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.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Board of Trade Saloon

By Richard I. Gibson

Up the street, and ‘cross the corner
Stood the spacious Board of Trade;
It was noted for its whiskey.
They served but the highest grade.
—The Saloons of Old-Time Butte, by Bill Burke, 1964
(one of 106 verses)

A saloon occupied the southeast corner of Park and Main, its angled door facing the intersection, from before 1884 until 1916, when the multitude of buildings around that corner were torn down to make way for the Rialto Theater.

The heart of town, Park and Main was always a focal point for Butte’s citizens—and therefore a focal point for saloons. In 1900, at least ten bars could be found on the south side of Park between Main and Wyoming, and five more on the east side of Main from Park to Galena. The Board of Trade, on the exact corner, anchored them all.

Early Butte saloons typically were known simply by their proprietors’ names. William Fritz was the first known operator of the saloon on this corner, beginning before 1884 and continuing through 1892, but it was called the Board of Trade at least by 1891. Subsequent owners included Michael Donovan, Doherty & Satterly, Parker & Mathews, and Zorn & Gregovich until 1900 when long-time managers at the California Saloon and Brewery, Louis Lienemann and Charles Schmidt, branched out to the Board of Trade. Schmidt’s name would be associated with the place until its demolition in 1916. The central location meant that unlike many saloons that catered to particular ethnicities, the Board of Trade's clientele was “of necessity of all sorts and conditions of people.”

16-18 East Park St., summer 1939. Photo by Arthur Rothstein.
When the Rialto Theater opened in 1917, a new two-story building also went up immediately to the east, with a 4-story building east of that, to house the second Board of Trade Saloon and Restaurant on the ground floor at 16-18 East Park. Managed through the late 1910s by Greek immigrant George Papp, it survived prohibition in typical Butte fashion, as a “soft drink parlor and cigar store.”

A long and colorful history at this second location was “highlighted” by the June 8, 1959 killing of Andy Arrigoni as he sat at a gaming table, by his common-law wife, Lee Arrigoni. She was better known as Ruby Garrett, the last madam of the last brothel to operate in Butte, the Dumas, in use until 1982. There was no doubt that she shot Andy, but she pleaded abuse by him: “I didn’t plan on it, but if he beat me up again I wasn’t going to take it any more.” Ruby Garrett died in Butte March 17, 2012.

The Board of Trade on East Park continued in business until 1965, when the Rialto was demolished. Today, the US Bank occupies much of the footprint of the old Rialto, and the drive-thru to the east is where the Board of Trade and other buildings stood.The sign in the front, behind the newsboy in the 1939 photo, says “Thru our Doors Pass the Nicest People in the World—Our Customers… Board of Trade, 16 & 18 E. Park.” The sign was retrieved from a dumpster in 2013.

But that was not the end of the Board of Trade. Company president Ernest Bruno and café manager Arlene Rule moved to 10-12 East Broadway—the California Saloon building (second structure on that site to bear that name) and opened the Board of Trade in its third building in 1965. Unfortunately, a disastrous fire on June 24, 1969, destroyed all four buildings on the corner of Main and Broadway, including the Board of Trade. It did not rise again.

In the video clip in the link below from Franklin Roosevelt’s 1932 campaign visit to Butte, you’ll catch a glimpse of the old Board of Trade on East Park Street at about 1:27. The Butte footage runs from about 1:20 to 2:05.

Resources: Vertical files at Butte Archives; city directories; Sanborn Maps; Butte Evening News for Feb. 20, 1910; Montana Standard for June 9, 1959. Arthur Rothstein photo via Library of Congress. Thanks to Matt Vincent for pointing out the video of the Roosevelt campaign trip to Butte to me. Board of Trade matchbook cover in Dick Gibson's collection.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Teddy Roosevelt's visit to Butte, 1903.

Teddy Roosevelt recalls his May 1903 visit to Butte, in a letter to his Secretary of State, John Hay, later that year. Quoted in My Brother Theodore Roosevelt, by Corrine Roosevelt Robinson (1921).

