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Butte's 1970 headlines included strikes, robberies, hail and more

Butte's 1970 headlines included strikes, robberies, hail and more


Hard to top 1969 — what with man first walking on the moon and thousands upon thousands attending epic concerts at Woodstock.

But 1970 had its moments, too.

Fifty years ago, anti-Vietnam War protests were commonplace across the United States. One protest, though, turned deadly.

On May 4, 1970, Ohio National Guard troops opened fire on protesters at Kent State University, killing four students and injuring nine more.

The event, which would become known as the Kent State massacre, would change many citizens’ opinions about the war and America’s involvement.

Less than two weeks later, a civil rights protest was being held at Jackson State College in Mississippi. Police opened fire on students. When the smoke cleared, two people were dead and 12 more were injured.

Apollo 13’s space odyssey did not go off without a hitch and “Houston, we have a problem” would be an understatement.

Thanks to a faulty oxygen tank two days into their journey, instead of landing on the moon, the mission was cut short and the crew had to be content with a close-up view as they circled the moon and headed home.

In a feat that was nothing short of miraculous, the men aboard the craft, with the help of mission control, maneuvered a successful splashdown.

Apparently, breaking up was not so very hard to do as Diana Ross and the Supremes performed together for the last time 50 years ago, and much to the dismay of their worldwide fans, the Beatles disbanded as well.

Rock ‘n roll would remain newsworthy as fans mourned the deaths of music icons, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, both of whom died of drug overdoses.

As for Butte, 1970 was “definitely not a dull moment” year.

It started off on a bright note. New license plates were being issued and Evel Knievel got the “1-1” plate. Credit his wife, Linda Knievel, who got up at the crack of dawn to get the coveted plates.

Strikes, mining fatalities, mayhem, with a few robberies added to the mix made up most of the year’s headlines. Add a bombing (yes, I said bombing), the closing of an historic church, an inordinate amount of hail, high school graduation drama and a new pizza place to the fray, too.

The first teachers’ strike in Butte and Montana lasted four days in April. By April 27, school was put on hold again as members of the Operating Engineers Local 375 walked out. Less than a month later, it was the local grocery clerks’ turn. The strike lasted six days.

The Romney Inn at 2910 Harrison Ave., was robbed of nearly $4,000 on March 2.

The robber, brandishing a pistol, forced the night clerk into a back room, and using rope, tied him up and took off.

By the end of March, three Uptown Butte businesses were hit, all in one fell swoop. Law enforcement called it a crime with “a professional touch.”

Stores hit were Gene’s Furs (which had two safes), the Diana Shop, and Brown Foods.

It was a profitable night as the thieves stole an undisclosed amount of money, along with clothes and food.

Thanks to the FBI, Billie Lee Williams, 32 and Frances Jennings, 22, were brought back to Butte to face theft charges.

The two were accused of taking two money bags Aug.  6, totaling $69,500 from Buttrey’s Foods. According to the inflation calculator, that amount in 2020 would be $461,775.55.

The crime was dubbed an “elaborate grand larceny,” but there was no “beyond a shadow of a doubt” proof and the duo was later let go.

The last big burglary of 1970 occurred just as school was back in session. These crafty burglars came in through the ceiling, taking an estimated $4,500 from Aetna Finance Co., 146 W. Park St.

Parts of Uptown Butte were dealing with 3 to 5 feet of hail on July 28, with many basements of Uptown Butte and in Walkerville flooded as a result.

Hundreds of roofs and cars were hit hard as well.

Managers at the Capri Motel were dealing with six inches of water, and cars at Gleaves Volkswagen, 53 W. Granite St., were floating around. Meanwhile, America’s favorite pastime was put on hold as baseball fields were immersed in water.

In a surprise move, not every senior at Butte Central High School got to graduate. In fact, approximately 50 classmates were not allowed to walk across the stage at the Butte Civic Center.

Instead, the students would get their diplomas in the mail all because they chose not to heed the warning from school officials — do not participate in senior skip day.

Another Butte school that made the news was the St. James School of Nursing, which graduated its last class 50 years ago.

While not as commonplace as they once were, Butte mining accidents would make front-page headlines twice 50 years ago.

A cave-in at the Mountain Con on Jan. 22 took the life of World War II veteran and one-time prisoner of war Juan Lopez, 49. On July 27, William Stover, 43, was killed by falling rock in the Steward Mine.

The Vietnam War took the lives of two Butte soldiers 50 years ago. Kenneth Bercier was just 15 days into his second tour when he was killed Feb. 25. Raymond Robertson died May 29.

The last Mass at Sacred Heart Church was said on July 1, by its pastor, Father Edmond Taylor, a native of County Limerick.

Less than two months later, the former Sacred Heart parishioners would mourn the death of Father Taylor, who died at the age of 76.

 “Uptown Butte was shakin' ... rattlin' and rollin' on Sept. 23, and it was not an earthquake. Instead, some type of an explosive device had been propped up againsst the back door of Room 71 and detonated.

More than 100 windows were shattered from the force of the explosion, and the heavy aluminum back door of the uptown tavern was ripped apart.

It was not all gloom and doom in 1970 as two businesses opened their doors.

The Village Inn Pizza had their grand opening April 3, touting the new restaurant as “a family fun place.”

Four months later, Woolworth’s, which had left Uptown Butte, was now bigger and better in the Butte Plaza Mall, with 100 employees.

The year ended on a good note as Montana Tech officials announced that a new bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering would soon be offered.


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