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 24, 2014

Robert C. Logan

Today’s post is part of African-American History Month.

By Richard I. Gibson

Robert Logan traveled the world, spent most of his life in Butte, and started out a slave.

He never knew his parents. At age one, in 1859, he was sold into slavery in Lexington, Kentucky for $150. His master, Edward W. Powell, raised race horses, and Robert rode as a jockey as well as performing other duties for Powell and other horsemen. When Logan was 17 he fled Kentucky and for the next dozen years survived one way or another. In 1890, he arrived in Butte. According to the 1890 census, there were 1,490 African-Americans living in Montana then.

Logan took one of the only semi-professional jobs available to a Black man in 1890, as a porter on the Butte-to-Salt Lake run of the Union Pacific Railroad. During layovers in Salt Lake City, he took voice lessons from Evan Stevens, the Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and other voice instructors in Salt Lake City. They helped him make his deep voice into a world-renowned instrument.

Logan sang in 1896 before 30,000 people at the Welsh International Eisteddfod musical competition in Denver and was the only non-white finalist. The winner “was a foregone conclusion,” a Welshman, but Robert Logan came in second. This launched his career as a singer.

In 1899 he joined a Black minstrel group, the Georgia Minstrels, that performed in 40 states, 10 Canadian provinces, Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand. His deep bass voice became famous. “His range covers more than two full octaves with his lower notes resembling the distant vibration of thunder,” according to a New South Wales newspaper review in 1899. And in Hawaii, he reportedly portrayed Simon Legree in Uncle Tom's Cabin so well that the "audience was ready to do him bodily harm."

The troupe included Butte on its itinerary, and when in Butte they often performed at parties hosted by William Andrews Clark, Jr., presumably at Will’s home on Galena Street. W.A. Clark., Jr. was the founder of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1919.

Logan tired of the traveling performer’s life and returned to Butte permanently in 1905. He took a job as janitor for the Miner’s Savings Bank and Trust on West Park Street when they opened their doors in 1907, and held the job until he retired in 1935. He continued to sing with the Bethel Baptist Church choir – he and his wife Elizabeth lived at 112 S. Idaho Street, just two doors north of the African-American Bethel Baptist Church at the corner of Idaho and Mercury. Robert and Elizabeth organized the choir, and Elizabeth was the accompanist until her death in 1935. The sites of the church and the Logan home are occupied by the Fire Station today.

He continued to sing for special events, including the 1921 funeral of General Charles S. Warren at Mountain View Methodist Church. Warren was the first Chief of Police in Butte, a co-founder of the Inter Mountain Publishing Company, and a charter member and first president of the Silver Bow Club. Warren Island, in Lake Pend Oreille, is named for him. Warren lived at 211 S. Washington, so was a near neighbor to Robert and Elizabeth Logan.

Even at age 83 Logan was a soloist and singer with the Butte Male Chorus. He died in 1945, remembered as one of the greatest bass singers of his day. Robert and Elizabeth Logan are buried in Butte's Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

Resources: primary biography – Montana Standard, March 1, 1942; Montana Standard, March 3, 1945; The Crisis, W.E.B. duBois, ed., 1921; Montana, Its Story and Biography, edited by Tom Stout, American Historical Society, 1921. Thanks to Cheryl Ackerman for finding the 1942 news article.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Naming of the Neversweat

The famous seven stacks, 1900.
The following is taken verbatim from Mining Reporter, Dec. 29, 1904.


We have been entertained many times by the quaint naming of well-known mines, but strangely few of such stories find their way into print. Among mines of queer names and stories are the "Wake Up Jim," "R. A. M.," "Wano-Wato," "X10U8," the alleged Pontius Pilate group on Holy Cross mountain and so forth. At one time the naming of mining claims so appealed to the riotous imaginations of the early miners that the federal government took a hand in the game and made regulations as to how far they could go in giving their locations a name.

