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Скачать книгу Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917

Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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The overall effect of these efforts seems to have been mostly positive, contributing to the more rapid clearing in some sections of the mines.

While this clearing did not occur rapidly enough to save the 163 victims of the fire, it would later become critically important to dozens of other men.

The fans also allowed firemen to begin dousing the blaze with water. Initially, rescuers had worried that dumping water into Granite Mountain might have the effect of turning the shaft back into a downdraft, which would in turn have sent more smoke and fumes into the workings. With the augmentation of the draft by multiple fans, however, firemen believed that they could begin to fight the fire with water. Eventually, “four pipe lines” would pump millions of gallons of water into the shaft at a rate of 500 gallons per minute. Still, it would be five days before firemen considered the fire to be under control.

The water did have some unintended consequences. It contributed, along with the fire’s incineration of shaft timbers, to the cave-in of large portions of the Granite Mountain shaft.

Another consequence was more gruesome. Helmet men found a number of victims who had apparently been scalded to death. They had been too near to Granite Mountain stations when the water was dropped. The great heat of the shaft fire instantly vaporized the liquid, creating a wave of deadly steam.

John L. Boardman was a slight man with a weighty responsibility. As the head of Anaconda’s Safety-First crews, Boardman commanded the growing army of helmet men who began descending the mines in the early morning hours after the fire. Boardman had an additional layer of accountability, having personally trained many of Butte’s helmet men.

Photos of the rescuers taken before the disaster show men who look more like fighter pilots than miners. They model their technologically advanced equipment with an air of pride and even swagger, though a leavening of maturity is also apparent. In an era when ever-growing percentages of miners were unskilled, the Safety-First crews were drawn from the ranks of the most experienced men.

J. L. Boardman arrived at the North Butte properties shortly after the start of the fire and began an eight-day saga that would test his men’s experience. His style of supervision was described as “calm, cool, and collected.” He personally inspected each breathing apparatus before fitting it to a rescuer’s head. “Look to the valves on the helmets and take every precaution,” Boardman told them. “You must look to your own lives.”

In contrast to the earliest rescue efforts, Boardman helped to organize a systematic sweep of the mines. With the Granite Mountain shaft spewing flames, he channeled the helmet men through adjoining mines—especially the Speculator, the High Ore, and the Badger. Within each mine, the helmet men descended systematically, “one level at a time,” beginning at the stations and then expanding their searches outward into the twisted braids of the workings. Because many rescuers were unfamiliar with the North Butte workings (especially those from Anaconda crews), miner-guides sometimes volunteered to lead the way.

They faced a pitch-black maze encompassing hundreds of miles of underground passageways—most filled with smoke that was “saturated with steam”

and laced with deadly gas. Each level was its own intricate maze. There were few straight lines beyond the crosscuts, the drifts instead following the haphazard path of the copper veins. For their only light, the helmet men carried “Ever Ready” flashlights. When the beams could not penetrate the murk, the rescuers dropped to their knees and followed rail lines, an action impeded in some places by the knee-deep ash on the floor.

Obstacles frequently blocked clear passage through the narrow crosscuts and drifts. In 1917, Butte mines still used a mixture of horses and electric engines to pull ore-laden “trains.” The horses, like the miners, attempted to flee the fire and fumes. Dozens of animals lay dead along the tracks, sometimes with ore cars piled up behind them.

The low ceilings forced the helmet men to pick their way over such obstacles in a flat-out position, all the while taking care not to bump the helmets on their heads, the breathing bags on their bellies, or the oxygen tanks on their backs. (And, of course, all the while seeking to avoid physical exertion!)

Air temperatures in the depths of the North Butte ranged from the low eighties to more than a hundred degrees, with humidity between 85 and 100 percent. The breathing apparatus, in addition to being extremely hot and cumbersome, raised the temperature of the air that the men inhaled by at least an additional ten degrees. The Fluess model sometimes raised the temperature of inhaled air to 140 degrees. As the 1917 study on apparatus noted: “[A]fter an explosion and fire there is often a high temperature, and the air is saturated with moisture. These conditions the apparatus can not be expected to overcome.”

Yet the helmet men forged ahead. By the time they returned to the surface, their bodies were soaked in perspiration, their clothing reeked of gas, and their eyes were bloodshot from the smoke and fumes.

