Posted by: greatfallsgirl | October 25, 2009

Black Eagle Falls


I miss Black Eagle Falls, pictured above in a 1880’s picture.  Whenever driving by the falls, I would always look down to see how dry the rocks would be (or not be) below the dam.  My habit since I was a little girl (besides being fascinated by everything else on Smelter Hill).

While doing some research on something else, I ran across this one day. I never knew they had to blow up Black Eagle Dam, built in 1891, to save the area.  This was published in The New York Times on April 16th, 1908:

Two Towns Swept by Montana Flood

Big Boston Smelter at Great Falls is Saved by Blowing Up a Dam


Breaking of Hauser Lake Dam Sent Torrents Down Missouri River- Couriers on Horseback Warn People

Helena, Montana, April 15th –  A great body of water, released by Hauser Lake by the bursting yesterday of the dam across the Missouri River fifteen miles below Helena, is now pouring down the Missouri River.  The little villages of Craig and Hauser Lake have been destroyed by the rushing waters; a dozen cabins at Oxbow, where another dam was being constructed, have been swept away,  while numerous ranches have suffered losses in buildings and live stock.

Telephone and telegraph lines are washed out, and particulars of the damage are not obtainable.

The flood is now within seven miles of Great Falls, where the great Boston and Montana Smelter is situated on the river bank, but the hundreds of employes, working night and day, have probably saved that place from serious damage by construction of a wing dam.  Couriers on horseback and warning by telegraph have sent the people living along the river fleeing to the hills.

The Black Eagle Dam across the Missouri at Great Falls was to-day blown up with dynamite in order to prevent the destruction of the Boston and Montana Smelter.  This materially helped, and serious danger from the flood is now probably over.  A smelter workman, name unknown, was drowned when the dam was dynamited, he being the second man to lose his life as a result of the flood.

A dispatch from Cascade says that the water continues to rise rapidly and that the big steel bridge at that point is doomed.  The surface of the flood is black with ranch houses, live stock, and haystacks.  It is believed that nothing can prevent the river from engulfing the lower sections of Great Falls.

It is now estimated that the financial loss will reach $1,000,000.  The immense lake, covering twenty square miles in the valley below Helena, had been completely drained early to-day.  Below Craig and as far as Ulm the Great Northern Railroad tracks are under water.

The entire village of Hauser Lake was swept away together with the belongings of the families of 30,000 employes.  At Oxbow the third dam in process of construction was only slightly damaged, but a dozen cabins were wrecked.  A number of houses in Craig and Cascade are reported to have been washed away.

The Hauser Lake dam across the Missouri, the break in which was the cause of the flood, was completed last year, and furnished electric power for smelters and manufacturing plants at Helena, Butte, and Anaconda.  The break in the structure, according to Manager Berry, was caused by the “buckling of steel plates near the lower expansion joint.”

After the first break was noticed nearly fifteen minutes elapsed before the centre of the structure gave way with a terrific crash, and in a few minutes 250 feet of it had been destroyed, leaving about 125 feet at either end intact.

Five dwelling houses, the office building, and stable were swept away, but the occupants had received sufficient warning to escape.  The power house was only slightly damaged.


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