Smith Coal Mine Disaster 1943

Privacy Level: Public (Green)
Date: 27 Feb 1943
Location: Bearcreek, Carbon County, Montanamap
Surnames/tags: Mining_Disasters Montana Disasters
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Disasters | Mining Disasters | United States Mining Disasters | Smith Coal Mine Disaster, 1943

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History and Circumstances

  • Date: 27 Feb 1943
  • Location:Bearcreek, Montana
  • Victims:
  • Cause: Explosion (coal mine)
The Smith Mine disaster was the worst coal mining disaster in the State of Montana, and the 43rd worst in the United States, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Area History

Montana State Flag
The land that is now Montana has been occupied by indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The land in Montana east of the continental divide was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Subsequent to and particularly in the decades following the Lewis and Clark Expedition, American, British and French traders operated a fur trade, typically working with indigenous peoples, in both eastern and western portions of what would become Montana.[1]
Until the Oregon Treaty (1846), land west of the continental divide was disputed between the British and U.S. and was known as the Oregon Country. The first permanent settlement by Euro-Americans in what today is Montana was St. Mary's (1841) near present-day Stevensville. In 1847, Fort Benton was established as the uppermost fur-trading post on the Missouri River. In the 1850s, settlers began moving into the Beaverhead and Big Hole valleys from the Oregon Trail and into the Clark's Fork valley.
The first permanent white settlers came to Montana between 1812 and 1820. After gold was discovered in the area, Montana experienced rapid population growth which resulted in designation as a United States Territory on May 26, 1864. Montana became the 41st state on November 8, 1889.
The railroads were the engine of settlement in the state. The coming of the transcontinental railroads to Montana Territory in the 1880s is the single most transformational economic development in the entire history of Montana. [2][3]

Mine History

The coal in the Bear Creek field is part of the immense Fort Union Formation, which is estimated to contain over 200 billion tons of coal in eastern and central Montana. "Yankee Jim" George discovered the Bear Creek coal field in 1866, but it would not be commercially mined for another forty years with the arrival of the railroad. Five companies operated coal mines in this narrow valley by 1910. Two towns, Bear Creek and Washoe provided living quarters and services to the multi-ethnic miners and their families.
Some of the highest quality bituminous coal in Montana was found in this area of Montana. Coal mining began in the valley around Bearcreek and Washoe in 1900. Initially the mining companies had to haul their coal up the steep hill to Red Lodge using wagons. In 1906 the Montana, Wyoming and Southern Railroads built a line connecting the Bearcreek mines to the Northern Pacific Railroad. They were taking out 100 rail cars of coal every day.[4]
The Montana Coal and Iron Company (MCI) began developing the Smith Mine in earnest after the arrival of the Montana, Wyoming and Southern Railroad, producing 8,000 tons of high-grade coal in 1907. MCI electrified its operation by 1915, completely mechanizing it by 1929. Throughout the 1930s, the company continued to invest in new equipment, building a new crushing plant, elevator, cleaning plant, coal sheds and scales, electrical substation, and other above-ground structures to support the underground operation. By 1943, miners working three shifts a day, six days a week produced almost 500,000 tons of coal annually, “to meet coal needs for a nation at war.” Investments in safety lagged behind other improvements, however, and in the 1940s many Smith miners still used open-flame carbide headlamps (as opposed to safer electric lamps). The highly gaseous mine also lacked good ventilation or rock-dusting equipment to control coal dust. [5]

