Hear It From Those Who Lived IT

Elmer Bernard Miller


This is the story of Elmer Miller, who was the last known survivor from the Granite Mountain / Speculator Mine Fire that killed 168 men on June 8, 1917 in Butte, Montana.


"I was born in Iowa in 1898 and came to Butte with my family in 1916. I started to work at the Tramway Mine when I was 17 years old. We worked seven days a week and were paid $40 for seven days of work. Times were tough, but better than farming, which had been my family's livelihood.


After leaving the Tramway Mine, I was hired at the Granite Mountain Mine. I was lucky and got a job as a tool nipper, getting tools and supplies for different miners. There, I soon learned all the work places on the 1800ft and 2000ft levels.


My brother Clarence worked for the same foreman, bulkhead Jack Hamill. At the time of the fire, we were both on the 2000ft level. As the fire developed, the smoke and gas came through all the workings, and all the workers came out toward the shaft, but that was where the fire was. It was quickly decided to try to get out to the High Ore shaft. The unused drift was partially blocked by small cave-ins, but we managed to get out to the High Ore shaft and up to the surface.


When we got to the surface, we learned the cause of the fire. The ropemen were installing a new signal and telephone cable in the shaft, and it broke away. The cable was lead covered, and the separate wires were insulated with paraffin paper. When it was dropped, it was all broken up, and the paraffin paper was scattered all about. One of the workers' carbide lights got too close and set the paraffin paper burning. It spread to the shaft timbers, which burned like a chimney, letting much of the shaft cave in."



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