

The senator carries in the back of his head a bullet that he received at Fredericksburg it entered at the corner of the eye and came near terminating his career, the scar is quite discernible.  While he lay in the hospital, Pres. Lincoln visited the Army and walked about among the sick and wounded.


“I’ll never forget Lincoln face” said Bell to the Miners Journal man I had seen him sometime before at Antietam and the chance was startling, his features bore deep burrows that had not been there before, and there was an expression of intense agony that awed me,  why I could have laid a finger in some of the lines of his face I know that just, in that time of uncertainty and discouragement the president was suffering tortures of the damned.”



Mules, Drivers, and Spraggers

An Anthracite Coal Region Legend



In preparing this work on the mine mule, I came across a very wonderful book written in 1904 entitled Colliery Jim, written by Nora Finch. In dedication, I would like to use what Ms. Finch wrote in her preface as I feel it states the way I have always felt about this wonderful animal.

Quote Ms. Finch, “I wish to state that the principal motive which led to its production was a sincere sympathy for that most abused and downtrodden of all animals, the mine mule. While man furnishes the brainpower, which directs the workings of the great coal industry, the mule constitutes its bone and sinew. Without this patient, homely drudge the coal industry could hardly be carried on; yet few persons realize his worth or take into account his sufferings.”

To all those men and boys who spent their life working underground. I dedicate this book.


Mules, Drivers, and Spraggers

An Anthracite Coal Region Legend

By, J. Stuart Richards


 My sweetheart’s the mule in the mines

 I drive her without reins or lines

On the bumper I sit, where I chew and I spit

 All over my sweetheart’s behind.


The sweetheart of the mines was well remembered in both song and verse. The famous ballad shown above was sung by many a mule driver in the mines, while he led his mule along the dark gangways. Mule drivers were known to sing throughout their shifts. Another lively little poem about the mules and boys was written early on.

If the mules were in a patient mood,

 And meekly jogged along,

The boys enlivened every hour

With merry jests and song.


For well over a century, these wonderful animals lived, worked, and died inside and outside of the anthracite and bituminous coal fields.  The mule was an intricate part of the process of mining coal during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  The miners depended upon them for hauling away the coal that they mined, the transporting of timbers, and especially for their uncanny method of staying alive deep underground.  Some mules knew the inside of the mine better than most of the miners or drivers.  Many a story relates how mules lead trapped miners to safety during an emergency.  In the 1940’s, a miner by the name of Vince Gately from Port Carbon, worked in a mine along with his brother and another miner named Hank Holley.  Their method of haulage was with a mule named Charlie.

‘We paid $125.00 for Charlie; he was dark brown and black.  He was very high strung, for whoever had him before us didn’t treat him right.   He didn’t like my brother to much, for he would always put a squeeze on him every chance he got.  I always treated him pretty good, would give him carrots, and talked to him nicely and he would always walk back to the stable for me.  I always took care on putting on his harness and traces.  I would adjust them so he was comfortable. My brother and Holly would throw gravel at him.  You see, you get more with kindness than slurs.

“One day we were in the mine and I found an old heading and I went to explore it.  I used a rod to push through the wall and made a hole big enough to put my head in and when I shined my light in there all I saw was water.  It looked like a lake in there.  Well we were working near the heading one day.  This was after a couple of days of heavy rain when Charlie, who was standing near and chained down, started acting like he was getting shocked.  He looked like he was doing a dance. He kept looking at me and shaking his head up and down.  Now when a mule starts acting funny you take heed.  I unhooked him and he galloped out of the mine.  He knew some thing was wrong.  He didn’t only run out but went to the high ground above the stable.  When all of a sudden, the wall in the old heading broke loose and the lake of water came rushing at us.  We just barely got out, but thanks to Charlie, we did.  We had him for 3 years and sold him to a miner in Branchdale.  He was a good mule.”


First, just what is a mule?  The breeding of horses and wild asses have been carried on for centuries for the purpose of producing a good, reliable working animal.  The mule developed as a hybrid cross between an ungelded male ass called a Jack and a mare horse.  The mule dates back a thousand years to the Middle East.

A mule’s physical characteristics are large ears, a very heavy muscular neck and large head.  They are one of the most sure footed animals known.  They are relatively disease resistant, tolerant of heat, live quite long, and have great endurance.  Their use in the mines has proven very satisfactory.  They are very quick in their movements, they adapt well to stress, especially in the mines.  In comparing them to a horse, they have better eyesight, carry their heads lower to avoid obstacles better, and move with steadiness.  They rarely become ill or suffer wounds, and can withstand extremes of temperature living on meager rations.  Their stamina is excellent.

Mules are known to have a reputation of being bad tempered and stubborn, but this characteristic is just related to the mule’s knack for self-preservation.  Mules are also very sensitive and many times untrusting of humans.  Until they learned to trust the miners and drivers, they would take a defensive action of a good swift kick.  They can kick fast and accurately.  And, if a mule misses with the kick, it is because he intended to.

In the Mine Haulage Systems Manual written in 1927, one section describes what one should look for in a mule when the agent is purchasing the animal.  Heavy mules are preferable but they should not be thick about the hocks, but should have good feet.  If the coal beds are thin, the mule should be purchased to work the haulegways.  The animals should be young, that way they are more easily broken into mine work. The ideal age is less than four years old.  Some mules are better adapted to mine work than others.  In fact, some are so nervous or stupid that they are useless.  The training of the mules should be the responsibility of the stable boss or one thoroughly accustomed to handling mules.

The average mule weighed around 900 pounds and was capable of exerting six times that weight at about 2.5 miles per hour or 220 feet per minute on a level track.  The following example shows how strong a mule is.  A coal car weighed about 2,000 pounds empty and loaded with 4,000 pounds of coal and rock required the animal to exert over 1,200 pounds of energy just to start it moving.  This number would change depending upon the age of the track, the angle, and other factors.

The most common disease of the mule was an aliment called Lampers and Scratches.  If not taken care of, it could cause lameness, although, with the mule’s tendency for being very tough and durable, it was mostly just an annoyance.  The major problem associated with mine mules was from the carelessness of the drivers not checking the harness, collar, hames, and traces for proper fit and chaffing.  The most dangerous thing the mules had to contend with was the same as anybody who made their living working deep in the bowels of the earth, that of gas explosions, falling roofs of slate and rock, and coal falls.  This great animal shared all the same dangers as the miners and drivers.  There is no listing of how many mules died in the mines, but the ratio would certainly be on the high side for the number of years that they worked the mines. Following is a good example of the dangers the mine mule was subject to and how tough and durable they were.


The Mule

Men generally fail in their estimate of the enduring characteristics of the mule.  We have heard a mule can kick, and that the mysterious law of gravitation has been outrageously violated when the mule has exercised in this particular.  Some say the mule can reason and that its logic is remarkably penetrating; whether the animal is all as represented, we cannot with any degree of positiveness, state.  However, we have always been inclined to the belief that the mule is very philosophical in its ways.  Conceding it being possessed, intuitively or by acquirement, of these worthy qualities, a late incident justifies us in adding to the role of the mules virtues; that of wonderful physical endurance.  At a certain colliery the other day, a mule employed in drawing cars to and from a counter chute on the surface, through some mysterious manner entangled its foot in the track and unwillingly precipitated itself hind-foremost down the deep, dark chasm.  It would unbecome us to estimate the number of revolutions made before its dark destination was reached-we allow the mule to tell its own story.  Much anxiety was experienced for the mule by his astonished driver who saw him disappear from view.  With a woebegone countenance expressive of a deep care and concern the agitated driver speedily made his way to the dark abyss prepared to shed a kindly tear over the remains of the late departed, when to his surprise the mule in question was found possessed of all the live qualities so characteristic of his specie.  On being led to the stable, he relived himself of the dust and dirt acquired in his two-hundred eighty feet descent by a natural mule shake, par-took of a hearty meal, reposed in undisturbed slumbers throughout the night and in the morning awoke as hale and hearty as if he had been romping over a green field with his muleine relatives.  This incident deserves to be added to the long catalogue of events illustrating the progress of science.  Investigation has proved that the interior of the chute has in no way been damaged.  We cannot explain the mystery, except that irresistible forces met the irresistible substance and the result was as stated.  It is presumed that the colliery will continue its mining operations despite its possession of this remarkable scientific factor.

The mine mule had many interesting, inherent characteristics. Some would lie down and not get up no matter how much coaxing was done.  Others would stop dead at quitting time and would not move no matter how hard they were pulled, pushed and coaxed.  They seemed to know how many cars they normally hauled, and adding any more to the trip would cause them to stand fast and not move an inch.  A good example is Vince Gately’s mule Charlie.  Charlie could pull up to three cars on the little pitch but he only wanted to pull two.  Charlie could feel the jerks in the number of cars.  He would pull and if he felt more than two jerks, he would sit down on the track and not move.  So I would place a stone under the first car and then let them drift back, and he wouldn’t feel the jerk.  Then he would pull the three cars out.

