Lost Butte, Montana, a book by Richard I. Gibson, is in stores and museum gift shops around Butte. Or order from the publisher. It's also in E-book formats at all the usual places. And read an interview with Gibson, here, and on KXLF here. The Facebook page has many historic photos of Butte, and the Butte-Anaconda NHLD project showcases many historic buildings. Location-oriented posts can be found on HistoryPin.



Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cricket in Butte


By Richard I. Gibson

In 1902, Butte boasted two cricket clubs. Not associations of entomologists, but organizations devoted to the English national sport.

The Centerville Cricket Club was established in 1898 – and became state champions. The 30 members were captained by Dave Rundle, a miner who lived at 17 Lexington Terrace in Walkerville. Club President Thomas Scaddon lived at 123 East Center Street (a little cottage still standing) and worked for the T.J. Bennetts General Store that stood at the northwest corner of Center and Main Streets. T.J. Bennetts himself was the Vice President of the Cricket Club and lived at 1200 North Main.

Secretary-Treasurer William Whitford lived at 104 Missoula Street and co-managed the Whitford and Youlten Saloon at 966 North Main. The club was managed by John M. Spargo, another saloon manager (Tickell & Spargo, at 30 West Broadway, the Columbia Block – gone today, the lot where the western, 1-story part of the Piccadilly Transportation Museum is today). Spargo lived at #11 West Copper Alley (gone today, but his little house was just north of the Scott Block on West Copper).

The team practiced on a field in east Centerville, but in 1902 they had obtained permission from Jesse Wharton to use the ball park at Columbia Gardens when baseball games were not scheduled.

Apparently the Centerville team was undefeated in 1901. Helena, Great Falls, and Anaconda had cricket teams, and in 1902, the Centerville Cricket Team schedule included games in Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Denver.

“A good cricket batter must be more scientific than a baseball batter.” —Anaconda Standard, May 25, 1902.

Butte’s cricket team in 1902 included Gerald Knott, Captain, a miner at the Steward who lived at 23 West Quartz, and William Argall, who worked at the Gagnon Mine and lived in the same boarding house on Quartz Street (the Maryland Block, which stood immediately west of the Fire Station, today’s Butte Archives).

A city-wide picnic organized by the Butte lodges of the Sons of St. George, at Mountain View Park in Anaconda, was highlighted by the “battle royal” between the Butte and Centerville Cricket Teams. The cricket match was followed by a tug-of-war between the two teams. Centerville “put it all over Butte” in both events. The cricket victory prize was a set of cricket bats and balls, and the tug-of-war victory gained the Centerville team 32 gallons of beer and 200 cigars. I wonder which prize they prized the most?

There was a frightening incident at the Sons of St. George Picnic when a woman participating in one of the “numerous” ladies’ races stumbled and fell, knocking herself out for a half hour. Once she was revived, she appeared to suffer no further “evil effects.” The picnic organizing committee was led by Chairman John Nance, a miner who lived at 943 Caledonia Street. The main Sons of St. George Hall was at 959½ North Main in Centerville. It was called the “Peace and Harmony Lodge” and met every Monday evening, with Joseph Richards as President in 1900. He was probably better known as Richards the Undertaker, with his funeral home at 140 West Park and his residence at 409 S. Montana.

The Sons (and Daughters) of St. George was an organization established in 1871 in Pennsylvania, set up to counter the attacks by the radical Irish Molly Maguires in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. The Sons of St. George evolved fairly quickly into a fraternal organization whose goal was to provide benefits to Englishmen and women in distress in America. In addition to social activities like the picnic in Anaconda in August 1902, they provided death and sick benefits to members. The organization was similar to others of the day in having passwords, secret signals, and fancy regalia.

* * *

Resources: Butte Inter Mountain, Aug. 25, 1902; Anaconda Standard, May 25, 1902 (including photo of Spargo), April 19, 1903; 1900 City Directory; Sanborn Maps.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Butte’s first elevator

By Richard I. Gibson

By means of the elevator one can take a short cut to the top of a sky scraper and come down again without putting forth a greater effort than tossing a “jolly” to the elevator boy, who designates the up and down trips as the “rise and fall of man.” —Anaconda Standard, December 21, 1902.

The first elevator in Butte was installed in Connell’s store on the northwest corner of Granite and Main. The building there was erected about 1884 as a two-story building. The first elevator was installed in 1887, serving just the two stories from a location near the northeastern corner of the building. By 1891, the owners had added a third floor and a 5-story turret facing the corner of Granite and Main, and the elevator was moved to the western end of the building where it served the three main floors and probably the basement as well. 


