Granite Mountain Mine Disaster 1915

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Date: 19 Oct 1915
Location: Butte, Silver Bow, Montana, United Statesmap
Surnames/tags: Mining_Disasters Montana Mining
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History and Circumstances

Mine History

Butte, Montana miners
As California moved from individuals digging gold to a more industrialized form in the 1850's, miners turned inland to stake out mining claims.[3] In 1862, when the East Coast was caught up in the Civil War; Montana miner's found rich sources of gold in their growing claims.[3] The Granite Mountain mine in Montana was running in full force in 1917. The mine was so large and diverse that "No Smoking" signs were posted in sixteen different languages.[3][4] More than thirty languages were spoken in the nearby town.[4] Thousands of miles of underground mining shafts ran beneath Butte.[3] The state of Montana had recently entered the most "acrimonious episodes of labor strife" in a long history of animosity between the miners and the corporations, yet still Granite Mountain supplied large amounts of copper.[5] In April of 1917 the United States entered into World War I, which called for an increased need for copper.[3][4] Just three days before the mine disaster occurred, 2,500 people marched on draft registration day in an anti-war protest.[3][5] The rally turned into a riot and the National Guard was called in.[5] Though peace was quickly established, some saw it as an ominous portent of the tragedy yet to come.[5]

Mine Disaster Circumstances

A fire broke out in the mine on the 19th of October 1915, its cause unknown.[6][7] Three men had been lowering 500 pounds of powder to the 2500-foot level of the mine.[6][7] The rest of the miners were waiting at the top or the bottom of the shaft when it caught fire and exploded.[6] It was initially reported that fourteen men had been killed, and another eight men seriously injured.[7][8] The actual total of lives lost was calculated to be sixteen.[9][2] The blast had destroyed the frame structure where the men were waiting at the top of the shaft.[7] The shift boss, Lacy Grisham, was one of the last bodies to be recovered.[10] Just six months before he had married Bertha P. Pryor.[10]
Several flags flew at half-mast the following day, to honor those men they had lost.[2] Some, like George Carruthers, were "lucky" enough not to be hurt by the blast. He had flipped a coin deciding which of the Knights of Pythias event to go to, and so wasn't at work as he should have been.[2] John Kelso and his partner were two more. They followed the credence "keep moving when the boss is around" and had moved to a timber pile, saving their lives.[2] Billy Gibson, who had worked for the mine for nine years, took an earlier cage than usual and so lived.[11] One of the older miners felt that the average miner was "callous to danger."[11] He felt they were "heedless of danger" and stated he never left the powder for a moment; treating it as though it were a "baby in my arms."[11]

Results and Findings

Twenty years before firemen and miners stepped in to deal with "The Great Butte Explosion" that destroyed a warehouse district and propelled wreckage up to four miles away.[12] Some of those same men were in Butte in 1915 and felt it was "overshadowed" by the newer explosion in 1915.[12] A jury of seven listened to the testimony regarding the tragic disaster.[10] The undertaker, James Cassidy, was one that testifed; stating that Grisham's head had been cut off "right at the shoulders."[10] It wasn't until many years later that descendants learned that truth.[10]
Bertha (Goodman) Grisham later published a book of poetry with the following poem written as a miner's wife:[10]
I dwelt in a bleak city,
A place of smoke and grime.
The whole place bore the appearance
Of being grayed with time.
The sun thru the smoke shown dimly,
The skies were gray above;
Yet I saw there only beauty,
For I dwelt there with love.
Scheindecker later said of her story that "these stories are part of the much bigger picture of what was going on in Butte. And I love that it’s not the history that you read in the history books, but it’s a little component of a very huge and very tumultuous time in Butte and that this person’s personal story ties into that much broader history."[10]
This was actually the first of two incidents that occurred in a North Butte mine.[13] It was later determined that the spark that set off the powder was an accident.[13] The mine quickly repaired the damage from the explosion (at a cost of $75,000)[2] but it never returned to its previous levels of production.[13] At the time of the 1915 disaster approximately 900 men were employed by the mine.[2] Two years later a spark started a fire that took 163 lives. The mine was eventually closed after that and the site rarely used.[13]

In Memoriam

See the category for a list of the men that died in the Granite Mountain mine explosion.

