Intermountain Mine Disasters

Since the nineteenth century, mining has provided significant economic support to the Intermountain West and to the United States overall. Copper supported wars, coal fueled power plants, and silver financed economies. However, mining has long been dangerous business. Deep underground, lights can go out, air can go stale, tunnels can flood or collapse, and coal dust can ignite explosively. Miners have been on the front lines of this work, harvesting products worth so much it sometimes seemed as if buyers and bosses valued the coal and ore more than their lives.

This tour highlights five significant mining disasters in the history of the Intermountain West, ranging a time span of nearly a hundred years from 1889 to 1972. Mine disasters had the potential to both make and break communities. Some towns rallied to memorialize the dead and care for widows and children left behind; others dwindled into ghost towns, too devastated in the wake of who and what they lost.

White Ash Mine Disaster

On September 9, 1889, at about four o’clock in the afternoon ten men drowned in the White Ash Mine, a coal mine near Golden, Colorado. An engineer, Charles Hoagland, was the first to discover that something had happened. He had attempted to send down…

Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine Disaster

The Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine disaster near Butte, Montana, began a little before midnight on June 8, 1917, as the result of a tragic but ironic accident. The North Butte Mining Company planned to install a sprinkler system in the 3,500-foot…

Castle Gate Mine Disaster

On March 8, 1924, in Castle Gate, Utah, two explosions rocked the local coal mine, killing all 171 men working at the time. Both explosions happened when men ignited carbon monoxide while trying to relight their lamps. First, a boss investigating…

Smith Mine Disaster

On February 27, 1943, Bearcreek, Montana experienced what remains the worst coal disaster in the state. A combination of carbon monoxide and methane gas created an explosion killing seventy-four of the seventy-seven men working in the mine. The three…

Sunshine Mine Disaster

The fire at the Sunshine Mine, a silver mine near Kellogg, Idaho, was first reported at about 11:40 pm after an electrician smelled smoke and warned the foreman. The foreman telephoned down to the mechanics, who were in a work room, and asked them to…