IN A BEAUTIFUL NATURAL SETTING, among the woods and water and wetlands, an American tragedy unfolded nearly 100 years ago on the Cuyuna Iron Range. In the late afternoon of February 5, 1924, water seeped into and then flooded the Milford Mine near Crosby, killing 41 miners in Minnesota’s worst mining disaster.
Their deaths left 38 women without husbands. And 83 children without fathers.
Today the memories of those 41 hardworking iron ore miners, and the seven who survived the mine collapse, are honored at Milford Mine Memorial Park. The Crow Wing County Park is located four miles north of Crosby, just off County Road 30. The Milford Mine Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places, so important is this to the region’s mining history.
This is truly a remarkable park that covers the history of this event in a deeply personal way. Through names on boardwalks and brief bios on signs, this park moves this disaster beyond statistics. Only then do we begin to understand, to feel the loss.
George Butkovich, 29, an Austrian immigrant married to Anna Perpich (a well-known name to Minnesotans who remember our 34th and 36th governor, Rudy Perpich, a native of the Iron Range) died in the mine. He lived with Anna and their three children in Ironton.
Emil A. Carlson, 29, from Finland, was the father of four and married to Elma. They lived in Crosby.
Nels R. Pitari, 37, also a Finnish immigrant, was married to Hilda. They lived in Brainerd and had four children, one only five months old at the time of his father’s death.
According to signage at Milford Memorial Park, the park “is an attempt to preserve the memory of those who gave their lives to pursue the American dream, provide for their families and build their community.” That’s necessary to understand given the importance of iron ore mining in this region. The high grade ore from the Milford Mine was used in the production of steel. This region of Minnesota was built around iron ore mining.
Many who came to this area arrived from across the US, Canada and the European continent. They were a diverse group, looking to better their lives, to raise their families in a new place, to build strong communities.
In walking through the park, pausing often to read the history of this place and to view marked sites like the machine and blacksmith shops and the mine and timber shafts, I felt a sense of reverence, a sense of understanding of the loss connected to this land.
Investigators determined that pressure from Lake Foley, connected to adjoining wetlands, caused water to rush into the mine resulting in the collapse of the mine’s walls. Within 20 minutes of that occurrence, the 200-foot deep mine shaft filled to within 15 feet of the surface. That allowed only minimal time for the miners to attempt an escape. Only seven got out. They, too, are recognized at the memorial park on a survivors’ boardwalk: Carl Frals, Harry Hosford, Mike Zakotnik…
As I walked the boardwalks and trails, I felt sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer tragedy of the Milford Mine Disaster. So much loss. So much grief and pain. So many father-less children. And it is that, perhaps, which touched me the most.
NOTE: Milford Mine Memorial Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. I encourage you to visit, to experience this important part of Minnesota history.
© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
this is so tragic and thank you for sharing their story. i’m glad that they have not been forgotten, and beauty has taken hold there
You are welcome, Beth. Crow Wing County has done a remarkable job with this memorial.
This is very interesting. Thank you for enlightening me on this disaster, and this memorial park in Crosby.
You and Gary would very much appreciate this memorial park for the history and the beautiful natural setting.
Growing up in southwestern Minnesota, we studied Minnesota history in 6th grade. I never heard of this mining disaster until I read your posts about it.
Exactly. Not a word about this mining disaster in our sixth grade history lessons. But then my husband, who attended school in central Minnesota, never heard of the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862. That I knew a lot about, with it happening right in our backyard. I even penned a term paper on the topic.
A very poignant remembrance for the town and families. That’s a wonderful broadwalk to the site, the planner is on YT here: https://youtu.be/TEQPHWh7vvM
Your point about the 1862 conflict is well made. What I knew about native Americans in Rice County was nothing, we vacationed in northern MN, folks bought me moccasins. Now I have at least one classmate that speaks the language, fluently! After studying the Whipple legacy, as well as the recent MHS exhibit….well, better late than never. And I still think of the Iron Range as further north than Crosby. Thank you for this post.
You’re welcome, Sandy, I’m impressed by your classmate learning the Dakota language.
I grew up in Crosby and, as a child, remember neighbors and friends talking about the Milford Mine Disaster. I was always fascinated by the story. Thanks to all who have memorialized the tragedy with the establishment of the Milford Mine Memorial Park!
We found this park to be incredibly well done in terms of telling the history of the mine disaster and honoring those who lost their lives. All of this in a natural setting makes a powerful impact. The museum in town is also interesting with the Man High exhibit, another part of history I’d not known about.