Site of the Country's Worst Hard-Rock Mining Disaster
When it was installed in 1915, the electric hoist at the Granite Mountain mine was the largest in the country. Connected to the Speculator mine 200 yards to the south, Granite Mountain was developed to bolster the productive capacity of its parent mine. Instead, it nearly destroyed it.
The Granite Mountain-Speculator fire of 1917, the worst hard-rock mining accident in the history of the United States, began in the shaft of the Granite Mountain mine. Once ignited, it was only a matter of minutes before the entire lower half of the shaft was engulfed in flames, spreading deadly smoke and gas through miles of underground workings.
As one miner reported to the Butte Miner newspaper “It was about midnight when I heard someone shouting ‘Fire!’ My partner and I were working a short distance away from the 2600-foot station. We went out to investigate. The shaft was like a roaring furnace.”
Of the 410 men lowered into the Granite Mountain mine for the nightshift on June 8, 1917, 168 did not return alive. Some miners battered down concrete bulkheads that separated the tunnels from those of adjacent shafts. Many escaped through the Badger and Diamond mines. A few managed to barricade themselves behind bulkheads in the mine and were found alive after as long as 55 hours.
The disaster touched off a period of labor unrest, as most of Butte’s miners went on strike to protest dangerous working conditions. Federal troops were called in to force the miners back to work, and they occupied the city until 1921.
Today the open-air plaza of the Granite Mountain Memorial interprets the events, people, and turbulent times that surrounded the catastrophe. The Granite Mountain headframe, now surrounded by waste from open pit mining, can be seen from the memorial, as well as a panoramic view of Butte’s mining landscape.