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Carnegie Hero Fund bronze medal recipient Rufino Rodrigues, born on February 29, 1890, in Mexico, traveled to the United States as an infant with his parents, Juanita and Anthony Gomez Rodrigues. The family eventually settled in Lehigh, and Rufino Rodrigues worked in the coal mines. On February 22, 1912, the twenty-two-year-old saved more than 150 men (some claims have estimated 190 and others as many as to 259) from a fire in the Number Five Shaft at Lehigh. After discovering the fire, and at great risk to his own safety, Rodrigues did not immediately escape the mine, but started a one and one-half mile journey throughout the complex to warn the unsuspecting miners of the danger. To combat the smoke he carried a water bucket to soak his wool shirt and then cover his face. Dazed from smoke inhalation, he had to be pulled out of the mine. Nine miners did not survive the blaze, but many more would have been trapped without Rodrigues's warning.

Because of his heroism, the local miners' union voted to award him one hundred dollars. The district miners' union paid him to attend college at the Oklahoma School of Mines in Wilburton. Two years after the near-disastrous mine fire, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission bestowed on him the Bronze Medal for Heroism and provided one thousand dollars for Rodrigues to buy a three-room, frame house in Lehigh. At the end of the twentieth century the Carnegie Hero Fund had awarded this medal to eighty-five Oklahomans. The fund, established in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie, recognizes acts of heroism and provides financial assistance to the awardees. Rodrigues attended school at Wilburton for a few years but due to an inadequate prior education did not complete the college courses. He moved to Tulsa around 1930 and in the early 1940s worked in the gold mines of Nevada before eventually returning to Oklahoma. Rufino Rodrigues died August 20, 1980, at Broken Arrow. His wife, Rita Martinez, had preceded him in death.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Fred S. Barde Collection, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Coalgate (Oklahoma) Register, 21 May 1914. "Rufino Rodrigues," Vertical File, Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Michael M. Smith, The Mexicans in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980).

Larry O'Dell

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