If you look east from the top of the Butte Hill, the Granite Mountain headframe stands tall and strong, captured in time. During its heyday, it was the biggest of all the mines across the Hill. More than a thousand men worked there, three shifts a day, six days a week.
In 1917, you would have seen trains pulling across the spurs to each mine, heard ore crashing into the cars, hammering from the blacksmith and carpenter shops. The timber slide would have been below you where a thousand logs rolled down to the hungry saws. Streams of men would pour past a shift change and gather below the headframe, some coming up and others going down, to drill, blast, and shovel rock in the box.
Butte was a tough city with the richest, most dangerous mines in the world, a monument to the rushing change from steam to electricity in a new Century. The city was a powerhouse of can-do optimism, jobs for thousands of immigrants from 40 countries, showcasing the hard work and determination that built our United States.
A Darkness Lit by Heroes is the tale of the biggest hard rock mining accident in America. The book is based on 600 pages of eye-witness testimony that was lost for 90 years, and the story is carefully anchored into the historical facts. It is written as a novel from inside the miners’ experience with extensive use of the testimony, and puts readers directly into the working mine as a normal shift spiraled out of control.
As the story unfolds, the entire spectrum of humanity is seen in the responses of the rescuers, the miners, and their families. Men trying everything they can to help others, and two groups trapped deep in the mine, facing an inhuman world of darkness and rock, pushed to the brink of survival. The story shows when all that sustains us is gradually stripped away – our light, water, and even the air we breath – that something profoundly and beautifully human rises up out of the darkness. We call it courage, we call it will, we call it heroism. It is our love for each other and the bonds between us that light even the greatest darkness.
This is a story about the hearts of men, summed up in the epitaph of one young miner, for him and all those known and unknown who sacrificed to save others: “No greater love hath any man than that he shall lay down his life for his friend.”