Butte's first elevator was installed in the Connell Store (at left above) in 1887. It was in the west part of the building, off to the left. Building to right is the Beaver Block (Marchesseau & Valiton). Image by C. Winsor, circa 1891.
The project was announced March 24, 1886, when the store was still Bonner & Co., owned by Edwin Bonner (of Bonner’s Ferry fame), although M.J. Connell was already a principal in the organization and had already started his mansion at the corner of Granite and Idaho Streets. S.W. Smith, a mining engineer, installed the first elevator. He was the Butte agent for Parke, Lacey & Co., a machinery firm with offices in San Francisco, Portland, and Salt Lake City. The new elevator was a huge tourist attraction, with people coming from miles around to ride on it. “It was the wonder of the century,” the Anaconda Standard reported, and “everybody in town rode on it” in its first year.

Over the next 15 years, 14 more elevators were installed in Butte. By 1902, the elevator in the 5-story (plus basement) Owsley Block (Medical Arts Center) was making “1,000 trips a day,” every day except Sunday. Elevators also serviced the Thornton Hotel (built 1901), the original 3-story Finlen Hotel, the Butte Hotel, Miner Building, and Symons Store (in buildings that burned in 1905, where the present Phoenix Building was built in 1906). The 1890-91 Silver Bow and Lewisohn Blocks (parking lot on West Granite across from Montana Standard) each had its own, and the Hennessy Building had two, with the largest elevator cars in town.

The elevator in the Hirbour Tower, serving eight stories and basement, was the highest elevator in a Butte building in 1902. Refurbished, that elevator serves the condos on the upper floors of the Hirbour Tower today.

Resources: Anaconda Standard, Dec. 21, 1902; Sanborn maps; City Directories. Image from “A general view of Butte,” drawn by C. Winsor, circa 1891 (Montana Memory Project says this is 1887, but it cannot be earlier than 1890).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bella Crangle


By Richard I. Gibson

In 1902, the main post office in Butte was at 30 East Broadway, in the building that today is the westernmost of the buildings occupied by Northwestern Energy. The city had three substations, one at 905 East Front, one at 938 North Main in Centerville, and one at 1011 Talbot, on the East Side (Talbot was the continuation of Mercury Street).


The chief stamp clerk for the post office on Broadway was Bella Crangle. She graduated from Butte High, and went to work in the stamp department in 1898. The Anaconda Standard (April 27, 1902) gave her “the proud distinction of having met every man, woman and child of every nationality, color and creed in the city” in the course of her work. She was up on rates to all nations – necessarily, given what must have been a vast quantity of mail being sent from Butte to Europe and other parts of the world.

Miss Crangle lived with her siblings and their mother Mary, a teacher, widow of Edward Crangle, at 412 West Granite, a house that is still standing. By 1910, after the death of Mary, the siblings – Bella (still with the post office), Edith, Stella (a stenographer with Lawlor & Rowe, a real estate company), and Edward (a machinist at the Tramway Mine) were living together at 330 North Montana Street, a boarding house where the new county jail is located today. In 1918, Bella, still the stamp clerk, was living in the Leonard Hotel.

As a postal clerk in 1902, Bella Crangle was paid $75 a month and had 15 days of paid vacation annually. The average revenue from sales of stamps, stamped envelopes, parcel shipping, and such was about $225 per day in 1902. LOTS of people must have been mailing things – and remember that the first class postage rate in those days was 2¢, while penny postcards were, not surprisingly, a penny.

Bella’s boss, Postmaster George Irvin, said “her work is of the best.” No errors in counting out stamps had ever been blamed on her, even though some of her work was on contract – businesses would purchase stamps in advance to pay for their postage due mail, which Bella applied, so mail was sent on to the businesses without need to come pick it up. There’s service for you.

Postmaster George Irvin lived at 221 North Idaho, on the southwest corner of Quartz Street – another house that is still standing.

In 1904, the new Federal Building and Post Office was constructed on North Main Street, and the East Broadway post office closed.

* * *
Source reference: Anaconda Standard, April 27, 1902; City Directories; Sanborn maps.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Cold November: The Coal Strike of 1919


By Richard I. Gibson

This post is based mostly on Anaconda Standard newspaper articles from the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives. All the photos and quotes are from those newspapers.