An interesting story of the strange behavior of a mule was given to me by my father in regards to my grandfather, George Richards, known to his friends as “Gigi’.  He was a driver, miner, and barn boss in his 40 years in the mines.  While working as barn boss at Indian Head Colliery, he had a mule by the name of Duke.  Duke was an inside mule who spent the majority of his time underground.  At one point, Duke got injured and was brought to the surface to recuperate.  Gigi treated him with kindness and a good relationship developed between them.  Duke would follow my grandfather all over stable.   Gigi would share his lunch with him and groom him.  But, Duke had one of those strange mule characteristics that stumped Gigi.  When he was brought to the surface, he would not drink any water.  At first Gigi, was not concerned, for, like a horse, a mule will only drink when it wants to.  But after a while my grandfather became concerned.  He would get him fresh buckets of water, but Duke would just turn his head and walk away.  One day, Gigi went back into the mine and down to the inside barn and brought up a bucket of water.  At that, Duke ran over, dipped his head into the bucket, and drank it empty. The only thing my grandfather could think of was he wanted water that smelled like sulfur. Gigi was kind to his mules and always related the fact that he never hit them with hand or whip.  He always cracked the whip over their heads.  He could always tell a mule that was hit by the drivers by rubbing his hands over their backs and finding the tender spots and rubbing them with ligament.  He would always approach his mules from the front and pet and rub their heads and talk nicely to them.  His favorite method involved giving them some sugar or tobacco.  His favorite mule was a small mule called “Little Joe.“  He was a dark bay color and stood no taller than himself.  Little Joe worked in the Evert Tunnel on Red Mountain in 1933.  Vince Gately also shared that mules very rarely had worms, most likely because of them drinking water tainted with sulfur inside the mines.


Another great mule story was written in the Pottsville Republican, March 8, 1915.  This is a story of a stubborn mule.  He escaped from the Bell Colliery stables, was known as a veteran of the mines, and was now on the surface because of an injury to three of its legs.


A Stubborn Mule Fought Fireman

When the 7107 Reading Railway train, bound for Tamaqua from Pottsville Monday morning, was commencing to ascend Tuscarora hill, shortly after 8 o’clock, the engineman, Geo. Paul was astounded to see a large black mule coming down the track between the rails and apparently determined to dispute the right away.  Whistling “Down Brakes.“  Paul sent ahead fireman Jim Riegel with instructions to drive away the belligerent mule, and Jim, armed with the wire, bread and steak toaster, approached the mule which at once turned tail.   Every time Jim hit it on the rump, he let fly with a viscous kick using its one good leg, and hee-hawed loudly.  Engineman Paul followed with the passenger train, slowly of course, until Jim’s toaster broke, and then he went to the tender and getting a scoop shovel returned to the combat.  In the mean time, Conductor Jim Gately and a number of passengers joined the attacking column.  The mule now turned around head toward the locomotive and refused to budge an inch. Finally, executing two flank movements, the mule was made to turn tail toward the locy and then, engineer Paul put on the steam while Riegel belabored the mule with the shovel, and at the psychological moment the conductor signaled Paul and the port side front bumper struck the mule on the starboard hind quarter and the stubborn animal was tumbled into the snow “Hee-hawing” loudly at the mean trick played on it.



In this story, a mule’s stubbornness caused its death.  Shamokin Times, May 14, 1880.


The other day, a mule started to walk up the slope of the Pennsylvania Colliery and about the same time a wagon started down the slope.   The mule and wagon met and both were stubborn and refused to turn to the right as the law is supposed to direct, something had to happen.  The wagon was the victor in the collision and the mule was reasonably dead in about four quick seconds.


The mule was also known for its mysteriously strange memory and would remember the driver or miner who mistreated them.  They could become extremely agitated quickly and strike out with their front legs or turn around and give you “Both Barrels,” as it was known.  Many drivers and miners were injured severely or killed by the kick of an angry mule, and many a mule suffered pain and injury from angry drivers and miners.  It was a real love hate relationship within the colliery sometimes.  In mine inspectors reports there are hundreds of examples of injuries received by miners and drivers while working with the mules.  An interesting article was reported in the Mahanoy City newspaper on March

4, 1890.

Killed by a Mule


Fred Kershner, aged 19 years, employed as a driver at Elmwood colliery, was fatally kicked by a vicious mule while at work Saturday morning.  Before the Coroner’s inquest last evening, Joseph Copley, a l7year-old boy who was the only witness of the accident, stated that Kershner was going toward the bottom with a trip of loaded cars.  He was standing on the front of the trip when his hind mule, a vicious and ungovernable animal, began to kick.  He heard Kershner cry “ Whoa”  or “Ob,”  he could not clearly distinguish which, and then saw him fall off the trip into the ditch aside the road.  The witness was frightened and ran to the bottom of the slope to summon help.  Evan Reese who was one of the men who ran to the assistance of the injured driver, testified that when he arrived at the spot, Kershner was found lying in the ditch with his head covered with blood, and his body convulsively twitching in agony of pain.  He was picked up and carried out to the bottom, dying on the way up the slope.  There could be no doubt that the mule kicked him, as he could not have been squeezed between the car and the timber at this point, as some had supposed.  The kick was received in the face making a frightful wound.  The deceased was a son of Mrs. Elizabeth Kershner, residing on West Centre Street.


The miners always stated that the company favored the mule over the miner, which was true because the mule was company property just like all the drills, picks and cars.  Any known damage to company property by an employee demanded immediate dismissal and the possibility of being black balled throughout the coal region.  A good example of this type of incident occurred on June 13, 1891, at the Brookside Colliery, in the Pottsville district.  John Maguire, a Philadelphia and Reading company superintendent, was called out to investigate a mule that was cut by an axe.  The following is taken from Maguire’s notes.

June 13, Brookside, saw bosses and John Monahan and told me that Owen Langton had cut a mule with an axe and by reports that driver says he did it purposely.  Told bosses to suspend him.

 June 19, Brookside saw John McKurk driver of the mule that Owen Langton cut with the axe, he says Langton was standing on a scaffold and was knocked down when he hit the mule with his axe, and said it was not accidentally as Langton claims.  Also saw a laborer who was working with Langton and he says he must tell the truth, that Langton hit the mule purposely.  It is evident that Owen Langton lost his job at the Brookside Colliery, as damaging company property was an offense.’


Mules were kept either in underground stables or above ground stables.  They were well taken care of for the time period in which they were used. They were well feed and watered daily.  They had veterinary services and their aliments were treated with great care.  The average daily feed for a mule weighing 1000 pounds is 12 pounds of grain and 15 pounds of hay.  Hay is digested in the intestines and grain in the stomach, so it was important for the drivers to water them first then give them hay and grain.  It was important for mules to have as much water as possible through out the workday.  The one requirement for the drivers was that the mule should have plenty of water in the morning.

In the stables, the drivers were responsible for properly harnessing the mules.  They paid particular care to the shoeing and mule’s legs were washed down when in the stable. According to the Mine Haulage Systems Manual, stables on the surface should be well ventilated and drained.  Underground stables were some elaborate places.  Some were cut right out of the rock with individual stalls for each mule.  In the Pottsville Journal, October 11, 1911, an article was written that described a new method of keeping the mules in good health.


Mine Mules Bathe

Have Tubs of Their Own and Shower Too.

Concrete bathtubs are the latest addition to the mule stables of the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Co. and according to Chief Veterinarian Newhard, who originated them, they help to keep the work animals in good health and spirits.  These concrete basins are set into the stable yard to a depth of four feet and filled with water, which is heated in winter by a jet of steam.  The dimensions of 6 feet by 27½ feet are ample for the mules to enjoy a good dip, while corrugations on the bottom of the tank keep them from slipping.  The inclines at both ends are likewise ribbed for the safety of the animals.  A six-foot shower is suspended over the center of the tank and all the coal dirt and dust is quickly removed.


In 1894, Stephen Crane, the famous author, wrote an article for McClures Magazine entitled “In the Depths of a Coal Mine.’  In one part, he describes the underground stables of a mine.


“Over in a wide and lightless room we found the mule stables.  There we discovered a number of these animals standing with an air of calmness and self-possession that was somehow amazing to find in a mine.  A little dark urchin came and belabored his mule “China” until he stood broadside to us that we might admire his innumerable fine qualities.  The stable was like a dungeon.  The mules were arranged in solemn rows. They turned their heads toward our lamps.  The glare made their eyes shine wondrously like lenses.  They resembled enormous rats.  About the room stood bales of hay, and straw the commonplace air worn by the long-eared slaves made it all infinitely usual. One had to wait to see the tragedy of it.  It was not until we had grown familiar with the life and the traditions of the mines that we were capable of understanding the story told by these beasts standing, in calm array with spread legs.”


At some of the collieries, the underground working mules were taken in and out every day.  Other collieries kept mules underground for very long periods of time.  Some mules lived years underground before they were brought to the surface.  Many stories relate how the mule, after being brought to the surface, would run, snort, and kick the air madly with the happiness of its new found freedom, and upon being made to go back into the mine would not move, or become very mean.  Stephen Crane continues his story of the mine mule and his life.

