Renowned American filmmaker Ken Burns once said — “People tend to forget that the word ‘history’ contains the word ‘story’.”
Historic Butte has an endless supply of stories — so much so that you could spend years researching this mining town and still only scratch the surface.
I have spent a good deal of time perusing through Butte newspapers, documents and books. I learn something new and often times find myself a bit surprised.
More often than not, I end up saying to myself — “Wow, I didn’t know that.”
Case in point — it is believed that the first saloon, opened in November 1864, was located in Dublin Gulch. Surprisingly however, the proprietor was not an Irishman, but an Englishman by the name of Wesley P. Emery. By the way, this particular saloon keeper was an enterprising man and also opened the town’s first butcher shop.
A bucket brigade, 1,000 men strong, was used June 9, 1881, to douse the flames on Butte’s first major fire. It was eventually put out but not before destroying several businesses, including the Workingmen’s Hospital.
What makes the 1881 fire so significant is the fact that city officials finally clued in that there was a real need for a fire department. But even that took nearly two more years and was not a paid, but a volunteer fire department. The chosen fire chief was J.H. McCarthy.
The famous Butte Hotel opened for business in 1893. Many dignitaries stayed at the prestigious establishment, including William Jennings Bryan. On Aug. 12, 1897, the famed orator and politician spoke to thousands of welcoming residents from its wrought-iron balcony, which was nicknamed the “cradle of liberty.”
By 1896, the Anaconda Mine’s daily output was about 3,000 tons. By my calculations, that’s more than a million for the year. That same year, the Neversweat Mine was at a depth of 1,300 feet.
Unmarried couples living together may be commonplace now, but in 1902 it was not only frowned upon, but illegal. This was why Charles Collette and Anna Keefe found themselves in front of a judge, charged in a Butte courtroom with “living together without a ceremony.” Both were fined $60 for their “improprieties.”
In the first five months of 1900, the main mines and mining corporations had already netted nearly $13.7 million. Five years later, more than $30 million in copper had been extracted in a 12-month period from the Butte Hill.
Also in 1905, the Mining City had four daily newspapers (The Anaconda Standard, Butte Inter Mountain, Butte Miner and Butte Evening News), eight weekly newspapers, along with four opera houses and 30 society halls for its largely immigrant population. The illustrations featured here came from some of those dailies.
The following year, a megaphone was added to the “See Butte” car so passengers wouldn’t miss a word during the tour. According to a Butte Miner account, the “spieler,” with a megaphone nearby was primed with several interesting facts about the Mining City to share with others during the tour. By the way, if you are wondering what a “spieler” is, it was just a fancier name for public speaker.
Butte officials, led by A.H. Heilbronner, put out their first tourist guide 112 years ago. The pamphlet was published to encourage people to discover what Butte had to offer. “Butte is an ideal summer resort,” it was reported, “and a fine place to live in winter.” The population was growing, with an estimated 76,000 living in the mining camp, and there were 26 public and parochial schools, along with 62 churches.
Everyone deserved a second chance. At least that’s what County Superintendent Margaret Hogan thought in 1910. She held an “emergency” examination to all those who failed their last test. There was a reason for this second chance. A passing grade was needed to advance to high school.
It was a banner year in 1912 as the Butte mines had produced more than 320 million pounds of copper.
The men who made up the Butte Fire Department of 1913 were raking in the dough. Yeah — that’s right — they were “living high off the hog” with the $115 they each received every month. The fire chief did much better with his $200 monthly salary.
Also in 1913, America’s favorite pastime, baseball, took a big hit, at least in Butte. To the disappointment of its die-hard fans, torrential rains canceled more June games than not. In fact, it was the wettest June since 1894.
More and more people owned automobiles by 1924 and Butte Chamber of Commerce officials decided to capitalize on that. Frank Ward, a local artist and engraver, designed a sticker that could be put on the window of any car. Shaped like an ore car, the front included, from top to bottom, “Greatest Mining Camp . . . Butte . . . Richest Hill in the World.” The backside shared some Butte facts and figures.
It may have been during the Great Depression, but according to a 1939 WPA Economic Survey, Butte was one of the leaders when it came to postal and bank savings. Residents also bought in record numbers U.S. savings bonds. On a less-than-positive note, the survey also reported that nearly half the homes throughout Butte were “physically substandard.” It was also shared that “Butte residents do not read as much as the average city family in Montana but do read more than rural families.”
The Butte Country Club had much to brag about 80 years ago. Golfers were trying out the club’s brand new 18-hole all-grass course.
Helena author Eric Thane wrote a book in 1942 titled “High Border Country,” with one chapter devoted to Butte’s history. The writer, whose real name was Ralph C. Henry, described Butte “as fascinating as was ever created by man anywhere.”
Well-established Butte restaurant owner Teddy Traparish made a very big purchase in September 1945. The proprietor of the famed Rocky Mountain Café in Meaderville had the winning bid on a 1,975-pound steer at the Montana Livestock Auction. An even bigger steer was sold in 2010 at the auction house. A Minnesota bidder paid $1,670 for a Hereford who tipped the scale at almost 3,000 pounds.
In 1949, members of the McQueen Athletic Club burned the mortgage on their clubhouse. On April 23, a final payment was made and the building was owned, free and clear. Two days later, on hand to watch flames overtake the document were Joe Spear, Pete Kovacich, Howard Stodden and Nick Fabatz.
A historic pageant, complete with reenactments took place at Naranche Stadium Aug. 13-14, 1949. “Traveling Treasure Trails” not only celebrated the history of Butte, but the history of southwest Montana. “Copper Episode” was Butte’s contribution, which included a reenactment of President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1903 visit, complete with horse and buggy. Mayor Pat Mullins portrayed the 26th president.
Nicknamed the “prettiest playhouse in the West,” the American Theater was destroyed by fire on Feb. 1, 1950. It was 10 below zero as firefighters fought the flames, causing water from the hoses to freeze to the building. Ironically, at the time of the fire, the theater was showing “In the Good Old Summertime,” starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson. The theater opened its doors on April 6, 1912. Its first pictorial was “Camille,” starring the noted actress Sarah Bernhardt.
In conclusion — not sure who was keeping count, but the Anaconda Company released this bit of news on June 13, 1957. Metal production in Butte from 1880 to 1956 totaled 14,428,919,640 pounds in copper, 4,374,985,738 pounds in zinc, 2,555,695,062 pounds of manganese, 752,929,707 pounds of lead, 606,764,032 ounces of silver, and 2,249,763 ounces in gold.