So it’s cold in Butte in November 2014. That’s hardly news, although when it goes from +60° to below zero in a day or so, it gets peoples’ attention. Imagine how it would be if the sources of natural gas and electricity that we warm our homes with were cut off.

That’s what happened in November 1919. Coal truly was king in those days, and made Butte habitable in the winter. Certainly, people lived here before coal was readily available, but in the metropolis Butte had become in 1919, coal was very much a necessity.

The Great War had ended November 11, 1918. While the world may have begun to return to some kind of normal – complicated by the influenza pandemic of 1918-19, which hit Butte especially hard – Butte was beginning to feel the negative effects of war’s end in a fall in the price of copper. The job situation was tight, and the political situation was tighter. The wartime hyper-patriotism may have diminished some, to be replaced by the first Red Scare. Opponents of the war, ranging from philosophical socialists to radical unionists to ethnic Irish and Finns, were characterized as communist sympathizers, spies, and worse. That tale and more are related in Clemens Work’s book, Darkest Before Dawn.

Strikes all over


The Coal Strike of 1919 was in many ways an aspect of the Red Scare, just as the Seattle General Strike (January 1919), the Boston Police Strike (September 1919), and the Steel Strike (September 1919) were. The United Mine Workers (UMW) led by John L. Lewis had abided by a wartime agreement to refrain from wage hikes, although the mine companies were making plenty of money simply because of increased demand, as was the case in Butte for the copper companies. The UMW demanded wage increases commensurate with the profit increases – but US Attorney General Mitchell Palmer invoked the wartime law against profiteering and interference with the production of necessities like coal. It had never been used against a union, nor was it likely that it was intended for that purpose, and the war, after all, had been over for a year.

Palmer claimed that President Wilson – ill to the point of incapacity – and his entire cabinet approved his move to keep coal miners at work. That was certainly untrue, at least regarding the Secretary of Labor, William Wilson, but nonetheless, on November 1, 1919, 400,000 coal miners walked off their jobs.

The vitriol that came out of the early days of the strike ranged from charges by mine owners that the strike was fomented and paid for literally by Lenin and Trotsky to fear-mongering that the strike was but a start to an American Bolshevik revolution.

By the third week of November, with Thanksgiving in the offing, the coal strike was having a nationwide impact. In Butte, the mines had continued to operate because they had stockpiles of coal, and the coal mine at Diamondville, in southwest Wyoming, was owned by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company. The ACM Company used at least 1,000 tons of coal a day just in Butte. By November 25, the low-grade coal from Diamondville that was still being shipped to Butte was turned over to the city fuel administration “to prevent suffering among families whose [coal] stores are depleted.” The mines in Butte were operating on a day-to-day contingency.

“Burning fences”


On Wednesday November 26, two grim headlines were on the front page of the Anaconda Standard: “Cabinet Deadlocked Over Settlement of Coal Miners’ Strike,” and more ominously, “Cold Wave Hits Butte and Fuel Supply Dwindles.” The 40 train-car loads of coal that arrived that week were enough to keep Butte warm for 6 more days. John McIntosh, city fuel administrator, said “What we can get to burn after this present supply is exhausted I do not know, but it looks like Butte would be burning fences before long if more relief does not reach us.”

Thursday was the coldest Thanksgiving in 20 years, at 22 below zero – and that was the first of three such nights, the nadir of a cold wave that had temperatures down to 14 below the previous Tuesday. The forecast high on Thanksgiving day was zero. Meanwhile, failed negotiations between the Federal government and the unions meant that the strike headline read “Peace in Bituminous Fuel Field Appears No Nearer.” But E.H. Lang, traffic manager for the ACM Company, had gone to Salt Lake City where he did a deal with the railroads (probably the largest consumers of coal) to get an assurance of 1,000 tons of coal per day to be shipped to Butte. If not for that, “hundreds of homes would have been without coal within two or three days.”

The deal with the railroads out of Salt Lake was an emergency, stop-gap arrangement, using the low-grade Diamondville industrial coal. Most of Butte’s residential and business coal for heating came from mines at Roundup and Bear Creek (near Red Lodge), and the railroads that transported that coal had embargoed it for their own use. The city fuel administrator telegraphed the regional director of railroads and fuel administrator in Chicago, pleading for more coal:

“… in Butte, with approximately 90,000 inhabitants, situation is critical. There is not a ton in city. Barely enough wood to take care of immediate wants. … There is not a coal mine working in Montana.” — John H. M’Intosh, City Fuel Administrator.