It is common affair for mules to be imprisoned for years in the limitless night of the mines.  Our acquaintance, “China,” had been four years buried.  Upon the surface, there had been the march of the seasons the white splendor of the snows had changed again and again to the glories of green springs.  F our times had the earth been ablaze with the decorations of brilliant autumns.  But, “China” and his friends had remained in these

dungeons from which daylight, if one could get a view up a shaft, would appear in a tiny circle, a silver star aglow in a sable sky.  Usually, when brought to the surface, the mules tremble at earth radiant in sunshine.  Later they go almost mad with fantastic joy.  The frill splendor of the heavens, the grass, the trees, the breezes, breaks upon them suddenly. They caper and career with extravagant mulish glee.  A miner told me of a mule that had spent some delirious months upon the surface after years of labor in the mines.  Finally, the time came when he was to be taken back, but the memory of a black existence was upon him.  He knew that gaping mouth that threatened to swallow him.  No cudgeling could induce him the men held conventions and discussed plans to budge that mule.  The celebrated quality of obstinacy in him won him liberty to gambol clumsily on the  surface.”


Mules were used inside and outside of the colliery.  The typical method utilized underground started when the mule was brought in either by way of a caged car, which was lowered down the shaft, or slope or they were walked in by the driver boys.  Inside the mine, the mules hauled loaded or unloaded cars from the working faces and breasts by way of the gangways.  There were areas called mule ways where the mules were taken off the gangway and distributed to other gangways or headings.  Some miners had many working faces and required numerous cars.  One driver and mule was assigned to a number of miners.  When the car was loaded, it was taken up to a parting or siding in a given amount of time.  The cars were held there until a trip was made up to go to the surface.  The most common trip consisted of 10 or 12 cars using three mules and three drivers, with the mules hooked in tandem.

One of the most interesting jobs the mule had was that reserved for a special mule, one with a little bit more intelligence than the norm.  This mule was called the “Breechin’ Mule.’  It was this mule’s job to work at the base of the shaft where the cage was located. As a trip of cars was being readied for the lift to the surface the bottom man would take each car and one by one take a hook on one side of the spreader chain attach it to the Breechin’ Mule.  The mule would pull forward, at the right time, with quick legwork step out of the way, and allow the loaded car to move forward into the cage.  Once in the cage the door would shut and the cage rise to the surface.  It was said when the mule did the maneuver, it looked like he was dancing.

The normal speed of the mule hauling a loaded car is about 2.5 M.P.H. depending mostly on the pitch or grade of the haulway.  Drivers were taught never to work the mules at a fast pace.  The animals would tire and in the long run it would just exhaust the animals.  When they were used too hard, they became winded, so the advantage of using them to gain more movement of cars and coal was lost.  If the mule was tired, the chance existed he could stumble or lag behind and on a down pitch, the car could easily run into the mule and injure him.  Care was needed when using the mule on a descending grade. Anything above a 3% grade was not supposed to be used in fear of hurting the animal. Cars were supposed to run down the grade without the use of the mule.

The mule’s effectiveness came from the fact that an average four-mule string could haul nearly 500 tons of coal in a 10-hour shift. Barring unforeseen circumstances, and the distance traveled was not more than a half mile.  According to statistics, this method of haulage was more cost effective per ton than any mechanical haulage system.  Although using mules for haulage was cheaper for the mine owners than other methods.  Whereas keeping and owning mules required more money for their daily maintenance, feed, care, harnesses, shoeing or any temporary injuries.  Money was also expended in just keeping spare mules on hand.

The dangers a mule experienced in a mine were constantly around them, the possibility of a roof fall, or explosions, water coming into the mine and of course, all the gases they were ex posed to.  In the August 10, 1882, Pottsville Miners Journal was found this tragic news item.


‘The water from the red ash workings at Preston no.2 Colliery broke through into the lower workings on Tuesday and drowned 27 mules, the miners escaped.”


Sometimes tragedy was averted at the collieries as exemplified by this fire that consumed the stables at the Otto Colliery near Branchdale. Pottsville Miners Journal January 1, 1913.


Otto Colliery Stable Burned 58 Mules Rescued-Work of Rebuilding Started at Once.

A fire of unknown origin destroyed the stable connected with the Otto Colliery Branchdale shortly after eight o’clock on Wednesday evening.  The stable was two stories in height, of frame and was about 40 feet wide by 200 feet long.  So suddenly did the flames burn forth that the colliery employees residing in the vicinity had a great difficulty in rescuing the 58 mules quartered there.  Although a number of the volunteer fireman had a narrow escapes from serious injury and  a number of the mules received slight burns, all were rescued in safety and taken to stables and barns in the vicinity.  Over 30 tons of hay with the harness was destroyed.  The loss is estimated a several thousand of dollars.  At the time the fire broke out, neither one of the stable bosses were near the scene and neither one of them is known to smoke, as Wednesday was a holiday and all the mules were kept in the stable during the entire day, with the exception of one team which was returned to the stable shortly before four o ‘clock.  The colliery whistle sounded the alarm and several streams of water were soon playing on the burning structure.  The fire however, had too great headway and the barn burned to the ground.


Safety for the mules was a constant problem.  Many times anyone caught hurting a mule would be immediately terminated.  The introduction of electricity into the mines and the use of high voltage for the new electric mine motors, produced another type of problem for the mules.  Some operations were in the process of converting their haulage system from mule power to electric power but were still using mules in conjunction with the new mine motors.  So with electric wires running down the gangway and the constant wet ground any mule whose head and ears were tall sometimes had the misfortune of coming in contact with wires and were electrocuted.  Fortunately, for the mine mule the Pardee Company came up with an invention.  On December 3, 1919, the Pottsville Journal printed an article concerning this problem.


Maude The Mine Mule Will Wear Stylish New Bonnet


Old mine mule Maude is to wear a bonnet.  They’re going to put one on her as an experiment and if she shows any signs of appreciation gets to realize that’s she is putting one over on her half-sister above ground who only gets a straw lid during the Summertime, and acts with judgment, all of her kind laboring inside will have there measures taken for headgear.  No bulletins will be issued by mining companies and in this way they hope to avoid disappointment.  Blonde mules and black mules will all wear black no favoritism will be shown at the bargain counter in the underground barns. 

Pardee and company are responsible for the innovation. An official of the Hazleton company discovered Maude had the habit of perking her ears every time she heard an unusual sound in the darkness of the gangways.  No body seemed to care whether she did or not until it was discovered the habit was costing the company hundreds of dollars.

Nine times out of ten, when Miss Mule planted her feet on a rail or a wet spot on the roadway and pointed her ears heaven ward she came in contact with the overhead wires furnishing power to the mine locomotives well then another was sent in to haul out the carcass after the electrocution.  The wire always held a heavier kick than the mule, and as she always carried around four legs and two ears as circuit makers the odds were always against her.

The new bonnets will be made of rubber; and cover ears and top of head. As there are few mirrors in the mines and not every miner carries a brand new dinner pail no unnecessary time will be lost in adjusting the new toggery to take satisfaction of the wearer.  The company doesn’t care what the driver boy thinks about it. If it means longer life for the mule, he is expected to overlook any unexpected air of vanity or pride she may display.

Mayhap she’ll get rubber soles and heels on her shoes and a chemically prepared powder puff later to make her immune from the dangers of everyday labor of life where daylight is unknown.


The number of mules used in a colliery varied greatly.  The main factors affecting the number included the size of the workings, the amount of money expended by the companies etc.  Trying to find the total number of mules used is almost impossible.  There were accurate records kept for some years, and others show no listing at all.  In this work, I will indicate the number of mules used in the anthracite region for a few selected years.

In the year 1879, in the Shamokin District, there were 64 collieries working, with 3,525 miners employed 505 drivers and 1,345 mules were being used.  A typical large colliery such as the Luke Fiddler colliery near Shamokin employed 150 miners, 30 driver boys inside and 66 mules, 35 inside and 21 outside.  While a small operation such as the George Fales colliery owned by the Philadelphia Reading Coal and Iron Company employed 216 miners, 7 drivers and they owned 16 mules.  In addition, the total number of mules used in 1879 all districts was 4,108 mules.

As the years progressed, the number of mules would rise with the number of operations. In 1895, there were 7 districts working in the anthracite region and the number of mules used was 13,253.  In 1900, there were 15,708 mules being used, 1905 saw 17,125 being used in the anthracite districts.  And even into 1920, with electric locomotion and steam driven engines, the anthracite coal region was still employing 11,062 mules. The highest number of mules used came in 1907 with 17,500 being used throughout the anthracite coal region.

In 1880, a survey was done to show the cost of using a powered locomotive to that of a comparable number of mules.  At the Ebervale colliery, using one steam-powered locomotive with an engineer and fireman, it cost the company $ 5.35 to haul 10 cars of loaded coal per trip.  In comparison, it required 15 mules to do the same amount of work in the same time, and also cost the company $ 16.00 for the use of the mule requiring feed, harness, shoeing and attendance, plus the wages of the driver.  The difference in cost per day was in favor of the locomotive, by the value of $10.65 per day.  And the value of the locomotive was $ 3,000.00 and that of 15 mules was $ 1,920 dollars.  The cost of one mule in 1880 was $160.00.  Of course, there is a limit to the use of the mine locomotive for underground haulage.  It can only be used for the hauling of coal from the inside turnout to the bottom of the slope.  Also in the year 1880, only one engineer was fatally injured while six drivers were killed in the mines.

