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.



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.
* * * * * * * * *


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.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Butte 1914



by Richard I. Gibson

I had the honor of speaking to Butte’s Homer Club on May 5, 2014, the occasion of their 122nd annual Spring Banquet. The Homer Club is the oldest women’s club in Montana, dating to 1891. This post is modified slightly from my presentation to them.

This year, 2014, is a great year for anniversaries. It’s the 150th anniversary of the Territory of Montana, the 150th birthday of artist Charlie Russell, and the 150th anniversary of the first prospectors here in Butte.

It’s also some important Montana centennials – 100 years since women got the vote here, and 100 years since the destruction of the Miners Union Hall, which touched off some incredible, internationally significant labor unrest.

So I thought I would talk a little today about Butte in 1914.

Butte in 1914 was approaching its peak – the peak of population, the peak of copper production. In 1914 Butte probably had around 80,000 people, maybe more, on the way to nearly 100,000 in 1917. As you know they were from all over the world, and from all walks of life, but mining was why Butte was here. More than 10,000 men worked underground in 1914.

The city had to be an amazingly active place. Every photo you see, the streets are filled with people, people, people. A lot of the historic buildings we still have today were standing in 1914. The Leggatt Hotel opened its doors that spring, rising from the ashes of the Maguire Opera House that had stood at that site since 1888. On the east side, Tony Canonica was building his tin shop on South Arizona Street. In the heart of town, the Iona Café was under construction on Main, across from the Metals Bank. You may remember it as the State Café.

Most of the main uptown streets were probably paved with granite pavers, those blocks about the size of a loaf of bread – hundreds and hundreds of them. Park Street was probably paved about 1908, and I suspect that Broadway and Granite, as well as Main, Montana, and Utah followed pretty quickly.

I’m not sure, but I suspect that residential side streets like Quartz and Copper and Silver probably were not paved yet, even on the well-to-do middle class west side. But they did have concrete sidewalks, at least in places. The oldest “City of Butte” sidewalk with a date in it that I’ve seen is 1910, somewhere around Galena and Alabama. There is one at the corner of Idaho and Quartz dated 1914, and there are a fair number of 1916 dates in sidewalks around the uptown. So Butte was definitely cleaning up its act, and the best of everything any merchant could offer, anywhere in the United States, was available in Butte in the 1910s.

Why? Because even though it was a mining town, it was also the largest urban metropolis in the whole vast area from Minneapolis to Denver to Salt Lake City to Spokane. An upscale, cultured metropolis, as the beginning of the Homer Club in 1891 proves. As an aside, when I was researching things for this talk, I discovered that the first meeting of the Homer Club was at the home of the founder, Mrs. Caspar, at 409 West Quartz – just a block from where I live. That little house is still standing, too. The west side was just taking off then, but within 10 years or so things were pretty well built up to Excelsior and beyond.

In 1914 Minnie Bowman was your president. Her husband was president of the Montana School of Mines, and they lived at 1020 Caledonia, with the BA&P railroad behind their back yard. New bungalows were going up a couple blocks west on Caledonia in the spring of 1914. Minnie was succeeded as president by Lina Speer, who lived at 508 South Main where she managed the Princeton Apartment building.

Minnie probably shopped in all the stores in Uptown Butte. That spring, she could have bought pillow cases at 10 for a dollar at Hennessys, or bought her husband a raincoat for $5. Maybe she bought shoes at Symons – marked down from $5 to $2.35, or found a silk shirt for herself at Connells, for $1.95. As the wife of the President of the school of mines, Minnie must have entertained frequently. If she needed a piano, the Howard Music Company on North Main, where Len Waters is today, had low-end used pianos for $125, and high-end ones for $500. Orton Brothers music across the street offered expensive pianos with a time payment plan - $1 a week – but I bet Minnie would shop at the Howard Music Company, because Blanche Howard, wife of the owner, was recording secretary of the Homer Club that year. They lived at 518 North Henry, and their neighbor at 514 was a well-known Homer Club member. Just the year before, 1913, Helen Fitzgerald Sanders had completed her massive three-volume series covering the History of Montana.