T.W. Proctor, the Chicago fuel administrator, threatened to shut down Butte’s mines and the smelters in Anaconda to save fuel. Such a move was, of course, seen as a disaster for Butte, throwing thousands of men out of work, so that they would be unable to provide for their families. By Saturday November 29, the Union Pacific was threatening to abrogate the deal for 1,000 tons of Diamondville coal a day for Butte, diverting it for the railroad’s own needs. Fewer cars of coal than expected were making it to Butte, and some families “were unable to scrape together coal enough to prepare breakfast.”

It seems that Mr. Proctor did not understand that the ACM was using stockpiled coal of even lower quality than the Diamondville shipments, all of which was being diverted and rationed by Butte city officials to those in need.

Things appeared to be better on Sunday November 30. Twelve more cars of Diamondville coal had arrived, and there was an order (dependent on the miners’ decision) to reopen Montana’s coal mines the following Tuesday. The deal included an agreement to accept the miners’ demand for a 14% wage increase – which seems huge, but it was commensurate with the huge profits coal companies made during the war, when no pay raises were allowed. In fact, Secretary of Labor Wilson was suggesting wage increases of 31.6%, but that suggestion was by no means universally accepted within the Federal government.

The Diamondville coal cost $9.55 a ton. It was a small portion of the annual US output of about 500 million tons whose total value was on the order of $5 billion. Coal mine workers in 1918 averaged annual pay of $1,550.56, reflecting a day rate of $6.18. Total payroll for miners amounted to something like $600 million out of revenue of more than $5 billion.

"Drastic Measures"


On Monday December 1, the Standard sported somewhat contradictory headlines: “Coal Shortage in Nation May Force Drastic Measures,” next to the Butte story, “Coal Situation Looms Brighter as Week Begins.” Although $700 in private donations to help the poor with their coal had been exhausted, local officials were optimistic that more Montana coal would be forthcoming soon.

On Tuesday, National Coal Administrator Garfield promulgated measures more restrictive than those in effect during the war. People were asked to “put up with privation” rather than accede to the miners’ “unwarranted” demands. It was clearly an attempt to break the strike. And despite the previous day’s optimism, the local headline read “Suspension at Coal Mines causes Butte Industries to Close – City Faces Absolute Coal Famine.” What happened? The miners at Diamondville had joined the strike. All the mines in Butte were shut down. And the projected opening of the Montana coal mines was no longer seen as enough to benefit Butte significantly.

“Butte fuel dealers will make all necessary preparations to put a force of men into the hills to cut wood. … How many of the uptown [business] blocks where wood cannot be used are to be heated is a knotty problem and one which must await a solution.”

Butte’s laundries were expected to close, but the schools had about 20 days’ supply on hand for normal winter conditions – but if the present cold weather continued, they could not last “nearly that long.”

Finally, on December 7, the banner headline announced that “President Wilson Settles Coal Strike”. In Montana, Governor Stewart ordered Federal troops into the coal mines to protect the miners returning to work – since the strike had not broken there, as expected. In Butte, the ongoing fuel shortage was causing increasing levels of destitution, increasing at something like 100 families a day who had no fuel, and many who had no food.

Monday December 8. The Union Pacific Railroad seized 20 of the 28 cars of coal bound for Butte. Despite the theoretical, political end to the strike announced the day before, Butte was now “face to face with the most serious crisis since the coal strike was inaugurated.” The 8 carloads were only a 12-hour supply – and the local fuel administration said that the only choice was for people to rely on wood. The ACM was making efforts to import coal from Lethbridge, Alberta, but Canada was also suffering as a result of the US strike. Nationally, more than 250 passenger trains were discontinued in the New York to Boston corridor; 100,000 workers were laid off in Detroit on December 7; martial law was proclaimed in the Oklahoma Coal Fields where all non-essential industries were shut down. 

Shelters opened


On December 9, additional restrictions on coal use nationally were announced. Street lighting was shut down across the country. All businesses were put on plans for rationing both lighting and heating. Manufacturing plants were restricted to three days of operation in a week, and electric street railways, like those in Butte, were required to reduce schedules to a minimum and to not provide heat in the cars. In Butte, the city council allocated an emergency fund of $5,000 to buy fuel and clothing for the needy. The YMCA, the Florence Hotel, the Daly-Shea Chapel, and the Moose Hall were opened up as shelters for those without heat.

