for the FROSTBURG EXPRESS
by Polla Drummond Horn
JOHN KEIRS, JR.
John Keirs, Jr. was born in Galston, Ayrshire, Scotland in 1861 to John and Janet Keirs. His dad was a laborer in Scotland but left in 1870 to go to America to better provide for his family. He worked in the mines around Borden Shaft and Midlothian for two years before sending for his wife and children. In 1872 John, Jr.’s sister died and was buried in Scotland, she was only nine years old. The family was sad to leave her there alone; but they needed to be reunited with their father. The other five children boarded a steamer with their mother in May of 1872, John was 11, the oldest, and the youngest child was one year old. They docked in New York on June 27, 1872 and made their way to Maryland to be with their father again. In a few years John, Jr. joined his father in the coal mines and helped support the family.
He married in his early twenties and soon he and wife, Annie, had three children of their own. Life was good, or as good as it got back then. All that ended on April 7, 1894.
That day started like any other day, young John left to go to work in the Bowery Mine, of the Borden Mining Company; he and a dozen other miners were taking down pillars that day. That afternoon the mine foreman knocked on Annie’s door to inform her that there had been an accident at the mine. Annie went to the mine and waited with the other women. Soon the men started coming out, Annie counted the men and watched but John did not come out. A large force of men went to work immediately after the accident to try to find him. The men who got out said the mass of coal and rock was so great that it would take awhile to get through it. They didn’t want to tell her, but she knew that John had probably been crushed or suffocated. Annie waited day after day while the men dug. They finally found John’s body on April 21st, after 11 days of digging. They said he was in a stooping position, caught by the fall in the act of running. His body was considerably decomposed so he was buried that afternoon. There was a large concourse of people, including the Knights of Pythias and Odd Fellows who attended the funeral. The community pulled together, as they did back then, to support Annie and her four boys.
[note: additional information, not part of the original article]
KEIRS, John Jr. (see full story Mine Explosion!)
KIER[sic, Keirs] 09 Apr 1894 Mr. John Kier[sic]. Jr. was buried alive at a cave-in at the Bowery Mines near Frostburg on Saturday (7 Apr) about 4:45. Bowery Mines takes its name from the defunct Bowery furnace that stands nearby about one and 3/4 miles from Frostburg, near the old Midlothian Mines.
(Courtesy of Sheryl Kelso)
KEIR[sic, Keirs] 20 Apr 1894 The body of John Keir Jr. was located yesterday at 4:30 in the Bowery Mines, found by William Crowe under the direction of mine boss, Mr. Robert Scott. He leaves a wife and 3 children and was 33 years of age, born in Neumiles, Ayershire, Scotland on Mar 20, 1861 and came to America in 1870. The funeral is from the home with Rev. Brett officiating and interment in Allegany Cemetery.
(Courtesy of Sheryl Kelso)
John Kiers, Sr. was born in Galston, Scotland. He dearly loved his wife, Janet, and their four children. When employment opportunities in Scotland became bleak the 1870’s, Mr. Kiers embarked on a journey to America.
The American coal industry relied heavily on immigrant labor in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Immigrants to the United States came to the coal fields in a variety of ways. Labor agents stationed in major ports of entry often met perspective employees as they disembarked. They painted elaborate and descriptive pictures of living and working conditions in mining towns. Other immigrants followed their family or friends to coal mining communities.
We don’t know the reason Mr. Kiers came to Midlothian, MD, but this is where he found work, saved his money, and sent for his family two years later.
Just prior to leaving Scotland, Mrs. Kiers had the sorrowful task of burying a daughter, then leaving her in native soil. The family was sad to leave her in Scotland alone, but it was necessary to reunite with husband and father. Mrs. Kiers and her four children boarded a steamer in May and arrived in New York on June 27, 1872.
Eleven year old John, Jr. soon joined his father digging coal to help support the family.
In 1885, John, Jr. married Annie Spier, daughter of John and Annie (Marshall) Spier. The Spier family was also from Scotland. John, Jr. and Annie welcomed John Kiers III a year later, followed by Robert in 1888 and Allen in 1892. Life was good for the young Kiers family.
The good life ended on April 7, 1894. That day started like any other day. John left for work in the Bowery Mine, of the Borden Mining Company where he and a dozen other miners were taking down pillars. In the afternoon, the mine foreman knocked on Annie’s door to inform her that there had been an accident at the mine. Annie went to the site and waited with the other women. Soon the miners started coming out. Annie counted the men and watched, but John did not come out. A large force of men went to work immediately after the accident to try to find him. The men who got out said the mass of coal and rock was so great that it would take awhile to get through it. They did not want to tell her, but Annie knew in her heart that John had been crushed or suffocated. She waited day after day while the men dug. They finally found John’s body on April 21st, after 15 days of digging. The miners said he was in a stooping position, caught by the fall of coal in the act of running. Due to his body being considerably decomposed, he was buried that afternoon. There was a large concourse of people, including the Knights of Pythias and Odd Fellows who attended the funeral. The community pulled together, as they did back then, to support Annie and her four boys.
Annie left Midlothian sometime before 1900 and moved to Washington, PA to be near her brother and his family. At the age of thirteen, John Kiers III went to work in a glass factory, becoming the sole supporter of his mother and brothers.
Annie Kiers became Mrs. George Kent in 1900, when she married for the second time. She and George had a daughter, Elizabeth, born in 1902.
John III married Frances Marie Kopp around 1925. Tragedy continued to haunt the Kiers family when their son, John IV, was killed by a hit and run driver in 1937, at the age of twenty. Annie, the woman who had endured a 15 day search for her husband’s body, now mourned the loss of her grandson.
We have frequently mentioned the courage of the women who were left to grieve for their loved ones. Annie Spier Kiers Kent was one of those women. She bravely moved forward after her husband died, comforting the son who had supported her. Annie saw both sorrow and joy in the ninety years she spent on this earth. She persevered and was a good example for the generations who followed her. She died on June 14, 1957, and is buried in the Washington Cemetery, Washington, PA.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of a bronze statue to honor all our Georges Creek and Jennings Run Valley coal miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact Polla Horn at email@example.com
Bucky Schriver at firstname.lastname@example.org
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future “Miner Recollections.”