“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Bearcreek in Carbon County, Montana — The American West (Mountains)

Black Gold

Black Gold Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, July 21, 2021
1. Black Gold Marker
Captions: (middle top) Montana Coal and Iron Co. Washoe.; (center) Bear Creek coal advertisement. (bottom center Montana Coal and Iron Co. Washoe. Smith Mine-Hauling Coal.; (bottom right) Labeled aerial view of Bear Creek. Main Street @ 2nd Street
Inscription.  About sixty million years ago, this area was part of a vast subtropical coastal plain with major rivers flowing eastward into an inland seaway. Between these major river systems great thicknesses of plant material accumulated that was converted to peat and eventually buried under sand, mud, and other sediments. Over millions of years, the increased pressure and temperature from burial compressed and baked the peat into medium grade sub-bituminous coal. Between about 70 to 55 million years ago, tectonic forces caused dramatic deformation of the region and culminated in the formation of mountain ranges like the Beartooth, Pryor, and Big Horn Mountains. This deformation tilted the sedimentary layers and associated coal seams in this area downward to the east. The coal in the Bear Creek field is part of the immense Fort Union Formation, which is estimated to contain over 200 billion tons of coal in eastern and central Montana.
"Yankee Jim" George discovered the Bear Creek coal field in 1866, but it would not be commercially mined for another forty years with the arrival of the Yellowstone Park Railway. Five companies operated coal mines in
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this narrow valley by 1910. Two towns, Bearcreek and Washoe, provided living quarters and services to the multi-ethnic miners and their families. The field contains about a dozen workable coal beds, with some seams as thick as 11 feet. Underground coal mining peaked in the early 1920s, when Bear Creek coal coal powered railroad locomotives, fueled the Anaconda Copper Company's smelter in Anaconda, and heated homes throughout Montana. Production gradually diminished as railroads converted to diesel-powered locomotives and private homes began using natural gas. Commercial coal mining in the Bear Creek field ended in 1953 when the Smith Mine closed. Small privately operated companies provided coal to area residents for years afterwards.

• Coal grade is a measure of the amount of heat produced during burning. Bear Creek's coal produces more heat per ton than the lignite and sub-bituminous coals found in eastern Montana.
• On February 27, 1943, an explosion in the Smith Mine about 1-1/2 miles west of here killed 74 miners. It was Montana's worst underground coal mining accident.
• In 1926 a miner found a fossil tooth in the Eagle Coal Mine and gave it to Red Lodge physician J.C.F. Sigfreidt. The doctor believed it resembled a human molar and was proof that man had lived in the Red Lodge area at least a million years ago. Eventually paleontologists
Black Gold Marker on left image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Barry Swackhamer, July 21, 2021
2. Black Gold Marker on left
identified the tooth as belong to a mammalian species that was not human.

• The Bear Creek Coal Fields were mined during the early part of the 20th Century. As you drive through the area, see if you can pick out clues from the landscape to the area's coal mining history.
Erected by Montana Department of Transportation.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & CommerceNatural Resources. A significant historical date for this entry is February 27, 1943.
Location. 45° 9.506′ N, 109° 11.345′ W. Marker is in Bearcreek, Montana, in Carbon County. Marker is on State Highway 308, 0.1 miles west of Scotch Coulee Road, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Bearcreek MT 59007, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 4 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Smith Mine Disaster (here, next to this marker); Smith Mine Historic District (here, next to this marker); Bearcreek Bank (approx. 1˝ miles away); Bearcreek (approx. 1˝ miles away); Bear Creek Cemetery (approx. 2.4 miles away); Red Lodge (approx. 3.1 miles away); The Beartooth Plateau (approx. 3.1 miles away); The Red Lodge Country (approx. 3.1 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Bearcreek.
Credits. This page was last revised on January 12, 2022. It was originally submitted on January 12, 2022, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California. This page has been viewed 96 times since then and 20 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on January 12, 2022, by Barry Swackhamer of Brentwood, California.

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Apr. 24, 2024