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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Christmas tragedy

Officer Tom O'Neill (left) and grocery store manager Frank Walsh (right).

By Richard I. Gibson

Thomas O’Neill was born in Butte November 14, 1898, and attended Parochial schools, graduating from Butte Central. He dropped out of Mt. St. Charles College (Carroll) in Helena to enlist in the marines in 1918, and following the armistice worked as a machinist for 16 years; for fun he played football for the Dublin Gulch and Centerville teams. In the summer of 1934 he joined the Butte police force.

Tom’s father, John P., was well known to Butte as “The Rimmer.” He was superintendent of the Anaconda, Neversweat, and St. Lawrence mines in the 1910s and 1920s, and drowned tragically at Boulder in 1924. His widow, Tom’s mother, was expecting Tom at her house for dinner about 4:30 Christmas Day, 1935, but he never arrived.

Jean Miller
Two more Christmas dinners were about to be served earlier that day, in apartments at the Merriam Block, 538 S. Main Street (a parking lot today, across from the Scandia Bar). The boardinghouse manager, Betty Clifford, was entertaining her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. & Mrs. Frank Walsh, and a friend of the Walsh’s, Bob Clark. Frank was assistant manager of the New Market and Safeway store on Harrison Avenue.  Next door, Florence Benevue was preparing dinner for her sister Jean Miller when William Henry Knight appeared at the door demanding to see Jean. Florence sent him away—knowing him to be an ex-con who had beaten Jean repeatedly in the past, though he was also a sometime resident in the house. He returned with a gun, while Florence was seeking help at the Clifford apartment. Frank Walsh ran across the street to the Scandia, where former policeman Harry Kinney and Walsh summoned the police.

Tom O’Neill and James Mooney responded to the police call. When they arrived at the Merriam Block, they found Mrs. Benevue shot and Knight gone to his room at the rear of the building. O’Neill, Mooney, Walsh, and Kinney charged his room, to be met with gunshots. O’Neill was killed instantly; Walsh died from his wounds later that night. Mooney was badly hurt but survived, and the shots aimed at Kinney missed him.

Knight fled. Using stolen vehicles and on foot he made his way up the Madison River where he killed Floyd Woods, a ranch caretaker, then worked his way through Ennis and eventually back to Butte on December 27 after an attempt to reach a hideout in the hills above Anaconda failed because of heavy snowdrifts. He went to a house at 11 S. Oklahoma (parking lot of the WET building on East Park today), where lived Knight’s acquaintance, James Gilligan, who worked for Knight six years earlier, at the Montana Cafe. Gilligan was gone to work for the WPA on the Thompson Park project when Knight arrived. He held Hazel Gilligan and her children, age 5 and 2, hostage all day until James returned home. Then, somewhat inexplicably, he allowed the family to take the children next door, where they promptly called police.

A tear-gas barrage cornered Knight in the house, and assistant police chief Jack Duggan shot him down in the house when he assailed the police with a hail of bullets.

Knight had also killed deputy sheriff Tom Meahan near Seattle six weeks earlier. He had bragged to Jean Miller about that murder, and it was speculated that one reason for the Christmas Day encounter was Knight’s fear that Miller might implicate him in that death; Knight was also believed to be addicted to narcotics.

Tom O’Neill was living at 22 N. Main Street when these events occurred, in an apartment upstairs in the 3-story building south of the BS Café-Rookwood Speakeasy, with the Ley’s Jeweler Ghost Sign. His mother’s home at 417 N. Wyoming (corner of Copper) is also still there; she probably moved to that location after her husband John “The Rimmer” died—before that, they lived in the last house up the Anaconda Road, a stone’s throw from the Anaconda Mine itself. Frank Walsh, age 24, and his wife lived at 2401 Harvard Avenue, another house that still stands. Officer Mooney’s home, at 919 S. Utah, a half block above St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, is still there as well. Even the duplex at 633 S. Main, where Harry Kinney lived, is still standing. But the sites of the most deadly action, 538 S. Main and 11 S. Oklahoma, are gone.

Officer O’Neill’s portrait is part of the collection of plaques honoring fallen officers, in Dan Hollis’s collection, which can be seen in the City Jail on an Old Butte Historical Adventures walking tour.

Sources: City Directories, Sanborn maps, Montana Standard newspapers Dec. 26-28, 1935.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What was there? Park and Main

By Richard I. Gibson

In the wake of the news that NorthWestern Energy may build a new, large building on the northeast corner of Park and Main, I thought it might be interesting to address what was there.

People who lived in Butte in 1973 will probably remember the huge fire that consumed the Medical Arts Building on July 23. That building (seen in the post-card view above) had dominated the corner since it was finished in 1892.  We also know it as the Owsley Block, for William Owsley who had it built, but technically it was Owsley Block #3. Owsley #2 is the building housing Trimbo’s Pizza today, and Owsley #1 stands to the east of #2, originally the Hoffman Hotel.