Mine Disaster Circumstances

Saturday paid time-and-a-half at the Montana Coal and Iron Co.’s Smith Mine between Bearcreek and Washoe. Miners who had just emerged from the Great Depression of the 1930s eagerly worked the overtime weekend shift. They had the added incentive of doing their part to keep the World War II war machine running.[6]
On February 27, 1943, at approximately 9:37 a.m., an explosion ripped through Smith Mine No. 3, a coal mine located between the towns of Bearcreek and Washoe. Of the 77 men working that day, only three got out of the mine alive, and one of the rescue workers died soon afterward. The report from the United States Bureau of Mines states that 30 of the men were killed instantly by the explosion, and the remainder died either because of injuries sustained in the explosion, or because of suffocation from the carbon monoxide and methane gas in the mine. The explosion was deep underground, and was not heard at the mouth of the mine, despite having enough power to knock a 20-ton locomotive off its tracks 0.25 mile (0.4 km) from the blast origin. [7]
Those on the surface were unaware of the explosion until Alec Hawthorne, hoisting engineer, called the surface and told them that something was wrong and he was coming up. Dense fumes pouring from the mine prevented rescue workers from getting inside. They had to wait for trained rescue workers to be flown in from the Anaconda Copper Mining company's mine in Butte. [8]
It was later determined that about 30 of the men died from injuries caused by force of the explosion. Carbon monoxide and lack of oxygen killed the rest. At least five of the doomed miners survived for an hour and a half — long enough to scrawl a few last words for their families. Three messages were found. According a wire service report, the miners wrote with chalk on rough boards. Emil Anderson, 40, left this final message: “It’s five minutes pass 11 o’clock. Dear Agnes and children I am sorry we had to go this way — God bless you all.”
Another note listed Frank Pajnich, 53; Fred Rasborschek, 61; Sundar; and Joki. They wrote “We try to do our best but couldn’t get out. One found near Walter Joki, 30, and John Sundar, 28, read, “Goodbye wifes and daughters. We died an easy death. Love from us both. Be good.”[6]
The other two mines in the town, the Coster and Brophy mines were closed for about two weeks to enable their men to help in the attempted rescue. [9]

Investigation Report

Montana Governor Ford asked the Montana legislature to appropriate $5,000 for a thorough examination into the cause of the Smith mine disaster. The appropriation was approved immediately. R.H. Dalrymple from Utah was appointed the chairman of the special committee.
The report from the committee was completed in the fall of 1943. The report is quite lengthy and detailed and can be reviewed here. Report of the Governor’s Investigative committee. The actual cause of the explosion was an ignition of explosive gas by a miner wearing an open light in No. 5 room of the 9 southeast entry in No. 3 bed. There were numerous failures in the system that led to this end. There was an inadequate supply of first aid and mine rescue equipment. The equipment they had was not maintained. The men had no recent training in first aid and self-rescue. There was not enough supervisory staff and the management structure was not effective. Ventilation in the mine was inadequate. To sum up the investigation "It is evident that the most elementary safe mining practices were being disregarded".
As a result of this catastrophe the US Department of Mines conducted five day mine rescue operations classes for miners and mine operators. There was also a plan to establish a permanent mine rescue station in the Red Lodge-Bearcreek area.[10]

Miner Survivors

Management got its first notification of the disaster below from hoisting engineer Alex Hawthorne, 55, who telephoned the surface and said: “There’s something wrong down here. I’m getting out.” Before he got far, Hawthorne was overcome by fumes. Two others, Willard Reid and Eli Houtonen, were blown down by the force of a wind from below.

A rescue force braving the deadly gas brought all three unconscious men to the surface along with two bodies. The Gazette said that they had been working in Vein No. 2. All three survivors, who were described in the newspaper as “very sick,” were rushed to a hospital in Red Lodge, five miles away. Also hospitalized early that day were eight volunteers who were searching for survivors.[6]

Hawthorne later said that he and the other survivors were working 4,800 feet inside the mine “When the power failed and I sensed serious trouble I grabbed the telephone and rang desperately. At that time a cyclone of wind ascended from the mine, carrying sticks and everything that was loose. Then came the worst smell that I have ever sensed and I knew there was an explosion.” Another miner called to him, he said, and they started out with a loaded coal car. “That’s the last I remember until I came to here in the hospital,” Hawthorne said.[6]

Rescue Effort & Rescuers

Miners from Montana Coal and Iron’s nearby Foster Mine joined rescue parties, as did crews from Klein and Roundup. An Army paratroop transport based in Helena picked up a special 14-man rescue squad from the copper mines in Butte and flew the men to Billings. The squad was ferried to the mine in screaming Montana Highway Patrol cars.

In agonizing slowness over the next week, the number of bodies began to mount. The last — that of mine foreman Elmer Price, 53 — came out on March 7. He left a wife and five children. Funeral announcements for victims of the disaster ran in The Gazette’s pages until March 19.[6]

Others Involved/Supporters and the Aftermath

Those miners killed in the Smith Mine were survived by 58 widows and 125 children.

