As I turned around to go back and take a picture of these abandoned buildings I was trying to think of something clever and witty to say about them. When I read the nearby sign I learned that there is nothing funny about it.
This is where 74 coal miners died the morning of February 27, 1943.
You are looking at what remains of Smith Mine #3 which was operated by Montana Coal & Iron Company. On that fateful morning 77 men were working within the mine, most of them 7,000 feet underground, when an explosion occurred. The men died either from the concussion of the blast itself, or from the poisonous gas which resulted. 3 men were working closer to the surface and, knowing that something terrible had happened, were able to put out a call for help before themselves being overcome by the gas. They were found in time by rescue workers and were the only survivors.
The company paid time-and-a-half for Saturday work and the men were eager to sign up for the extra pay during those hard economic times. About 930 that morning the blast, whose exact cause was never determined, occurred. It is possible that it was caused by a buildup of methane gas in the adjoining, abandoned portions of the mine. Of the 74 who were killed (ranging in age from 19 to 72), 58 left behind widows. 125 children lost their fathers that morning.
The mine is located a few miles east of Red Lodge, Montana. The little towns of Washoe and Bearcreek are on either side of the mine and were almost exclusively inhabited by mining families. Most moved away and many homes were torn down, abandoned or physically moved to Red Lodge, some 6 miles away.
This remains the worst underground mining accident in Montana history. The mine never reopened.
The sign in the next post is located at the site. It ends with a message written on the wall of the mine before the authors succumbed to the lethal gas. If you are unable to read it let me know and I will transcribe it below the picture. If you right-click on the picture on your computer you should be able to save it to your hard drive where you can then open it with an image browser and increase the size, making it easier to read.