Christmas 1945 had been the day before. There hadn't been much in the stocking. It was a bitter cold at Fourmile, Kentucky. At 7:45 am there was a great THUMP in the ground and a smoke ring rose into the sky. The Kentucky Straight Creek Belva #1 mine had exploded. Methane gas and coal dust. Thirty-one men were in the mine. Some of them two miles in

Rescuers in gas masks fought through a series of explosions - and flames - and monoxide gas (black damp). They got a short way into the mine. The walls were blistering hot from the fire. They found four charred - dead bodies. Flames and explosions prevented them from going further in. They brought out NATH CENTERS - the mine foreman - and HOLBART SULFRIDGE. A wail of grief went up from the families gathered at the mouth of the mine in the bitter cold. They had gathered when they felt the THUMP and saw the smoke ring in the sky. Fols here know what a thump and a ring mean. Twenty-nine more men were in the mine. The condition of the two bodies and the violence of the exploding inferno in the mine spoke to the grieving families hearts. In time there were three hundred men gathered from all the mines around - working to save their brothers.

Indise the mine - JOE HATFIELD and BUD TOWNS and two others were working the corridor "Five left". Joe said the explosion "Nearly tore our ears off". BUD TOWNS said "The mine's blowed up". Bud was fifty-two years old. When he was thirty-six years old in 1929 he had been in the Kettle Island mine explosion that killed six men. He had been buried alive - then rescued. He know about mine explosions. He took charge. He led the others out into the mine shaft and they tried to get out. They couldn't get through the explosions and flames and smoke. The shaking trembling earth released springs and ground water into the mine. The cold water was knee deep. Bud led them further back into the mine. They gathered five more men. There were nine of them now. Bud drew arrows on the slate walls to guide the rescuers - as they retreated deeper into the mine. He took them to a side room "Room Five". They needed brattice cloth to hang over the entrace of the room to keep out the smoke and methane (white damp) and coal dust and carbon monoxide (black damp). None was to be found. Bud made a sign on slate that said, "9 miners in here 11:00 am"> He put it by the entrance to "room five" and pulled an old door across the entry. Inside the room there was blackness and cold. Bud collected the few sandwiches they had - and their water. He made them lie down together for warmth. He wouldn't let them exert themselves trying to get out. One or two who stirred a little - passed out from the monoxide. Bud Towns prayed. They found a tiny "crack" in the wall where a trickle of fresh air came in. They all got together over near that. They all felt that the little trickle of air from the "crack" was a miracle. Where else could it come from in that exploding - burning - gas filled mie - except from God - in answer to prayer? Bud rationed the food and water out to the eight other men - but wouldn't take any himself. He said it was more important for the others to live than himself. JOE HATFIELD told them they knew there were men on down the shaft three hundred feet in a side corridor named "Six Feet". They all hoped they were still alive - but it didn't seem likely. In the cold dark - smothering and fearful - the men began to hallucinate. BUD TOWNS quoted the scriptures. The Psalms. He preached sermons on faith to them. He kept them sane. He gave them food and water but would take none himself. He was saving it for the others. Trying to keep them a live a little longer.

The three hundred rescuers reached them in "Room Five" after fifty-three hours. Two days and two nights and five hours. They could see no definite signs of life in them. ALBERT BENNETT age 64 (the oldest man in the mine) died on the way to the surface. The other eight were taken to the Pineville Hospital. BUD TOWNS - TOM MCQUEEN - HUEY MILLER - CHARLES LINGAR - JOE HATFIELD - and BILL BRANSTUTTER. Eight still alive of nine.

That left twenty men further back in the mine. The three hundred in the rescue team fought through the twenty four explosions as the fire grew into an inferno before giving up. The flames were going like a giant blow torch fed by the gas and coal dust in the mine. The oxygen had to be cut off. The mine was scaled in January 1946. Twenty men were entombed inside. About thirty four months later, the mine was reopened. Fifteen bodies were brought out October 18 1948. They were scattered around the shaft at "Six Feet" as JOE HATFIELD had thought. October 20th and 21st five more were brought out from the very end of the shaft. Twenty dead men.
JIM BAIN was found still kneeling by the sign he had made on a piece of slate. It said, "God bless us all is my prayer."

Another sign, in another placae said, "Dear God #:30 oclock OK">
They had lived awhile after all.
At the hospital, the eight still living of the nine in "Room Five" were put in the big men's ward of the Pineville Hospital. I was a beginning medical student, home for the holidays. As I looked around the room, I could see no signs of life. The doctors and nurses were putting IV fluids and giving oxygen. The men were nearly dead from hypothermia and dehydration and respiratory failure.

It will be hard for young readers to believe this, but in 1945, the hospitals were segregrated. If a white looking black person was put in with the white, there would be outrage. From the whites. Hospitals had to be very careful not to offend white patients in this way. Some one discovered that BUD TOWNS had been put in the ward with the white miners. A gurney was brought in to move him. As the white miners dimly realized, thru their flickering senses, what was happening, all but TOM MCQUEEN rose up with hoarse shouts to leave Bud alone. Leave him there, where they could see him. He was the best man there. He had saved their lives. He wouldn't eat or drink Said it was more important that they live, than himself.

It seems to me that someone else felt that way too, two thousand years ago.
TOM MCQUEEN, age thirty died after two days. He never was conscious after leaving "Room Five".
The Pineville Hospital was integrated from then on.
Seven survivors were listed of the thirty one. There were actually only six. They came from the "Miracle" in Room five.
Who was the man listed as a survivor, who really didn't survive? Who was the seventh man? Who was the missing man?
It was the black miner, the black hero, who gave his life that his white brothers might live. BUD TOWNS. I have struggled with this inside me ever since it happened. I had to tell his story. BUD TOWN'S name should NEVER be forgotten.
He must not remain the missing man, the forgotten man, from the MIRACLE at Fourmile.

The two dead near the entrance: NATH CENTERS (foreman) and HOBART SULFRIDGE.
One dead from "Room Five" during rescue: ALBERT BENNETT.
One dead from "Room Five" in the hospital TOM MCQUEEN.
ALBERT ISRAEL "BUD" TOWNS died 19 March 1946 of bronchial pneumonia and carbon monoxide poisoning. God Welcomed him.


Death Certificates

James Bain

John Henry Branstutter

Bill Brock

John Brock

Bill Carroll

James Collins

Jim Emery

Jim Fisher

Jim Tom Gamble

Floyd Gambrell

Henry Honeycutt

H. Reed Lawson

Delbert Lockard

Harmon Lovell

George Matthews

Frank Mills

Bud Parton

Champ Patterson

Dave Sharp

Hugh Westerfield

Charlotte's original work

James Bain

John Brock

Harmon Lovell

Champ Patterson

James Fisher

John Henry Branstutter

Henry Honeycutt

Lost individual pages
Belva Mine Disaster Movie by Tim Cornett
Belva /Four Mile Mine Disaster findings.