For some it was worse. Many rescuers suffered injury when their helmets malfunctioned, including at least twenty “part or total prostrations.”

Charles Fredericks, one of the helmet men who pulled Ernest Sullau from the mine, remembered detecting the “sweet odor of gas.” He ended up unconscious for several hours, pulled to the surface by his fellow rescuers and ultimately hospitalized.

Another helmet man experiencing equipment problems was a Speculator shift boss named William Budelière. He noticed that his helmet was leaking while exploring the 1,800 level with four other men on the morning of June 9. He informed the others of his plight before a second man noticed that his helmet also was leaking. They hurried to the station, rang for the cage, and managed to make it safely to the surface. Within thirty minutes, Budelière was reequipped and back underground.

As a shift boss at the Speculator, William Budelière had an intimate knowledge of the North Butte workings. Both his knowledge of the mines and his fortitude would soon be put to the test. Barely three hours after the malfunction of his helmet, Budelière and twelve comrades were on yet another foray into the mines—this time the first rescuers to explore the lower levels of the Speculator and Granite Mountain shafts. Miners from as low as the 2,400 level had managed to escape through adjoining mines, and there was hope that other men might still be alive below ground.

After an initial descent from the Rainbow shaft, Budelière and the others worked their way “through miles of poisonous fumes” to the 2,000 level of Granite Mountain, only to encounter a new enemy—water.

At the lower levels of the workings, mining companies contended constantly with groundwater. Miners dealt with water problems the same way that homeowners deal with leaky basements—sump pumps. To keep the deeper workings clear of water, giant electric pumps worked twenty-four hours a day. The Granite Mountain fire, though, had cut electricity. With the electricity out, the pumps shut down, and the groundwater began to rise—augmented by the great quantities dumped down the shaft by firemen.

In the crosscut between the Speculator and Granite Mountain, Budelière and his comrades encountered water up to their armpits—rising water. Because of the crosscut’s low ceiling, only a few inches separated the surface of the deep water from the rocky roof of the tunnel. Budelière elected to keep going. For the other men, though, it was too much, and they decided to turn back.

As he slogged through the deep water, holding his head and his flashlight in the narrow band of air, Budelière reached a point where the rock above him was so low that his helmet scraped the ceiling. Incredibly, he removed the helmet and moved forward, craning his head in the narrow belt of air between the water and rock.

Budelière became the first (and for a while, the only) rescuer to reach the lower levels of the Granite Mountain workings. A Butte Miner headline hailed his courage as “Only Equaled by Those of Titanic Disaster.” He found no survivors, instead only “scores of bodies.”

Dozens of other helmet men would also play vital roles in those first hours after the fire, “assisting the almost exhausted men” who had clawed their way close to the surface. The general chaos made it difficult to estimate the precise number, though as the accident report states, the helmet men “undoubtedly saved many lives.”

An increasingly well-organized system greeted the helmet men and the wounded miners as they were raised from the depths. At the Speculator, the Badger, and the High Ore, rough mine buildings were quickly converted into field hospitals and morgues.

At the Speculator collar, a guard monitored entrance and exit from the shaft. Still, miners and rescuers rushed forward hopefully whenever the hoist was raised. As each man emerged (or was carried) from the cage, timekeepers O’Keefe and McDonald attempted to make an identification. Many miners, though conscious, clearly suffered from the effects of gas. In its early stages, exposure to carbon monoxide can cause confusion, irritability, and delirium. Miners were described as “muttering unintelligibly to all questions of the hospital attendants.”

A doctor with a stethoscope checked the unconscious, “determining as fast as possible the chance of a spark of life.”

Those with a heartbeat were usually hooked up to pulmotors and, like the ill-fated Ernest Sullau, attended by a team of physicians. Many recovered and walked home, while ambulances transported others to local hospitals.

For the first thirty-six hours after the start of the fire, the dead were carried into the Speculator storeroom (and its counterparts at the other mines). Bodies fell into two categories—those that could be identified and those that could not. The unidentified were laid out in a row until friends could come along and attach a name. Other unidentified bodies were distributed among Butte’s many funeral homes. Dozens of men would ultimately be buried, anonymous, in communal graves.

