A large red granite monument commemorates the 75 miners who died in the 1943 explosion at the Smith Mine. The United Mine Workers of America installed this memorial in 1947 to memorialize Montana’s worst coal mining disaster. Twenty-two of the Smith Mine’s victims are buried here in family plots. The death date—February 27, 1943—carved onto their grave markers recalls the tragedy. Other headstones express other, individual losses. Of the 473 people buried here, 107 are children, including the first person interred in the cemetery in 1909, six-year-old Helen Markovich. Marble tombstones decorated with carved lambs and other tokens of innocence mark many of the children’s graves. They communicate parents’ great grief, while also suggesting the toll poverty, infant mortality, and childhood diseases historically took on families. Grouped in the cemetery’s southeastern corner are headstones marked with Cyrillic lettering, many displaying photographs, burned into porcelain to produce a permanent image of the deceased. These markers reflect the Eastern European roots of many Bearcreek miners and their families. At the community’s height, in 1920, a third of its residents were immigrants while another third were the children of immigrants. Headstones marked with Croatian, Montenegrin, Slavic, Italian, Scottish, German, Finnish, French, and English surnames attest to Bearcreek’s ethnic diversity. After the Smith Mine disaster, Bearcreek became a near ghost town as many residents departed, fleeing bad memories. They left behind this simple rural cemetery, whose sandstone, granite, and marble headstones provide mute testimony to Bearcreek’s coal mining heritage and to the people buried here.

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One mile west of Bearcreek, Montana ~ Public