As a result of this disaster and in the aftermath, the US Bureau of Mines conducted a five-day mine rescue operations class. [11]

The "exigencies of World War II" were blamed for disregarding mine safety. The fire began when an open flame touched off an explosion of such force that it knocked a train locomotive off the rails a quarter-mile away.

"Nobody ever took responsibility for the Bearcreek disaster, and the families didn't get any compensation for their pain. All those people died, and even more, grieved, but it was as if they didn't matter," Resnick wrote. "That sense outraged me more than anything else. All people matter." Many were involved after the disaster: [12] Susan Kushner Resnick in her book "Goodbye Wifes and Daughters."

In Remembrance

Disaster Memorials

Memorial to the 74 Men Lost set in the cemetery.

Videos & Museums

Miner Victims

In Remembrance: Smith Mine Disaster Victims 27 February 1943 They took, willingly, the daily risk which accompanies the occupation of mine working in order that they might provide the wherewithals of life to their loved ones. Rev. A.W. Seebart, Memorial Service, March, 1943

Name Age Residence Birth Info/Bio Notes Status/Family Survived
Sam Alexander 57 Bearcreek Born Stevenston, Scotland on Nov 24, 1885. Married Agnus Pearson at Red Lodge in 1908. Was survived by his widow, 1 son, 1 daughter, 3 grandchildren.
James Allison 51 Red Lodge Born in Red Lodge Jan 27, 1892. Son of James and Agnus Allison. Lived entire life in Carbon County. Married Rose Skupa, Feb 17, 1919. Survived by his widow, 1 son, 2 daughters, 1 grandchild, 1 brother, 3 sisters.
Emil Anderson 40 Washoe Born in Red Lodge, Aug 2, 1902, son of Mr. And Mrs. Leander Anderson. Attended Red Lodge schools, moved to Washoe in 1915. Started work in Bearcreek coal mines in 1916, at age 14. Married Agnes McBride at Red Lodge, Jan 27, 1922. Survived by 3 children, 3 brothers, 1 sister.
William C. Appleton, Sr. 50 Washoe Born Prescott, Lancaster England Aug 22, 1892. Married Annie McDonald Tweedie at Maidstone, Kent England, April 13, 1915. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, 2 daughters, sister.
Sam Barovich 56 Bearcreek Born in Yugoslavia. Obituary not found. Widowed
William F. Barry 26 Red Lodge Born Sandpoint, Idaho, May 26, 1916. Married Virginia Price Sep 5, 1940 at Red Lodge. Began working at Smith Mine Jan 2, 1943. Survived by his widow and his mother.
William Beeney 55 Bearcreek Born Newcastle, county of Durham, England Sep 6, 1888. Came to Bearcreek in 1907, worked in mines until killed. Married Mary Hamilton Dec 24, 1914. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, 1 daughter, 3 grandchildren, 1 brother in England, 2 sisters (1 in England).
Jules Besinque 51 Bearcreek Born Scammon, Kansas, July 11, 1891. Came to Bearcreek in 1918. Was the mayor of Bearcreek for a time, managed meat department in Bearcreek store. Returned to mines in 1923. Moved to Billings in 1930. Survived by his widow Elizabeth Tassin Besinque, 2 sons, 1 daughter.
John Bone 60 Bearcreek Born in Scotland. Obituary not found. Widowed
Leland Cline 26 Red Lodge Born Nov 23, 1917 in Miles City. Graduated Billings schools, helped father on farm 3 miles west of Boyd. Married Verna Warila of Roberts on Aug 26, 1940. Had only recently gone to work for Montana Coal and Iron. Survived by his widow, parents Mr. And Mrs. Joe Cline, daughter, 3 sisters, 4 brothers, grandmother.
Donald J. Davis 42 Red Lodge Born Swanse, Wales Dec 19, 1901. Came to US in 1903. Father Thomas Davis was killed in mine cave-in near Livingston in 1905. Moved to Red Lodge with his mother Margaret Pollock and stepfather in 1907. Began work at Smith Mine in Aug, 1942. Survived by 2 sisters, 1 brother.
