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Mining City History: The early mills of Butte had plenty of work

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Walker ingot

Two views of the commemorative ingot from October 20, 1877.

October 1877 was a busy month in Butte. On the 6th, the Dexter Mill built by William Farlin near the Travona Mine was sold at a trustee’s sale because Farlin had defaulted on his loan from William A. Clark. Besides the mill itself, the property included 4,500 pounds of quicksilver (mercury), 4,000 bricks, 2,000 pounds of salt, 2 mullers (machines for mixing sand and binders to make molds), 500 scorritiers (containers for mine waste), 300 tons of tailings, and much more.

Farlin appeared at the sale, conducted by Trustee William Clark, to protest that the profits from the mill would cover his indebtedness, but in the absence of cash to pay the debts, the sale proceeded. The mill itself received bids from Charles Warren for $15,000, J.A. Talbot ($18,000), and Rolla Butcher ($20,000), but finally J.K. Clark purchased it for $20,500. Joseph Clark also purchased most of the remaining property, including the mercury at 50 cents a pound and the 300 tons of tailings at $300 for the entire pile.

Joseph Kithcart Clark was William Clark’s brother and partner in his mining ventures in the Butte district, including managing the Moulton Mine and Mill in Walkerville. He left his brother’s employ in the late 1890s, moved to Portland, Oregon, and died in 1903. The Clarks planned to have the Dexter mill operating again within a week of the trustee’s sale, but as it was, the renovated Dexter started up three days after the Walker Brothers’ mill in Walkerville.

The Walker Brothers’ 15-stamp mill, under construction since July 17, began operation on October 20, 1877. Together with the Dexter, the Burlington, and the rejuvenation of the Centennial Mill, the Butte Weekly Miner predicted “We are on the eve of a great revival of the mining and milling industry in Butte.” Butte’s population in 1877 was around 2,500 or 3,000, but the silver boom was on and the population would increase almost ten-fold by the early 1890s.

Steam was turned on at the Walker Brothers’ mill to start “the most complete and best constructed mill in the entire west,” according to mill supervisor Lathrop Dunn, who had worked in Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado. Dunn Street in Walkerville is named for him.

To commemorate the startup, silver-plated copper ingots were produced, embossed with the date, the words “Alice” for the mine and “Rainbow” for the ore vein, as well as the names “J. Walker & Bros. M. Daily,” the latter almost certainly a misspelling of Marcus Daly, who the Walker Brothers had engaged to manage and explore their Walkerville properties. Daly had only been in Butte about a year and a half at that time.

The Walker Brothers’ mill became known as the Alice Mill, and just over three years after it began operation, the first electric light bulb in Montana lit its interior.


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