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The quarry

Of men, rocks and snakes

Beginning in 1934, the Army engineers searched throughout the state of Montana for the large, dense stones needed for riprap on the upstream face of the dam. This riprap provides protection against the eroding effects of pounding waves and high water. Finding the kind of rock needed at Snake Butte, some 30 miles west of the damsite, the engineers began building a railroad spur which would take off from the main line of the great northern railway tracks just east of Harlem. Two-and-a-half miles of switches and spur tracks were also required for loading and car storage. The stone was loaded on flat cars handling 36 tons each. Individual quarry stones weighed from two to 10 tons each, and trains were 70 to 80 cars long. Field stone and gravel were also hauled on these tracks from the quarry and various sites in the vicinity.

High line

To provide the electrical energy needed, it was necessary to build a transmission line of 50,000 kilowatts capacity from the high line of the Montana Power Company to the quarry. Pneumatic drills, large compressors and 110-foot-high derricks required much electrical power, not to mention countless floodlights necessary for night work. Approximately 250 men-each a specialist in his particular line of work-manned the quarry 24 hours a day, drilling, blasting, breaking down the rocks and loading them on the flat cars. Snake Butte, just one of the quarries used by the engineers, was named for the many snakes-mostly rattlers and bull snakes-which made it their home. The quarry was also supposedly the home of a monstrous snake which made its home deep in the crevice of the butte. Legend has it that roving Indian parents "buried" an infant's body on a high cliff in Snake Butte. Before moving on, the parents visited the burial site twice, and came one last time before moving on. To their horror, the body was gone.


In the dust near the spot where they had left the child's body, the father discovered a trail such as might be left by a snake, but it was so big as to be unbelievable. More than a foot wide, the track led from the burial site to a deep crevice. The Indian parents related the story to nearby villagers, and the frightened tribe pressed its leader move on quickly. A famous medicine woman was consulted and, following a night spent on the butte, she returned to the village proclaiming a huge snake with evil powers had taken the child's body far down into the earth as a warning to all that anyone who would frequent that spot would disappear in a like manner.

updated: 2005-02-11

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