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. On Mondays beginning in January 2016, look for Gibson's "Mining City History" column in the Montana Standard.



Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Murder at the Maule Block


By Richard I. Gibson

On February 6, 1903, Butte residents opened their Anaconda Standard to read a lavishly illustrated report of a lurid murder. The Standard’s five-column front-page story began, “One woman's infidelity to her husband, the jealous hatred of another married woman for the unfaithful one and the rage of a wronged husband seeking to avenge the destruction of his domestic felicity are the three principal factors in one of the most tragic murders Butte has known for a long time.”

35-year-old Emery Chevrier owned and operated a popular barber shop at 90 East Park on the southwest corner with Wyoming—and he was evidently quite the ladies’ man. In February 1903, at least three women—all married—were the objects of his affections. Mrs. Brooks was the latest, but all three had met Chevrier at a dance at the Scandia Hall on South Main the night of February 5. Chevrier and the three women walked up Main Street after the dance and dined together at the Chesapeake Restaurant on West Park at about 2:30 a.m. Chevrier and Bertha Brooks went to his room at the Maule Block and the other women left. It appears that one of them, Mrs. John O’Reilly, mother of four, was jealous of Mrs. Brooks, and went to the Casino Theater on Galena Street where Walter Brooks worked as a bartender. She informed him of his wife’s behavior and brought him to the Maule Block where Brooks burst into Chevrier’s room, found Chevrier with his wife, and shot him once. The victim fled but Brooks shot him a second time on the stairway landing, where he died.

Brooks admitted the shooting but pleaded self-defense, an accidental discharge of the gun during a struggle. The women were also arrested but were released over the next few days. The trial in March 1903 led to Brooks’ conviction for manslaughter after the jury deliberated for 21 hours.

The site of the murder, the Maule Block, was a three-story lodging house at 78-80 West Park. Symons Department Store owned the building and occupied the first floor, and a tin shop opened on the alley behind #78. Furnished rooms filled the upper floors. The Maule was erected about 1889 to replace the Warfield & Gwin Livery and Feed Stable that burned in 1888. Academy Street (later Dakota) was pushed through from Park to Galena after 1891, leaving two one-story stores at the corner west of the Maule and across from the Renhsaw Hall (Terminal Meat Market). The Maule had paired half-round turrets on the bay-fronted Park Street fa├žade decorated with a two-foot parapet above the cornice. A sidewalk-level entrance in the middle led to the rooms upstairs, and a secondary external stair stood on the west side. The building was destroyed in a huge fire September 24, 1905; when Symons rebuilt in 1906, the new building was called the Phoenix Block which still stands today on the site of the Maule, York, and other buildings.

5 comments:

  1. I suppose it's hard to argue self defense when you shoot someone in the back who is trying to get away. Still, I'm surprised a Butte jury convicted the guy at that time.

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  2. Walter Brooks was my great grandfather. Needless to say he and Bertha divorced and he later married Irma Hostetter (my great-grandmother.) She often told us this shocking tale when we were children and we all thought she was a little nuts. My great grandfather was released pending the penalty phase of the trial and some five years later reappeared for sentencing only to discover that none of the witnesses could be found. So although convicted, he never served any time. He had a rather tragic past--his mother died when he was only six after giving birth to a half brother who survived but disappeared. His maternal uncle DH Miles brought him to Montana. He was a bartender for many years until Prohibition when he joined many other men of that time as a miner in the Algonquin Mines in nearby Phillipsburg.

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    1. Wow... thanks for the fascinating additions to this story!

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    2. My pleasure--thank you for giving some color to the story! I ordered your book for my Father for Father's Day. He will be thrilled. As an aside my sister and her band, "Kerry and the Keepers" recorded a song called "Vixen" that tells of this story and the colorful characters involved. As our recollection of the story goes, Chevrier wanted Bertha to run off to California with him. Needless to say, that didn't happen and he met a somewhat more tragic end.

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    3. Very cool to find a modern connection - and details - about something I happened on in the 1903 paper! It's great that there is still the family connection. Thanks again.

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