1917 Mine Disaster in Butte

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1917 Mine Disaster in Butte - 18 The Montana Standard, Bgtte, Sunday, June...
18 The Montana Standard, Bgtte, Sunday, June 10, 1984 '4&b MPMMIMIMPii'llltl i 4 I-I 1' a-, . 4 ) 41 Hi KXfA' f- t ' 4 THE GRANITE MOUNTAIN MINE boasted the largest electric hoist in the United States when this photo was taken. But, on June 8, 1917, its shaft, which served the Speculator Mine, became an inferno that created history's worst metal mine disaster. Smoke and hot gasses spread from a shaft fire that started at 11:30 p.m. on the 2,400-foot level. For 163 Butte miners, "graveyard shift" became more than a figure of speech. (Photos courtesy of Al Hooper) Speculator fire Hrrir billowed! ffroinn) iEn hilB By Peter Chapin, Standard Staff Writer June 8 is Butte's answer to Memorial Day. On that day in 1917, 163 miners lost their lives in the Speculator-Granite Mountain fire. The disaster portrays the most tragic side of mining. The tragedy was not only the loss of life, but also the immense grief felt by a city so immersed in mining. It was a chaotic era. The labor unrest of 1914 was beginning to boil again, but flag-waving patriotism also was growing in this third month of America's entry into World War I. On June 8, 1917, Butte's population was about to peak at nearly 90,000 as mines worked at full capacity to met the government's demand for copper. Men who had been flocking to the mines for two decades represented dozens of nationalities. Many were single, living in the city's many boarding houses and hotels, but more were becoming family men as the mining population matured. They were paid well, about $4 a day plus bonuses, and earned every bit of it in the dark, sweltering depths as they blasted and shoveled and hauled tons of rock half a mile to the surface. It was the kind of profession that encouraged camaraderie, and it spilled into the homes and saloons at shift's end. Much of their closeness stemmed from the many dangers they shared. For for some, it was the risk that made the occupation so enticing. Electricity lit the cage stations at each level, but visibility into the drifts and stopes was limited to the range of carbide lamps. A man and his partner could work with some solitude when the shift boss wasn't around, but watch out for those Duggans falling rock that crushed skulls and neglected bags of blasting powder and caps, and "buzzies" that would as soon drill the operator as the rock. And fire. Dried timber and brisk ventilation could fan flames up a shaft, and whip smoke and poisonous gases through the drifts amazingly fast. Because of the darkness, it would be hard to tell where the smoke came from. It took just a careless spark to create an inferno. ERNEST SULLAU PROVIDED that spark at 11:30 p.m. that Friday. He was looking for the end of a lead-sheathed electric cable that had failed down the Granite Mountain shaft. The lead had been stripped off the end, exposing the oil-soaked insulation. As Sullau examined the damage, his carbide lamp ignited the cable, starting a fire on the 2,400-foot level that quickly spread to the shaft timbers. At the first alarm, some of the 410 men on the graveyard shift logically headed toward what they thought was their best escape route, the Granite Mountain shaft, the hoisting shaft for the Speculator Mine. By the time they realized the shaft was the origin of the fire, it was too late for them to escape the gases. Others climbed to higher levels and eventually found escape routes into adjacent mines. Men like-nipper Mannus Duggan and shift boss Jim Moore became heroes by forming bulkheads in blind (dead-end) drifts to save their men. Duggan's group of 29 waited 36 hours for the air to improve. The nipper coaxed and harangued them to stay put until the air was pure enough for them to made a break. Mitchell's eight were confined for 55 hours before rescuers found them. Neither Duggan nor Moore were so lucky. r J ' . i t'i -t-i(" " '. 1m t . r 'Mum L mmm4m i X , , I :? ' : )Wnt,.i .. STAK BARD TWO MINERS STAND below a ventilation bag that made the Speculator the best ventilated mine in the district. The blowing fresh air, however, aided the disaster by fanning flames in the shaft and rapidly spreading the poisonous gas. Duggan's wife refused to give up hope until his body was finally brought out five days later. He had written several notes while confined in the drift. One read: "Have not confided my fears to anyone, but have looked and looked for hope only, but if the worst comes, I myself have no fears, but welcome death with open arms, as it is the last act we all must pass through, and as is but natural, it is God's will. We should have no objection. Duggan." Moore "was liked by everyone who knew him," wrote an Anaconda Standard reporter who had known Moore at the Ward Mine in Virginia City, Nev. "He was kindly