Early occupants of Owsley Block #3 included Leys’ jewelry store on the ground floor, and the Butte Business College on the top (fifth) floor. Owsley’s fortune – which also undoubtedly helped him win two elections as Butte’s Mayor, in 1882 and 1884 – was based on his livery business, started in 1874, when Butte was near its low point in terms of population and economy.

Precisely when Owsley obtained the corner lot at Park and Main is not known, but by 1884 he had a massive building there, not brick as his later Owsley Block would be, but a two-story wood frame complex that housed not only his huge livery stable, but also a grocery store, saloon, and lodging house, with a tiny cigar store exactly on the corner. The eastern portion was a two-story hay loft, with stalls for horses on both the ground floor and in the basement below.

The northeast corner of the complex, on the alley, held a carriage house and wash room and dressing rooms for drivers. In 1890, the city fire department’s hose cart and 450-foot hose were kept there—to be relocated soon to the new (1890) city hall and fire station a block north on Broadway. Immediately north of the original Owsley complex, but taken up by the new Owsley Block in 1888-92 was another building that contained the Variety Theater, the Telephone Company, and a tin shop in 1884.

Resources: Lost Butte, Montana, by Richard I. Gibson (The History Press, 2012); Sanborn Maps; City Directories; post card view in Dick Gibson's collection.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Butte’s second deadliest mine disaster

Pennsylvania Mine on southeast flank of the Butte Hill, about 1900.
The headframe is enclosed in the large building at center.
The east end of Park Street is just beyond the long building (ore bin) at right center.

By Richard I. Gibson

Twenty-one men were killed February 14, 1916, in a fire at the Pennsylvania Mine. The Pennsylvania stood at the eastern ends of Broadway and Park Streets, where Parrot Street intersected. That location is within the Berkeley Pit today, about 1,000 feet directly in front of the viewing stand on the rim, as you look across the pit.

In 1916 the Pennsylvania was one of the major mines, with at least 41 separate structures on the site, ranging from an ice house to the two-story, 40-foot-long change house or dry. The mine was established by 1887 by “Sheriff Lloyd, his brother, and the Harris boys” (Butte Miner, Nov. 28, 1888) and sold in early 1888 to the Boston & Montana Company, with the Lewisohn Brothers of New York among the principals. By 1899, the B & M was part of the Amalgamated (Anaconda) and the stage was set for one of the main battles in the War of the Copper Kings.

Amalgamated owed the Pennsylvania and the nearby Michael Davitt, but Augustus Heinze controlled the Rarus, immediately to the northeast. On December 28, 1899, Judge Clancy had decided the Pennsylvania vein was owned by Heinze’s Montana Ore Purchasing Company, setting up additional lawsuits. Ultimately, the Pennsylvania became the scene of some of the actual underground warfare as well as legal wrangling, until 1906 when most of Heinze’s properties were acquired by the Anaconda. See The Battle for Butte for more of this story.

click to enlarge
On February 14, 1916, 220 men were in the Pennsylvania Mine when the fire broke out, probably on the 1200 level near a ventilating fan at an air-shaft station, at about 9:00 p.m. The ultimate cause was never known with certainty. It might have started from an abandoned miner’s candle, or from an electrical short. 195 men were hoisted from the mine within 30 minutes. Five others escaped through the Tramway Mine, whose shaft was nearly a half-mile from the Pennsylvania, and one got out through the Mountain View. Nineteen men were unaccounted for, and were later found suffocated on the 300 level. Two rescuers, wearing Draeger breathing apparatus, also died, probably because the devices were insufficiently charged with oxygen.

The fire was not fully extinguished until April 5. Concrete bulkheads were constructed to protect interconnected mines from the smoke, and extensive mining work was necessary to control the blaze.

Draeger breathing apparatus
Following the Pennsylvania Mine disaster, the Anaconda Company instituted many safety improvements, including installing 2-inch sprinkler lines on all shaft collars, and establishing a new “all out of the mine” signal—nine flashes of all lights, repeated three times, followed by the signal for the level where the danger was located.

Resources: The Battle For Butte, by Michael Malone (U. of Washington Press, 2006, especially pages 144, 168, 172, 179-81); The Underground Battle of the Miners, by C.P. Connolly, McClure’s Magazine, May 1907; The Pennsylvania Mine Fire Butte, Mont., by C.E. Nighman and R.S. Foster, Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers, vol. 57, 1918 (source of underground mine map). Nighman was the Fireboss and Foster was the Safety Engineer for the Anaconda Copper Mining Co. Photo of miner with Draeger apparatus at a Pennsylvania coal mine, from Library of Congress, Lewis Hine, photographer, January 1911. Surface photo from A Brief History of Butte, by Harry Freeman, 1900. Post-card view circa 1905.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Iconography in Butte

Stained Glass window in Butte City Hall, 24 East Broadway.