Beginning in the late 1880’s, technology was starting to take over the mines.  With the introduction of the locomotive, the mule was in danger of being removed from the mines. Although the locomotive would eventually replace the mule as the major form of haulage in the mine, the mule still worked for many years in the dark damp bowls of the earth.  On October 25, 1898, the Miners Journal printed an article concerning this subject.


Festive Mine Mule has Lost His Grip

Coal operators look for economy and speed


Success of the New Haulage System. Compressed air locomotives will eventually be introduced in all the mines of the Anthracite Region. A million and a half of money invested in mule flesh now. It costs a fortune every year to haul underground in the

old way.

The mine mule, that much abused object of alleged humor in public print and the common enemy of every man and boy employed in collieries, is at last about to realize his hopes of an earthly paradise. That is if a mule ever has any hopes and also if there is such a thing as a paradise of any kind for the long-eared beast of burden.

Ever since the first coalhole was sunk, the mule has been the favorite, though oft times expensive means of locomotion in mining coal.  He turned the gin at the top of the slope, he pulled the cars of dirt and rock onto the dump and he felt his way along the narrow gangway at the head of a string of cars.  And outside of his daily ration of oats and hay his only recreation was an occasional roll in the dust of the barn yard.  His only pleasure was an occasional sly uplifting of his hindquarters, while his sharp shod hoofs flew out at right angles and planted themselves firmly on the bosom of some poor door boy’s pants. No man whoever worked in the mines can forget his first experience with the mine mule, when as a boy he conceived a spite against the quadrupled, and later on felt the caressing touch of the left hind hoof.  He will never forget the fiendish delight expressed in that mule’s gleeful braying.  And, he has ever since considered every mule in the mines his personal enemy.

But, there is to be a change.  In fact, it has already been inaugurated. The miner and the mine boy will still drive for a livelihood in the dark caverns of the earth, but the mine mule will breathe the air of heaven and feed on the green pastures of picturesque hillside.

The Journal noted last week that the Reading Coal and Iron Company is preparing to introduce the air compressor locomotive as a means to haul the cars underground at the Shenandoah City Colliery.  The Reading Company is not in the habit of making radical changes such as this without first knowing all about it.  And, the officials of the company do know all about it.  They have weighed well the advantages consequent upon parting company with the old slow going, sometimes stubborn but generally faithful mine mule.

It was about a year ago that the company first began to make preparations for this change. Alaska Colliery, near Mt. Carmel was selected as the place for making the experiment. The necessary changes were made and the machinery secured.  The air compressor engine has been working there for several months and has been a great success far beyond expectations.

After all, it will be the mule trade that will be affected the most.  For some years, the coal region has been the most extensive market for the mule dealers.  There are many dealers in the Anthracite region alone and then there are soft coal districts, which also use mules. Few mules die, it is true, but they wear out and are crippled and killed by accidents in the mines.  These cases result in a continuous steady market and most dealers make money.

From the reports of the inspectors of mines, it is estimated that over 15,000 mules work in and about the mines of the Anthracite region of Pennsylvania.  The prices of mules run from $100.00 to $125.00 a head.  Averaging the cost, we have the total investment of $1,400.000 in mule flesh in the Anthracite region.  No attempt has been made to figure out the cost of feed and other expenses necessary to keep the livestock up to the proper standard, but it must be a tremendous item in the expense account of such a large corporation as the Reading.

And so the mine mule must go.  His day is done and his usefulness in the mines is discounted by the invention of the modern man of brain.  No one will ever regret the side kicking of the mine mule more than the driver boy and his colleague the door boy.  They will have nothing to swear at and the festive lump of coal will not make any impression on the sides of the air compressor as it glides, smoothly over the rails with its long train of loaded cars.



The Drivers, Spraggers and Barn Bosses

The Driver

The most coveted job within the mines for an unskilled young man was that of the driver. He was usually a boy in is teens although some young men in their twenties still drove the mules.  They were totally responsible for the movement of the loaded and unloaded trip of cars inside and outside the mine.  The boys started out with one mule and worked their way to 6 or more mules.  The drivers were the idol of the younger flippers and slate pickers and almost every young boy around the colliery couldn’t wait until he was old enough to become a driver.

The driver boys were a breed unto themselves.  They chewed tobacco, smoked cigarettes and used some rather foul language.  In the early years of mining, 1850’s thru 1870’s, their ethnic back grounds were mostly Irish, Welsh, Scottish and German.  During the 1880’s and 1890’s, the immigration of Slavic and Italian people into the coal region changed the ethnic make up of the drivers.  The big problem the Italians and Slavic people had was the language barrier.  Many fights occurred between the various groups. The one thing that maintained continuity among the boys was their work.  They cleaned the stables daily.  They watered and feed the mules daily.  The boys also curry combed the mules so that the mule’s hair would not knot and cause chafing under there traces and harnesses.  Most of the boys knew how to perform different remedies to help care for an injured or sick mule.  First aid was one of their primary concerns.

In the 1881 Reports of the Inspectors of mines, the duties of a driver is described.  It states:

It shall be the duty of a driver to take proper care of his horse or mule, and see that it is properly fed and watered.  He must not whip or abuse it unnecessarily, or allow any person to do so.  He shall drive it carefully, and when ascending steep grade allow it to rest frequently.  When he leaves his mule or horse at any time, he must be careful; to leave it in a place of safety, where it will be secure from run away cars or other danger. When drawing cars into a place he must be careful not to drive his mule or horse any further than the track is laid, nor into a pile of coal at or near the face, or to leave the car at a place where he has no room to pass it.  If the road is in bad condition for want of filling, he shall be careful to sprag or block the cars sufficiently to prevent them from running upon himself or mule.  If head or stopping blocks are used at certain points upon the gangway or main road, he shall see that they are properly placed upon the road when going up with the empty cars, so that they may be in a proper position to stop the cars before they go onto the steeper grade.  If any person abuses his mule or horse he must report the same to the mine boss, nor will they be allowed to delegate any other person to take out or return their mules to the barn, nor drive their mules to or from the barn faster than a walk.


These rules were published in almost all the collieries, and in almost all the mine inspector reports.  The boys were supposed to obey them to the tee.  But, with youth you have bravado and not a lot of fear of danger and the boys sometimes paid no attention to the rules.  In the 1873 Inspectors report under the heading of “Accidents by Mine Wagons” (wagons is the early name used in reference to a coal car) it is stated that mine wagons are principally handled by irresponsible, wild youths, that become inured to the fast driving of mules upon inclined grades as well as upon levels in the different lifts of the mines, having no retreats or loopholes along these roads for safety, but take there chances at best.  These boys are subject to many disadvantages, as follows: A boy of 16 years of age may be put in charge of three or four mules, there may be three or four such teams used inside, and the haulage is generally managed under their own rules, but subject to perform duties required of them by bosses, loaders, miners etc.  To a stranger this is one of the most intricate employments of man.  In large mines of extensive excavations, where 250 men are at work, these brave fellows are obliged to forward the miners timbers in the morning or at the miners will, and in their passage through these wild caverns the rumbling commotion created by these trains, the firing of shots, the impenetrable powder smoke, black and fire damp, the bustle of miners and loaders, bosses and track men, these worthy boys rush on in the gloom when, in a number of cases, the space between the gangway timber will hardly admit of the passage of a wagon, over ill constructed railroads and sloughed gutters they fly at full speed, standing on the spreader chains or traces, carrying an armful of sprags at each trip to slacken speed in case of danger, yet without the slightest pity for their lot, they are hustled about by the older folks, as boys generally are. The slightest derangement to a train may cost him his life by being crushed to death by wagons, timbers, or jammed by trains, and commonly in a gloomy passage.  This is without a doubt a prolific source of accidents.

In collieries that produce say 12,000 tons of prepared coal per month, it must be evident these drivers appear to be fully occupied and evidently content, with their work.

The drivers were probably the most rambunctious boys in and around the colliery, as there are many photos and picture post cards to attest to this.  They were known to ride the mules bare back to and from the barn, as was usually against regulations.  Many accidents happened because of there playing and Tomfoolery with the mules.

The boys learned to drive the mules without the aid of reins.  They used voice commands and the crack of a whip.  While standing on the front bumper of the lead car or walking close beside the animal they used the commands of “Giddup” meaning to move forward, “Whoa” to stop “ Gee “ means to turn to the right, WaHa “caused the mule to turn to the left.


The Driver Boss or Barn Boss


The driver boss shall see that the drivers are at the stables in proper time in the morning, and ready to begin work at the appointed time.  He must see that the mules are regularly feed and watered, and properly attended to, and must see that the mules are not driven up steep grades without frequently resting them.  He shall see that the mules are not unnecessarily whipped or abused.

If the safety of persons or animals require a safety block or latch to be thrown across the track, near the face of working places, he shall see that one or the other be put on at once.  He shall not allow door boys to leave their doors except by permission of himself or the mine boss.


