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, 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.


  1. Could be there is more than one Peter McMahon (sometimes Mahan) ... but there is only one Seven-Up Pete. Died 1886. Here are a couple obits. The Seven Up Pete area was at times called Seven Up Pete's gulch. There is also reference to him working in Sauerkraut, which is close by. Seems he lived mostly or entirely in the placer gulches, and I'll guess the Butte carman (a miner with the main task of man-handling mine cars) is another person altogether.

  2. Upon further "digging"!
    The 1886 obit is originally from the Free Press, which would appear to be the Butte paper of that name which preceded the Weekly Miner. There were several hospitals in Montana by 1886 that were established by Catholic nuns, but that the story originated in Butte indicates that Seven-Up died at the Sister's Hospital in Butte. The actual location of his grave was sought for by the Butte Pioneer's Club in 1931 without success, and remains a mystery.

    The Daily Independent of May 23, 1884, has an amusing tale of Montana's first divorce, decided by a jury of 2000 miners at Alder Gulch, as told by Seven Up Pete in a Butte bar known as the Elite. So it seems Pete's later years were spent in the time-honored tradition of "mining in the bar" and not mining in the gulches. In that vein (to continue with mining lingo) there is a story about Seven Up Pete gulch near Lincoln that originated in Helena in 1902 and was printed in several Eastern newspapers, to the effect that one Peter Scharf lost his mules, wagon and provisions in a game of Seven Up, but had his luck turn to the good in the gulch that now bears his name. So I revoke my previous assumption that there could be only one Seven Up Pete!