In Memory of
Thomas Robert Burnette
January 31, 1915 – November 14, 1992
“Mining is a dangerous profession. There’s no way to make a mine completely safe: These are the words owners have always used to excuse needless deaths and the words miners use to prepare for them.” – Tawni O’Dell
Mr Burnette was a resident of Flat River, MO and he worked in the lead mines. He worked at the St. Joe Lead Number 9 mine in Farmington, MO and at the Pea Ridge Mine. He dug ore for nearly 30 years. When he worked in the mines they didn’t do blood tests to check for lead poisoning. During his time in the mines he cut a finger off and got caught between two ore cars and suffered a broken hip that had to be pinned. After he healed up, back in the mines he went and worked there until he suffered a heart attack and was forced to retire at the age of fifty-eight. His daughter remembered seeing his checks and said he cleared fifty dollars a week. He was married and reared five children. He is just one of many who worked in the mines and his family is just one of many that have all the memories of their families working in the mines.
The Old Lead Belt is located deep within the eastern Ozarks of Missouri. The Southeast Missouri lead district is a major part of the lead belt and has been a major player in Missouri’s economic and social fabric for more than 280 years. In early 1700 a European by the name of Pierre Charles LeSeur led the first mineralogical expedition into the Mississippi Valley. Missouri’s ore deposits have made it the nation’s major source of ore for over 90 years. The abundant ore deposits brought thousands of workers to Missouri, where over the years they created 1,000 miles of abandoned multilevel mine tunnels, 300 miles of underground mainline railroad tracks and a legacy of 108 years of mining operations in the area.
Drum roll……………., I am stepping onto my soap box. Here is my beef. In 1923 St. Joe Lead CO. purchased the Federal Mill No. 3 lead-concentrating complex. They all ready owned nearly 950 acres in Bonne Terre that was bought in 1864. In late 1975 they donated the Federal mine mill complex and its adjoining lands to Missouri for the purpose of creating a state park. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources took possession of the 8,244 acre tract in 1976 and named it St. Joe Park and in 1980 the 25 acre mine mill was designated as Missouri Mines State Historic Site.
I just visited the site along with Mr Burnette’s daughter and step son. I am appalled by the way the state is letting the old mill fall into ruination. I know money is tight but they could do more. This site holds a lot of memories for the miner families in Bonne Terre, Desloge, Park Hills and the surrounding areas. People died in these mines. Why let it die off? This could be an amazing tourist attraction for these towns. This site has so many possibilities. There is so much history here. PLEASE don’t let it fall down and disappear into the past.
The 16,00 square-foot mine-mill powerhouse is being developed into a large museum providing information and the history of the mining business in Missouri with displays and old mining machinery and a huge collection of minerals. It is a start but the site has the potential for so much more.
In 1981 Doug and Cathy Georgens bought the rights to the Bonne Terre Mine and invested their money in the mine and have built it into a diving mecca. They have daily tours also. I have took the tour myself and it is fascinating. The state of Missouri could save the history of mines in St. Joe and should do just that. I urge them to set up a fund that people can give to the mine exclusively. I also urge them to start funding the mine and start rehabbing the buildings. Please for the sake of those that worked in and died in the mines save the mine.
In closing I ask for anyone’s help in saving this mine. Please write your representatives and if you haven’t, take the tour. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Help save the history of Missouri’s mines.