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