The Smith Mine Disaster of February 27, 1943 in Washoe, Carbon County, Montana can confidently be called the most traumatic event to have ever occurred within Carbon and the surrounding counties in south-central Montana. This tragedy resulted in the deaths of 75 miners.
The explosion was attributed to a buildup of methane gas in the mine. The cause of detonation is unknown, but various reports note than men were allowed to smoke in the mine, and that fuses for blasting were lit with matches.
It was not only the survivors who were left devastated by the explosion. The disaster eventually forced an end to the local coal mining industry. The faces of the towns of Bearcreek and Washoe changed forever, almost vanishing altogether. Homes were torn down, abandoned, plowed under or moved to nearby Red Lodge and Belfry.
Thousands of tons of coal remain beneath the reclaimed hills around Bearcreek. Today, in 2005, the rusted buildings of the Smith Mine stand by the highway as a monument to those who lost their lives beneath the sage covered hills.