Joseph Mills was born at Handsworth, Staffordshire, England, on March 24th, 1837. He immigrated to America and married Mount Savage native Catherine Dean in 1861. By 1890, Joseph and Catherine were the parents of seven daughters and five sons. Joseph supported his family by working as a coal miner.
Joseph and Catherine’s son, Joseph Thomas Mills, was born March 13, 1871. He married Winifred Bernadette Donahue in 1892. Together they parented thirteen children. Joseph was a watchman for the B&O Railroad at Red Rock, east of Piedmont, WV. Joseph’s brother, Ligouri “Gory” Mills, was also a watchman for the B&O at Red Rock. Gory was just finishing his shift around 3 pm when he heard that Joseph wasn’t feeling well. Gory decided to stay in the watch tower in case his brother needed relief. When Joseph didn’t show up at the tower at the end of his shift, Gory went looking for him. He discovered his brother’s mangled body, lying along the railroad tracks. Joseph had been struck and killed by a train on March 13th, 1920, his 49th birthday. Joseph was buried in Westernport’s St. Peter’s Cemetery.
Both Joseph Thomas Mills and his brother, James Oscar Mills, named their sons Joseph Henry Mills. Joseph’s son was born in 1894 and James’s son in 1905. Ironically, the Joseph H. Mills cousins were killed six years apart in the same George’s Creek No. 2 Mine near Gilmore. Thirty year-old Joseph (son of James) was killed on April 17th, 1935[see below] while installing “lagging” with Frank McGowan and Leonard Dye. Lagging was the process of placing boards in the ceiling of the mine to prevent rocks from falling. Mr. Mills noticed that the bridge board over the bar wasn’t centered. He hit it with a ten pound sledge hammer, causing a roof fall, which buried him.
On March 31st, 1941, 47 year-old Joseph H. Mills (son of Joseph) was also killed by a roof fall in the George’s Creek Coal Company’s No. 2 Mine. Mr. Mills was working with John Murphy of Lonaconing, loading their last car of the day. They were looking forward to the following day off for the Mitchell Day celebration. The prospect of an extended shutdown was looming if the mine operators failed to reach an agreement with the United Mine Workers by midnight on March 31st. When interviewed at the home of relatives on the day of the accident, Mr. Murphy was so shaken that he was reluctant to speak at first. When he was finally able, Murphy said that he did not know what caused the accident, but that he suddenly heard a loud roar and the sound of breaking timbers. The roof fall knocked him against the coal face, extinguishing his lantern. Murphy had three matches, which he lit, hoping to find some means of escape. He dug for a while and yelled for help until he was hoarse. When seeing a flicker of light through an opening in the fall, he yelled again as loud as he could. His plea was answered by David Brown. Brown had been sent to search for the two miners when they did not come out of the mine at the end of their shift.
Foremen William C. Abbott and Joseph Todd initiated a rescue operation, and Murphy was freed one hour later. Four hours afterward, at 7 pm, they recovered the body of Joseph Mills near the front of the car. He was in a doubled up position, face downward. An hour before his body was recovered, Reverend E.T. Fisher, pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Midland, went to the scene to administer the conditional rites of absolution. Hundreds crowded the site of the disaster, including miners from nearby operations. Joseph Mills’ body was later examined by Dr. Henry M. Hodgson at the Eichhorn Funeral Home in Lonaconing. Hodgson said that Mills died of suffocation, sustaining no other injuries. When asked his opinion about the cause of the accident, foreman William Abbott said that it was just “one of those unforeseen things” and declined further comment.
Joseph Mills was wounded in action while serving overseas in World War 1. He was a member of the Holy Name Society of Midland, the Knights of Columbus, and the Midland Volunteer Fire Company. Survivors included his mother, his wife, and seven children, ranging in age from seven to thirteen. Within a span of twenty-one years, the deaths of three family members, all named Joseph Mills, left a total of twenty fatherless children.
Family matriarch, Catherine Dean Mills, died in Lonaconing in 1908, and never lived to witness the deaths of the three Joseph Mills. In her obituary it was written that “the deceased was a good woman in every sense of the word. She reared a large family in the way that they should go, and they have not strayed from it. The Mills family are old residents of Lonaconing, and are good people, every one.”
Authored By: Bucky Schriver
How can you help?
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of the state Route 36 and the national Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor our Georges Creek Valley miners and name those who perished while mining. Tax-deductible donantions can be mailed to the Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF, P.O. Box 765, Frostburg, MD 21532.Please email: Polla Horn or Bucky Schriver to share your thoughts and stories.