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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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100 years ago in North Idaho: Ranchmen die of asphyxiation while digging a well

A pair of ranchmen died after inhaling toxic fumes in a well they were digging near Garwood on this day 100 years ago.  (S-R archives)
A pair of ranchmen died after inhaling toxic fumes in a well they were digging near Garwood on this day 100 years ago. (S-R archives)
By Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review

Despite the frantic efforts of a wife and an 8-year-old girl, two ranchmen died near Garwood, Idaho, when they were overcome by toxic fumes while digging a well.

One day earlier, they had exploded a charge of picric acid in the bottom of the well. They returned to the well the next morning and assumed that the fumes had dissipated. One man lowered himself with a rope, but was overcome near the bottom and fell. The other man lowered himself into the well in an attempt to rescue the first man.

He, too, was overcome by fumes and became “stupefied.”

The rancher’s wife and her 8-year-old sister saw what had happened and quickly lowered a bucket by a windlass. The men managed to grab hold of the bucket. The wife and sister cranked the windlass and lifted the men just a few feet short of the lip of the well, but then they both collapsed and fell back into the cavity.

The 8-year-old then ran to several neighboring farmers who rushed to the site. One of the farmers insisted on being lowered into the well, but he too was overcome before he could help the other two men.

Grappling hooks were then lowered into the well and all three men were brought up. The would-be rescuer recovered after being taken from the well, but the other two men were already dead.

From the strike beat: Hopes were dashed for an end to the railroad shop workers strike when the nation’s rail executives rejected President Warren G. Harding’s settlement proposal.

The railroad heads did not want to grant the strikers the reinstatement of their seniority rights.

In Spokane, this meant that the 1,800 railroad shop workers would remain on strike.

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