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.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Mantle & Bielenberg Block – 2. Nick Bielenberg

By Richard I. Gibson

The first in this series on the M&B Block is here.

Nicholas Bielenberg was born June 8, 1847, in Wewelsfleth along the Elbe River near its mouth in Holstein, then part of Denmark and today in Germany downstream from Hamburg. The family emigrated to Davenport, Iowa, when Nick was 7; he left home at age 16 to apprentice as a butcher in Chicago. Two years later, 1865, he took a steamboat up the Missouri to join his brother John and half-brother Conrad Kohrs in Montana. Nick operated butcher shops at Blackfoot City and Helena for several years, but by 1873 his focus was changing to stockgrowing. He continued various businesses, including the Butte Butchering Company, ultimately one of the largest meat-packing operations in the northwest and reputedly one of the first to employ large-scale cold storage.

Bielenberg lived most of his life in Deer Lodge, where the family home at 801 Milwaukee saw guests ranging from Jeanette Rankin to Gary Cooper. Nick was one of the first to bring cattle into the Deer Lodge Valley, and was one of the first members of the Montana Stockgrowers Association in 1879. He is generally credited with starting the sheep-raising industry in western Montana, eventually running some 130,000 head on ranches across the state.

Nicholas Bielenberg’s daughter, Alma (Higgins), became prominent in Butte garden circles, but she got her start in Deer Lodge. At her request Nick acquired the mortgage on the Deer Lodge Women’s League Chapter House, donating it to the organization. This gave Alma a platform for her early civic works that culminated in Butte’s garden clubs and National Garden Week.

In Butte, the butchering company was his primary venture, together with the Mantle & Bielenberg Block as an investment in an office building. Both Lee Mantle and Nick Bielenberg were prominent Republicans; Nick left the party to follow Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, when Bielenberg was a delegate to the Chicago convention that nominated Roosevelt on the Bull Moose ticket. By most accounts, Nick Bielenberg was a close friend and confidant of Teddy Roosevelt.

Pilot Butte Headframe in 2007 (photo by Dick Gibson)
Bielenberg was a partner in the Pilot Butte Mining Company, which in 1912 had a three-compartment shaft 2,400 feet deep. In that year, Pilot Butte employed 31 underground miners and 12 on the surface, resulting in an annual payroll of $60,000 (compare the Anaconda company’s annual payroll of more than $14,000,000 the same year). The Pilot Butte was connected underground to the Elm Orlu and Black Rock mines, both owned by W.A. Clark.

Nick Bielenberg died in Deer Lodge July 6, 1927.

Resources: Obituary, Helena Daily Independent, July 7, 1927; historic plaques (Montana Historical Society); A History of Montana, Helen Fitzgerald Sanders, Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1913; Progressive Men of Montana (1901); Kohrs Packing Company blog  (portrait) ; Butte Butchering advertisement scanned by Butte Public Library; Biennial report of the Montana Dept. of Labor and Industry, 1913-14; photo of Pilot Butte mine headframe by Dick Gibson.

1 comment:

  1. Kohrs and Bielenberg were major placer miners in the Pioneer/Gold Creek district. Lots of excellent pics in the Kohrs autobiography.