Woman’s interest in Butte disaster results in memorial to miners

June 8, 2017 GMT

Decades ago, Gerry Walter was a Vista volunteer working for Butte’s Historic Preservation office when she first read about the Granite Mountain-Speculator disaster. She still gets teary-eyed.

The disaster piqued her interest and she became immersed in the event and the men who lost their lives.

As she sifted through the 1917 newspapers, the Helena native came across an article reporting that a memorial was to be erected to the miners and a committee had been formed.

That made Walter chuckle, since it was obvious the project never got off the ground.

“I don’t know why they didn’t do anything more for these men,” Walter said, “and that always bothered me.”

Little did she know that her interest in America’s largest hard-rock mining accident would, over time, become an obsession. The end result was a memorial to the miners who lost their lives.

Walter and other volunteers pored over newspapers, coroner’s reports, death certificates and cemetery records to get a close count of the men who died.

Research was now complete, but now came the hard part. Money was needed to fund the project

Thanks to an idea from the project’s architect, Mark Reavis, the committee of volunteers, headed by Walter, decided to sell bricks that could be engraved to the buyer’s specification and laid on the memorial’s floor.

It proved to be a successful fundraiser, but more money was needed.

Donations came from a variety of organizations, including the EPA, Atlantic Richfield and Butte-Silver Bow, and from several Butte businesses.

“We could not have done it without them,” said Walter.

According to project documents from 1995, the memorial’s site was to be “designed as an open air plaza, which will show the visitor a panorama of headframes, the majestic East Ridge, the remnants of a once-flourishing mining industry, and most importantly, the site of the nation’s worst hard rock mining disaster.”

The following year the project became a reality and a dedication was held. Work was still needed, but soon, six engraved granite panels were in place, interpretive signs and benches were installed, and the bricks were laid.

No one is more pleased than Walter with the end result.

“I never dreamt that it would turn out like this,” said Walter, “it goes beyond my expectations.”

Oddly enough, Walter is now equally impressed with the view from the memorial.

“I didn’t visualize the panorama that the memorial would create,” confessed Walter. “It’s a wonderful vista of Butte.”