Theodore Roosevelt, 1904.
From Washington [State] I turned southward, and when I struck northern Montana, again came to my old stamping grounds and among my old friends. I met all kinds of queer characters with whom I had hunted and worked and slept and sometimes fought. From Helena, I went southward to Butte, reaching that city in the afternoon of May 27th. By this time, Seth Bullock had joined us, together with an old hunting friend, John Willis, a Donatello of the Rocky Mountains,—wholly lacking, however, in that morbid self-consciousness which made Hawthorne's 'faun' go out of his head because he had killed a man. Willis and I had been in Butte some seventeen years before, at the end of a hunting trip in which we got dead broke, so that when we struck Butte, we slept in an outhouse and breakfasted heartily in a two-bit Chinese restaurant. Since then I had gone through Butte in the campaign of 1900, the major part of the inhabitants receiving me with frank hostility, and enthusiastic cheers for Bryan.

However, Butte is mercurial, and its feelings had changed. The wicked, wealthy, hospitable, full-blooded, little city, welcomed me with wild enthusiasm of a disorderly kind. The mayor, Pat Mullins, was a huge, good-humored creature, wearing, for the first time in his life, a top hat and a frock coat, the better to do honor to the President.

Seth Bullock (from Wikipedia)
National party lines counted very little in Butte where the fight was Heinze and anti-Heinze, Ex-Senator Carter and Senator Clark being in the opposition. Neither side was willing to let the other have anything to do with the celebration, and they drove me wild with their appeals, until I settled that the afternoon parade and speech was to be managed by the Heinze group of people, and the evening speech by the anti-Heinze people; and that the dinner should contain fifty of each faction and should be presided over in his official capacity by the mayor. The ordinary procession, in barouches, was rather more exhilarating than usual, and reduced the faithful secret service men very nearly to the condition of Bedlamites. The crowd was filled with whooping enthusiasm and every kind of whiskey, and in their desire to be sociable, broke the lines and jammed right up to the carriage. Seth Bullock, riding close beside the rear wheel of my carriage, for there were hosts of so-called 'rednecks' or 'dynamiters' in the crowd, was such a splendid looking fellow with his size and supple strength, his strangely marked aquiline face, with its big moustache, and the broad brim of his soft dark hat drawn down over his dark eyes. However, no one made a motion to attack me.

My address was felt to be honor enough for one hotel, so the dinner was given in the other [The Thornton]. When the dinner was announced, the Mayor led me in!—to speak more accurately, tucked me under one arm and lifted me partially off the ground so that I felt as if I looked like one of those limp dolls with dangling legs, carried around by small children, like Mary Jane in the 'Gollywogs,' for instance. As soon as we got in the banquet hall and sat at the end of the table, the Mayor hammered lustily with the handle of his knife and announced, 'Waiter, bring on the feed.' Then, in a spirit of pure kindliness, 'Waiter, pull up the curtains and let the people see the President eat';—but to this, I objected. The dinner was soon in full swing, and it was interesting in many respects. Besides my own party, including Seth Bullock and Willis, there were fifty men from each of the Butte factions.

In Butte, every prominent man is a millionaire, a gambler, or a labor leader, and generally he has been all three. Of the hundred men who were my hosts, I suppose at least half had killed their man in private war or had striven to compass the assassination of an enemy. They had fought one another with reckless ferocity. They had been allies and enemies in every kind of business scheme, and companions in brutal revelry. As they drank great goblets of wine, the sweat glistened on their hard, strong, crafty faces. They looked as if they had come out of the pictures in Aubrey Beardsley's Yellow Book. The millionaires had been laboring men once, the labor leaders intended to be millionaires in their turn, or else to pull down all who were. They had made money in mines, had spent it on the races, in other mines or in gambling and every form of vicious luxury, but they were strong men for all that. They had worked, and striven, and pushed, and trampled, and had always been ready, and were ready now, to fight to the death in many different kinds of conflicts. They had built up their part of the West, they were men with whom one had to reckon if thrown in contact with them. . . . But though most of them hated each other, they were accustomed to take their pleasure when they could get it, and they took it fast and hard with the meats and wines.

Roosevelt photo (1904) from Library of Congress.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Happy New Year!

In Butte, the 2013 Mai Wah Chinese New Year Parade will be Saturday February 16.

By Richard I. Gibson

Most of my readers will be familiar with the discrimination and prejudice against the Chinese in 19th Century Butte and throughout the west. How did the Butte Chinese community survive?

The Butte Bystander, an unabashedly pro-union newspaper, supported efforts at boycotting the Chinese.