Spragger or Runner


The spragger or runner was the boy who assisted the driver in the movement of the loaded and unloaded cars in the colliery.  He had to be a very alert and fast acting boy who moved with the quickest of reactions.  He was loaded down with an armful of sprags that he could insert in the moving wheels of the cars.  This job was very dangerous as the boy could easily be run over by a car or trapped between the car and the side of the gangway.


Some Mule Reminisces


Local Schuylkill County Canal Historian, John Butz Bowman, interviewed some drivers and wrote an article entitled “The Mule In The Mines “and gives a wonderful account of what their lives were really like.  Mr. Nicholas Neider from Pottsville told Bowman this story.  Courtesy of  the files of the Schuylkill County Historical Society.


Nicholas was a driver at the Lincoln Colliery and at one time had charge of a team there. Mine mules are generally brought in from the western states ‘Green.’ (What is meant by that is, not harness broke.)  He is taken into the mines and left in the stable for a few days, to become accustomed to darkness.  Then he is harnessed and left stand for a day. Next day he is put in a team.  All teams in the mines are in tandem.  He is left to walk alone for a few days, before being urged to put any pressure against the collar.  In many cases, they try it themselves.

As time goes on and he begins to work, he is taken out of the team, taught to pull an empty car, and then two empties, once he masters that, he pulls a loaded car around. Drivers must use patience, for a loaded car is much harder to start than two empties.  Once he handles the one loaded car, hang the second one on.  More patience is to be used, for he knows the difference, and in many cases he refuses to pull.  Give him plenty of time, and keep the cars bumped every time he stretches them, and finally he will take them away.

All this is done by walking along side of him.  Once you step back, he will turn around looking for you.  As days go on and he gets confidence in you, you can start to ride the cars.  Next move is to teach him Gee and Haw.  If he is real intelligent, he is put back in the team, to be the leader, which is very hard work; for he is asked at all times, to start the trip.  He knows when the rest of the mules behind him have to do their part.  Once the trip is under way, he takes it easily, until he finds it slowing up, then is when he goes to work again.  A mule of this type looks for kindness, always and will never refuse his driver if it is in his power.

A strange driver for a day may spoil him, and it will take days to bring him around again.  Also, in many cases, he is spoiled for good.  Many mules, that are bad, can never be brought back, due to the abuse from the drivers.  A mine mule can find his way in the dark for miles.  Never use a whip unless absolutely necessary and then coax him so that he knows that you are still his friend.’

Mr. Bowman asked Mr. Neider whether he ever had any serious trouble with the mules, during his experience. He replied, “Only in one instance.”  He had been given a green mule to train, a big fine, valuable one. After having put him through the regular routine, and the time came to put in a team, he was astounded to find the mule work as though he had been trained to mine before, which seemed almost impossible, there were no body marks of collar, britchen, or traces to bear out that fact.  He was gentle, friendly, and confiding, showing no signs of viciousness.  Mr. Neider took a short vacation and upon returning, found the same mule now was mean.  He would try and kick him off the bumper, so that he could not ride the trip, bite kick with both hind legs and cut with the front ones.  Finally, he became impossible and was left to stand in the stable.  Time went by, when the superintendent called Mr. Neider into his office.

“Nick,” he said, “There is a mule in the stable eating his head off and I understand he came here a good mule, and now you can do nothing with him?”

‘That is correct. He must have been abused while I was away.”

“Well, everything, as you know, at the mines must pay, so manage to get him out and then kill him.”

Nick secured an iron bar, struck the mule back of the ear with all his might; he collapsed to the floor, whereupon he jumped upon his body, striking him with all his force.  Instead of dying, the mule began to scream.  He let him up.  For weakness and fright he could hardly stand, showing no signs of viciousness.  Nick coaxed him, took his face between his hands, showing the mule they could still be friends.  He immediately put him in a team and the mule worked, but in after days, when Nick didn’t work, the mule did not work either.  At the approach of the drivers, he went up in the air, front and back.

Another story told to Mr. Bowman was from Robert Allison of Port Carbon.  When Mr. Allison was a young boy, he went into a mine to watch what it was like to work in the dark depths.  

Mr. Allison said, “We were then taken to a loaded trip going out, and told how we must not walk behind the cars, keep together and by no means fall back, should any one’s lamp be extinguished by the dampness.”

Water dripped everywhere, my light went out, but I plodded along through the slush.  At a bend of the gangway, the trip came to a large wooden door, which was used in regulating the draft of air in the mines.  The mules had to stop until this gate was opened to let us through.  When ready to start again, the mules were unable to budge the cars, try as they would. The gatekeeper went back into the mines, and from out of the darkness came another driver, with a large gray mule.  Believe it or not, at the given command of both drivers, this mule stood up on his hind feet, placed his breast against the rear hindmost car, and pushed, walking on his hind legs until the team was well out of its difficulty.

And finally, from Mr. Bowman, a story of wonderful kindness and caring.

Mules were always trained at the mines, inside in the dark.  A good mule, inside, was not always a good one outside.  One boy was told by his father to take a mule to the surface and do some outside work with him.  When they came to the daylight, he wouldn’t work. The boy tried everything he could think of, but to no avail.  Then his mother came and she tried, exhausting all her efforts.  

Finally, she said, ‘Well, I’ll fix him.”  She went into the kitchen, secured a hot potato, lifted the mule’s tail and slapped it under.  I told a grand-daughter of this woman, that her uncle told me this story.

“Well,” she said, “‘I am not at all surprised, as grandmother was a very capable woman.”

Sometime later, this mule was horribly burned in the mines, and was brought up to be shot.  The mother protested, ‘You dare not kill him/”

The father said, “It will be up to you, he’s yours.  I wash my hands of him.”

She bathed the mule in sweet oil, padded him with cotton, attended him like a child, and finally healed all his burns.  When they wanted to take in back into the mines, she said, ‘Oh, no.  He belongs to me.”

He became quite a pet in the neighborhood, and the children had a good time riding him about the patch.  When let out of the stable each morning, he would first go to the back gate and bray for the woman, who would come out, pet him and wash his scares.

For the most part, the boys treated the mules with love and affection and in return the mules had their favorite drivers like wise.  

One of the most famous stories about a driver and his mule is the story of the 11-year-old mule driver named Martin Crahan.  Marty worked in and out of the mines for over two years.  In 1871, while working in the West Pittston mine, there was a major shaft fire. Marty could have escaped the fire by riding up the cage, but elected to return deep into the mine to alert 19 miners of the fire.  Marty told the miners and ran to the cage, which to his dismay had been consumed by the fire.  He once again went back to the miners who had barricaded themselves against the deadly fire and fumes, he begged to be let into their safe haven, but they refused.  Marty then went to the stables were he found his mule and they both died together.  The other 19 miners also died from the effects of the fire.


The danger drivers and spraggers encountered is listed count less times in the reports of the mine inspectors, from the 1870’s through the 1930’s.  The most common type of accident was being squeezed by mine cars, kicked by a mule or run over by cars.  Drivers and runners are the principal sufferers of being crushed by mine cars.  In 1876, the Annual Report of the Inspectors stated, “These accidents are generally the result of reckless daring on the part of the boys, and the narrow main roads, which are frequently obstructed by rubbish.”

How often the inspector is notified that a driver has been killed or seriously injured by being crushed between cars and the pillar, between cars and props or by falling under cars.  Then again, the drivers very often attempt to couple cars while they are in motion. This they should never do and the driver bosses should prohibit the practice at once.  If these boys were outside, in broad daylight then, the practice might be excusable, for then they would be able to see any obstruction that might be lying in there way and avoid them.  But, underground they are comparatively in midnight darkness, and cannot see but a few yards in advance at best, and they are hence liable to be thrown under or between the cars.  Every effort should be made by our colliery managers to save these boys lives.

Listed in the Reports of the inspectors of the mines for 1883 are some of the accidents that drivers and spraggers endured.  Mike Contra, an Italian driver was fatally injured by being thrown from a mule near Milnesville.  He was riding his mule from the stable when the animal became frightened and made a sudden plunge.  He was thrown and in falling, became entangled in the harness; the mule becoming thoroughly frightened ran away dragging him about a half mile before being caught.  When he was released from the harness, his head was reduced to a soft mass by the bumping against the ground.  In another accident, George Nesbitt a 14-year-old driver was fatally injured at Ebervale No. 3 colliery on the 20th of September.  He was driving empty cars from the foot of the slope and was walking behind his mule when he was suddenly kicked in the abdomen. His injuries were not considered severe at the time, but after a few hours his condition betokened internal injuries.  The inspector also added. I am of the opinion that some of the small boys about the colliery bothered the mule so that he became ugly, and endeavored to kick them.

Many boys were injured by the direct interaction of the mule.  Mike Grady a 16 year old driver at the Diamond Shaft was severely injured by having both legs crushed when his mule stomped all over him.  James Walker, 14 years old, was injured at the Eddy Creek Shaft, when his mule’s head hit him on the arm and breaking it.  He was holding the mules head while being shod at the blacksmith shop.At the end of this part will be found a listing for the 1880 and all the driver and spragger accidents that occurred in the Anthracite districts.  Driver boys sometimes became heroes as this article of The Pottsville Republican stated on March 26, 1914.