Dr. Ironside was one of the most prominent dentists. If you needed a full set of dentures in 1914, it would run you $10 to $35 per set.

For entertainment, perhaps you’d go to the Orpheum on Park. In May 1914, The Fulfillment was playing – three reels of a “stirring drama with situations that unfold scenes of unparalleled sacrifice and emotion.” Pretty much, it was boy meets girl, girl loves another boy, boys become best friends, girl rejects boy #2, who is to be boy #1’s best man, boy #1 tries to rescue Boy #2 from an inferno, is reported dead; Girl becomes demented; boy #2 recants, brings girl and boy #1 together in marriage and serves as Best Man. All that for 10¢.

For live entertainment, you could go to the Empress on Broadway – the second Empress, as the first, which stood where the Leggatt Hotel is now, had burned in 1912, and the Leggatt had just opened its doors a few months earlier in 1914. At the Empress the greatest comedy variety show of the season was playing, “More Sinned Against Than Usual.” This live show cost 10¢ to 25¢ for the matinee, and up to 35¢ for the evening show. 

The headlines of the day, in May 1914, focused on Mexico – the Mexican Revolution and Civil War were in progress, and Poncho Villa was in the news almost daily. The first week of May 1914 the Anaconda Standard had a photo of US troops raising the American flag in the Mexican port of Vera Cruz.

The Butte Coppers baseball team had traveled to Idaho to face the Boise Irrigators on Opening Day. Manager Ducky Holmes would lead the team to second place in the league that year.

Women’s suffrage was also in the news almost daily. Thousands of women marched in a Great Suffrage parade in Washington DC on May 10. Suffragists in Butte were busy preparing for the visit of Grace Cotterill, wife of the Seattle mayor who spent the week in Butte. She spoke three times at the Carpenters Union Hall and led meetings all over town, from Hornet Street below Big Butte to the Napton Apartments to Texas and Grand Street.

The mining world was reeling from the news on April 20, from Colorado, of a massacre of striking coal miners. Two dozen, including women and children, were killed by the Colorado militia and company thugs at a tent city outside Trinidad Colorado, at Ludlow. The army banned the importation of guns and ammunition to the state of Colorado, fearing that they would arm either striking miners, or mine guards, or both.

The Ludlow Massacre must have stirred the emotions of miners here in Butte. The miner’s wage was $3.50 a day, a pay rate that really was pretty high for hard labor, among the best pay in the United States. But it had been $3.50 a day since 1878 – 36 years without a raise, while the price of copper tripled. Tempers were raw, and radical activists including the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World, saw an opportunity.

Just two months after the Ludlow Massacre, at the Miners Union Day parade here on June 13, activists, drunks, someone stirred up the crowd, and a mob attacked the Union Hall on North Main Street. The place was ransacked and the safe taken.

10 days of fighting, dissent, conversation, and argument culminated in the dynamiting of the Union Hall on June 23, 1914. That event is easy to point to as the ignition, the spark, that touched off six years of labor history here in Butte that echoes down the decades to this day. It led to Frank Little coming to Butte and his being murdered here – and people come to Butte today from all over the world, from London, from Berlin, to see his grave and the city that killed him. It led to the sedition act that resulted in people being arrested for saying anything at all against the US government, the war, or the Anaconda Company. It led to the Anaconda Road Massacre in 1920 that put an end to the labor movement here for close to 20 years. At that point, the company’s control was absolute. They controlled more than just the mines – they essentially controlled the state of Montana. They controlled the legislature, the state supreme court, and they owned most of Montana’s newspapers. I don’t like the way you look – you’re fired! YOU were talking to the cousin of an IWW agent. You’re fired. That was not legal, but it did not matter. They did what they wanted.

Five days after the Union Hall was dynamited, the news headlines changed. Archduke Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, and the War to End All Wars began. The repercussions in Butte would be huge – but that’s another story.

Through it all, Butte of course continued its day to day life, and the Homer Club continued to meet. If I had to say, I would suspect that most of the Homer Club’s members in 1914 would have been pro-company. In many ways, class distinction trumped ethnicity and religion, and it’s unlikely that a simple miner’s wife would hob-nob with the high-class ladies of Butte’s society pages.