The climate in Butte by the middle 1890s was profoundly anti-Chinese. William Owsley, a prominent businessman who owned one of the largest livery and transfer companies in Montana, was elected Butte Mayor in 1884 in part through his campaign slogan, “Down with cheap Chinese labor.” The strongest of multiple attempts to remove the Chinese developed in 1896-97. Tensions had escalated so that union elements in Butte organized a boycott of businesses employing Chinese – not just Chinese businesses, but also non-Chinese. A boardinghouse owner who used Chinese laundries might be targeted, or a restaurant with Chinese dishwashers. In Anaconda, a building owner refused to renew a lease to a Chinese restaurant, losing $150 a month in income.

It is possible that one reason the boycott more or less failed is that the non-Chinese who used Chinese labor refused to give in to union pressures, even when they were named in newspaper advertisements admonishing the public to boycott them. Eva Althoff, proprietor of a boardinghouse, threatened to sue the union. The white community in Butte used Chinese establishments, from laundries and noodle parlors to herbal doctors and opium dens. Also, the size of the Chinese community could have been a stumbling block. While the official census population of Chinese in Butte peaked at around 400, Rose Hum Lee, Butte native and expert on western U.S. Chinatowns, estimated a peak population closer to 2,500.

And the business savvy of Butte’s Chinese cannot be discounted. Hum Fay, Dear Yick, Hum Tong and Dr. Huie Pock led 215 additional Chinese complainants, including only one business, the Wah Chong Tai Co., in a law suit against Frank Baldwin and 21 others. They ultimately won, but were only awarded $1,750.05 in court costs while losing $500,000 in business; about 350 Chinese did leave Butte. 1896 is a low point in the counts of Butte’s Chinese businesses, with 14 laundries, compared to a peak in the 1890s of 31 [Lost Butte, p. 44]. The numbers slowly rose over the following years.

Resources: Vertical Files at Montana Historical Society Archives (Gibson’s research there supported by MHS Dave Walter Fellowship); multiple issues of the Butte Bystander (available online; source of images); Vertical Files at Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives; Mai Wah Museum files. The information above will be incorporated into the forthcoming Chinn Family Exhibit at the Mai Wah Museum.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Booker T. Washington comes to Butte

By Richard I. Gibson

In Butte in 1913.
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was a prominent leader and spokesman in the African-American community from 1890 until he died in 1915, traveling the country to promote the cause of education and schools for African-Americans. He gained support from and became friends with a long list of prominent backers, including William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Sears Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald, and Standard Oil’s Henry Rogers—the co-founder of the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company, which evolved into the Anaconda.

Washington came to Butte on March 6, 1913. He arrived as the white supremacist governor of South Carolina, Coleman Blease, was announcing that Negroes in that state would not be tried for alleged assaults on white women (conviction would be automatic), nor would those who lynched them be punished. He also famously advocated beer over Coca-Cola as a refreshing drink—in his inaugural address as governor. In Butte, Washington tactfully refrained from saying “what I think of Governor Blease,” but he lauded the good works of Alabama Governor O’Neill: “My race is getting a square deal in his state.” Alabama was (and is) home to the Tuskegee Institute that Washington made famous.

A welcoming committee from the Colored Progressive League met Washington’s train in Butte. He was given an automobile tour of Butte (including a surface visit to the mines) that ended at his hotel, the Thornton, where he expressed surprise that all of Butte’s people were not covered with icicles—this was his first trip to the Northwest. Introduced by former Montana Lieutenant Governor W.R. Allen, Washington delivered his speech that evening at the Auditorium in the old Butte Public Library on West Broadway Street to “a large audience about equally divided between the white and black races,” according to the Butte Miner. The presentation was followed by a banquet in Washington’s honor at the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Shaffer Chapel at Platinum and Idaho.

Shaffer Chapel, built in 1901, still stands today; it was reportedly a gift to the African-American community from W.A. Clark. It was the second home to the AME congregation in Butte. That group built its first church at Idaho and Mercury (where the fire station is today) in 1892, but after they moved to Shaffer Chapel, the original building became home to the Baptist Bethel Church which also served African-Americans.

Shaffer Chapel, Platinum at Idaho, in 2013.

Resources: Butte Miner, Anaconda Standard (including photo of Washington), March 1913; W.R. Allen, 1911, caricature scanned by Butte Public Library; Methodism on the Richest Hill on Earth 1873 – 2007, compiled and edited by Mike Parr; 2013 photo of Shaffer Chapel by Dick Gibson.

