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Red Lodge Mine Accident 1908

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: [unknown]
Location: Red Lodge, Carbon, County, Montanamap
Surnames/tags: Mining Montana
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Contact: Disasters


History and Circumstances

Area History

Red Lodge lies in south-central Montana and Carbon County, next to the Absaroka-Beartooth ranges. Originally a resting place for Crow Indians, this valley was eventually discovered by European settlers, and with the opening of a post office in 1884, the town of Red Lodge was officially established.[2]

Like many towns in the West, Red Lodge was built on mining. The Rocky Fork Coal Company opened the area's first mine in 1887. By 1891, more than 400 Finns, Scots, Irish, Italians, Slavs, and Scandinavians worked the East Side Mine, digging an average of 100 tons of coal a day. A year later the population soared to 1,180. By 1896, the vibrant town of Red Lodge was teeming with action, filled with strong-willed folks and twenty saloons. In 1906, eight men died in the town's first mine disaster, but prosperity continued to smile on the population, which had grown to 4,000. By 1910, Carbon County led Montana in coal production and by 1911, Red Lodge boasted a population of 5,000 souls.

Mine History

The Red Lodge mine was operated by the Northwest Improvement Company which was a subordinate corporation controlled by the Northern Pacific Railroad. The company opened a new mine on the west side of the city and spent upward of $500,000 on that and on improvements at the East Side mine. The East Side mine employed approximately 1,000 men, many have immigrated for other countries. The majority are from Finland. [3]

Mine Disaster Circumstances The mine is the Eastside coal mine of the Northwestern Improvement Company, a subsidiary corporation of the Northern Pacific Railroad company. The fire originated in a large crib constructed of logs and by the time the fire was discovered, it had made such headway and produced such intense heat and dense smoke that it was impossible to approach. [4]

The flames were discovered about 10 am. They spread rapidly until all the timber was consumed and a number of cars were burning. One hundred and thirty miners were employed in this entry and 121 men were rescued. The alarm brought hundreds of people from Red Lodge to the scene anxious about loved ones working in the mine. The scene was chaotic. Superintendent William Haggerty, led the many miners and citizens who rushed into the gas and smoke filled mine to help rescue those trapped inside. [5]

Investigation Report

General Manager, C.R. Claghorn of the Northwestern Improvement company made a thorough investigation of the cause of this fire. He came to the conclusion that the fire in slope No. 2 was of incendiary origin[6] and offered a reward of $2,500 for the arrest and conviction of the guilty parties. These officials of the mine asserted that they found oil on the timbers and from the odor, they believe that the crib was saturated with oil before being ignited.[7]

Investigation Report

Rescue Effort & Rescuers

When the alarm sounded, off duty miners, families and neighbors came rushing to the mine. The fire burned for days so the rescuers were limited in what they could accomplish. As soon as an area was cleared of fire and gas, the rescuers would search all areas for bodies. Initially, only 3 bodies were recovered. the others were in an area that could not be reached due to the fire and smoke.[6]
Finnish miners, who made up 50% of the miners, refused to resume work until the bodies of the six Finnish miners whose bodies were unable to be recovered were found. Their position is that it would be disrespectful to the missing miners. The newspaper characterized this as “superstitious fears of the foreigners”.[8]

Supporters and the Aftermath

In order to support the widows and orphans created by this disaster, each miner was assessed $9.00. There were over 1,100 miners in the camp so the assessment would have produced about $10,000. A petition was also circulated around the district with the expectation of a large sum of money to be collected.

Miner Victims

See the category for the lives lost in this tragedy.

Other Deaths at the Mine

  • John Haxton – drowned in a drainage ditch with only 2 inches of water.[9]

Miner Survivors

Miner Survivors
Name Sourced Bio Connected Category
Dean, Edward
Elich, John, 23, 1885
Flaherty, John
Haggerty, William
Huta, Matt, 40, 1868, Body Recovered
Jones, Sam
Kemp, Albert
Maki, Oscar H.
Ranagan, John
Sandeen, John
Alanko, Jack, 33
Tuska, Walla


Genealogy Resources


  1. "Fire Caused by Lamp of Miner." The Billings Gazette, Billings, Montana, 19 April 2019, p. 1, col. 7.
  2. Red Lodge History
  3. 3 Dead, 6 Entombed with Faint Chance of Escape; Mine at Red Lodge Afire. The Butte Miner(Butte, Montana). 21 Nov 1908, Sat. Page 1.
  4. Nine Miners Surely Dead. Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, Montana). 22 Nov 1908, Sun. Page 1
  5. 9 dead
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Red Lodge Coal Mine Fire is of Incendiary Origin." The Butte Miner (Butte, Montana), 22 November 1908, p. 1. cols. 1-2.
  7. Red Lodge Fire. Great Falls Tribune(Great Falls, Montana) 03 Dec 1908, Thu. Page 1
  8. Finns Won’t Work at Red Lodge Mine. The Anaconda Standard(Anaconda, Montana). 24 Nov 1908, Tue. Page 8
  9. 9 Miners



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