The stories as to how some claims received their curious appellations are always Interesting. The Anaconda Standard vouches for the following:

It has been told in the Standard on more than one occasion how the great Anaconda and St. Lawrence mines received their names. A companion mine to these mines is the Never Sweat, and at the present time it may be doubted if there is any greater mine in the entire Butte camp than the Never Sweat mine. While in years past more ore has been taken out of the famed Anaconda, at the present time there is no mine from which a greater amount of ore is taken than from the Never Sweat. It is down 2,200 feet and there is no deeper mine in the camp save the Anaconda itself, which is down 2,400 feet.

H. S. Clark, one of Butte's most esteemed pioneers, was telling to a party of friends the other day how the Never Sweat received its peculiar name.

"I think it was back in the year 1875 that it was located," said Mr. Clark. "I was clerk of the court at the time and it was the custom with a number of the prospectors in those days to give me an interest in the mines they located provided I would file the location and pay the fee, few of the prospectors having much ready cash. Some of my interests in the mines I kept for years; some I gave away; some I sold for little or nothing some I got a good thing out of. All of them nearly would have yielded me handsomely had I held onto them to later days.

"Among the locations made at that time was the Never Sweat. Joe Ransom and Bill McNamara were the locators and they gave me an interest in the property with them.

"Ransom and McNamara had got a little hole dug, perhaps forty or fifty feet deep, when they came by my cabin one day.

"'Well, how is the mine coming on, boys?' I asked.

"'It's a cinch we will never sweat any taking ore out of that hole,' said Ransom.

"'What have you named it?'

"'Ain't named it yet, and don't think it is worth naming," said McNamara.

"'You'd better name it so I can put the location on record in correct shape,' I said.

"'Well, you name it,' said Ransom.

"'Then we'll call it the Never Sweat mine,' said I, 'as you think you will never sweat taking ore out of it.'

"So that is the name it received and the name it has always had. I think I afterwards got about $1,500 for my interest."

The mine is worth untold millions at this day.

* * *

Photo from A Brief History of Butte by Harry C. Freeman, 1900.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day in Butte, 1903

The text reads:

For centuries, there has been a superstition connected with the 14th of February, and it has long been regarded as a fitting and propitious time for choosing valentines for loving friends. Just what connection it has with the memory of good old St. Valentine is not clear, but the custom has been handed down from the storied past and it is observed to-day, though in a modified form. Wheatly in his “Illustration of the Common Prayer” says that St. Valentine “was a man of most admirable parts, and so famous for his love and charity that the custom of choosing valentines upon his festival took its rise from thence.”  In England, Scotland and France the day was celebrated by a company placing the names of maids and bachelors written on pieces of paper into a receptacle and then drawing them lotterywise. This practice attained a high degree of popularity in the fifteenth century, but later fell into disuse for some cause. Nowadays St. Valentine’s day is observed by sending to one’s friend decorated cards with mottoes or verses written theron.

—Anaconda Standard, Feb. 8, 1903. Art by J.C. Terry, staff artist.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Western Lumber Company

By Richard I. Gibson

Even after the brick ordinance went into effect mandating fire-resistant construction in Butte, the demand for lumber was still huge. Many brick buildings were still framed in wood, and most residences in the booming city were wood, or brick-veneered wood.

W.A. Clark
The Western Lumber Company was “one of the oldest and most successful” lumber companies in the city. W.A. Clark, ever with an eye to profit (and probably other motives), created the company in 1898 and was President of Western Lumber in 1905. Other officers were A.H. Wethey, Vice President; W.M. Bickford, Secretary; Harry W. McLaughlin, Treasurer; and W.W. Dunks, local manager. Like Clark, Wethey got around in business, and he was also Secretary of Clark’s Colusa-Parrot Mining & Smelting Co. with an office at 10 West Broadway and a home on the prestigious west side, at 834 West Granite. McLaughlin was a Missoula legislator whose support Clark was reportedly trying to buy—1898 was precisely when Clark was beginning his aggressive efforts to attain the U.S. Senate seat.