William DeBourg 55 Red Lodge Born Sillingbyn, Langsrud, Varmland Sweden, Feb 3, 1888. Son of Christine Larson and John Jacob DeBourg. Came to US in 1908. Was blacksmith and mechanic. Married Lena Sconfienza Mar 27, 1927. Survived by his widow, 1 sister, 1 brother.
August Deruelle 62 Bearcreek Born in France. No obituary found. Widowed
Pat Doran 38 Red Lodge Born in Red Lodge. No obituary found. Married; Wife's name Minnie.
Marcel Fages 40 Bearcreek Born Lieven France on Jan 12, 1903. Lived in Bearcreek 22 years, was a barber in Bearcreek. Married; Survived by his wife Mary, 1 son, his mother, 1 sister.
Joe Ferro 51 Red Lodge Born in Italy. Believed to have been an orphan. No obituary found. Single
John Germanetti 60 Red Lodge Born Borgo-Franco, Italy on Jan 1, 1883. Came to US in 1908. Married Josephine Pistano. Lived in Red Lodge, worked in Smith Mine 11 years. Survived by his widow, 1 daughter, a brother and a sister in Italy.
Peter Charles Giovetti 39 Bearcreek Born Italy, May 12, 1903. Came to US at 4 months, to Red Lodge in 1914, to Bearcreek in 1939. Married Lottie Spear Nov 16, 1923 at Red Lodge. Survived by his widow, 2 daughters, 2 sons, his mother Mrs. Dominic Giovetti, 2 sisters, 1 brother.
Matt Hallila 57 Red Lodge Born Finland, Jan 1, 1886. Came to America in 1906, and to Red Lodge in 1942. Married Mrs. Ellen Nyback in 1942. Survived by his widow, 1 daughter, 4 stepsons.
Arthur Halpin 42 Red Lodge No birthplace or birthdate listed. Resident of Red Lodge for many years. Operated a ranch, worked in mines during busy mining time. Brother-in-law William Pelo also killed in Smith Mine disaster. Married; Survived by his wife Ada Halpin, 2 sons, father M.F. Halpin, 2 brothers, paternal grandmother Matilda J. Halpin.
A.D. Dewey Hardy 46 Red Lodge Born in Oklahoma. No obituary available. Married; Wife's name was Delena.
James Hawthorne 31 Bearcreek Born Red Lodge Mar 1, 1912. Moved to Bearcreek as a child, attended Bearcreek schools. Graduated Bearcreek High School 1930. Married Alice Rose Schwenneker May, 1939. Survived by his parents Mr. and Mrs. Alex Hawthorne, 1 son, 2 brothers, 2 sisters.
John Hodnik 31 Bearcreek Born Dec 4, 1911. Graduated Washoe Grade School 1926. Graduated Bearcreek High School 1930. Various occupations, worked for Montana Coal & Iron 7 months. Married Helen Karina, May 21, 1940. Was part owner of Bear Creek Coal Mine. Survivors included his widow, mother, 3 brothers, 1 sister.
Ahti Walter Joki 30 Red Lodge Born near Fox on Jan 28, 1913. Attended school at Fox. Married Louise Henrietta Vanderloos Nov 23, 1939. Survived by his wife, 1 daughter, his parents, 2 sisters, 4 brothers.
Wayne Jones 31 Red Lodge Born in Idaho. No obituary available. Married; Wife's name Elma.
Andrew Jorden 21 Red Lodge Born in Red Lodge. No obituary available. Single
Mike Korinko 33 Red Lodge Born in Bridger. No obituary available. Married; Wife's name Susie.
John Krop, Sr. 59 Red Lodge Born St. Ozbold, Yugoslavia on Dec 7, 1883. Lived in US 35 years, 25 in Red Lodge. Married Fannie Prenta in 1910. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, 1 brother, 1 sister.
Louis Kuhar 56 Bearcreek Born in Austria. No obituary available. Married; Wife's name Josephine.
Edward Kumpula 35 Red Lodge Born Stockett, Montana, July 4, 1907. Came to Red Lodge as small child. Married Esther Wilson at Columbus on April 24, 1939. Survived by his widow, 1 son, 1 brother.
Edward Laird 55 Washoe Born in Scotland. No obituary available. Married; Wife's name Ruby.
Edward J. Laird 49 Washoe Born Armadele, Scotland Mar 3, 1803. Came to Washoe 1911, worked in mines 22 years. Married to Mary C. Thorburn, Mar 7, 1921. Survived by his widow, 2 daughters, 1 son, his mother Mrs. James Laird Sr., 3 sisters, 3 brothers.
