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Mining City History: Heinze's speech fails to stem tide of Amalgamated Copper

Mining City History: Heinze's speech fails to stem tide of Amalgamated Copper

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Clancy cartoon

Clancy cartoon from Anaconda Standard, October 24, 1903 (artist, Willis Hale Thorndike).

Until the early 1900s there were many mining companies in Butte, with the Amalgamated (later the Anaconda Company) owning the lion’s share of mines. F. Augustus Heinze challenged that ownership by using the “law of the apex,” which said wherever a vein reached the surface, that surface owner owned the vein wherever it ran in the subsurface.

The case of the Minnie Healey Mine was settled in Heinze’s favor in late October 1903, with Judge William Clancy essentially declaring Amalgamated’s operations illegal. The Company’s response was to shut down all its businesses in Montana, especially the Butte mines. At least 15,000 workers were out of work, with winter coming on.

No work meant no pay. Sentiment turned against Heinze. Whether or not Judge Clancy was “in the pocket” of Heinze, the Company perceived Clancy as a biased judge—and Montana had no change-of-venue law. The Anaconda Standard was controlled by the Amalgamated Company, and predictably the paper cast Judge Clancy and Augustus Heinze in the most unfavorable light possible, calling Heinze’s proposed compromise “absurd” and “preposterous.” The paper lampooned Clancy as snuffing out the candle of Butte’s prosperity.

The Amalgamated, controlled by the owners of the Standard Oil Trust in New York, pressed the reluctant Governor Toole to call a special session of the Legislature to pass a change-of-venue law, which was essentially guaranteed by the Company’s control of the Legislature. On October 26, 1903, Heinze delivered a stirring oration from the steps of the old courthouse on Granite Street to a crowd of suddenly unemployed miners and others, estimated at more than 10,000—the largest gathering of people in Montana’s history to that point.

Heinze said, “If they crush me today they will crush you tomorrow. They will cut your wages and raise the tariff in the company stores on every bite you eat and every rag you wear. They will force you to dwell in Standard Oil houses while you live, and they will bury you in Standard Oil coffins when you die.”

The speech may have literally saved Heinze’s neck, but it was too late. By December, Governor Toole caved in to the pressure from innumerable interests and called the special session of the Legislature. So confident was the Company that the Legislature would pass the law they demanded, the Great Shutdown ended even before the legislative session began. Heinze was finished, and the War of the Copper Kings was effectively over. Heinze held on a few years, but effectively sold out by 1906.

William Clark and others continued to own mines, newspapers, and other interests until the late 1920s and beyond, but after the Great Shutdown of 1903, there was no question who ruled Butte. It was the Amalgamated Copper Company, later named the Anaconda Copper Mining Company.

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