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.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Rothschild Connection

By Richard I. Gibson

Earl of Rosebery (image from Wikipedia)
Archibald Primrose, Fifth Earl of Rosebery and Prime Minister of Great Britain from 1894-95 married Hanna de Rothschild in 1878, at a time when she was the richest woman in Britain. Rosebery was a celebrated Scottish imperialist, anti-Socialist and philanthropist, first president of the London Scottish Rugby Football Club, so well known that his image adorned cigar boxes. The combined Rosebery-Rothschild fortunes allowed them to invest widely, even as far afield as Butte, Montana Territory.

Rosebery’s American business interests were developed by a dashing young New Yorker, Ferdinand Van Zandt. The growing silver mines at Burlington, a few miles west of Butte, led him to encourage Rosebery to invest in the Bluebird Mine in 1885, and November 22, 1886, Van Zandt’s 90-stamp mill opened there, helping yield the remarkable output of 1.4 million ounces of silver in 1888 alone.

Home of Van Zandt in Burlington (c. 1906)
But success was short lived. Litigation contending claim encroachment in 1889 tied things up for several years. George Tyng, Rosebery’s manager at the White Deer Cattle Ranch in the Texas Panhandle, settled most of the law suits by 1891, but another that same year, a $2-million case, resulted in the authorities seizing the mine anticipating the need for payment, effectively shutting down production indefinitely. When the news reached London, Van Zandt shot himself in his room at the Brown Hotel in upscale Mayfair (some sources say he jumped to his death from a hotel window). The mine began to fill with water and was ultimately sold off piecemeal. The crash in the price of silver in 1893 was the final nail in the coffin: the Bluebird hoist went to the Diamond and the headframe was transported to the Blue Jay Mine (the Blue Jay was due east of the Steward, about half way between the Kelley and Parrot Mines). Ruins of the mill (closed permanently March 1, 1892) can still be found out west of Butte, east of Rocker.
Town of Burlington (c. 1906)

Burlington itself suffered because the Bluebird Mine and mill were the town’s primary employers, even though a number of smaller mines were in the vicinity including the Great Republic, Champion, and Moody & Sankey. All were primarily silver producers and all suffered mightily in the collapse of 1893.

Burlington had begun in a big way in 1885 when the post office was established. Within a few years some 2,000 residents called the place home, making for a flourishing community supporting at least seven saloons, two groceries, several hotels, a church, a community library, and a school. In 1887 the Bluebird was the only non-union operation in the Butte District; on June 13 that year (Miner’s Union Day) union leaders from Butte hiked out the Bluebird Trail (the westward extension of Park Street) and intimidated workers at the Bluebird Mine, bringing them back to Butte where they were initiated into the union, making Butte a closed shop, with all mines unionized.
Bluebird Mill about 1897, when it was idle. See map below for location.

Following the crash of 1893, at least 60 houses were loaded onto wagons and relocated into Butte. The town died a decade-long death. The post office closed in 1901 and the last business, a saloon and road house, shut down in 1905. Twelve families were still hanging on in 1906. For a time early in the 20th Century, Burlington’s dairy cows reportedly provided as much as 25 wagons of milk to Butte daily.

Map (1896) of area west of Butte, to Burlington, Bluebird, and Rocker. Click to enlarge.
Resources: Anaconda Standard, June 17, 1906 (source for two photos); The Story of Butte, special issue of the Butte Bystander, April 15, 1897 (photo of mill), from Gibson's collection; Montana Pay Dirt by Muriel Sibell Wolle, 1963; George Tyng/Rosebery/Van Zandt; Geologic Map from Butte Special Folio, US Geological Survey; When Toil Meant Trouble (George Everett).


  1. It would be interesting to see via Google Earth where Burlington was located---are there traces left? Is there a remnant of the "continuation of Park Street" to get there? The moving of 60 houses must have been quite an operation, too!

    1. Here's the more-or-less location, showing the Bluebird Trail, a dirt road that still heads out that way. I will get an older map to post later.

    2. The map added (click to enlarge) shows the Bluebird Trail as the extension of Granite Street, but this evolved to Park St. (Park and Granite come together west of Tech).

  2. Well dome as always Dick! Hey, this alone is a grand start on a historical context for the Bluebird! I had no idea such an impressive complex ever existed out there. Very impressive indeed!