Miner Deaths

Miner Deaths
Name Sourced Bio Category Notes
William Danton aka Benton, electrician, 38 Yes Yes Yes Done, needs family profiles created
James A. Blow aka James E. Blow, assistant foreman, 43 services held at the family residence 23 Oct 1915 followed by Mass at St. Joseph's church[11] He had a wife and 2 children.[14]
William Butcher, nipper, 32 buried 22 Oct 1915 with services held at the family residence, conducted by Reverend George D. Wolfe[11] Survived by a wife.[14]
Ed Carlson, top carman, 34, survived by a wife.[14] Funeral held 22 Oct 1915 at the residence of his mother-in-law (Mrs. Charles Berran) on Harrison avenue, with high mass following at the St. Patrick's church.[11]
Richard Gendle, electrician & nipper, 38 Services held 24 Oct 1915 at the residence of his sister (Mrs. A. L. Pierce) on West Granite street. Reverend J. H. Mitchell conducted the services.[11] Survived by a wife and one child.[14]
Lacy Grisham aka Lacey, shift boss, 39 Yes Yes services were held 21 Oct 1915 at a residence on South Wyoming street, then the body taken to Sherman & Reed's undertaking parlor for services[11] Survived by his wife.[14]
George Larkin, nipper, 29 services were held on 21 Oct 1915 and followed by a Mass at St. Patrick's church[11] Survived by his wife and one child[14]
John D. "J. D." Leahy, nipper, 24 Funeral held 22 Oct 1915 at the residence on East Broadway street, and high mass at the Sacred Heart church. Interment was in the Catholic cemetery.[11] Unmarried.[14]
John McCauley, boss rope man, 52 funeral held at the residence on East Broadway street 24 Oct 1915, conducted by Reverend E. J. Groeneveld[11] Survived by a wife and five children.[14]
Patrick "Paddy" Morrissey, shift boss, 46 Yes Mini Yes Services not arranged until after 21 Oct 1915 as the family had not yet arrived[11] Survived by a wife.[14]
James Powers, nipper, 33 services held at the residence of his mother-in-law, Mrs. John Sievers, 22 Oct 1915[11] Survived by a wife.[14]
Ernest Watson, shift boss, 32 There were two Ernest Watsons working at the mine at the time. One had a wife and several children, who were informed of the death. It turned out that the single Ernest was the one that died in the explosion.[11] Services not arranged until after 21 Oct 1915 as the family had not yet arrived[11]
Robert I. Watson, sampler, 30 Services not arranged until after 21 Oct 1915 as the family had not yet arrived[11] Unmarried.[14]
John Winston, shift boss, 38 Services not arranged until after 21 Oct 1915 as the family had not yet arrived[11] Survived by a wife and six children.[14]
Phileas Blanchette,ɫ miner, 39 his remains shipped to Montreal and then to St. John's in Canada. Mrs. Blanchette accompanied the body.[11] Survived by a wife and two sons.[14]

ɫ Phileas Blanchette died the morning of the 21st in the hospital. He was the final death caused by the explosion.[2]

Miner Injuries

  1. A. K. Bruce was a painter that was injured, but not killed, by the blast.[6][7][11] Robert Watson, one of those that died, had been talking to him just moments before the blast hit.[11]
  2. John Davey had left the car to get timber. He was thrown by the explosion but not badly injured.[6][7]
  3. G. E. Jones was a painter that was injured, but not killed, by the blast[6][7][14]
  4. William Valentine, carpenter[14]


Museums & Memorials

  • World Museum of Mining: Offers tours and exhibits of mining artifacts and buildings.
  • Underground Mine Tour – 65 Ft Level: Has an underground tour reaching a depth of 65 feet. Children under the age of four are not allowed on the tour.
  • Underground Mine Tour – 100 Ft Level: Offers an underground tour, reaching a depth of 100 feet. This location is at the Orphan Girl Mine.
  • Clark Chateau: The historic home of Charles and Katherine Clark. Guided tours are provided and various exhibits are present at the location. Charles Clark was the son of the copper king, W. A. Clark.

Genealogy Resources

Mining Resources

  • Punke, Michael. "Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917," (NY: Hachette Books, 2013).
  • Vrtis, George. "Mining North America" (CA: University of California Press, 2017).


  1. "Montana Mining Fatalities," Montana Mining Association, (, viewed 12 March 2020.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 "Number of Dead Result of Blast Grows Larger," The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, 21 October 1915, p. 1, cols. 6 & 7.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 Punke, Michael. "Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917," (NY: Hachette Books, 2013).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "The Granite Mountain Speculator Mine Memorial" (, viewed 4 March 2020.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Parrett, Aaron. "The Granite Mountain - Speculator Mine Disaster," (, viewed 4 March 2020.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "North Butte Mining Company, Granite Mountain Mine Explosives Detonation" (, viewed 12 March 2020. [These location articles have documented sources on each web page]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 Beitler, Stu. "Butte, MT Powder Blast At Mine, Oct 1915," Montana, 19 October 1915, reprint on
  8. "Telegraph Briefs," The Day, New London, Connecticut, 20 October 1915, p. 1, col. 7.
  9. "Montana' Worst Told," The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Washington, 4 May 1972, p. 36, cols. 3-4.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Bryan, Kathleen J. "Finding answers: Search uncovers Butte miner's untimely demise," The Montana Standard, Butte, Montana, 18 October 2015, viewed online at
  11. 11.00 11.01 11.02 11.03 11.04 11.05 11.06 11.07 11.08 11.09 11.10 11.11 11.12 11.13 11.14 11.15 11.16 11.17 11.18 11.19 "Number of Dead Result of Blast Grows Larger" (continued), The Anaconda Standard, Anaconda, Montana, 21 October 1915, p. 1, cols. 2-4.
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Hidden Fire: The Great Butte Explosion," Montana PBS, 26 February 2007, viewed on 12 May 2020.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 "North Butte Mining Company records, 1905-1934," North Butte Mining Company, ( : accessed 12 March 2020), various documents owned by the North Butte Mining Company regarding the incidents, 1915, citing business records of the North Butte mining company.
  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 14.13 14.14 "Complete List of Dead," The Butte Miner, Butte, Montana, 21 October 1915, p. 1, cols. 5-6

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Last edited 13:20, 12 March 2020 (UTC)

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