1917 Butte Mine Disaster is Topic at Ravalli County Museum
A 1917 mine fire will be the topic for Missoula author Doug Ammons at the Ravalli County Museum Thursday evening, January 10 at 6 p.m. Ammon’s award-winning book, “A Darkness Lit by Heroes,” details the worst hard rock mining disaster in American History – the Granite Mountain–Speculator Mine fire in Butte, Montana. The underground fire claimed the lives of 168 men. Over 200 were saved. Ammons said a key element to the book was a huge collection of witness interviews that had been lost for 100 years.
“That document was over 600 pages of eyewitness testimony. It had disappeared, been misplaced in the top of the Butte courthouse attic. And it really gives you, by itself, about 20 or 30 times more information than anybody had before, because these are individual guys, about 70 of them, being interviewed about what happened.”
He also was able to put together a complete map of the large underground network of tunnels from hundreds of maps held by various agencies.
“I was able to reconstruct the entire mine. I don’t think anybody has seen such a thing … I was able to match all the testimony into the structure of the mine so I could figure out where everybody went. So I solved a whole set of mysteries.”
The book won a High Plains Book award for creative non-fiction and Ammons has been making public presentations throughout the past year. He adds this book to other successful projects, including eight films for National Geographic and ESPN about kayaking and world adventures and winning an Emmy for action cinematography.
He compared his adventure writing with this historical narrative. “It’s why the guys are down there … instead of kayakers on a difficult river with big rapids or climbers on a a high mountain climbing at high altitude with difficult conditions, now we’re talking about men going underground and dealing with the geological forces under there ... And when all hell breaks loose and they’re goin’ for it, it’s one of the most astonishing, cutting-edge human adventures you can possibly have, and I wrote it that way - with great empathy for the men.”
Doug Ammons will be reading from his book at a free public lecture at the Ravalli County Museum Thursday, January 10, at 6 p.m. Call 363-3338 for more information. He will also be part of Kalispell’s John White Lecture Series at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 27. Call 756-8381.