The votes have been counted and the people have spoken. The Smith Mine Disaster Board is officially Montana’s Most Awesome Object.
At 8 a.m., Saturday, February 27, 1943, Emil Anderson and seventy-six other coal miners entered Smith Mine #3 near the community of Bearcreek. One hour and thirty-seven minutes later, employees close to the surface of the mine felt an enormous pressure in their ears, followed by a powerful gust of air filled with soot and debris exploding past them. Only three workers escaped from the mine. Within its depths, thirty men died instantly from the forceful blast and another forty-four soon suffocated. Anderson was part of this latter group. In the short time he had remaining, he used the materials he had available to leave his family this message on the lid of a dynamite box: “It’s 5 minutes pass [sic] 11 o’clock Agnes and children I’m sorry we had to go this way God bless you all Emil with lots [of] kisse[s].” This fragile letter—which conveys a deeply personal and tragic story—survives as one of the most poignant objects cared for by the Montana Historical Society.
Journey to the Championship
The journey began with 65 amazing objects. After fans chose their favorite sixteen objects from the online exhibit, Appropriate, Curious and Rare: Montana History Object by Object, we had our bracket and play began in earnest.
The Smith Mine Disaster Board first bested the Square and Compass Brand, much to the dismay of passionate Masons and stock growers. Fans of the Lewis and Clark Bridge at Wolf Point almost defeated the Smith Mine Disaster Board, but their efforts fell short in the most hotly contested face-off of the Elite 8. The Smith Mine then faced down the beautiful and storied White Swan’s Robe before heading into the championship against C. M. Russell’s iconic painting, When the Land Belonged to God.
1,086 votes were ultimately cast in the epic battle between these two powerhouse objects. Though When the Land Belonged to God handily bested the Smith Mine Disaster Board 54 to 46 percent on Facebook, the Smith Mine Disaster Board was ultimately victorious, with 764 total votes to When the Land Belonged to God’s 322 votes.
How did this modest dynamite box lid top a magnificent painting by Montana’s best-loved artist? It could only be through the power of its story.
You can see both When the Land Belonged to God and the Smith Mine Disaster Board, and many of the other competing objects, on display at the Montana Historical Society.