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Brown’s Boarding House

Brown’s Boarding House, from Jefferson County Museum.

Homestake was once home to some 400 residents, including some of the first African-American settlers in southwest Montana.

When Charles and Elizabeth Flagg and their 10-year-old daughter Janettia came by covered wagon to Butte in 1880, the Montana census counted 346 Black residents out of a total of 39,159. The Flaggs established a home initially in Dublin Gulch near Copper Street and later on Dakota Street, but they and their descendants are more closely connected with Camp Caroline, in the hills about 3 miles north of today’s Homestake Pass on the interstate.

Flagg, together with George Lowery, Richard Brown, and others, mined in the area north of Homestake Pass beginning about 1885. The gold and silver they found supported two stamp mills and a cyanide processing plant in the late 1880s. Much of the investment came from Mrs. Caroline Van Horne, reportedly a seamstress from either New York or Chicago – but she was wealthy enough to spend an estimated $75,000 in the facilities, which she managed herself, before going out of business in the late 1890s. The mines had only yielded an estimated $20,000 in gold and silver by 1900, even though the Montana Mine had five shafts as much as 390 feet deep and the Mountain Chief had a 200-foot adit.

Caroline’s home was constructed by George Lowery, but much of the work was likely done by Charles Flagg himself, as he was a well-respected carpenter as well as a miner.

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Caroline’s house in Lion Gulch west of Goldflint Mountain was expanded into a boarding house and dance hall, and about 1890, Lowery sold it to the Flagg family. Janettia Flagg married Richard Brown, one of the original prospectors in the Homestake District, in 1892, and they and various of their 10 children managed the Caroline Camp house for decades. Richard Brown had worked as a hoist engineer at the Mountain Chief mine, originally a Clark property but owned by Augustus Heinze when Brown worked there. It was located just a few miles from Camp Caroline.

The Flaggs and Browns divided their time between Camp Caroline and Butte. In Butte, Charles was active with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, participating in the dedication of the original A.M.E. church at Mercury and Idaho Streets in 1892. That congregation later moved to Shaffer’s Chapel, still standing at Platinum and Idaho. Janettia Flagg Brown was one of the early members of the Pearl Club, Butte’s African-American women’s club, when it began in 1918 as a soldiers’ aid society, and her daughter Lena was active in the civil rights movement in Butte in the 1930s and 1940s. Mary Brown managed the African-American Mining Company in Butte in the early 1920s.

Hiawatha and Herbert Brown both had notable careers as athletes at Butte High School in the 1930s. According to historian Loralee Davenport, Herb and Genevieve Brown’s daughter Rachel was the first Black cheerleader at Butte High, in the 1960s.

Brown’s Boarding House (Camp Caroline) sold meal tickets at $5 for a week of three meals a day. Special trains brought 100 or more celebrants from Butte to weekly dances at the house until the late 1930s. The Homestake School at the camp was closed in 1934, and probably the last mining operation was a mostly rare-earth open pit run by the H.K. Mining Corporation of Butte, which continued into the 1960s.

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Local geologist and historian Dick Gibson has lived in Butte since 2003 and has worked as a tour guide for various organizations and museums. He can be reached at rigibson@earthlink.net.

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