By Richard I. Gibson

Yesterday on a walking tour, an observant student from Glendive, Montana, asked me about the significance of the Star of David in the stained glass in the 1890 City Hall (24 East Broadway). My answer was that it was not religious, but simply a popular geometric design. But the question spurred this inquiry into some iconic designs in historic Butte buildings.

Our buildings have a vast array of icons, from simple and complex artistic designs to emblems identifying a business, a building, or the year one or the other was established. The hexagram in the City Hall’s central upper window reflects a very long heritage. Most religions, including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity have used the symbol, although today it is most closely connected to the Jewish tradition. Heraldry in the Middle Ages employed it. It was even a symbol for the German Brewer’s Guild, and taverns in Nuremburg and elsewhere used it as a mark indicating that they had the legal right to tap beer. Today, some find occult and satanic significance to the hexagram.

Freemasons used the two interlocking triangles of the hexagram as a symbol for “the mingling of apparent opposites in nature, darkness and light, error and truth, ignorance and wisdom, evil and good, throughout human life.” (from Mackey, Encyclopedia of Freemasonry). It is possible that a Masonic connection to the builders of the Butte City Hall led to the hexagram in the stained glass, but the simpler explanation is that it is a simple, symmetrical, ancient, and popular geometric design that worked well with the Romanesque architectural style of the building.

* * *

Tile work on Dodge Brothers building, Park Street at Idaho.
Most Butte folks have probably noticed the swastikas in the tile work at the Dodge Brothers Auto Dealership, built in 1912 at the corner of Park and Idaho Streets. The swastika is another ancient design motif, dating to around 3000 B.C. in the Indus Valley Civilization. Apart from modern usage, it is probably most familiar to us today in Sanskrit traditions, where the symbol means “to be good,” or luck, or auspicious. In Chinese, it means “myriad” or eternity. Early Greek coins used the swastika, and Celtic bronze shields dating to about 300 B.C. are covered with them. Native American civilizations, from the Ohio River Valley to the Navajo and Panama employ swastika designs.

In the 1870s archaeological investigations at Troy, by Heinrich Schliemann, captured peoples’ imaginations, and the presence of swastikas there led to a resurgence of their use as design elements in Europe and America that usually symbolized good luck or success, if they symbolized anything. Schliemann’s work also led to the use of the swastika by German Nazis, ultimately stigmatizing the symbol in much of today’s world.

Because the swastikas at the Dodge Brothers building are combined with many other designs, including rampant lions, flowers, and simple geometric patterns, the likely explanation there is also likely pretty mundane: popular, pretty designs that the tile artist used for decorative effect, and little more.

Background information from Wikipedia and other online sources. Photos by Richard Gibson. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Death by Lion

By Richard I. Gibson

The gruesome news spread quickly around the world. Even the Taranaki (New Zealand) Herald carried the report of the lion that attacked trainer Walter Blanchard, better known as Zeke Walters, during the Lehman Brothers Circus parade in Butte Saturday October 1, 1898.

The trainer “was attacked in the lion cage by one of the lions, who felled him with a blow on the head with its paws and continued the attack as he lay prostrate. Walters grabbed one of the bars of the cage and drew himself to his feet at the same time attempting to fight off the brute. Almost blinded by blood from the wounds in his head, Walters dragged himself to the door at the rear of the cage and unfastening it he leaped to the street and fell unconscious to the ground. The door slammed shut after his exit, thus preventing the escape of the animal.”

A male lion, a female, and a “well-grown cub” were in the cage with 30-year-old Walters when the circus parade, including camels and elephants, made its way up Arizona Street. Just south of the Montana Central-Great Northern Railroad crossing (i.e., Iron Street) the male lion roared (it “could be heard for blocks”) and set to the attack.

Walters was taken to Murray & Freund Hospital at Quartz and Alaska Streets where he remained in critical condition for more than a week before he died. The story was picked up and reported in newspapers in Middletown NY, Revelstoke BC, London England, Titusville Florida, and many more. The clipping above is from the San Francisco Call. By 1898, much of the world was interconnected by sub-oceanic telegraph cables, allowing the word to spread from Butte to New York to London and thence to Australia and New Zealand in a matter of hours.

Quotes from Butte Miner in Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives. Photo (left) is from the Chinn Family photo archives at the Mai Wah Museum. The poster is attached to the Mai Wah building at right and is circa 1950.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"The Sump"

April is National Poetry Month. Here's a Butte poem you may not have read — it's not exactly uplifting!

