Editor's note: This story is being rerun in conjunction with the anniversary of the deadliest disaster for the Butte Fire Department, and to promote Sunday's ground memorial dedication at 1 p.m. at the Uptown fire station, Montana and Mercury (see info box).
Monday, Jan. 15, marks the 123rd anniversary of what has been called “Butte’s Night of Horror.”
On the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 15, 1895, fire broke out in the Mining City’s warehouse district, east of Arizona Street.
Unbeknownst to the men fighting the fire and the hundreds of spectators, an abundance of dynamite was illegally being housed in those warehouses owned by the Kenyon-Connell Commercial Co. and the Butte Hardware Co.
When the flames reached the dynamite, without warning, a horrific explosion occurred.
Residents throughout the city described seeing a “volcano of fire extending hundreds of feet into the air.” Windows shattered throughout town.
And the nightmare continued. Soon after the first explosion, a second one, just as forceful as the first, occurred, with another one to follow.
It is believed the first explosion killed 13 firemen working the blaze and three of their four horses. Subsequent explosions would kill approximately 41 others, including one police officer. In the days to come, three more would die from their injuries. The explosion remains today the deadliest disaster for the Butte Fire Department.
Butte was a rapidly growing city 123 years ago, with an estimated population of around 27,000 people. Its residents had experienced heartache before, but never to this magnitude.
The aftermath looked like a war zone. The nearby Great Northern Depot lay in ruins.
In the days and weeks that followed, family and friends buried the dead.
Through the years, numerous stories have been written about the explosions; books, as well, have been published. Listed below are just a few facts regarding a tough time in Butte’s history.
• All of the explosion victims were male.
• Among the firemen killed were Chief Angus Cameron, Assistant Chief John Sloan, Sam Ash, Peter J. Norling, George Fifer, Edward Sloan, Dave Moses, J.F. Bowman, W.A. Brokaw, Thomas Burns, Steve Deloughery, W.H. Nolan and William Copeland.
• Following the explosion, only two firemen survived – John Flannery, who was manning one of the main hydrants, and Dave Magee.
• The lone policeman who died was identified as Frederick Kranbeck. He was buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery.
• Mary Findlay Sloan suffered more than one loss 123 years ago. The mother of two not only lost her husband, John E. Sloan, that day, she also lost her two sons, Assistant Fire Chief John Findlay Sloan and firefighter Edward Findlay Sloan. Irish-born, Mary was a native of County Down. She outlived her family by 31 years, dying in Butte Feb. 21, 1926.
• The youngest victim was E. Gibbon Fraser. He was 12.
• The oldest victim was Two Bears Robbins, a professor who lost his life in the second explosion while trying help the fallen from the first explosion. He was 60 years old and a widower.
• Twelve of the victims were between the ages of 14 and 19: Charles Alston, Alexander Caddy, Steven Deloughery, Bailey Dunford, Daniel Hickey, Robert Lewis, George MacDonald, John Morgan, James O’Leary, Edward Sloan, William Smith, and George Wilton.
• The remains of fire chief Angus Cameron and firefighters Sam Ash, Peter J. Norling, and David Moses were all buried in the same casket.
• Thirty-five of the victims are buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery; 11 are interred at St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
As for the rest, families had their remains brought back to their hometowns, whether it be nearby, like Dillon, or in states such as Idaho, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Iowa, or Minnesota.