and considerate always ... Another characteristic of Moore was that he was not haughty or proud." Moore earned the nickname "Tincan Jimmy" in Nevada because he might fire 15-20 men during a fit of anger. After a day to cool off, however, he would hire them back. Moore, who had his men form a bulkhead at the 2,200 level with mud and clothing, talked and joked with them to bolster morale. He was conscious until a few minute before help came, and died on the cage as he was being lifted the top. He left a wife. BEFORE DISAPPEARING into the smoke on his last rescue attempt, Sullau told colleagues that he took full responsibility for the fire. The German immigrant was unconscious when he was finally brought to the surface. j,., t.ytf r i v , i and doctors worked for three hours to revive him. He became conscious briefly, then died. Shift Foreman Con O'Neill of the Diamond Mine was "a big, robust Irishman, loved and respected by miners in the entire district," said the Standard. "He was as big-hearted as a man can be and his jolly nature was so charitable that his men loved him." O'Neill, who had a wife, four children and four sisters living in Butte, had worked the local mines for 18 years. He died 80 feet from the Diamond shaft on the 1,800 level after warning a 30-man crew. Another victim was Maurice Fitzharris. Fitzharris had been part-owner of the Northern Hotel, then a shift boss at the Bell and, later, the Rams mines. He moved to Plains to run a hotel, but returned to Butte after his wife died and left him with four children to care for. He became assistant street commissioner, but quit on June 2 to work at the Granite Mountain, lured by the promise to made a shift boss as soon as he became familiar with the mine. He was working his third shift when he died.. Herman Henderson was president of the Whitman College Student Association, captain of the college's baseball team and member of its football team. He joined the Granite Mountain to earn enough money to finish college. John Bixby of Oakland, an engineering student at the University of California, planned to spend his summer vacation getting practical experience in the Granite Mountain and earning tuition money. Both were asphyxiated. Bennett Tregonning, who had a wife and two infant . sons, had been a miner for years and eventually a shift boss at the Tramway, before becoming an agent for New York Life. He was successful in insurance, but Granite Mountain officials pursuaded him to return as a shift boss. Upon hearing he was missing in the blaze, a friend remembered Tregonning saying he intended to quit soon. Tregonning's wife awaited anxiously for word. "I must not give up hope," she told the Standard. "Ben knew the mines so well he could not get lost. He was rocking 400 feet below the fire level and he is too ' capable a miner to get caught if any man had even a fighting chance." Tregonning's body was recovered the same day as Duggan's. THE HOT GASES killed the victims cruelly. "They groped about and fell, only to make the last try that a dying man will get out with his life," said the Standard. "Some fell into manways, but the majority were bruised by falling against the walls of drifts and stopes on levels connecting with other mines. The throats of a few of the men were torn. Miners evidently driven insane by suffering and the realization they were trapped, had clutched at their throats as they gasped for breath. The fingers of some were blood-stained from wounds caused by tearing at the rock in a last mad effort to get relief by thrashing about in the gas and smoke." But the scene topside was equally tragic. "At dawn a crowd of men, women and children were at the mine gate trying to get in," said the Standard. "The guards had orders to admit no one who did not have business and it took a stout heart to withstand some of the appeals made by wifes and mothers for Please see HORROR Page 21 . 3 S I i, ' 1 . . - . -i ' T. 1 I 4- 4 s, 4 j in v. ' . - - , . - .. v -r . BUTTE RESIDENTS crowded around the homes seeking information about relatives Anaconda Standard office in Butte, lined the and friends caught in the fire. (Standard file gates of the Speculator Mine and filled funeral photo) j r I w THE RUINS OF the Granite Mountain shaft was photographed after the fire. Water running down the shaft and smoke. ; are still evident. j SURVIVORS OF THE FIRE, Henry Fowler, left, and Wilfred La Montague, are covered with blankets soon after ascending to the top. Both were saved by Mannus Duggan. (Standard file photo) MANNUS DUGGAN JIM MOORE SUPER SAVINGS DAYS UP TO DISCOUNTS On the Best Quality at the Lowest Prices BSllllSilp RAHf.VEARPcpKn O U i T-SHIRT Lycra KNITS SPANDEX 1 79 Yd. JL Yd. velour DENIM "enim CORDUROY j J.-a Hi .: Cabinet & Machine

Clipped from
  1. The Montana Standard,
  2. 10 Jun 1984, Sun,
  3. Page 18

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