Bold Driver Boy Saved Six Lives

The bravery of a driver boy, who although severely burned by an explosion of gas in the Buck Ridge Colliery near Shamokin Friday morning drove a long distance to the foot of the slope and informed the foreman that six mine workers were lying in the bottom of the gangway probably overcome by the afterdamp of the explosion, resulted in bringing out of the six men senseless and the saving of there lives.  Now the plucky boy, whose name is Tom Swabusky, is looked upon as a hero and lies bandaged and brushed in the Shamokin Hospital.

Tom was riding on the top of a car directing his team of mules when he saw a ball of fire ahead in the gangway, and knowing that it meant an explosion of gas he shouted an alarm to six workmen in the gangway nearby and saw them throw them selves face downward on the bottom but he himself had tarried too long and was caught by the flash before he could get down to the bottom and his face and hands were scorched severely.  Nothing daunted he drove the mules, also suffering from burns and gave his alarm as stated.


Listed below is a list of all the driver boy accidents for the year 1880 in the Anthracite districts of Pennsylvania. The accidents are basically the same for every year from 1870 thru 1930.


The Driver Boys and Their Accidents


§ Mar 15/ Joseph Dix/ 15 Wadsville/ Fell from the front end of a wagon on which he was riding and dragged underneath injuring him internally.

§ Apr. 16/ Daniel Oakman/ Top driver/ Wadsville/ Thumb caught between car wheel and sprag. And cut off.

§ Apr. 16/ John Murphy/ Phoenix Park Caught between wagons and injured internally.

§ Apr. 17/ William Weakman/ Pottsville/ Wagon ran over his leg injuring it severely.

§ May 24/ George Wagne/ Dirt Bank Driver/ Glendower/ Fingers caught in a wheel and mashed.

§ May 26/ Thomas Wilson/ Diver/ Pottsville/ Kicked by a mule and head cut.

§ June 7/ William E Price/ Driver/ Wadesville/ Kicked by a mule and nose broken and chin cut.

§ .June 14/ James Hayes/ Driven Beechwood/ wagon ran over his fingers cutting off at first joint.

§ Sept. 28/ James McCreedy/ Driver/ Glendower/ Kicked by a mule and leg injured.

§ Nov. 15/ David W. Peregrine/ Driver/ Mine Hill Gap. Kicked by a mule hip hurt.

§ Nov. 23/ George Jenkins/ Driver/ Richardson/ While spragging a car thumb caught between sprag and wheel and broke.


1880 2nd District

§ May 14/ Peter Cleary/ Driver/ Ellangowan/ In attempting to un couple cars on a curve, his head was caught and crushed causing death.

§ May 18/ William Henderson/ Driver/ 16/ Packer No. 4/ Supposed to have been tramped to death by a mule. A breast closing in caused the mule to turn suddenly around passing the car to which he was hitched and catching the driver, Henderson.

§ Sept. 18/ John Dyer/ Driver/ Indian Ridge/ 22/ Married/ Crushed between Cars on side of the gangway on trip from counter chute to top of plane.

§ Feb. 3/ Charles Maloy/ Elmwood/ Fell under cars and arm broke.

§ Feb. 11/ Mike Coyne/ Driver on dirt bank/ Ellangowen/ Foot caught between rails and shoulder broke.

§ Feb. 12/ John Hendricks/ Driver/ Thomas/ Hurt on the dirt bank.

§ Mar 18/ Oscar McCord/ Driver/ William Penn/ Jammed between cars by Mule.

§ Apr. 26/ John Preston/ Driver/ Kohinoor/ Fall of coal, small bone of leg broke.

§ June 7/ Edward Williams/ Driver/ Girard/ Explosion of gas.

§ July 7/ Mike Gallagher/ Driver/ Honeybrook/ Foot crushed by mine car.

§ Sept. 18/ Martin Fahey/ Driver/ Plank Ridge/ Jammed between cars and head injured.

§ Nov. 8/ John Snedden/ Driver/ Plank Ridge/ Wagon Jumped the track, knocking the prop, causing a piece of slate to fall arm badly injured.

§ Nov. 24/ Thomas Ellwork/ Driver/ Stanton/ Fell under

wagon between slope and breaker; body crushed.

§ Nov. 26/ Peter Ditchman/ Driver Ellangowan/ Run over by dirt dumper, leg broken in two places.


3rd District

§ May 3/ Mike Douglas/ Driver Lykens Valley slope/ 20/ The driver coming in with a mule for loaded wagons, having come to a point on the gangway beyond which the use of naked lamps were prohibited and seeing men ahead with open lights, called to them if it was safe, to which they replied to him, “To come on” which he did; the men were eating their dinner, and while he was hitching his mule wagon, the men started turning a fan to remove gas that accumulated in a chute they were driving, this brought the gas down in the gangway and contact with the naked lamps. Burning the three.

§ Sept. 1/ William Wolfe/ Driver/ 18/ Big Mountain/ Run over by loaded mine cars.

§ Nov. 15/ Patrick Finnegan/ Driver/ Preston No.2/ 21/ Run over by loaded mine cars, died the following day

§ Nov. 23/ Daniel E. Liebey/ Driver/ 17/ Peerless/ Caught between loaded mine cars and gangway timber at mouth of the drift. He was coming out loaded wagons accompanied with two other boys and when outside the mouth of the drift, being ahead of the wagon he turned back going towards approaching cars, passing the young men who were with him , supposing as they have stated, to jump

§ June 14/ James Hayes/ Driver/ Beechwood/ wagon ran over his fingers cutting off at first joint.

§ Sept. 28/ James McCreedy/ Driver/ Glendower/ Kicked by a mule and leg injured.

§ Nov. 15/ David W. Peregrine/ Driver/ Mine Hill Gap./ Kicked by a mule, hip hurt.

§ Nov. 23/ George Jenkins/ Driver/ Richardson/ While spragging a car thumb caught between sprag and wheel and broke.

§ Nov. 26/ Daniel Kennedy/ Driver/ 15/ Luke Fidler/ Caught between loaded mine cars and crushed to death. He hitched his mule to two loaded mine cars to haul out of the mine, having started the mule, he became obstinate and refused to go further. While the driver was urging him on he turned around and started inwards on opposite side of the car to the driver, the latter jumping between the cars to drive him back, he was caught and jammed by the front car to which the mule was hitched, coming back on one next to it.

NOTE:  In some collieries, drivers, spraggers and door boys are using a villainous compound called lubricating, or black oil to fill their lamps, which is producing a heavy black smoke producing unhealthy air.

§ Jan 23/ Edward McHugh/ Stable Boss/ Locust Spring/ Kicked by a mule in the stomach.

§ Mar 8/ David Moire/ Driver/ Henry Clay Drift/ Caught between mule and mine wagon/ jaw bone broken and face badly damaged.

§ April 7/ Sebastian Kohl/ Spagger/ Burnside/ Hand caught between chain and side hook of the wagon. Tops of the fingers cut off.

§ April 19/ Charles Frank/ Driver/ Reliance/ Spreader fell on his wrist dislocating it.

§ May 5/ Jerome Reed/ Driver/ Henry Clay shaft/ caught in explosion of gas.

§ .Aug. 8/ John Henry/ Outside driver/ Buck Ridge/ Fell on bell plane while trying to ring bell wrist broken.

§ Sept. 23/ William McKinney/ Driver/ Big Mountain/ Fell of wagon while running down the plane arm broken.

§ Oct. 13/ George Krammer/ Driver/ North Franklin No.2/ Caught between cars leg fractured.

§ Oct. 21/ Patrick Coyle/ Driver/ Stuartsville/ Fall of top coal.

§ Oct. 25/ Christopher Robsertson / door tender/ Luke Fidler/ Fell while riding on mine cars.

Middle District

William J Warren, a driver, was instantly killed on the culm bank.  He was fifteen years old. At No. 2 shaft Plymouth.  He was making one of his usual trips to the culm bank with loaded cars. John Nesbitt was on the hind car, attending the brake, and John Warren, the deceased’s brother was riding on the side of the car.  When about halfway to the dump Willie struck the mule with his whip and started him on faster, then he attempted to step on the front end of the car, and missed his hold, fell under and was instantly killed.

James Danahey, a driver age 16 was almost instantly killed at Shaft No. 2 Nanticoke on Dec. 11. The deceased, against all instructions to the contrary, undertook to run a loaded car from the gangway by a brake. To do this he was obliged to stand on the front end of the car, as the lever of the brake was on that end. The brake proved to be a bad one and the car ran pretty fast and when near the bottom of the run jumped off the track and threw the driver against the prop with such force as to fracture his skull.  The mine boss stated that the day before he caught him running a car and charged him not to do it again, for he considered it to dangerous for a boy of such light weight.  And, he had employed a runner for just such a job.  But, he was an active boy, ambitious, and anxious to earn more wages, and had asked several times for the job of running cars, which he was refused to him on the grounds stated.  On that fateful morning another boy told him the brake was not safe and to be careful, he replied that he would risk it, he did and sacrificed his young life in the attempt.

