Dakota Datebook

Tragic Death of Coalminer Gus Larson

Friday, March 22, 2013


Veins of lignite coal radiate around and through the hills and coulees of Burlington Township in Ward County, located just eight miles from Minot. A 1915 plat-map of Burlington Township showed six coal mines in operation – the Mouse River Lignite Coal Company; Davis Coal Company; Dakota Lignite Coal Company; Burlington Coal Company; Peoples Coal Company; and a mine on the property of August Larson.

It was at the August Larson mine that the most tragic Burlington coal-mining story played out on this date in 1921. August Larson, commonly known as Gus, was a Swedish immigrant who came to America in 1878 when he was thirteen years old. Gus lived in Minnesota until he came to Burlington in 1901. Larson eventually “acquired a 160-acre tract of valuable coal land in the Benson Coulee,” and his mine “became known far and wide as one of the best in the state.”

Gus Larson typically employed ten miners, but in March of 1921 had just three employees. On the afternoon of March 22nd, Gus Larson and his assistant, Peter Larson, no relation, had set dynamite in place to blast lignite in the underground coal vein.

According to a newspaper account, Gus “had gone into the mine to inspect the work when he was caught without warning by a premature blast.” Peter Larson was nearby and heard the injured man scream and ran to assist him, arriving just as there was a second explosion. Peter was rendered unconscious from a “bad scalp wound.” When he woke, he “went to Gus Larson’s side only to find that he had died … crushed under large chunks of coal.” Gus was 55.

The county coroner, Dr. R. W. Pence of Minot, came to the scene of the accident and decided an inquest was unnecessary. Gus Larson’s remains were buried in the Burlington cemetery next to those of his wife, who had passed away four years previously. The couple had four children, and son Will took over operation of the coal mine.

The mine changed hands shortly thereafter, becoming known as the Duhamel Mine, and later, as the Burlington Project Mine from 1936 to 1945. Gus Larson’s tragic death was a reminder of the dangers inherent in North Dakota’s lignite coal country in bygone days.


Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.


“Gus Larson, Burlington Mine Owner, Met Instant Death,” Ward County Independent [Minot, ND], March 23, 1921, p. 1.

“August Larson, Burlington Mine Owner, is Instantly Killed In Accident In Mine,” Minot Daily News, March 23, 1921, p. 1.

“Burlington Township,” Ward County, North Dakota, Atlas (Geo. A. Ogle and Company, 1915).

“August Larson’s Funeral,” Minot Daily News, March 24, 1921, p. 8.

“Killed In Mine Wreck,” Bismarck Tribune, March 24, 1921, p. 1.

“August Larson, Date of Death: 03/22/1921,” North Dakota Department of Health, Public Death Index, https://secure.apps.state.nd.us./doh/certificates/deathCertSearch.htm, accessed on January 28, 2013.

Mine Specific Information: Renville, Slope, Stark, Ward, Williams (Appendix III), Volume C (Bismarck: N.D. Public Service Commission).


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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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