One of the earliest documented
accounts of a snow slide disaster was printed in the Butte Miner on May
1876. In that article it is mentioned
that a small snow slide occurred at the Atlantis Mine which took the
and part of the roof from the mine’s shaft house. John
Chinaman is mentioned as being in the
house at the time and he sought safety under the woodstove. He survived, but the potential for casualties
was diminished as most of the miners using the facility, were inside
In December, 1883, a slide started
above the Cleopatra Mine which passed over the shaft and boarding house
mine’s opening. Timbers were largely
damaged near the opening, but the show shed at the base of the hill was
completely demolished. Damage was
at $5,000, but no one was injured.
Alec Oleson lost his life on January
29, 1886 from the result of sliding snow. After
finishing his shift in the Cleopatra Mine,
Oleson began his trek
to the bottom of the mountain. He left
the designated path, which was protected from the snow’s movement, and
proceeded to pioneer a route which was extremely unsafe.
After his body was uncovered, George Tarbell,
the acting Coroner, conducted an inquest and found that the death
the careless act of the deceased. The
jurors also exonerated the Hecla Consolidated Mining Company (HCMC)
Six days later, an agent for the
California Mutual Accident Association, was killed by an avalanche at
of Lion Mountain. James
Steers, originally from England, was conducting
business in the area at the time of the mishap. All
of the mine crews were summoned to help with the
search. His lifeless body was found three
The potential for mishaps with snow
was always in the minds of the area residents. On
August 14, 1886, a statement was published in the
which stated, “Hecla would make a very pleasant summer resort, but the
are long and the snow slides are much dreaded.”
December 1, 1890 was a day when two
devastating snow events were recorded. At
9 o’clock in the morning, a large mass of snow
lost its footing on
the mountain. Andrew Wright and P.H.
McGeery lost their lives as a result. Wright’s
body was found two hours later beneath 25
feet of snow. His body was badly bruised
and it was assumed
that he died instantly. Fifteen minutes
later McGeery was discovered under two feet of snow.
Mr. McGeery was interred at the Glendale Cemetery
and Wright’s remains were
returned to the east.
In the same incident, a pile of wood
with an estimated size of 1500 cord, shielded a bunk house with 30
miners. Some of the snow was able to
creep past and caused some damage to the structure.
Fourteen hours later, at 11:00 P.M.,
another slide occurred. The route for
the snow was through the middle of Hecla. Frank
Black and his family were asleep in their
cabin. When the wall of snow hit, it was
from its foundation and carried 75 feet. Mr.
Black received many cuts in bruises and his wife
was found in the snow
clutching their baby in her arms. Many
homes were left inhabitable and Hecla’s residents were evacuated to
until the danger subsided. At the time
of these two incidents, a reported four feet of snow was the average
drifts as high as 15 feet high present.
By 1893, the HCMC was working its
mines during a time when silver prices had plummeted.
The year was also plagued with severe damage
of the avalanches, which added to the financial woes of the company,
demoralization of the citizens living in the communities beneath the
unpredictable Lion Mountain.
On November 29, 1893 just before
midnight, a wall of snow left its haven
on the mountain and came crashing down on the community of Hecla. Five miners were reported as having been
buried in the devastation. One Chinese
boarding house cook was also missing. Rescuers
frantically searched for the men. Three
were found alive, but Burt Rush, W.C.
Sparks and Ah Wing became victims of the disaster.
Spark’s body was sent to loved ones in Las
Vegas. Rush’s remains were delivered to
Iowa and Wing’s remains was sent to Dillon. About
30 men took the departed to Melrose to be
loaded on the train.
days later a more powerful event occurred which involved Lion City. Fourteen people were involved in the
incident. The residence belonging to the
Bergstrom family was in the direct line of the slide.
Nick Bergstrom and his two children, Mabel, 9
and Earl, 7, lost their lives after their cabin was swept from its
foundation. Mrs. Bergstrom and her
youngest were also buried by the snow but were saved by rescuers. The Nixholm family was renting a house from
Ed Harvey and the entire family of seven was buried by the snow, but
with slight injuries.
Following the second disaster, all
of the residents were ordered to leave the area and find shelter in
Glendale. While the towns of Lion City and
vacated by all women and children, Sam Barbour, the mine superintendent
HCMC, was ordered to set off huge explosive charges to remove the
cornices from the mountain. Working
meticulously, his team carefully placed the charges in the snow at the
the slope. Knowing that HCMC property
damage would result, the danger would be eliminated.
The experiment was successful in eliminating
the danger, but its result was forecasted. The
tramway to the Cleopatra Mine was destroyed as
was the HCMC’s
blacksmith shop, and there were no injuries resulting from the
In his 13th Annual Report
to the HCMC stockholders, Henry Knippenberg wrote, “The unusually bad
weather, beginning early in September and continuing throughout the
the year, the heavy fall of snow, the destructive and fatal snow-slides
which occurred early in December, in which six persons lost their
thirteen others were buried, but rescued alive, and which destroyed
and much of the Company’s property, all helped to increase expense and
decrease production of ore.”
Today, one can still see evidence
that nature’s wrath is still a present danger near Lion Mountain. The face of the mountain is nearly absent of
any living tree and cabin debris is scattered down the valley. Avalanches still pose a clear and present
danger to the recreation enthusiasts and to those with an interest in
area’s history. Extreme caution should
be heeded when approaching Lion Mountain when any snow is present. It’s violent past has been vividly documented
and one knows that history can repeat itself.
photo was taken May 13, 1894 in
a location about one-half mile downstream from Lion City.
The tracks depicted were referred to as the
tram between the mines and the concentrator at Greenwood.
(Photo courtesy of the Lively family.)