Friday, February 1, 2013

A 98-year run

By Richard I. Gibson

425 N. Main (one-story, at left)
When Harry Danz and Solomon Spier arrived in booming Butte in 1915, they were probably full of entrepreneurial spirit and energy. But you’d have to wonder if they imagined that the business they were about to establish would still be operating in 2013.

Danz & Spier, clothes pressers, began at 330 South Main, about where Naranche Stadium stands today. They both had lodging rooms in a four-plex at 670 South Montana that still stands, just north of Aluminum Street. By 1917, Danz was out of the picture and Spier was partnered with Max Tover—both worked as tailors from the shop at 425 North Main, where Spier also lived. The Marcus Daly statue was right outside their front door.

Spier's was in the leftmost building, on the right side (305 N. Main)
Spier continued at 425 N. Main until 1926, although Tover seems to have moved on within a year. In 1926-27, Spier moved a block south to 305 North Main, where again he both lived and maintained his tailor shop. He was located on the first floor (north side) of the three-story Neely Block, demolished in 1970 under the Model Cities program and today represented by the parking lot east of the new Archives building. About this time is when he adopted the moniker “The Town Talk Tailor.”

About 1929, Solomon Spier’s son James took over the business, and relocated to 24 North Main (today’s BS Café and Rookwood Speakeasy). In 1929 James was also a student at the Butte Business College and resided somewhere in the Rookwood Block at 24 North Main—one must wonder if that was his home in March 1928 as the only known Prohibition raid took place there, when Federal officers arrested Curly McFarland in the illegal basement speakeasy.  

Chuck & Ernie
Jim Spier, The Town Talk Tailor, moved the business twice. By 1934 he’d moved a half-block south, to 6 North Main (part of the Owsley Block, later the Medical Arts Center), and in 1939 he crossed the street to 17 North Main where the business would remain for the next 74 years. In 1956, Spier sold out to his clerk, Ernest C. (Chuck) Richards who purchased the clothing business with financial backing from Remo Rochelle, a photographer. Spier continued working for the company for one more year, living with his wife Julia at Apt. 404 in the Tripp and Dragstedt Apartments in the 400 block of South Main. The name Richards & Rochelle replaced Spier’s in 1956.

In 2013, Chuck Richards and his son Ernie decided to close the store, ending the 98-year continuous run of this clothing business, albeit under a variety of names and locations (all on Main Street). A liquidation sale will take place during February 2013. Update: on March 9, 2013, a grand community celebration was held in honor of Chuck and Ernie. Photo by Scott Parini.

The building at 17-19 North Main occupied by Richards & Rochelle in 2013 was built about 1924. Gamers Shoe Store held the location for several years in the late 1920s; Brinig’s Shoes (run by Myron Brinig’s uncle, I believe)  was there in the late 1930s. The predecessor building at this address, erected about 1890, was initially Lennon & Walker’s Saloon. Later Jerry Mullins (born Quebec, 1858, of Irish heritage) had his saloon there for many years (c. 1900-1912). Mullins was a city alderman in 1907, and was also Secretary-Treasurer of the Tivoli Brewery; Mullins’ saloon was essentially the main uptown outlet for Tivoli products. Despite his connection to the brewery and owning a saloon, Alderman Mullins opposed the “immoral” stage productions of the day (see Mining Childhood by Janet Finn, p. 167 ). Mullins lived at 216 S. Washington. I have not determined whether or not he was connected to the massive Mullins House in Centerville, but it seems likely. Mullins was also president of the Montana State Protective Association (related to liquor businesses) and president of the Pittsburgh-New York Copper Mining Company, which owned the Umatilla Mine at Marysville together with claims on Timber Butte south of Butte, but the mining company was “in debt and idle” in 1910.

Resources: City Directories; Sanborn Maps; architectural inventory at Butte Archives; interview with Ernie Richards; The Copper Handbook, by Horace Jared Stevens and Walter Harvey Weed, 1912-13. Dreibelbis photo, Summer 1939, by Arthur Rothstein; National Market, April 1942, by John Vachon (both from Library of Congress). Mullins caricature scan by Butte Public Library. Photo of Chuck & Ernie by Dick Gibson.