And the next day, it was announced that the miners had failed to agree to the Wilson Plan. Old buildings in Butte were torn down for firewood – children of needy families were asked to come and get it at the Jefferson School (Gallatin at Shields, on the East Side), where it was deposited.



The whiplash headlines continued on Thursday December 11 – the strike was finally actually over and mine operations were to begin the next day. The United Mine Workers, meeting in Indianapolis, voted to accept the deal after hours of “incendiary” debate. The 12,000 men in Butte who had been out of work for more than a week would go back to work as soon as industrial coal came into Butte – but it might be 10 more days. And it might be a rough 10 days. Another cold front was coming.


Fifty-six below


A blizzard hit Butte on December 11-12. A foot or more of snow fell, disrupting the trains slated to deliver coal, and disrupting even more the ongoing relief effort in town. The trolley system was completely inoperable, and additional shelters were opened up in the Knights of Columbus Hall and in larger neighborhood homes. Because this time, it was REALLY cold.

On December 8, a low of minus 35° was recorded. The night of Thursday December 11 saw readings in the minus 52 to minus 56 range on the south side of town. The high on Friday was minus 28. Butte was the coldest of the reporting locations around the state: Billings had -13°, East Helena -12°, Basin -30°, and White Sulphur Springs -22°. The cold, deep snow, and coal shortages finally closed Butte schools for two weeks beginning December 14. One school, McKinley, on West Park Street, was unusable because of a damaging fire on December 12. The school survived but the west side of it had severe damage.


By December 19, 1919, things really had changed for the better. A Chinook came through, and Butte’s temperature climbed 65º in 24 hours, all the way up to 28º. And 80% of the coal miners were back on the job, and shipments were on the way. All local restrictions on coal sales and delivery were removed. Three days later, December 22, 8,000 men finally went back to work in Butte’s mines.

It had certainly been a long four weeks.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What Was There? Colorado at Porphyry


By Richard I. Gibson

The southwest corner of Colorado and Porphyry Streets has been a vacant lot since the mid-1950s. What was there? Well, just the largest macaroni factory in the West.

Savin Lisa was born in Turin, Italy, July 7, 1858. He came to America at age 15 and worked in the mines of Michigan’s Copper Country for about 6 years, when he came to Butte in 1879. In Butte, he worked in the mines for a few years, but found his calling as a merchant. By the late 1880s he was running a successful grocery business with the main store at 63 East Park. He expanded into the macaroni manufacturing business with a small factory in Great Falls in 1898. It was so successful that he needed a larger facility and a better transportation system, so he established the Imperial Paste Manufacturing and Mercantile Company in Butte in 1901. Spelled “paste,” the Italian word was pronounced pasta.

With $50,000 capital, Lisa built the 3-story Lisa Block at 401 S. Colorado in 1901. The first floor contained a corner store together with the macaroni factory. The upper levels held offices and lodgings, including Lisa’s own residence, together with other aspects of the factory such as the drying room, to which the pasta was taken by elevator. The building was directly west across Colorado Street from the Garfield School, at the corner of Colorado and Porphyry. In the early 1950s a coffee roasting business was in the building, and by 1957 the corner had become the vacant lot that it is today.

In 1902, the new factory was touted as “the largest and best-equipped macaroni factory in the West,” the closest to the sources of raw material (wheat from North Dakota) and with a large, ready market (Butte). The Great Falls facility produced 300 pounds of product a day, but the Butte operation was up to 2,500 pounds a day within a year of opening and reportedly had the capacity for considerable expansion. The Anaconda Standard reported that there was only one other macaroni manufacturer in the United States with the capacity of the Imperial Paste Company. The company had presses to make traditional macaroni, “fine threads (vermicelli),” lozenges, stars, disks, ellipses, and “other fanciful forms,” and also produced three kinds of spaghetti, ave maria pasta (small, short cylinders), and alphabet macaroni.

The factory did not use Butte city water, but rather relied on water from Oro Fino Springs, north of town.

Savin Lisa continued as the company treasurer, but by 1902 the president was Abraham Yoder and the Vice President was David Charles. Charles also had a gent’s furnishings store at 905 E. Front Street, and in 1907 he established and became president of the Miners Savings Bank and Trust, with offices on Park Street. Lisa was prominent in Butte’s business circles and active in men’s social clubs. He started Butte’s Christoforo Colombo Society, the Italian lodge comparable to the Irish Knights of Columbus. He was also a 32nd-degree Mason, an Elk, a Knight of Pythias, and a Shriner. If that wasn’t enough, he was an elected Silver Bow County Commissioner for three years, and served as the Italian consul for Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Lisa was the Butte representative for several trans-Atlantic steamship lines. A busy man!

