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, 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


  1. I would love to hear this read aloud, perhaps from the base of the Original Mine, by a man the same age as this miner.

    1. Indeed. Perhaps on Miners Union Day, June 13...