Clem Lodge 51 Washoe Born Dickinson, North Dakota on Aug 12, 1891. Came to Red Lodge in 1897. Started working at Bridger Mine at age 13. Later moved to Washoe. Married Mary Laird on April 17, 1915 at Red Lodge. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, mother, 4 brothers, 2 sisters.
John Madden 53 Bearcreek Born in Yugoslovia. Never Married. Survived by 1 brother.
Richard Mallon 68 Red Lodge Born Oct 7, 1874 at South Stanrigg, Scotland. Came to Montana in 1893. Married Anne Jane McKee at Bozeman Nov 22, 1897. Came to Red Lodge in 1908. He worked in the Red Lodge mine until it closed, then worked in the mines in Bearcreek region. Survivors included his wife, 4 daughters, 1 son, 6 sisters, 6 grandchildren.
Ignac Marinchek 57 Bearcreek Born Zazorjc, St. Peter, Yugoslavia, July 1, 1885. Came to Bearcreek in 1909. Worked in grocery store and in mines. Married; Survivors included his widow, 2 daughters, brother, grandson.
Abraham McDonald 59 Washoe Born Haywood Scotland on Oct 19, 1883 to Mr. And Mrs. John McDonald. Came to Washoe from Ohio in 1913. Married; Survived by his widow Mrs. Jemimia Laffea McDonald, 2 daughters, 1 son.
Joseph McDonald 42 Washoe Born in Ohio. No obituary found. Married; Wife's name Anna.
Robert Logan McDonald 42 Red Lodge Born in Red Lodge on Feb 16, 1901, son of Wilhema and Sam McDonald. Married Nell Ferry in 1924. Lived in Red Lodge until 1936, then in Red Lodge. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, 1 daughter, 2 brothers, 2 sisters.
James McNeish 60 Washoe Born Scotland. No obituary available.
John Meiklejohn 63 Born Oakley, Fefeshire, Scotland Mar 21, 1889. Married Margaret Strang, Apr. 16, 1916. She died in 1932. Survived by 1 daughter.
Herman Mejean 19 Red Lodge Born in Bearcreek. No obituary available.
Joe Meyer, Jr. 39 Bearcreek Born Pueblo, Colorado Feb 27, 1904. Came to Montana at age 9. Worked in mines since age 14. A brother, Ludwig, was killed in Brophy Mine in 1941. Married Josephine Ann Faygel at Roundup on June 29, 1929. Survived by his widow, parents Mr. and Mrs. Joe Meyer Sr., 2 brothers, 2 sisters.
Frank Mourich 42 Bearcreek Born Dec 3, 1900 in Austria. Came to America in 1903. Began working for Montana Coal & Iron at age 15. Married Lula Marie Knuttila. Survived by his parents Mr. and Mrs. Jack Mourich, his widow, 1 son, 1 daughter, 1 brother. Brother Jack also died in Smith Mine disaster.
Jack Phillip Mourich 35 Bearcreek Born Feb 28, 1907 in Bearcreek. Married Jean D. Alexander in Red Lodge. Survived by his parents Mr. and Mrs. Jack Mourich, his widow, 2 sons, 1 brother. Brother Frank also died in Smith Mine disaster.
Wilbur John Muller 22 Red Lodge Born Sheridan, Wyoming Mar 10, 1920 to Mr. and Mrs. Leo Muller. Came to Red Lodge when six weeks old. Married Miss Dorothy Sneider at Columbus July 19, 1940. Survived by his widow and parents, 1 daughter, 2 brothers, 1 sister.
Earl Mus 51 Red Lodge Born Thurber, Texas, Nov 9, 1892. Married Mary Hendericson. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, 2 daughters, 3 brothers, 2 sisters.
William Noble 68 Washoe Born Feb 2, 1874 in Vitrona, Iowa. Married Loretta Sullivan at Great Falls in 1907. Came to Washoe 1913. Also lived in Bearcreek. Worked at Smith Mine for 22 years. Also operated a pool hall with brother Chester in 1910 in Red Lodge and later in Washoe. Survived by his widow, 3 daughters, 1 son, 9 grandchildren.
William Pelo 55 Red Lodge Born in Michigan. Worked on ranch as main occupation, worked in mines in busy mine season. Brother-in-law Arthur Halpin also died in Smith Mine disaster. Married; Survived by father Matt Pelo, his widow Bertha Pelo, 3 sons, 2 brothers, 1 sister.
