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, May 27, 2013

Elizabeth Lochrie

By Richard I. Gibson

Like many early Butte residents, Elizabeth Lochrie started in Deer Lodge. Elizabeth Tangye Davey was born there July 1, 1890. Her paternal grandfather had come to Montana in 1866 seeking gold; his son, her father, moved to Deer Lodge in 1887. Her mother May (nee Rogers) had Cornish ancestry.

In Deer Lodge, Elizabeth’s father trained horses, reportedly selling some to Marcus Daly. He was killed by a ruffian when Elizabeth was 12, and her mother was supported in part by philanthropy from some of Butte’s finest, including businessman Dan Hennessey. She also taught school in Butte, commuting from Deer Lodge.

While Elizabeth had shown interest in art from an early age, her first formal training was in about 1904, with Deer Lodge native Vonna Owings, who had studied in San Francisco and went on to become a founder of California’s Laguna Beach Art Festival. Elizabeth graduated from Brooklyn’s Pratt Art Institute in 1911 and returned to Deer Lodge where she married bank manager Arthur Lochrie.

Lochrie home at West Granite and Emmett Streets
Elizabeth’s professional painting career began as a newspaper cartoonist in 1915, but in 1923 she was commissioned to paint murals in the state tuberculosis sanitarium at Galen. During the Depression, she designed murals for post offices in Dillon, MT; Burley, ID; and St. Anthony, ID. Her work was also displayed at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

By 1928, as Arthur’s career expanded, the Lochries moved to Helena and Spokane, and eventually (1931) to Butte where Arthur was president of the Miners Bank. Their Butte home at 1102 West Granite Street still stands. It formed their household, Elizabeth’s studio, and an exhibition gallery for her increasingly well-respected work.

Elizabeth Lochrie is most noted for her depictions of Native Americans and their settings, and she is a fixture in most books on western art. One of the last exhibitions in her lifetime was in the late 1970s, at the Charles Clark Art Chateau in Butte, where some of her works are on permanent display. She continued to live in Butte until a few years before her death—she moved to Ojai, California to be near her daughter, and died there in 1981.

Primary biography: A HALF-CENTURY OF PAINTINGS BY ELIZABETH LOCHRIE, By Betty Lochrie Hoag McGlynn, with gallery of paintings.


Monday, May 20, 2013

The Bidwell Brothers come to Butte


By Richard I. Gibson

Butte likes to say that every bad guy (and gal) that ever existed came to Butte and did something here. Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone, Doc Holliday (he really was here), Attila the Hun. But in 1899, two of the most notorious international criminals of the 1870s did come to Butte. And they died.

In January and February, 1873, the Bank of England was bilked out of at least £500,000, and possibly as much as five million pounds. Brothers George and Austin Bidwell, together with two other Americans, Edwin Jones and forger George McDonnell, posed as wealthy investors and successfully passed check after forged check, until a simple error—lack of a date on the check—resulted in the scam’s unraveling.

The men fled, but were all captured with the help of Pinkerton detectives: Austin in Havana, Cuba; George in Scotland; McDonnell in New York; and Noyes in London. All were extradited, and security at the ensuing trial in London was extreme; the judge wore a gun, almost unprecedented at the time, fearing the possibility of a rescue attempt. The jury took but 15 minutes to convict after eight days of testimony from 90 witnesses in August 1873. A life sentence was handed to each member of the gang.

Fast forward 15 years. Pleading health problems, Austin and George were released in 1892 and 1887, respectively, and returned to America. They wrote books and made livings by touring the country giving lectures on the evils of crime. Thus, as promoters and book-sellers, the Bidwell brothers came to Butte in the late winter of 1899.

From Wall Street to Newgate” was the title of the semi-autobiographical novel, a reference to London’s Newgate Prison (although George was in the infamous Dartmoor, in Devonshire). The Anaconda Standard reported that Austin intended to make his home in Montana, but within three weeks of their arrival, on March 8, 1899, Austin was suffering from pneumonia and died in his hotel room in the Mantle Block (upstairs at today’s Piccadilly Transportation Museum, but some reports indicate that the brothers were staying at the Butte Hotel). He was 52.

George, age 69, died March 26, reportedly in the same bed as his brother, of “a broken heart,” dispirited by his brother’s death, “friendless, alone and as is supposed, well nigh penniless,” according to the Anaconda Standard.

In a fine coincidence, the Bidwells’ book had recounted a fictional character associated with the Boss Tweed gang in New York. That character went to Butte where he died in “poverty and want.”

As a further fascinating footnote, George and Austin’s older brother, Benson (1835-1911) claimed to have invented the electrical trolley. His two 1907 books, including his remarkably titled autobiography Benson Bidwell: Inventor of the Trolley Car, Electric Fan and Cold Motor: History of Early Struggles and Later Successes: With Personal Reminiscences, Lectures, Essays and Letter, and a story approaching science fiction, The Flying Cows of Biloxi, both have minor cult followings. Whether Benson actually legally patented the electric trolley or not seems to be in dispute, albeit unlikely. Promotional scams seem to have run in the Bidwell family.

