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CAMERON, WILLIAM (1843-1917)

A Scottish immigrant coal miner who rose to Mine Inspector of Indian Territory, William Cameron labored to create safe working conditions in the dangerous coal mines of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations. Born in 1843 at Watstown, Scotland, he began laboring in coal mines around the age of eight, pursuing a public education at night. He lived near Edinburgh, Scotland, working in the local mines, before emigrating to the United States in 1881. Cameron mined in Illinois and Missouri then came to Indian Territory in 1882 as the superintendent of coal mining operations for the Missouri Pacific Railway Company, which operated, among others, the Osage Coal and Mining Company and the Atoka Coal and Mining Company.

In 1885 Cameron led a rescue crew after an explosion rocked a mine, killing thirteen men. On January 7, 1892, an explosion in Mine Number Eleven at Krebs, killed around a hundred men and injured two hundred more; this incident led the federal government to create a new regulatory office, the U.S. Inspector of Mines for Indian Territory. In 1901 the federal government appointed Cameron to be the Inspector of Mines for Indian Territory. His earlier 1896 development of a safer open-face mining system, known as the long-wall system, helped secure him the job. This long-wall process replaced the old pillar-and-wall method in most of the larger mines. Although many older miners and mine officials at first opposed the change, the program proved successful.

After 1907 statehood merged Indian Territory with Oklahoma Territory, the U.S. Department of Interior named Cameron supervisor of mines in the former Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. In 1910 he retired from the coal mining industry. William Cameron died on July 19, 1917, while visiting his son in Henryetta. He was buried in McAlester after having three funeral services, one ceremony by his Scottish Rite brethren, one private, and a public service.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Patrick J. Blessing, The British and Irish in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980). Luther B. Hill, A History of the State of Oklahoma, Vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1908). Frederick Lynne Ryan, The Rehabilitation of Oklahoma Coal Mining Communities (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1935). Report of the Select Committee to Investigate Matters Connected with Affairs in the Indian Territory (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1907). McAlester (Oklahoma) News Capital, 20 July 1917.

Larry O'Dell

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