Resources: Anaconda Standard, June 1, 1902; Progressive Men of Montana; Sanborn Maps; city directory for 1902.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Union Hall Destroyed: June 23, 1914

The aftermath of the June 23, 1914, dynamiting of the Miners Union Hall, North Main Street, Butte.
By Richard I. Gibson

I’ll be giving a presentation on the events of June 1914 at a brown bag talk at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives at noon on Wednesday, June 25, 2014.


The ten days following the 1914 Miners Union Day Parade were tense, but little if any violence took place in Butte.  The press accused the IWW of precipitating the Miners Union Day riot, and while IWW members were certainly involved, many leaders of the secessionist faction of the union were not IWW members, and no IWW men were among the eight indicted for crimes on June 13.

The grievances held against the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) centered on union mismanagement of funds, including especially the fees Butte Miners Union members had to pay to aid Michigan strikers. Many resented the fees, and others believed that the union wasn’t appropriating the fees as intended. The union also had accepted the companies’ rustling card system and oversaw its implementation by checking union cards every day when miners appeared to work. Rejection of that process led to the walkouts on June 12 that probably heightened tensions and helped produce the June 13 riot.

WFM President Charles Moyer arrived in Butte June 17 to try to patch up the Butte local. He did get the resignations of the most discredited conservative officers of the union, and he promised new elections—but only current WFM members would be allowed to vote. In the words of Jerry Calvert (in The Gibraltar), he “offered too little and too late.”

On the same day Moyer arrived the rebellious miners held a vote at the Auditorium, in the old Butte Public Library at Broadway and Dakota. The question was whether they would stay part of the WFM. The reported vote, 6,348 to 243, was dramatically in favor of separation—a mandate that encouraged the secessionists to hold a mass meeting on June 22 at which they formed an independent union, the Butte Mine Workers’ Union, not affiliated with the WFM. They met at the Holland Arena, a skating rink on South Montana a block below Front Street, where Les Schwab’s tire store is located today, just south of the Safeway store. Muckie McDonald was elected President of the new union.

Moyer planned a meeting of Butte Miners Union supporters – the conservative faction of the union that still supported the WFM – and went ahead with it over the objections of Mayor Duncan, who wanted a delay until things had settled down. Only a handful of men showed up at Moyer’s meeting on the evening of June 23, probably no more than 50 or 60. Perhaps 2,000 men gathered on Main Street outside the Union Hall, but things were peaceful apart from some jeering until about 8:00 that evening. But the men inside must have been nervous.

Someone mistook Pete Bruno, a WFM miner entering the union hall, for an intruder and shot him; more shots went from the hall into the crowd outside where Ernest Noy, basically an innocent bystander, was killed. At least four others were wounded or hurt by flying debris. Moyer and the others who were in the Union Hall fled before men brought dynamite from the Steward Mine and began to blow up the building. It took some 20 charges and several hours through the night before the building was finally destroyed.

Photo from Anaconda Standard.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Miners Union Day, 1914

By Richard I. Gibson

See also Butte Labor History Center

There are many days that change the world. All of them do, in some way, but some are etched onto human consciousness more than others – D-Day, 9/11, Pearl Harbor, the embattled farmers at Concord, the San Francisco Earthquake.  

Today is the centennial of such a day in Butte. June 13, 1914, was a watershed moment for working people everywhere in the United States.

Miner’s Union Day 1914 was a Saturday. The day before, 1200 miners walked out at the Speculator Mine. They refused to show their union cards – to union officials – and were denied work. The issue was between supporters of the Butte Miners Union and the Western Federation of Miners with which it was affiliated, and the more radical “secessionists” who felt that the BMU and WFM were mismanaged and too cozy with the mining companies.

In 1914, it wasn’t just the Anaconda Company. The Speculator was run by the North Butte Mining Company, and the Black Rock Mine, where the mine was closed the night of June 12 when miners refused to show their union cards, was owned by the Butte & Superior Co. But from the radical unionists’ point of view, all the capitalistic mine owners were the same. And the traditional unions were no better.