Sources: Image of the four criminals at top (1873) from The Penny Illustrated Paper of London via Victorian Calendar. Additional sources: Anaconda Standard newspapers for March 8-27, 1899; Benson Bidwell  ; The Bidwell Brothers  ; and CrimeCrack.com.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The first house in Butte


By Richard I. Gibson

It’s fairly common knowledge that the first home built in Butte was located on what is now East Quartz Street. For me, at least, that was all I knew.

But the special edition of The Butte Bystander newspaper for April 15, 1897, recounts stories of “old timers” and Butte history that is lost, including the sketch above of that first house.

Prospectors the Porter brothers, Dennis Leary and George W. Newkirk built the house and outbuildings in 1866. Their living quarters was the taller building at left, beyond the corral. Behind the house (to the right) stood their blacksmith shop; next to the right was a horse stable. They kept milk cows in the shed at right front. The view here looks west, so Quartz Street would be along the left side of the image.

The men established the Parrot claims with Joseph Ramsdell and built a small smelter (likely Butte’s first) on the lower reaches of Town Gulch (Dublin Gulch) not far from this house. They could not make the fire hot enough to get molten metal to flow, so the smelter failed. They tried again on Parrot Gulch, right below the mine, employing a windmill fan to create a draft in a crude blast furnace, using an 8-horsepower threshing machine as the driving source for the fan. That one failed as well. The Parrot and Ramsdell Parrot Mines would go on to become important excavations, both more than 1,000 feet deep, and other smelters would succeed.

The partners sold the buildings above in 1869, to become the core of the Girton House, an early hotel. This makes it easy to determine the precise location for this first house in Butte: East Quartz, between Main and Wyoming, on the north side of the street, just east of the alley that runs north to Copper Street. A parking lot today.

In 1884, the Girton House (#17 in Bird's-Eye view at left, and including the two-story building above the word "Quartz") was just west of one of the early Miner’s Union Halls, which stood on the northwest corner of Quartz and Wyoming.

The building survived in 1891, as the Cotter House, successor to the Girton, but by 1897 the space was covered by waste rock from the Gold Hill mine, whose shaft stood just to the north, below the intersection of Pennsylvania and Copper Streets. There has not been a building on this spot since before 1897.

Sources: Butte Bystander, April 15, 1897, The Story of Butte; Sanborn maps.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

"Welcome All To Hearth And Hall"



By Richard I. Gibson

(Click any image to enlarge)

A hundred years ago this spring and summer, the caretaker’s house at the Basin Creek Reservoir was constructed. Andrew F. Munroe was the engineer with the Butte Water Company in charge of the operation. His daily field notebook reveals the plans, sketches, and details of this custom project, as well as weather events and the occupants of the creek.

The work began in April, 1913, with the foundation laid out on April 29. By May 8, foundation forms were to have been started. The schedule called for frame up on May 23, and “shingles all on roof” May 24. The huge chimney would take two weeks to build, from May 31 to June 14. But with flooring in on June 21 and trim installed June 23, the work would be done in about two months.


Munroe’s drawings are true to the ultimate appearance of the house. Compare the sketch above to this recent photo by the Montana Standard. The house has been in the news lately because of the potential for demolition; once a caretaker no longer occupied it, it became a target for vandals. The city–county offered it for potential moving to another site, on a developer’s packet, and while one applicant proposed to restore it on site, and live in it to prevent further vandalism (which has been intense even in the past month), the proposals in 2012 were rejected and the city-county still owns the house and has not determined its fate.

Basin Creek Reservoir was developed to supply water to Butte’s growing demand in the early 20th Century. By the 1890s, Butte lacked enough water for its industrial needs and its large population, and as early as 1899 water was pumped over the continental divide from the Big Hole River, a process that continues today. The Basin Creek water source was for most of its history so pure that no filtration was required (one of only a handful of water sources in the nation to have that designation), but in recent years runoff, in part a result of forest loss through beetle kill, has contaminated the reservoir. Butte-Silver Bow is wrestling with potential needs to build a filtration plant there.

The park below the Basin Creek Dam, where the caretaker’s house is located, was for many years a recreational spot and destination for Butte’s residents, by most accounts second only to Columbia Gardens as a playground for an enjoyable outing. Map

Engineer Munroe, who drew the sketches shown here, roomed in 1913 at 133 West Broadway (the Morris Block) above what is now Wilhelm’s Floral Shop. He evidently found time to fish, although based on the note with the fish drawing, it might have been caught by George Corbett. All his drawings recall the enjoyment and professionalism of a house builder of 100 years ago.

Thanks to Mitzi Rossillon and Irene Scheidecker for discovering the notebook and providing access to it. Photos of notebook sketches by Richard Gibson; notebook in Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives collection.