On February 27, 1943, an explosion at the Montana Coal and Iron Company mine kills 74 workers. It was the worst mining disaster in Montana’s history.

Smith Mine No. 3, Bearcreek Montana

Smith Mine No. 3, Bearcreek Montana

The small communities of Washoe and Bearcreek, Montana, consisted almost entirely of mine workers and their families. Many of them worked Smith Mine #3 for the Montana Coal and Iron Company. On a cold Saturday morning, February 27, 77 men were working in the mine when, at 9:30 a.m., a huge explosion rang out. The people of Washoe and Bearcreek heard the roar and then the long, wailing siren that followed.

The exact cause of the explosion is not known, though some of the company’s miners claimed methane gas had built up in some abandoned shafts and was ignited after a cave-in.

An abandoned rail trestle marks the entrance to the Smith Mine near Bearcreek. The entrance was collapsed after the mine shut down.

An abandoned rail trestle marks the entrance to the Smith Mine near Bearcreek. The entrance was collapsed after the mine shut down.

Of the 77 workers in the mine at the time of the explosion, only three made it out alive. The victims died either directly from the blast or from suffocation when oxygen levels in the mine dropped.

Many victims of the Smith Mine disaster were buried in Bearcreek, near the site of the explosion.

Many victims of the Smith Mine disaster were buried in Bearcreek, near the site of the explosion.

Virtually every household in Washoe and Bearcreek was touched by this tragedy. The mine never reopened.

Buildings from the Smith Mine still stand 71 years after 74 miners died in an explosion at Bearcreek.

Buildings from the Smith Mine still stand 71 years after 74 miners died in an explosion at Bearcreek.

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2 responses

  1. Sheryl says:

    Whew, what a horrible mine disaster! The photo of the tombstones really provides a sense of how devastating the disaster had to have been for the community.

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