Ransom at the 500-Foot Level
By Faye V. Bell
Once upon a mine—there could be etched in copper the unforgettable words that the Welsh miner, Evan Pugh, called out to the pump manager who was in the cage prior to rising to the surface, “Wait, till I get my partner!” [above date in the midst of fire-in-the-hole] What could surpass that voice of hope and offer of rescue? The flames around them blazed like a prairie fire and spread as rapidly it was reported. The pump manager, scorched and blistered, could not wait!
Somewhere it is written that Fate loves the Fearless! In the 1850s to 1880s, Welsh miners left their homeland accompanied by the sing-song rhythms of their speech. Many young males, if they were not the first born son, they are left without a heritage. For all of its multi-centuried, cultivated farming the Welsh inheritance laws seem to be strictly observed. Evan Pugh, admittedly a coal miner from Abercynolwyn, North Wales, single and fancy free planted his feet on the deck of a ship and sought his fate…fearlessly. As his profession was mining, it looks as if he had nothing to inherit from his family. Other silver-tongued Pughs had the same choice—take it or leave it! Evan Pugh left the low-lying mountains of Wales, where the more shallow streams and creeks are a cobalt blue with visible veins of coal darkening the water. He arrived in Utica, New York, in 1866, and stayed one year there; went to Emporia, Kansas working two years for Lewis and Williams at the Hotel Whitney. His Uncle John Pugh and his sister Anna Pugh Owens were in Jackson and Emporia, respectively, and so was a young woman, Lizzie Moses, whom he became acquainted with. Nonetheless, he parted with them and in 1889 he headed for Montana—the land of the shining mountains.
Development of Mining in Butte
“When the first metal mining was for gold and silver, the real mineral wealth of Montana was found in its copper mines around Butte. Butte began as a mining town in the 19th century in the Silver Bow Creek Valley, a natural bowl sitting high in the Rockies straddling the Continental Divide. Originally only gold and silver were mined in the area, but the advent of electricity caused a soaring demand for copper which was abundant in the area. The small town soon became one of the most prosperous cities in the country, especially during World War I, and was known at one time as “The Richest Hill on Earth.”
“A quiet wedding witnessed by Mrs. H.H. Buckwalters, C.W. Squires and Mrs. C.R. Fuller was held at the residence of Mrs. Fuller, 517 Union Street, last evening at 8:30. Rev. H J Whitby performed the ceremony. The parties were Evan Pugh of Butte City, Montana and Miss Lizzie Moses who has been employed by Mrs. Fuller for some time. Mr. and Mrs. Pugh left for their future home in Butte City today and carry with them the best wished of their friends for a long and happy life.”
Evan Pugh was 29 years of age and when the licensing officials asked where he was born (or perhaps where his address was) whichever was the custom, he responded: “Burlington, County of Silver Bow in Montana. Elizabeth [Lizzie] Moses was a 26 year old spinster, also from Wales, but had been in the United States since 1884 when she came with a sister Anne and a brother, David Moses. The news items says she was employed by Mrs. C.R. Fuller of Emporia, Kansas. In 1890 Evan Pugh was working for Champion Mining Company and living on William M. Evans Street as a boarder. He was hired by the Butte and Boston Mining Company in 1890 and had worked for them for three years prior to the Silver Bow #2 mining disaster in 1893.
The Disaster at Silver Bow #2 Mine – Butte, April 21, 1893
“As a result of a fire in the mine, nine men lost their lives. The fire was extinguished early in the morning of April 22, after 800 gallons of water a minute had been poured into the mine, which filled with water to the 600-foot level. The bodies of five victims were found on the 400-foot level, showing that the men had climbed to that level from the place where the fire originated and were suffocated by the smoke.” Further explanation regarding the report says the mine was a copper mine and they believed the fire was started at a candle pump station in the mine. It was reported by the pump man, John Kramer, that the fire spread rapidly almost like a prairie fire.