Technically, the events of June 1914 were an internal union dispute, but in reality the radical Industrial Workers of the World were organizing and agitating against entrenched unions that were, to many minds, little more than mouthpieces of the companies and that were misusing union monies.

The emotions and tempers of miners in Butte must have been heightened by the events two months earlier at Ludlow, Colorado, where militia and company thugs had murdered two dozen men, women, and children in a striking coal miners’ tent city near Trinidad, Colorado, on April 20. The Ludlow Massacre must have steeled the most rebellious union leaders to a desperate fight, even to the death, and it would have shaken even conservative miners who wanted nothing but to go to work to feed their children. The Ludlow Massacre was tinder for a rebellion in Butte that only awaited a spark to set it off.

On Friday June 12, the only hint of violence was the press of 1,000 men at the Speculator Mine against the union officials checking union cards. It threatened to become violent, but the officials brandished revolvers long enough to flee into a mine office, from which they were soon rescued by armed deputies who whisked them back to town in an automobile. No one was hurt, and no damage was done to property. 

Following the walkouts on Friday June 12, the miners paraded through Butte’s central business district, with leaders calling out “What’s the matter with the Butte Miners Union? What’s the matter with the WFM?” and the crowd came back with “They are rotten!” The crowd ended up at the Auditorium, in the Butte Public Library at the corner of Broadway and Dakota Streets. Their meeting organized a new union, the Butte Independent Industrial Miners Union, not affiliated with either the Western Federation of Miners or the United Mine Workers – umbrella organizations seen as opposing the goals of the workers. At least seen that way by the I.W.W. men the Anaconda Standard reported as organizing that new union. At the meeting, the suggestion was made that they should attack the Miners Union Hall on North Main Street.

Even as the Miners Union Day parade got underway on June 13, the secessionist leaders – they called themselves rebels – urged violence if needed to stop the parade. Newspaper reports suggest that the leaders were not miners, not local Butte men, and that many of them were drunk – but exactly who did what on that day will probably never be known.

The first catcalls and jeering began on Park Street between Montana and Dakota, but nothing much happened until the Anaconda Copper Mining Company Band turned from Idaho onto Park. As they crossed Montana Street heading east on Park, the “jeering became pronounced and the spectators knew that a riot was coming.” The mob attacked the union leaders who were riding on horseback. President Burt Riley and Parade Chairman Jacob Oliver galloped off, but parade marshal Mike Conway was surrounded in front of the Brownfield-Canty Carpet Store at 48-54 West Park, just east of the bus kiosk today. Conway used his whip against the mob, and they closed ranks forcing the ACM Band to stop playing. The mob called for Conway’s head – “Kill him! Lynch him! Break his brainless skull!” He was chased up Dakota to Broadway, where he was pulled from his horse and kicked mercilessly, but they put him back in the saddle and he rode off covered in blood. Other knots of the mob pursued him to Main Street, where Police Chief Jere Murphy, “the only policeman to offer any resistance to the mob,” took him to a refuge.

An agitator in Main Street Alley – that’s the one behind the M&M, alongside the Mantle Block (Piccadilly Museum) and Club 13 – admonished the mob on Broadway to attack the Union Hall. The men headed up Main Street two blocks to the hall in the 300 block (parking lot north of the alley behind the Archives today) where they smashed most everything, from cash registers to cuspidors. The mob numbered around 2,000 by then, and the primary target was the Union’s safe. They took it to the Flats, somewhere on west Front Street (Centennial Avenue) out toward the Centennial Brewery where they eventually blew it up and found $1,350 and important union papers.

Back at the Union Hall, Alderman Frank Curran – one of three Aldermen who served as Acting Mayor that day, in the absence of Mayor Louis Duncan – was pushed out the second-floor window and was lucky to fall on some of the carpets stripped from the Hall, breaking his arm and dislocating his ankle. By the end of the melee, the Union Hall was almost completely emptied, but it still stood, an intact building, windows broken. But only for the next 10 days. And the consequences would echo down the decades for a century.



Life went on.
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The best comprehensive resource for the events of 1914 in Butte and the entire labor struggle is probably Jerry Calver’s book, The Gibraltar: Socialism and Labor in Butte, Montana, 1895-1920, especially p. 82-84 for the events of June 12-13. See also George Everett’s essay, When Toil Meant Trouble.

Sources for photos and quotes in this article: Anaconda Standard newspapers at Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives. The illustration from the 1902 Butte Miner is a photo of a page in Sara Rowe’s collection.