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Butte Hardware Company Warehouse
Explosives Detonation and Fire

Butte, Silver Bow County, Montana
January 16, 1895
No. Killed - 57

•  Brief History of the Great Disaster of 1895  External Link
•  Remembering the 1895 explosion that brought Butte to its knees  External Link
•  Total Devastation: The Butte, Montana Explosion of 1895  External Link
•  Video: Hidden Fire: The Great Butte Explosion  External Link

In the News . . .
Dynamite Explosion
Terrible Loss of Life at Butte, Montana
About 150 Killed and Injured
The Fire Department Annihilated - Windows Demolished a Mile Away

A fire broke out in the Butte Hardware Company's warehouse near Butte, Montana.  There was a large quantity of giant powder stored in the building and when the Fire Department was fighting the flames the powder exploded killing every fireman except two.  While the dead and wounded were being removed another explosion occurred which killed more persons, including several policemen and citizens.  Many persons were torn to fragments and others were shocked to death by the concussion.  Later a third explosion occurred increasing the number of deaths and adding to the ruin and devastation.

Sickening Scenes

The scenes in the vicinity of the warehouses are sickening.  Fragments of bodies were strewn in every direction.  Some of the victims were torn limb from limb, and their mangled and unrecognizable remains were scattered far and wide.  Forty-three persons are known to have lost their lives and at least seven more are missing.  The wounded number about one hundred.  The buildings in the neighborhood were converted into hospitals and all the medical aid available engaged in relieving the suffering of the dying and wounded.

Excitement in Butte

In Butte the excitement was intense.  Windows were broken all over the city and the damage to property is enormous.  The citizens at first supposed that an earthquake had shaken the city, but they soon realized their mistake, and every available conveyance was brought into requisition to reach the scene of the disaster.  Relatives of the victims were frantic and general consternation prevailed among the inhabitants.  The sidewalks were covered with broken glass and only ghastly ruins mark the site of the warehouses.

Relief for the Destitute

The Legislature, which is in session at Helena, passed resolutions of condolence, and financial aid will be given those whose homes were destroyed by the explosions.  The warehouses were owned by the Anaconda Mining Company, which is a very wealthy corporation will not feel the financial loss.

The Buildings Burned

The buildings destroyed by the fire and wrecked by the explosion, includes the warehouses of the Kenyon-Cornell Mercantile Company, the Butte Hardware Company, The Parchen Drug Company, the Schlitz Brewing Company and the Electric Light Works.  The Great Northern freight depot and several other buildings are in ruins.  The loss amounts to many thousand dollars, but the greater part of the property was insured.

A Terrific Explosion
Several Cars of Powder Ignited Burning a Butte Fire
Fire Department Wiped Out
Men and Women Mowed Down Like Grass
Daily Nevada State Journal
Reno, Nevada
January 17, 1895

Butte, Mon, Jan 16 -- A fire broke out in the Montana Central yards and soon several cars loaded with powder caught fire just as the firemen were closing in around the blazing cars an explosion occurred, killing a number of firemen and spectators and maiming many others.  The firemen who had escaped immediately rallied and were beginning another attack when a second explosion, more violent than the first, took place.

The people in the vicinity were mown down as with a great scythe and the streets for half a block around looked like a great battlefield.  The few remaining firemen were gathering themselves together and attempting to escape to a place of safety when the third and last explosion occurred.  There were several cars of powder and all of them exploded.  The whole heavens were lighted up and the city shook as if an earthquake was in progress.

Immediately after the first explosion the entire hospital corps and police force were summoned, and many of the attaches of these departments are among those killed and injured in the subsequent explosions.  Every house for blocks around has been turned into an impromptu hospital.  Every member of the fire department has been either killed or wounded.  The entire department was wiped out, including the chief and all the horses.  Three policemen were among the killed.  Plate glass was broken all over the city and the damage to property was enormous.  The relatives of the killed are frantic and the city is in consternation.

The fire started in the Royal Milling company's warehouse and spread to the Kenyon Cornell warehouse, in which was stored carloads of giant powder.  The powder in the warehouse was in violation of the law.  It was the greatest explosion in the history of the west.

So far between 50 and 60 mangled bodies have been recovered and more are being picked up on all sides.  It is estimated that about 100 additional persons were injured, several of whom died after being taken to the hospital.

Scene Beggars Description

Wagons are still taking dead bodies from the scene of the explosion to various undertaking establishments and the wounded to their homes and hospitals.  The latter are all full.  The list of dead will probably reach 75 and the damage to property will be more than $1,000,000.  In all, three carloads of powder exploded, one of which was stored in the Butte Hardware company's warehouse which adjoined the Kenyon Cornell warehouse.  Large pieces of iron were thrown miles.  Several bodies were hurled a long distance and picked up in unrecognizable mass of flesh.

The Evening News
Lincoln, Nebraska
January 16, 1895

The scene after the explosion resembled a field of battle more than anything else.  The dead were strewn everywhere and the cries and groans of the injured and dying presented a scene altogether unearthly.  Blood and brains were spattered about.  Here were legs and arms; yonder were pieces of flesh and entrails.  Between the Northern Pacific and Great Northern depots, for a space of 300 feet, the ground was literally covered with parts of human beings, and the dead and injured.