At 3:45 in the afternoon on Saturday, June 9—a little more than twelve hours after the start of the fire—Coroner Lane issued a statement to the press, grimly tolling the growing carnage. Thirty-three bodies had been recovered from the mine, with ten of those still unidentified. Between 165 and 175 men were believed to be still underground. The statement’s conclusion was grave: “[L]ittle or no hope is held out for them.”

In the depths of the mine, though, hope was still alive.

Seven (#ulink_e478559c-b9d0-5f69-9ab7-1971b0ac1e5a)

“STANDARD OIL COFFINS” (#ulink_e478559c-b9d0-5f69-9ab7-1971b0ac1e5a)

They will cut your wages and raise the tariff in the company stores on every bite you eat, and every rag you wear.

They will force you to dwell in Standard Oil houses while you live, and they will bury you in Standard Oil coffins when you die.


On April 27, 1899, predawn of the twentieth century, fifty-seven-year-old Marcus Daly sold his beloved Anaconda to the Standard Oil Company.

Less than twenty years had passed since Daly, the once penniless Irish immigrant, bought a middling silver prospect for $30,000 from a veteran of the Civil War. The Anaconda that Daly sold to Standard Oil’s William Rockefeller and Henry Rogers—for a stunning $39 million—was now a sprawling empire. The transaction, gushed the front page of the New York Times, was the “biggest financial deal of the age.”

The deal included not only Daly’s rich Butte copper holdings, but also the other manifold components of Anaconda’s vertically integrated machine: the world’s largest smelting operation, timber holdings of more than a million acres, sawmill facilities in both Montana and Idaho, coal beds in Montana and Wyoming, waterworks, rail lines, a real estate company, brickyards, newspapers, hotels, and even retail stores.

Taken together, a remarkable three-quarters of Montana wage earners drew their checks from some part of Daly’s Anaconda enterprises.

Yet just as Marcus Daly had dreamed of creating an empire, Standard’s Rockefeller and Rogers envisioned something bigger still: not an empire, but the empire. In the late nineteenth century, the mighty Standard Oil had come to dominate 90 percent of the American oil industry. Seeing the enormous profits to be gained from capturing a monopoly, businessmen of the 1890s battled to replicate the Standard Oil model in other fields—from sugar and tobacco to telephones and steel.

A new generation of Standard Oil leaders, meanwhile, searched for fresh domains to conquer. Copper stood out as a gleaming target. “Think it over,” Henry Rogers is reported to have said, “and you will agree with me that the possibilities are far beyond those of oil.”

The purchase of Anaconda from Marcus Daly represented the first significant step toward the creation of a copper trust. Standard Oil incorporated a new holding company called “Amalgamated,” into which the component pieces of the new copper trust would be collected. Henry Rogers—known to his Wall Street contemporaries as the “Hell Hound”—would be Amalgamated’s new president. William Rockefeller—son of the great founder—would be secretary and treasurer. Marcus Daly, though nominally Amalgamated’s vice president, was by this time gravely ill and increasingly unable to work. Eastern management had come to Butte.

So had eastern finance. Within a matter of weeks, Standard Oil took Amalgamated public. After a heavy promotional campaign to “stir up a market,” Standard Oil sold one-third of the stock in its $39 million investment for a tidy $26 million in cash.

Put another way, Standard recouped two-thirds of its month-old investment in exchange for only one-third of Anaconda’s ownership. In his classic history The War of the Copper Kings, C. B. Glasscock summarized the new situation back in Butte:

No longer were the mines of Butte to be operated solely for their production of copper, zinc, silver, lead and gold. Thenceforth they were to be operated also for their production of new stock certificates, theoretically based upon metal resources and output, but practically based upon the acquisitive genius of Henry H. Rodgers [sic], William Rockefeller … and their associates and successors in Wall Street.

Standard Oil floated a second issue of Anaconda stock in 1901. Naked manipulation of the stock price would follow: driving the price higher before selling; then driving it down before buying back shares at bargain-basement prices. Thousands of small investors lost millions of dollars.

Meanwhile Standard Oil/Amalgamated—with a fat new war chest—went after the rest of Butte’s copper.

