Montana Mining Disasters

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Location: State of Montanamap
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Disasters | Mining Disasters | United States Mining Disasters | Montana Mining Disasters


Montana Mining History

Montana has a history of gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc manganese and coal mining. Mining in Montana began in 1864, when the glint of gold in a prospector’s pan attracted hundreds to the banks of Silver Bow Creek. Mining first centered around Bannack and Virginia City and the miners quickly spread out around the territory seeking new gold fields. The early claims were predominantly placer mines, but by 1870 there were a significant number of underground quartz mines. These mines required a large investment in stamp mills, reduction works, and smelters to treat the ore. Different mining districts produced different metals depending on the geology of the area. For example, Bannack, Virginia City, and Marysville were predominantly gold; Philipsburg was predominantly silver and manganese; and Butte was predominantly copper.[1]
While the first metal mining was for gold and silver, the real mineral wealth of Montana was found it its copper mines around Butte. Butte began as a mining town in the 19th century in the Silver Bow Creek Valley, a natural bowl sitting high in the Rockies straddling the Continental Divide. Originally only gold and silver were mined in the area, but the advent of electricity caused a soaring demand for copper, which was abundant in the area. The small town soon became one of the most prosperous cities in the country, especially during World War I, and was known as "the Richest Hill on Earth". Between 1880 and the early 1990s, Butte produced staggering mineral wealth, including nearly 3 million ounces of gold, 709 million ounces of silver, 855 million pounds of lead, 3.7 billion pounds of manganese, 4.9 billion pounds of zinc, and an incredible 20.8 billion pounds of copper.[2]

Gold Mining

The discovery of gold brought many prospectors into the area in the 1860s, and Montana became a territory in 1864. The rapid influx of people led to boomtowns that grew rapidly and declined just as quickly when the gold ran out. [3]
The first gold rush in the West started in California in 1848. One man discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill, and nearly 250,000 people dashed to California to seek their fortunes. The pattern repeated across the West. [4]
It’s now widely accepted that gold was first discovered in Montana in 1852. Francois Finlay, known as Benetsee, had come up from California and made his discovery west of the Continental Divide in a small creek that would become known as Gold Creek. [5]

Silver Mining

During the 1880s railroads crossed Montana, and the territory became a state in 1889. Hardrock mining also began at this time. Butte became famous when silver and copper were discovered. The Anaconda Copper Company, owned by Marcus Daly, became one of the world's largest copper mining companies and exercised inordinate influence in the state. [6]
Montana silver mining was a major industry in the 1800s following discovery of numerous silver deposits. Between 1883 and 1891 Montana was second every year to Colorado in silver production, except for 1887 when Montana was number one, producing approximately $15.5 million worth of silver. Major mining districts in Montana included Butte, which was home to many important mines such as the Lexington, Alice, and Moulton mines, and Philipsburg, which housed the Granite Mountain and Bimetallic mines. Other influential, but significantly smaller mines, operated at Helena and the Castle Mountains. The rapid rise and fall of these mines were due to largely geological and economic factors that created favorable conditions for a silver mining boom and subsequent bust. Montana continued to produce considerable silver through most of the 1900s, as a byproduct of copper production at Butte.

Montana Mining Incidents

Mining Disasters
Date Mine Location Deaths Circumstances
8 Jun 1917 Granite Mountain Shaft Butte, Montana 163 Copper Mine Fire
27 Feb 1943 Smith No. 3 Bearcreek, Montana 74 Coal Mine Explosion
14 Feb 1916 Pennsylvania Mine Butte, Montana 21 Copper Mine Fire
19 Oct 1915 Granite Mountain Mine Butte, Montana 16 Mine Explosion

Mining Accidents
Date Mine Location Deaths Circumstances
21 Apr 1893 Silver Bow No. 2 Mine Butte, Montana 9 Copper Mine Explosion
6 Nov 1903 Kearsarge Mine Virginia City, Montana 9 Gold Mine Fire
20 Nov 1908 Red Lodge Mine Red Lodge, Montana 9 Coal Mine Fire
7 Jun 1906 Rocky Fork Mine Red Lodge, Montana 8 Coal Mine Fire
8 Apr 1896 Hope Mine Basin, Montana 7 Gold Mine Fire
12 May 1905 Cora Mine Butte, Montana 7 Copper Mine Explosion
13 Sep 1911 Butte & Superior Butte, Montana 6 Copper Mine Hoisting Accident
23 Nov 1889 St. Lawrence Mine Butte, Montana 6 Copper Mine Fire
11 Apr 1896 St. Lawrence Mine Butte, Montana 6 Copper Mine Explosion
16 Feb 1881 Belmont Mine Belmont, Montana 6 Gold Mine Explosion & Fire
1 Jan 1911 Keating Mine Radersburg, Montana 6 Copper Mine Explosion
23 Apr 1913 Leonard Mine Butte, Montana 5 Copper Mine Hoisting Accident


Museums & Memorials in Montana

The World Museum of Mining

Central Montana Museum

Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology

Genealogy Resources



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