In addition to President Minnie Bowman, wife of the School of Mines president, your 1914 corresponding secretary, Cora Copenharve, was the wife of the City Editor of the Anaconda Standard, the mouthpiece of the Anaconda Company. Treasurer Ada Messias’s husband was the chief clerk to the W.A. Clark Interests. That might have caused some interesting tensions, since Clark’s vocal opposition to the Anaconda Company was well known, even though by 1914 he was spending little time in Butte. 

Among your members in 1914 was the widow of Daniel Hennessy – he owned the Hennessy Department Store and the building that housed the company. He died in 1908, but his widow continued to live in the mansion at the corner of Park and Excelsior.

Then there’s Mrs. John Noyes – matriarch of a family grown rich by selling mines to various copper kings and huge swaths of Butte land to real estate developers. The Homer Club met at her large house on East Granite at Wyoming within the first year of its founding, in 1892. That house is gone today.

Mrs. John D. Ryan was another Homer Club member in 1914. Ryan became not only the president of the Anaconda Company, but president of the Montana Power Company as well, and was one of the most powerful men in the United States. Their mansion is on North Excelsior.

In 1914 the Homer Club was focusing its meetings on a study of all aspects of drama. The late April meeting topic was Famous Actors and Actresses and how they influenced playwrights of their time.

1914 was a pretty amazing year, in Butte and in the wide world.


1914 newspaper images from collection at Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives

Friday, May 2, 2014

Friday Photo: Walkerville

I'm shamelessly stealing an idea from Ellen Baumler's Montana Moments blog. Here's a Butte History Friday Photo for you.

The scene is Walkerville, around 1900, with part of the Alice mine complex in the background. Image from Library of Congress.

Three more Walkerville posts can be found here.




Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Citizenship Denied, With Prejudice




By Richard I. Gibson

What did it take to become a U.S. citizen in Butte in 1917? The basic requirements were about as they are today, five years of residency and pass a citizenship test. You had to get two witnesses to testify to your character as well. So, more interestingly, what did it take to be denied citizenship?

I went through 750 petitions for citizenship in the Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives, spanning most of the time from 1915 to 1920. At a guess, maybe 10% or so were denied. Let’s list the reasons for denying citizenship in Butte in 1917.

Without prejudice

First, you could be denied without prejudice. These were mostly technicalities, of which by far the most common was “failure to diligently prosecute the petition,” which I think means that too much time had gone by between the applicant’s Declaration of Intent to become a citizen and the actual hearing to address the question, but it seems to be a reason that is separate from “Declaration of Intent more than seven years old.” 

The second-most common cause for denying a petition was having witnesses that were incompetent. That included witnesses who were not themselves U.S. citizens, as well as those who had inadequate personal knowledge of the petitioner for the necessary five years. Other fairly common reasons included the petitioner withdrawing the application, often because of returning to his or her native country, and an application that was from someone who lived outside the jurisdiction of the Silver Bow County court.

I saw only two applications denied for not knowing enough about civil government (i.e., they failed the test), and one was rejected because he couldn’t read English. Two lost out because they had filed their intent to become citizens before they were 18 years old, which invalidated the petition, and two others had renounced their allegiance to the wrong government (one renounced Germany, one France, when both were determined to be subject to the King of England). A few failed to satisfy the 5-year residency requirement. One of them had returned to England for a year, invalidating his intent. A few used different names in the declaration of intent and the petition to become a citizen, and that was a no-no. One woman’s request to become a citizen was denied because she claimed her husband was a citizen when he was not. And about 10 petitions were dismissed because the petitioner was dead.

Five or six applications were nullified because the petitioner was already a citizen, typically having obtained it while in the U.S. military. Once you had declared your intent to become a citizen, you were subject to the draft even if you hadn’t yet received citizenship. One applicant was denied his petition for failing to register for the draft in Butte on June 5, 1917 – but his request was dismissed without prejudice, as was the request of the one illegal immigrant in the record, a seaman who deserted his British ship.

