The author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, The Revenant -- basis for the award-winning motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio -- tells the remarkable story of the worst hard-rock mining disaster in American history.
A half-hour before midnight on June 8, 1917, a fire broke out in the North Butte Mining Company's Granite Mountain shaft. Sparked more than two thousand feet below ground, the fire spewed flames, smoke, and poisonous gas through a labyrinth of underground tunnels. Within an hour, more than four hundred men would be locked in a battle to survive. Within three days, one hundred and sixty-four of them would be dead.
Fire and Brimstone recounts the remarkable stories of both the men below ground and their families above, focusing on two groups of miners who made the incredible decision to entomb themselves to escape the gas. While the disaster is compelling in its own right, Fire and Brimstone also tells a far broader story striking in its contemporary relevance. Butte, Montana, on the eve of the North Butte disaster, was a volatile jumble of antiwar protest, an abusive corporate master, seething labor unrest, divisive ethnic tension, and radicalism both left and right. It was a powder keg lacking only a spark, and the mine fire would ignite strikes, murder, ethnic and political witch hunts, occupation by federal troops, and ultimately a battle over presidential power.
In this compelling tale, Punke recounts the grim details of the worst hard-rock mining disaster in United States history. On June 8, 1917, a fire broke out in the main shaft of a huge complex of copper mines 2,000 feet beneath Granite Mountain in Butte, Mont. The fire raged for three days, killing 164 of the 400 or so men at work that day. Punke, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and novelist (The Revenant), takes the reader deep underground and into the heart of the calamity. If the horrifying account of the fire and the trapped men is the heart of this yarn, its soul is Punke's historical contextualization of the event. He paints a vivid picture of a city, state and nation in the grip of industrial monopolies. In Butte, copper was king and Standard Oil, in the guise of Anaconda Mining, owned most of the copper (though not the Granite Mountain mine). In Punke's telling, Standard Oil spent lavishly to control the municipal and state governments; they aggressively fought the miners' union. Immediately after the tragic fire, the workers violently vented their fury on the hated Anaconda. Like the hardworking miners he writes about, Punke gets the job done, with sturdy prose.