(Written for the Sunday NEWS by L.A. Osborne.)

Four hundred fathoms deep, the giant pump
Drinks greedily the water of the sump;
The sodden air, a noxious envelope,
Scarce feeds the candles in the murky stope.
’Tis here the miner nonchalantly goes
As calmly as a watchman to repose.
Yet, gather not from his deportment bold
That Death, with clutching, clammy fingers cold,
Lingers not ever eager at his side
To seize and ferry him o’er Styx’s tide.

Death sets a hundred traps—unshuddering
The miner steals the bait, nor starts the spring;
The next unlucky go, some oversight
Loosens the click—and then, good-night, good-night!
Insidiously the loosened rock descends;
Or fails the grip on which his life depends;
Or, prematurely, bearing death the blast
Mixes a mess at which men stand aghast;
Of slips the foot beside the yawning chute—
You take your dreadful toll, O mines of Butte!

The drift is driving: roars the loud machine,
Whose furious forces meet resistance keen;
Firm as the crank, observant but at ease,
The stanch machine man holds control of these.
Alert with his good partner at the chuck
To get the round in by their pluck and luck;
With half a mile of granite overhead,
And all around what best is left unsaid.

No fractures holes nor dallies intervene;
The round is finished—down comes their machine.
“I rather think we took an extra ‘five,”
If we’re to blast we’d better look alive;
’Tis either that or else we go on top—
Let’s hurry up and then we’ll take a flop.

“Go get the powder; get the headache stuff
And don’t forget to bring along enough;
And cut it extra long, that treacherous fuse—
’Twas sent here not to look at, but to use;
And while you’re at it don’t forget, old-timer,
For every water hold a double primer.

“Twelve holes to spit; the ‘cut’ holes will be mine;
You take the ‘backs;’ don’t follow me too fine;
Then for the ‘lifters’—ready? Let her go!
Zip, zip, zip, zip—look out below!
The ‘lifters’ now, those lads we mustn’t miss;
Whew, what smoke! It’s fierce—Aha! hiss! hiss!—
My two are gone—say, partner, can’t you score?
Won’t light? Then cut her, cut her yet once more!
O, partner, wait no longer, come away;
Let it alone! It is not safe to stay!
One moment!—let the ornery thing go hang
Me for the crosscut, come in, pardner.” —Bang!
Two more unfortunates gone to their rest—
All that is left of them—blown from the ‘breast’!

Butte Montana, February 19, 1910.
Published in the Butte Evening News, Feb. 20, 1910.

L.A. Osborne was a miner who, in 1910, roomed at the Windsor Hotel that stood just east of the Hirbour Tower and west of the Butte Hotel

Monday, April 1, 2013

The great flood of 1873

A bit of April foolery By Richard I. Gibson

The spring of 1873 was the hottest and wettest on record in southwest Montana, and Silver Bow Creek was out of its banks for months beginning in February, isolating Butte’s Hill from transportation hubs and roads to the east, south, and southwest. Rations were in short supply. With no end in sight to the high waters, desperate businessmen contrived to erect the longest bridge west of the Mississippi at that time.

With backing from the Donnell Clark & Larabie Bank, John Steward (of Steward Mine fame) organized the gangs of men who built the bridge. Engineer Henry Parshall designed the structure in the space of 10 days, and work began on May 17, 1873. “A Herculean effort,” as both the Anaconda Standard and the Butte Miner called it, kept men working day and night. When complete, the steel structure spanned the flood about a mile west of where Montana Street crosses the creek today, extending from the hills south of the Orphan Girl Mine to a point just west of Williamsburg. It was nearly 2,000 feet long.

The bank loaned Steward $6,400, the equivalent of $137,000 today. The bridge was passable by June 2, and critical food supplies reached the Hill that day; by June 7, daily trains pulled by steam locomotives were crossing the bridge. Unseasonably hot weather the first week of June caused all the snow in the mountains to melt, and the flood’s peak was reached on June 10. By June 18, with no more meltwater and no rain, Silver Bow Creek had been reduced to a trickle, and by June 25 the stream was bone dry. The bridge was no longer used, since streets like Utah, Montana, and Arizona, and even parts of the Interstate, were easily passable.

In order to pay the debt to the bank, Steward had to dismantle the bridge even more quickly than it had been constructed. The steel girders were appropriated by Clark (Donnell and Larabie were uninterested) who refurbished them to brace the upper shaft at his Original Mine, enabling it to reach unprecedented depths of more than 7,800 feet.

The press referred to the bridge as “Steward’s Folly” for a few weeks, but by autumn the entire episode was forgotten.

Source: Quarry Brewing’s Shale Pale Ale.