Thomas McGlynn, a driver age 16 was fatally injured at the Diamond Shaft, November 29.  He was walking out carelessly on the gangway, along with his mule and a trip of cars and thoughtlessly set his foot between a latch and the rail, his foot was caught fast and failed to release it until the cars were upon him, they crushed his leg fearfully, between foot and knee. Hope was entertained of saving his life by amputating the limb, but the surgeons had hardly begun the operation when he expired.

John Dunstan, a driver age 14, was instantly killed at Shaft No. 2 Nanticoke, December 21.  He had just pilled an empty car into the chamber, which was pitching about four degrees, was leading his mule back and the trace chain caught in the corner of the car, Jerking it over the block.  The same time the mule swung against the boy and knocked him down on the track.  The laborer, who stood by, held the car almost instantly, but as the boy was rising he received a thrust (kick) in his side, which caused his death in a few minutes.  This was a very unfortunate accident, occurring in a safe place and could have been easily avoided with little care, as there was plenty of room to pass the mule without touching the car.

§ July 30/ Patrick Welsh/ Driver 23/ Midville/ Kicked in the mouth by a mule losing two teeth.

§ July 20/ Gomer Lewis/ Driver/ 15/ Nanticoke Tunnel no. 1/ Kicked by a mule.

§ Sept. 6/ John Hughes/ Driver/ 14/ Old Slope Franklin/ Slopped under loaded cars.

§ July 10/ Leo Dutch/ Driver/ 13/ Hollenbach/ Kicked by mule teeth knocked out.

§ Sept. 13/ William Devlin/ 17/ Henry Coil./ Kicked in the head by a mule.

§ Nov. 19/ David Evans/ Slope No. 4/ severely injured, his clothes being caught in the trace of a mule the mule was fright ened was frightened and dragged the boy for some distance.

Eastern District

Edward Watkins, a driver at the Brisbin shaft, was fatally injured by being caught under a trip of empty mine cars. He was driving a team of mules and had them hitched to a trip of eleven cars, when the mules started and ran away down a steep grade that required two sprags in each car.  The mules ran until they reached the chamber, Watkins hanging on the harness of the hind mule all the way, but he finally lost his light and fell before the trip, and the two forward cars ran over him and he was found lying under the third car.  The men who were present made all haste to free him from under the car, not with standing that the roof was cracking fearfully over their heads and they had just moved him when a large portion of the roof fell just were the boy was lying.

These mules or rather one of them was in the habit of running away, they would balk, and when they started they would run as hard as they could.  As far as possible, all such factious mules should be banished out of the mines, and if I could I would do so this at once.  I am happy to state that some of our most efficient superintendents do not keep unruly and fractious mule in their mines for an hour after they find they are dangerous and unsafe for the boys to handle.


§ 1,136 drivers employed in mines

§ John Yates 18 fatally injured while falling under a trip of cars while hitching his mule. Maitby Shaft

§ August Sheffler driver 19, Shaft No. 1 G seam Nanticoke A piece of scrap steel penetrated his body when riding on front of car.

§ John McLaughlin Driver 19 Ashley, Kicked in the abdomen by mule walked home and died a couple of days later.

§ George Mashinko driver 31 killed by having his head smashed between timber car


§ Emry Jones was killed when he was kicked by the mule in a manway he was 16 years old. The Hollenback colliery.

§ John Griffth was instantly killed when he was trying to spragg a car and it ran off the track and crushed him he was 20 years old worked at the Franklin Colliery.

§ James 0 Connell was instantly killed when he slipped and was crushed by a car when he was unhooking his mule.  He was 17 and worked at the Shaft No. 5 in Plymouth.

§ Thomas Duffy a driver’s helper was injured and had five teeth kicked out by a mule he was 17 and worked at the Plymouth Colliery.

§ 29 drivers and runners were injured in the 4 district during this year.

§ John Trsco or Freda and John Martin 25 and 35 both out side drivers at the Milnesville colliery were instantly killed by a landslide, they were taking a trip of cars to the bottom of the slope or to the outside plane.

§ William Lilly a spragger was injured when he slipped and fell underneath a car his arm was badly injured this happened at the No. 1 breaker in Lattimer.

§ Joseph Coulon was struck by a bale of hay and his leg was injured he was 18 years old and worked at the No. 2 Hollywood breaker.

§ Adam Trimble a 22-year-old driver was struck on the head by a door when a gust of air blew it open which was caused by a heavy fall of rock. He suffered a brain contusion. This happened at the Sandy Run Colliery Luzerne City.

§ Harry Reilley an Irish driver 19 years old who worked at the Maple Hill colliery was injured when his clothes were caught and he was squeezed by a car and the brattice.

§ John Chisnell 22 working at the Bear Ridge Colliery skull was fractured after he was kicked by a mule.

§ John Everman 19 a driver at the Packer No. 4 Lost Creek was had his arm cut off he left the switch misplaced and coming on to the turn out the loaded car ran into an empty truck.

§ There were 855 drivers and runners in the 7 anthracite district in 1895.

§ 8th district of Schuylkill county had 433 drivers and runners employed.

§ They also had 1,258 mules and horses in the mine.

§ William Dunlap 17 working at the Eagle Hill colliery died from the effects of being caught between two mine cars at the bottom of the slope.

§ Thomas Gauntlett a driver at Blackwood colliery was in jured by being crushed up against a prop by his mule collarbone broken.

§ John Roberts a driver at Morea colliery was injured when his hand was crushed while unhooking his mule.

§ Harmony Richardson at the St. Clair Colliery had three ribs broken when his mule turned and crushed him between the cars.


§ Patrick Hughes a driver 18, was injured in the jaw when a mule kicked him. Hyde Park Colliery.

§ John Ratchford was injured when a mule kicked him in the face, he was 17 at the Manville Mine.

§ James McAndrew was injured at the Archablad mine he was 15 years old, his leg was fractured while riding a mule and drove up against the mine car.

§ Ben Morgan was injured when a mule kicked him in the head his scalp was cut this happened at the he was 16 at the Mt. Pleasant colliery.

§ August Speyler a 20-year-old driver was driving a team and they ran away and in trying to catch them he became in tangled in the harness and fell under the car giving him severe bruises.

§ Max peel 23-year-old runner was injured at the Dickson Shaft when he was caught by a moving car while trying to hitch a team of mules.

§ The 3 district had 2,270 mules and horses during the year.

§ Joe Macusky 20 at the Maple Hill colliery was fatally injured by being kicked from the mule he was driving.

§ Matthew Brennan a driver was severely injured at the Eagle Hill Colliery on May 5th and died from the effects on May 17. He was engaged as a driver at the bottom of the slope and side hitched two empty cars into the back switch, while he was taking some coupling chains from the front end of the empty cars, another driver ran three loaded cars into the back switch, which bumped against the empty ones and caught Brennan between the ends of the empty cars and the face of the back switch.

§ John Harrison, 17 a driver was killed at Eagle Hill colliery on August 12. He was employed as a driver at the bottom of the slope and commenced work only the day before. In pulling the empty cars into the back switch at the bottom of the fifth lift he hitched a mule to the back end of the second car, the front end of which was filled with short timber. The light end of the car swung off the track and caught his head between the end of the car and the timber.

§ August Dunhammer 20-year-old driver at York Farm Colliery had his leg broken by the mules falling and throwing him under cars.1897

§ William Wolf a driver was killed at The Good Spring colliery. He was employed on the bank, and while bringin’ an empty car his mule took fright at cars running on overhead trestle and ran away. While trying to unhitch the mule from the car, he fell in front of the car, which ran over him. Injuring him so severely that he died on the way home.


The Mule and Driver Boys in Song and Verse

The mule and the driver are well known in both song and verse, the traditional song of “My Sweethearts the Mule in the Mine,” listed on the first page is probably the most famous of the songs and known for many years. But, there are other versus related to the driver boy’s and the mules.

In the sad old song entitled Old Miners Refrain, the old miner sings about his life in the mines and in one verse relates about his time while driving mules:


I next became a driver and thought myself a man

The boss, he raised my pay as I advanced

In going through the gangway with the mules at my command.

I was prouder than the President of France.


But now my pride is weakened and I am weakened too.

 I tremble till I’m scarcely fit to stand

If I were taught book learning instead of driving teams

 Today kind friends I’d be a richer man.


On Wednesday, April 23, 1879, at the No. 10 slope of the Lehigh And Wilkes-Barre Coal company at Sugar Notch a gang of men were driving a gangway into a seam of coal when the roof caved in and blocked their only means of escape.  Trapped inside this tomb were five miners and a 13-year-old door boy and a young mule driver by the name William Kenney.  After five days, the miners were forced to kill the mule for its meat.  Using a hammer the driver hit the mule on the head and killed him.  They then checked for any gas left in the mine, and finding it clear, they cooked the meat on the top of a dinner pail. The seven men were finally rescued at 9 o’clock on Monday morning.  Following is a couple of stances from this song about their ordeal.

The Sugar Notch Entombment

It was in the month of April in 1879,

When seven men from Sugar Notch came to work down in the mine,

The night shift was before them and honest they began;

The driver came and told them that the mine was cavin’ in


Pricey held the safety lamp and Harper he was last,

Mackkie he put up his hand and shut off the gas,

The rocks stood on their edges up against the roof

and here we stand for proof.