With prejudice

In all the 750 petitions, I only found only ten who were denied citizenship “with prejudice.” Two of them were men of “immoral character,” though the details were not specified. One other applicant appeared before the court “under the influence of liquor,” and another was disrespectful of the court in some way. One did not admit to having an arrest record. Another refused to pay “a reasonable fee to take depositions regarding his residency and character” – since that sounds like a technicality to me, I have to wonder if there was more to it than that.

Three were denied in connection with their rejection of military service – one “refused to bear arms in support of the U.S. government;” another was a deserter under the Selective Draft Law; and the third claimed exemption from military service, contrary to his Declaration of Intent which said otherwise.

This research all came about because Don Plessas was researching his grandfather, Peter Gaida. You can find much more about him and his descendents, and about Meaderville, in Don’s book, Katie’s Story, which you can find in Butte at the Archives, in bookstores, at the Visitor Center, and elsewhere.

Don discovered that Peter Gaida’s application for citizenship was denied, with prejudice, because of “his association with the I.W.W. organization in Butte, Montana.”


Even acknowledging the turmoil and contentiousness in Butte over the I.W.W. and other labor unions, this seems to be a remarkable thing – to deny citizenship for that reason. The denial came on January 25, 1918, near the height of the anti-Communist, anti-German, hyper-patriotic hysteria sweeping Montana during World War I, but it still seems surprising, especially since it is the only one out of 750 applicants denied for such a blatantly political reason. The I.W.W. boasted hundreds if not thousands of members in Butte in the late 1910s, and it’s hard to believe that Peter Gaida was the only non-citizen I.W.W. member to apply for citizenship then. Maybe he was the only one whose witnesses tattled on him. Don and I will continue to research this.

Don’s grandfather, Peter Gaida, remained in Butte, but died in 1922 from miner’s consumption (silicosis) when Don’s mother Katie was four years old. Her story includes the remarkable history of Meaderville, and I recommend it highly.

Thanks to Don Plessas for the discovery and permission to blog about it.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Take me out to the ball game



By Richard I. Gibson

Minor league baseball in Butte began about 1892, when Butte was part of the Montana State League. In 1900, the team was called the Butte Smoke Eaters, but (perhaps because the smelters were moving away to Anaconda, and the atmosphere in Butte was improving) by 1902 the Butte Miners were playing, as part of the Pacific Northwest League.

The league the Butte Miners played in was variously the Pacific Northwest, Pacific National, Northwestern, or Inter-Mountain, and from 1911-1914 they were part of the Union Association.

In April 1914 the team that took the field was managed by James William “Ducky” Holmes, a 45-year-old pro with 21 years in the minors including eight years as a manager. Most of his career was in Nebraska and Iowa (where he was born, January 28, 1869), with some years as far away as Detroit. 1914 was his only year in Butte. He was 5’6” tall, 170 pounds, and batted left and threw right. His career lasted until 1922, and he died in Iowa in 1932.

The 1914 Butte Miners finished second in the League, after the Boise Irrigators and ahead of the Helena Senators, Murray (Utah) Infants, Ogden Canners, and Salt Lake City Skyscrapers. Butte led the league in 1913. Butte's 1914 players who had some time with the majors included John Halla (Cleveland, 1905), Ed McCreery (three games for Detroit in late 1914), and Steve Melter (St. Louis in 1909).

After the 1917 season, Butte had no minor league team until 1978 when the Butte Copper Kings franchise began.


Photo from Anaconda Standard, April 19, 1914
Reference: http://www.baseball-reference.com

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day - 1903

From the March 15, 1903, Anaconda Standard. The vignettes are Ross Castle, Killarney (upper right) and The Vale of Avoca (lower left). The artist, Willis Hale Thorndike, was born on Feb. 8, 1872 in Stockton, California, and studied art in San Francisco, Paris and New York. He began his career with the San Francisco Chronicle in 1890. By about 1901 he was in Anaconda, living at the Montana Hotel and working as an illustrator for the Anaconda Standard. He appears to have met and married Irene Hunsicker in Anaconda, and they lived there until they left for New York on January 3, 1904. Back east, Thorndike worked for the New York Herald and Baltimore Sun until 1915 when he returned to California. He worked as a political cartoonist in Los Angeles from 1928 until his death there on March 18, 1940.