Two men stood in its way. One was the scandalous William A. Clark—fresh from his foiled effort to bribe his way into the U.S. Senate. The other was a relative newcomer to Butte, a twenty-nine-year-old boy-king who would rise to fight a brilliant war against the most powerful economic juggernaut of its time.

Butte history has a singular ability to keep topping itself. As remarkable as was Clark’s and Daly’s War of the Copper Kings in the 1890s, it practically pales in comparison to the titanic battles that took place from 1899 to 1906. This second War of the Copper Kings would again seize the attention of the entire nation. For decades to come, the outcome of the conflict would transform the town of Butte, the state of Montana, and the lives of the men and women who lived there.

The third of the three Copper Kings—Frederick Augustus Heinze—was born in Brooklyn on December 5, 1869. Unlike his counterparts, Marcus Daly and William Clark, young “Fritz” Heinze grew up in a comfortable life of moderate wealth. He received a top-flight European education that included study in the classics, language, and a solid foundation in the scientific discipline that would shape his meteoric life—geology.

Fritz Heinze entered the Columbia University School of Mines at the age of fifteen and received his engineer of mines degree at nineteen. In addition to a knowledge of mining, Columbia taught Fritz other skills that would serve him well in Butte. He joined the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and was known as an expert poker player. For the rest of his short life, Heinze would be the charming frat-boy rogue. He could drink with the best of Butte—and that was saying something. He was tall, physically powerful, and handsome—his giant ego buffered by raw charm. In short, people loved him.

After Fritz’s graduation from Columbia, his father offered to fund postgraduate study in Germany. Fritz, though, had his heart set on the West. Three months later, in September 1889, Heinze arrived in Butte. He hired on as a junior engineer at the Boston & Montana Company—an independent operation owned by neither Clark nor Daly.

For a year the young Heinze added practical experience to his formal education. During the day he conducted surveys of the Butte Hill and at night he studied the complex veining of the richest hill on earth. He quickly became a master of Butte’s hidden treasures, and what he learned convinced him there was still a fortune to be made—even as the titans Clark and Daly seemed to tighten their grip on the town.

By 1892, the twenty-two-year-old Fritz Heinze was ready to put his theory to the test. He used a combination of family and outside money to start a new company—the Montana Ore Purchasing Company—“as a mining, ore purchasing, and smelting concern.”

An early Heinze business transaction reveals much about the tactics and ethics that he would bring to his career in Butte. Heinze leased the right to take ore from a Butte mine called the Estella. Under the terms of the lease, Heinze promised to pay the owner a handsome 50 percent royalty on all the ore extracted that showed at least 15 percent copper content. For any ore below 15 percent content, however, Heinze would pay nothing. As the lease played out, it turned out that none of the ore exceeded the 15 percent threshold—this in a mine known for rich deposits. How could this be? Because Heinze directed his miners to mix the good ore with waste rock, insuring the trigger for payment was never reached.

When Heinze’s landlord discovered the ploy, he promptly sued. Heinze hired the best lawyer he could find—and won. It was Fritz’s first lawsuit and it would not be his last.

With diabolical brilliance, Fritz married his knowledge of Butte’s geology with a pernicious mining law known as the Apex Rule. According to the Apex Rule, rights to underground mineral holdings were determined by the location where a particular vein came closest to the surface, or reached its apex. If a company owned the apex, it could follow the vein below ground to wherever it led—including ground beneath another owner’s surface property. Using his knowledge of mine engineering, Heinze began to identify and purchase strategic apex properties—many of them next to Anaconda (later Amalgamated) holdings. Then he pirated their ore. Lawsuits sprang up like weeds.

Lawyers, it turned out, would be Heinze’s most important mining tool. In Butte they called him a “courtroom miner.” Heinze fielded an army of more than thirty-seven lawyers, some of whom were charged with the lucrative task of digging up new opportunities to file claims and/or sue. The highly fractured nature of Butte’s mineral veins created a lawyer’s paradise, and Fritz learned a lesson that litigators still apply today: An expert can be hired to say anything. Elaborate scale models, “some costing $25,000 apiece,” were built to support testimony. In other instances, testimony was supported by “litigation drifts”—holes dug for the sole purpose of creating courtroom evidence.
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