William Pryde 32 Bearcreek Born Bearcreek, May 21, 1910. Attended Bearcreek schools. Married Vera Jacklavich on Nov 14, 1936. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, mother, 1 sister .
Zino (Eino Walfred) Rahkola 27 Roberts Born in Roberts. No obituary found. Single
Frank Ferdinand Rasborschek 61 Bearcreek Born in Yugoslavia. No obituary found. Widowed
Martin Ratkovich 46 Bearcreek Born Yugoslavia. No obituary found. Single
David Reid 33 Bearcreek Born Byesville, Ohio. No obituary found. Wife was Irene Berta.
Lawrence W. Reid 42 Bearcreek Born Cambridge, Ohio, Feb 15, 1901. Came to Bearcreek at age 1. Married Mary McDonald Dec 25, 1929. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, 3 brothers, 4 sisters.
George Saarela 33 Red Lodge Born Ii Qulien Laani, Finland, June 10, 1909. Came to US at age 4. Single. Survived by his father Andrew Saarela and 1 sister.
William Shepard 69 Washoe Born Watage, Illinois, Aug 7, 1873. Worked in mines since age nine. Came to Montana in 1897. Married Mary Jane Freeman at Red Lodge on Dec 22, 1898. In 1897 homesteaded land near what is now Boyd. From 1912 to 1920 he farmed near Roberts and Belfry. Worked in supervisory positions in mining during his life. Survivors included his wife, 2 daughters, 1 son, 6 sisters. His only brother was killed in a coal mine accident in Iowa in 1910.
William Slaby 38 Red Lodge Born Germany, July 30, 1904. Married Olga Scala in Billings Aug 26, 1925. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, mother Mrs. Mary Slaby, 3 sisters, 2 brothers.
David Sommerville 60 Washoe Born in Scotland. No obituary found. Married; Wife's name was Jean.
John Sommerville 34 Red Lodge Born in Ohio. No obituary found. Married; Wife's name was Grace.
Frank Starkovich 64 Red Lodge Born in Croatia. Married; Wife's name was Francis. One son known, John.
Frank Sumicek 65 Bearcreek Born Austria Sep 22, 1877. Came to US (Bridger) in 1916, moved to Bearcreek in 1922. Widowed; Survived by One daughter, 1 son, 4 grandchildren.
John Sudar 28 Red Lodge Born Rugby, Colorado on May 3, 1914. Came to Bearcreek at age 3. Attended Bearcreek schools. Started at Smith Mine at age 17. Married Ann Korack on Aug 5, 1935 in Red Lodge. Survived by his mother, 1 daughter, 1 sister, 2 brothers.
George Thompson, Sr. 65 Washoe Born in Scotland on Sep 24, 1877. Came to Washoe in 1907. Married Susan Tharthen in Scotland. Survived by his widow, 3 sons, 4 daughters, 1 brother, 1 sister.
Adam Lee Wakenshaw 72 Bearcreek Born Swalwell, county Dublin, England Feb 17, 1871. Was oldest man killed in the explosion. His son, Robert, also died in the tragedy. Adam was survived by his widow Margaret Wakenshaw of Boyd, 2 grandchildren.
Robert Lee Wakenshaw 39 Bearcreek Born in Helena on June 16, 1903. Lived in Bearcreek most of his life, attended Bearcreek schools. Survived by his widow Mary Wakenshaw, a daughter, a son, and his mother Margaret.
Robert Whitehead 47 Red Lodge Born North Lawrence, Ohio on Aug 11, 1895. Came to Red Lodge in April, 1907. Worked at Smith mine from 1937. Married Margaret Walsh Dec 31, 1940. Survived by his widow, parents Mr. and Mrs. Adam Whitehead, 3 sisters, 2 brothers.
Clarence Carlye Williams 42 Washoe Born in Belt, Dec 24, 1900. Came to Red Lodge at age 7. Married Mary Campbell Dec 25, 1923. Brother Lloyd was also killed in Smith Mine disaster. Survived by his widow, 1 daughter, 1 sister, 3 brothers.
Lloyd Abraham Williams 46 Washoe Born in Belt Sep 30, 1897. Came to Red Lodge in 1907. Married Florence Bloom Jan 1, 1922. Brother Clarence also killed in Smith Mine disaster. Survived by his widow, 2 daughters, 1 sister, 3 brothers.
Vid Zaputil 50 Red Lodge Born in Yugoslavia June 15, 1892. Moved to Red Lodge July 7, 1916. Married Mary Yakovich Dec 29, 1918. Survived by his widow, 2 sons, 1 daughter, 1 brother.