The scene was one of utter and desolate destruction.  Houses in the vicinity were as badly wrecked as if a cyclone had struck them.  One rescuing corps gathered twenty-seven dead bodies on one place and eight were in another.  Two and three were in groups here and there.  The rescuers pulled some of the bodies out still quivering; remnants of human beings still groaning; while legs and arms had been torn off; shapeless trunks quivered and died in the arms of the living.  The work of rescue was prosecuted in earnest.  Every vehicle in the city was brought into service to carry away the scores of the dead and injured.

The hospitals were filled; spare rooms in the hotels were taken and private houses were thrown open where necessary.  The hose wagon crew, Chief Cameron, Assistant Chief Sloan, Samuel Sloan, D. Moses, Dave Magee and Jack Flannery are all supposed to have lost their lives.

Magee was the driver and remained with his wagon, about forty yards away, while Flannery was at the hydrant.  The hook and ladder truck was manned by George Fifer and Pete Nolan, of the regular department, and Wm. Orr, a volunteer.  Chief Cameron directed the work on the building, and while some of the men hauled a line of hose along the others started in to tear off the iron covering of the building so they could get at the flames.  Just as they had succeeded in tearing off part of the covering and secured an entrance the first explosion occurred.  A blinding sheet of flame forced the roof from its fastenings and shot it hundreds of feet into the air.  This was followed by a second of deadly silence then came an awful roar, carrying with it annihilation those who closely surrounded the death trap.

Manitoba Morning Free Press
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
January 17, 1895

The dead body of a small boy, John O'Leary, was picked up in East Gold street, several blocks from the scene, after the second explosion had occurred.  There were no marks on his body, and he was evidently killed by the concussion.

Only three working firemen escaped being killed.  Chief Cameron was blown to atoms, and the only thing found of him was his belt, attached to a charred portion of his body.  The firemen who escaped were David Moher, David Magee and J. R. Flannery.

Magee gives the following version of the appalling catastrophe.
After reaching the fire we laid 1,000 feet of hose, and Flannery stayed at the hydrant.  I drove up to the building with the hose and then drove back about 200 feet and stopped.  A moment later the first explosion occurred in the building and the flames burst through the roof, but no one was hurt by this explosion.

The boys then went back to the building again thinking the danger was all over.  Jack Sloane came over to the wagon and got an axe and started to cut an opening to the building.  My brother Willliam got in the back of the wagon and advised me to drive further away for fear of another explosion.  I told him there was no danger, and got down to blanket the horses.

I usually get off on the inside nearest the fire, but this time the horses were between me and the fire and it is fortunate for me that such was the case.  Just as I pulled the blankets down from the seat and spread one of them out to throw it over the horse the second explosion came.  I did not see anything, and only remember hearing the awful roar and being knocked down.  When I recovered a moment later I found the wagon partly on top of me with the tongue across my breast and the off horse was lying right on top of me.  The blankets had caught fire.  Pieces of wood were burning all round me and I was momentarily chocked and bewildered.  I struggled to get loose but I was unable to free myself.

People were screaming all round me and crying for help.  I could hardly make my voice heard.  After a while a man came along and I begged him for God's sake to help me out.  With his assistance I managed to get out from the weight that was pinning me down and struggled to my feet I limped along, but was getting along slowly when a couple of men came along and carried me to the Harrison house.  From there I was brought home.  The last I saw of Jack Sloane, he was pounding away at the door, and when I saw Cameron last he was taking the kinks out of the hose between the wagon and the burning building.  All of the other boys were close behind Sloane, and they were certainly all killed.
The list of the dead was swelled by two of the injured, John Sloan, Sr., and Bailey Dunford, dying.  Many others cannot recover.  The wife of Sloan and her daughter-in-law are all that remains of the family and they are critically ill.

The Butte Catastrophe
Manitoba Morning Free Press
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
January 18, 1895

Butte, Mont., Jan. 18. -- The death of M. L. Miles increases the number of dead as the result of Tuesday's fire and explosion to fifty-four.  It has just been reported that an infant, name not learned, was killed in the nurse's arms in South Butte, by flying pieces of iron passing through the wall of the house.  Three children were driven insane by concussion and six men at the hospitals cannot recover.  The funerals of the dead firemen took place this afternoon.  People attended from nearly every town in the state and business was entirely suspended, One coffin, filled with shreds of human flesh, was labelled Marshal Cameron, Assistant Marshal Sloane, Dave Moses and N. P. Norling.

Eight unclaimed bodies were buried by the relief committee.  Tenders of financial assistance were received from San Francisco, Spokane, St. Paul and many other cities, and thankfully declined, as the committee can meet all demands from the home subscriptions.

To the list of missing the name of Charles Hoffbaher was today added.  A few hours before the explosion he was up town and purchased a pair of shoes and on his way home stopped at the fire.  One shoe, badly torn, of the new shoes he had under his arm, has been found a mile from the scene of the explosion, but not a fragment of his body has been found.  There is no doubt that many others were blown to atoms who will never be heard of.  Among the debris was found a number of letters addressed to Wm. Moffatt, 453 Fremont street, Boston.  The letters were from Canada and signed Ambrose Allen.  It is supposed he is among the victims.

57 Dead, more than 100 injured
Manitoba Morning Free Press
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
January 19, 1895

Among the dead:
  • Fire Chief Angus Cameron
  • Assistant Fire Chief John Sloan Jr.
  • Ed Sloan, younger brother of John Sloan Jr.
  • Joseph Leveque, killed as he drew water from a well in his backyard
  • Frederick Kranbeck, 48, policeman

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