We walked in the gangway and there we sat down,

We held a conversation and it went all around,

Some were very hungry and some were very weak,

Says Johnny Glynn, “We’ll kill our mule and have a jolly feast.”


The driver went and got his mule and tied him to a prop,

The tears came rolling from his eyes, saying

“Harry you must drop.”

On picking up the hammer he found the hammer to be dull-

He hit the poor mule ten times on the head before he broke his skull.


“Harry, you’re dead and gone, your life is gone astray.

But many a hundred wagons you’ve pulled out of this gangway.

Many a driver’s drove you but now you’re drivin’s at an end.”

And then the mine began to cave in around the seven men.


The Driver Boys of Wadesville Shaft written by Bill Keating

the famous Schuylkill County poet and balladeer , is the best of the songs written about the boys and their mules and is a fine tribute to the boys who drove the mules.


The Driver Boys of Wadesville Shaft

Now, boys I’ll sing you a little song,

And I think that when I’m through

Yu’ll say this song is well composed,

And the words are very true.


It’s about a bunch of driver boy’s,

They worked in Wadesville shaft,

And when I tell you how they toiled

I think ‘twill make you laugh.


Well, now to start this little song,

I’ll begin with Henry Flynn,

For when it comes to driving mules

He thinks he’s the real thing.


He’s the first driver from the barn,

With Collie-mule in lead,

But when he gets back, at quitting time,

he hasn’t earned their feed


He leaves the seven foot turnout,

With six or seven cars,

They’ll run out to the spragging place,

And there he’ll be stuck for hours!


He’ll drag them then by ones and twos

to the bottom of the shaft;

Then he’ll catch his lead mule by the head,

and go for another draft.


Well, then he’ll start from the spraggin place,

And run right through an open switch!

With two stiff cars and a jammer in,

And his lead mule in the ditch.


Well, then he’ll drive them up the grade,

Collie runs on the high side,

Johnny Loftus with an armful of sprags

Is what saves the breechin’ mule’s hide.


Then Henry’ll say that Collie-mule

And Charley ain’t worth a bit;

I hate to call the man a liar,

But they’re the best two mules in the pit.


It takes us door boys all our time,

To keep Henry Flynn in hemp,

And with weaving lashes for his whip

Our fingernails are bent.


So that’s the way he’ll run all day,

He’ll tally about fourteen cars;

For the longest shift he ever works

In six or seven hours.


Well, then there’s Oweny Loftus,

With a team of mules he’s slick;

And when he chirrups for the signal light,

Then look out for a big trip.


When Oweny’s team leaves the Primrose bend,

Their shoes begin to pound,

And until he hits the top of the grade,

He’ll never utter a sound.


‘Twould do you good to stand upon

The crossroads at the bend;

And watch the curb boy count Oweny’s trip-

Twenty cars often mark the end.


He has Fox and Dick and Paddy and Mike;

 Lively Lark- Mule leads the way,

If all the teams pulled trips like Oweny’s

Wadesville colliery would surely pay.


Well, here comes Jack McNulty,

Out along west Skidmore line;

With his feet stretched out on the tail chain,

Old John Garrity nippin’ behind.


When Jack’s team nears the terminal,

Jack hopes he’ll get a through light,

But when he rounds the Skidmore bend

Then there’s no curb-boy in sight!


Then Jack jumps off sprags up his trip,

At dumb door boys he’ll rage and swear;

And if the nipper opens his lip,

Jack hauls him around by the hair.


You see, nearly every trip Jack brings,

He has tunnel-rock cars mixed in,

So. of course, we have to red light Jack,

So’s to white light Henry Flynn.


Jack drives Punch mule, Pete, Pet, Prince,

Lazy Mary Mule leads the way.

If Jack would haul more coal, less rock,

Then the breaker could work a full day.


Well then there’s Johnny Baltsis,

He drives the shifting team;

He pulls the cars from the tender shaft,

and keeps the bottom turn out clean.


Johnny Baltsis’ the busiest boy about,

The way he slaves is a sin!

Pullin Jack McNulty’s rock cars out,

And side hitchin’ Henry Flynn.


They talk about the Altoona Yards,

But Altoona yards are tame,

You should see John Baltsis shifting cars!

With Jerry mule and Jane.


Some other time, I’ll sing some more,

“Bout the busy driver boys.

At present, I’ll page the stable “Maids”

Stable bosses are mostly noise.


Willie Brennan is quiet, seldom gets in fight,

Bossy Donnagan, he’s a darn crank!

They worry me from morn till night,

With there rollin’ feed cars and water tank.


They chase me to get the water turned on,

Then they race me to get it turned off

But when drivers take their teams for a drink,

There’s never a drop in the water trough!


They haven’t the nerve for stable work,

If a mule shakes his tail they are scared!

And in case of an emergency,

They never are prepared.


If a hame strap or a tail chain happens to break,

That a team driver’s tally will sink,

There’s no harness parts in the barn,

Not even an open link.


Poor mules must stand knee deep in dung!

So the company’s greatest loss,

Is payin’ sixty dollars a month

To a lazy stable boss.


The fire bosses, foremen and driver boss,

Took a seashore vacation trip;

Willie Brennan carried the bootblack box,

Jim Donnagan juggled the grips.


The driver boys and the stable boss,

from my song should learn a lesson,

And now I’ll begin with the bottom men,

For some of them need a dressin’.


There easy going fat Jack Betzs,

Jack jokes and loafs all day,

While old “Dutch” Hen is humpty backed

Pushin cars from the cage away.


Matt Reddington, a butty to Betzs,

And though Matt’s a first cousin of mine

Matt goes to dances and balls every night;

 In the mines he’s asleep most of the time.


Mike McNulty gets stuck with an empty trip,

Jack Betzs bawls all hands out

Matt Reddington lets a coupling slip

Onto Dutch Hen’s left foot gout!


“The breaker is waitin’; this won’t pay.

Move those empties, “Betzs will say

Then Dutch Hen will say in his Dutchy’ied way,

“Be der lawd Kyist der twack is blocked out!”


In insane asylums madmen rave,

But where sensible men go daft,

You’d go nutty too with that bug house crew,

On the bottom of Wadesville shaft.


Bunker John Kelly and Joe Morley,

They’ve the meanest job in the mine;

Double oil cloth suits and high gum boots,

Yet they’re drowned wet all the time.


No moon, no stars, no sun ever gleams

Through the gloom of the underground;

Here danger death, and darkness reign,

Yet humor here is found.


It’s quittin’ time, I’ll close my door,

Just one request, I pray:

My supper will be crust, no more,

Please boost a poor door boy’s pay.


The driver boys are long gone, their mischievous behavior, their tobacco chewing, their swearing and wild antics are all just memories now.  We should honor the boys who worked in the dark of the mines, bent and stooped, damp and wet, inhaling mine gases and coal dirt and sometimes giving up there young lives for the coal companies. Today, there are no mules working in the mines of the anthracite region.  They no longer bear the burden of pulling cars loaded with coal through the wet and muddy gang- ways, in the endless darkness of the mines.  They no longer are subject to being crushed in a cave-in or being burned in a gas explosion, or drowning in an outburst of water.  Although there are sad stories concerning the boys and their mules, there are also many good stories about their lives.  Driver boy and mule spent many years together and what they sacrificed for our comfort should never be forgotten.  Finally, it took an act of Legislature in December, 1965, to make it illegal, in keeping mules in underground stables.



1. Pottsville Miners Journal Newspaper

October 11, 1911.

January 1, 1913.

December 3, 1919.

October 25, 1898.

2. Pottsville Daily Republican

March 8, 1915.

March26, 1914.

3. Shamokin Times, May 14, 1880.

4. Mahanoy City Newspaper, March 4, 1890.

5. McClures Magazine 1894 “The Depths of a Coal Mine” Stephen Crane.

6. Mine Haualge Systems Manual 1927.

7. “Songs and Ballads of the Coal Miner,” George Korson. United Mine Workers Journal

November, 15, 1926

8. “Anthracite Mine Ballads and Legends Recalled” Shenandoah Evening Herald May 8, 1924. Tom Barrett.

9. Inspector Reports of the Mines.














11. When Coal was King, Louis Poliniak.

12. “The Mules in the Mines,” Article by John Butz Bowman, Held in the Schuylkill County Historical Society.



Why does Anthracite History matter?

It is very hard to make a young person understand why history matters. After all, they have their whole lives ahead of them. There is only the future. The young still feel invincible, immortal, and in charge. It is not until we come to grips with our mortality that we begin to care about who we are and what we have done.

Will it matter that we were here at all?

We have not cared about history, so who will care about us?

Once faced with these questions, it becomes important for us to know where we came from. To search out our past and discover what made us the way we are. This is why Anthracite his tory is so important. We have coal in our blood and thus the collective history of producing that coal becomes important. We get a burning de sire to remember those who worked so hard to give us what we have today.

For all we have, we remember them and thank them.

For all we want, we record it for the time when our children are ready to hear it.