The Darkest Hour

Even though the explosion couldn’t be heard from the mouth of the mine, it was a gigantic blast. The Bureau of Mines report on the disaster states that 30 of the men were killed instantly by the explosion, with the remainder expiring soon thereafter. The blast knocked a 20-ton locomotive off its tracks a quarter of a mile away from where the Federal authorities believed the explosion originated.

— From “The Power of the Explosion” on page 12

On February 27, 1943, an explosion at Smith Mine #3 in Washoe, Montana killed 74 men—the worst coal mining disaster in Montana’s history. This is the story of the miners, the heroes in the rescue operation, and the communities that were brought close to extinction by the disaster.

The 2nd edition of The Darkest Hour: A Comprehensive Account of the Smith Mine Disaster of 1943 tells the tale of the worst mine accident in the history of Montana. It packs a lot of fact and heartbreak in its 42 pages of text and pictures. Of the 77 who went into the mine that day, only three came out alive.

The focus of the book is the people: the miners who died that day, the few survivors that made it out, the heroes of the rescue operation, and the communities devastated by what happened. At its peak, thousands of people lived in that valley. Bearcreek and Washoe never recovered, having a combined population of about 100 today. Only a few scattered homes remain from Stringtown, New Caledonia, Chickentown, International, and Scotch Coulee.

The Darkest Hour includes a list of the victims, a list of the 50 worst coal mining disasters in U.S. history, photos, a map of the mine, and more.

ISBN 9780965960946 (Trade Paperback)
2015 Proseyr Publishing
42 pages
(Also available in Kindle eBook and Apple iBook editions)

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Table of Contents

  • Smith Mine MapDedication from the 1st Edition
  • Dedication from the 2nd Edition
  • Introduction to the 2nd Edition
  • Foreword
  • The Disaster Site
  • Mining in the 1940’s
  • The People of Bearcreek Valley
  • The Morning Was Serene
  • Even “Brownie” Was There
  • Premonition?
  • Number Three
  • First Came the Wind
  • The Power of the Explosion
  • The Influx of Help
  • Side By Side
  • Help For the Living
  • The Grim Night Caravans
  • The Remarkable Families
  • “Soldiers on the Home Front”
  • The Aftermath
  • Placing the Blame
  • The 74 Who Died
  • The Children Speak
  • A Letter to the Servicemen
  • Three Alive
  • Once a Miner Always a Miner
  • Into Hell and Back
  • The Worst Mining Disasters
  • Epilogue

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