Walter Bickford’s law office was in the Silver Bow Block (the old one, where the parking lot is today across from the Montana Standard) and he lived in a bay-fronted five-plex at 223 North Washington Street which is gone today. William Dunks, who lived at 817 Colorado and was a bookkeeper in 1900, succeeded O.J. McConnell as local manager about 1903. Dunks continued as the local manager at least until 1928, when the Anaconda Company acquired Western Lumber from W.A. Clark’s heirs. In 1931-32, Anaconda shut the operation down.

Western Lumber together with Clark’s real estate company, Clark-Montana, were ultimately responsible for the dam on the Clark Fork and the company town that became Milltown. They operated a small railroad in the Bonner area, with 10 miles of track, from 1912-1928. The company had sawmills across western Montana, with a planing mill at Lothrop (or Lathrop), near today’s Alberton northwest of Missoula, but most of the lumber came to Butte.

Milltown dam (1908 flood)
The Western Lumber complex occupied the block bounded by Main, Porphyry, Wyoming, and Gold Streets, where Butte High School stands today. By 1916, that block included an auto repair shop on the corner of Porphyry and Wyoming, pretty much where the main entry to the school is today. There were also blacksmiths and a paint shop in the block, together with a row of at least nine alley houses on the alley that’s now between the Tripp & Dragstedt Apartments and the school.

Western Lumber acquired the Montana Lumber & Manufacturing Co., which occupied the same Main St. location in 1900, but the buildings were “vacant and not used” at that time. Western rejuvenated and expanded the Butte operation. This part of town was a sort of “lumber central” for many years. In 1888, the Silver City Lumber Company spread across a couple blocks around Gold to Platinum and Colorado to Dakota (at a time when Gold Street didn’t go through) and there was a small planning mill, the Phoenix, on Porphyry east of Main, where the Montana Lumber and Western Lumber Companies would expand.

Butte High was built in 1936-38 on the land vacated by the 1931-32 demise of the Western Lumber Company, owned at that time by the Anaconda Company.

You could probably write a book about the Western Lumber Company — so look at this post as just a tantalizing introduction.

Resources: Montana Catholic, Jan. 21, 1905; Two Rivers History; City Directories; Sanborn Maps; photo of Milltown Dam during 1908 flood via Butte CTEC.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Seven-Up Pete

By Richard I. Gibson

Who was Seven-Up Pete? Peter McMahon was part of the first party to discover gold in Silver Bow Creek. The Anaconda Standard reported (October 21, 1906) that it was Seven-Up Pete who said the creek looked like a Silver Bow glinting in the sunlight, and gave the name that we continue to use to this day.

Pete was evidently a well-liked character around Butte. When people asked how long he’d been in Butte, he would say, “Do you see that butte over there? It was a hole in the ground when I came here.”

McMahon got his nickname playing the card game of seven-up back in Kansas, where he allegedly never lost, except once, and that under threat of a club. He was born in County Clare, Ireland, June 29, 1833, and came to America at age 16 in the wake of the Irish potato famine. He made his way from New York to New Orleans to St. Louis, with, he said, 15 cents in his pocket, and he cut wood for his breakfast. He worked as a riverman, railroad worker, and butcher, and as a scout in New Mexico for the army in the war against the Comanches. He mined at Pike’s Peak, Colorado, before heading to Bannack and Virginia City in 1863. When he and the Parker party (G.O. Humphreys, William Allison, Frank Ruff, Bud Parker, Peter Slater, and perhaps others) came to what is now Butte, he said he found the first gold, running $1.65 to the pan—a goodly sum in those days, enough to buy several days' or a week's lodgings or three or four nice dinners in a restaurant. Pete also claimed to be the first to crush quartz for gold in Butte.

Pete McMahon was a miner who lived in the Centennial Hotel in 1885, and was presumably burned out when it went up in flames in 1888. He worked as a carman [miners out there – what was that?] at the Green Mountain Mine in 1891 but disappears from the directories beginning in 1893.

Does anyone know if the Seven-Up Pete mine near Lincoln, Montana, had anything to do with Pete McMahon?

Sources: Butte Bystander, April 15, 1897; History of Montana, 1739-1885, by Michael A. Leeson.