Evan Pugh’s Heroism
Fate loves the fearless! The mere image of those trapped men stumbling up 100 feet to a higher level, gasping, coughing, is awful to imagine. But the Anaconda Standard dated April 23, 1893 gives over two full columns to describing the mine disaster, naming the nine miners who died in it, the incident alleged by a witness, the candle pump man. The report said that the men were “caught like rats in a trap” by the fire in the shaft of the No. 2 Silver Bow Mine which was determined by 6 a.m. April 22 when five bodies were brought up from the 400 foot level. The other four were on the 700 foot level and could not be recovered until the flood of water used to put out the fire was cleared from the mine. The five men were: Richard Andrews, Edward Pascoe, Evan Pugh, Antone Beava, and John [aka James] Mattio. “The body of Pugh was found in the drift about 30 feet back from the shaft lying on his face; a few feet further on, the bodies of Pascoe, Andrews, and Beava were encountered all lying in a similar position.” The body of Mattio was discovered about thirteen feet from the 600 foot level. “The body was in a sitting position on an 8-inch piece of timber and looked as natural as life.”
“Died for his Partner”
“Evan Pugh was one of nature’s noblemen and his last act on earth was to give up his life in an effort to save his partner. When John Kramer, the pump man who was the last man to leave the burning mine went down to the 700 foot level and found the station to be aflame, he was just in the act of giving the signal to the hoist [the cage] when he saw Pugh running along the level toward the station. He called to him to come on and run for his life. Pugh called back, “Wait till I get my partner” and started to run back for Pascoe. Kramer waited until the flames had blistered his face and hands and scorched his clothing, then he reluctantly gave the signal to ‘hoist’ to save his own life. By the time Pugh and Pascoe got back to the station it must have been burning fiercely so as to shut off access to the shaft. They then went up the raise to the 400 with the results as above stated.”
An additional notice was in the Anaconda Standard of Sunday morning, April 23, 1893. All Master Masons of the Argenta Lodge #3 (then a part of the Wasatch Lodge in Salt Lake City) were requested to attend the funeral of Evan W. Pugh. The notice was signed by the local secretary. The funeral was to be held at 3 p.m. on April 24 at 612 E. Park Street, the home of Evan and Lizzie Pugh and their son Ray. Post funeral notice was that the Pugh funeral was well attended. The Montana death certificate indicates he was 32 years old and single. It is signed by T.C. Potter on April 21, 1893. That was inaccurate as proved by the Emporia wedding to Elizabeth Moses August 12, 1890.
Evan Pugh was buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery. His grave marker indicates the person beneath the stone was remembered with love. He left his wife of three years and a small son by the name of Raymond. They continued to live in Butte for a number of years. The 1896 city directory shows Elizabeth Pugh living at 124 Burlington Avenue in 1898.
The Emporia Weekly Republican has expressed sensitive understanding about Evan Pugh that should not be overlooked in this item. “Edward Pascoe and Evan Pugh ‘were grappled together as with hook and steel. “If they [partners like them] can be found deep hidden by grime and dust then men who discover them find jewels that wealth cannot purchase nor poverty dim. Such a gem found Ed[ward] Pascoe when he linked his fortunes with Evan Pugh.” The author of the tribute adds: “There are many miners in Butte. They have a hall in which their meetings are held. In that hall in letters of gold, placed in some conspicuous place, should be written the name of Evan Pugh. Nothing more…his name is its own epitaph.”
The choice that Evan made was before the time called for action. Whether Evan Pugh (“the noblest of men”) had made the decision when he was a boy or whether it had been an innate God-given attribute or whether he made that choice in manhood is unknown, but the choice had been made somewhere, sometime before the “fire in the hole” actually occurred. Ready for the moment there was no hesitation of what is right or what is wrong, he sprinted for the moment itself. With it he lived up to his own creed and died without hesitation when he could have escaped. His Welsh heritage was not lost, but saved forever in the action that he chose on April 21, 1893 when the Silver Bow #2 Mine caught fire in Butte, Montana!
THE ARCHIVES ACQUIRES THE SMITHERS COLLECTION
The collection contains about 15,000 negatives documenting Butte's rich history. The Archives will be the permanent, publicly accessible home for the photographs and negatives.
C. Owen Smithers, Sr., was one of Montana's most prestigious professional photographers. Born in Kalispell, Smithers came to Butte in the 1920s. He captured fleeting moments of bustling Butte life.
For 50 years he documented historical events with his camera: Butte sporting events and banquets, breweries and bars, mortuaries and gas stations, rodeos and roller coasters and presidents and paupers, among other events and personalities. The collection includes images of house fires, mining operations, the city’s ever-evolving streetscapes and historical pieces of Butte that have long been lost to time.
Over the next year, the Archives will catalogue, preserve and digitalize the collection so it can be made available to the community, scholars and historians.