Genealogy Resources

Further Reading

“Goodbye wifes and daughters . . .” wrote two of the miners as they died. The story of that tragic day and its aftermath unfolds in this book through the eyes of those wives and daughters—women who lost their husbands, fathers, and sons, livelihoods, neighbors, and homes, yet managed to fight back and persevere.
Susan Kushner Resnick has uncovered the story behind all those losses. She chronicles the missteps and questionable ethics of the mine’s managers, who blamed their disregard for safety on the exigencies of World War II; the efforts of an earnest federal mine inspector and the mine union’s president (later a notorious murderer), who tried in vain to make the mine safer; the heroism of the men who battled for nine days to rescue the trapped miners; and the effect the disaster had on the entire mining industry. Resnick illuminates a particular historical tragedy with all its human ramifications while also reminding us that such tragedies caused by corporate greed and indifference are with us to this day.

On February 27, 1943, an explosion at Smith Mine #3 in Washoe, MT killed 74 men in the worst mining disaster in Montana’s history. This is the story of the miners, the heroes in the rescue operation, and the communities that were brought close to extinction by the disaster.

Many reports have been made of the Smith Mine Disaster. It was an event that shocked the state of Montana with the worst tragedy in its long history of coal mining. The calamity had far-reaching effects on thousands, and repercussions on communities and towns which came close to bringing them to extinction. Because it was a vital portion of history, this work has been compiled from many sources to provide as comprehensive a record of that time as possible.

Originally written by Fay Kuhlman, former Mayor of Bearcreek, The Darkest Hour was edited and expanded by Gary Robson for the 60th anniversary of the disaster.


  1. Montana Territory
  2. Montana Railroad History
  3. History of Montana
  4. The Darkest Hour. A Comprehensive Account of the Smith Mine Disaster of 1943. 3rd edition by Gary Robson. Red Lodge Books. 2011. pages 43-53
  5. The Montana National Register Sign Program, “Smith Mine Historic District,” Explore Big – Montana’s Historic Places, accessed October 8, 2018,
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Thackery, The Worst Coal Mining Disaster in Montana History.
  7. Smith Mine Disaster
  8. The Daily Inter Lake (Kallispell, Montana) 7 Feb 1943, Sat. page 1
  9. The Montana Standard (Butte, Montana). 19 Mar 1943, Wed. Page 2
  10. Miners train to Prevent Recurrence of Disasters. Great Falls Tribune(Great Falls, Montana) 17 July 1943, Sat, page 4
  11. Great Falls Tribune, 17 Jul 1943, Sat, page 4
  12. Kristen Inbody, Mining Disaster Devastates Montana Valley. Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls Montana). 2 Aug 2014

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Comments: 4

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Hi Nat,

You did a wonderful job on this page! What a lot of research that is.


posted on Smith Coal Mine 1943 (merged) by Mindy Silva
No, that's Lynn Hemrick's work! All I did was to remove the extra information that was added by the project. :-)

Nice work, Lynn! Natalie

posted on Smith Coal Mine 1943 (merged) by Natalie (Durbin) Trott
Oops! My deepest apologies to Lynn! You did a fabulous job Lynn. I hope to see more of your work in the mining pages.


posted on Smith Coal Mine 1943 (merged) by Mindy Silva
Hey easy mistake since I edited last. :-) All good and we both appreciate Lynn's work!


posted on Smith Coal Mine 1943 (merged) by Natalie (Durbin) Trott