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, December 1, 2014

Mary Fifer

by Richard I. Gibson

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) has its roots in England and Scotland as long ago as the 1500s. The name’s origin is obscure, but most histories indicate that it came from their practice of admitting working-class members – making the organization “odd,” compared to most such groups that really focused on the elite. Alternatively, it may have been that the early Odd Fellows were formed by tradesmen in small trades, not large enough to come together in their own syndicates or unions. The “Odd Fellows” were the ones left out of the bigger guilds. 

Rebekah symbol
The IOOF was established in America in Baltimore in 1819, with a credo based on benevolent fraternity, and the goal of personal betterment for members. They were the first American fraternal organization to admit women (in 1851 – the women’s auxiliary was called the Daughters of Rebekah, and it was not exclusively for women), and later, they were also the first to establish homes for their elderly members and orphanages for children of deceased members.

Montana’s first IOOF lodge was formed in Helena in 1874. The first Butte lodge, Fidelity, was created May 25, 1876, and the second one, Ridgley Lodge, in 1882. The IOOF was not as religious as some such groups – while they adhered to Biblical concepts, Jews such as Butte’s first mayor, Henry Jacobs, were IOOF members (he was treasurer for the group in 1883). The IOOF hall on Broadway Street was built in 1884. 

Mary Fifer (it’s sometimes spelled Pfeiffer) led the creation of the first Daughters of Rebekah lodge in Butte in 1877. The Home Circle Lodge met in a building on Upper Main Street (that would most likely be the 100-300 blocks of North Main today), but “there was not the harmony in the circle which should have been there.” The group disbanded, but Mrs. Fifer again led the way to establish the Miriam Lodge in 1882, this time successfully.

“The life of a Rebekah who lives up to the principles of our order must be as nearly perfect as it is possible to be.” — Mary Fifer, quoted in Anaconda Standard, May 25, 1902.

Mary Dean was born in Virginia February 5, 1843, into a prominent old Virginia family. She married Meredith S. Fifer, son of Missouri farmers of German heritage, two weeks after her 21st birthday, in 1864. Within a year, the newlyweds were heading to Montana with Meredith’s family. Their first daughter was born on the plains of Nebraska in the middle of a 5-month trip that saw many encounters with Indians.  

Old Glory Claim in Centerville is highlighted in yellow.
Meredith’s father established a ranch in the Deer Lodge Valley near present-day Warm Springs, with his sons on adjoining lands. Mary reportedly gave birth to the first white child born in Deer Lodge County. Meredith and Mary moved to a ranch near Anaconda in 1870, then in 1876 they relocated to Butte and Meredith began mining work. He located the Old Glory Mine in Centerville. The Old Glory shaft was just east of Main Street, between Mullins (Mullen) and Pacific Streets. Meredith sold his interest in the Old Glory for $1,150 about 1882 and focused his mining efforts on Bear Gulch (Deer Lodge County) where he had a 5-ton-capacity stamp mill. In 1897 the Old Glory, owned by J. Benton Leggatt, was at a depth of about 500 feet, and employed 20 men mining copper and silver. It was eventually (1910) acquired by the Anaconda Company.

Mary’s main focus in Butte was with the Rebekahs. She was the first “noble grand” of the lodge, and represented Butte Rebekahs at national conventions in Columbus, Ohio, and Topeka, Kansas.

The Fifer home at 207 South Dakota Street (sometimes given as 217, but it was 207, on the southwest corner of Mercury and Dakota) was built in 1887. Mary died there October 13, 1912, and is buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery. The house, seen in the photo above, was still standing as recently as 1957, but that corner is a vacant lot today.The log cabin in the photo was attached to the house. It may have been the Fifer's original home in Centerville, reportedly the first log house built in Centerville, circa 1876 when the Fifers moved to Butte. I can't verify that this log cabin is that home.

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Resources: Anaconda Standard, May 25, 1902 (source of photo); History of Montana 1739-1885, by Michael Leeson; Sanborn maps; city directories; The Mining Investor vol. 61-62, Nov. 28, 1910; The Mine, Quarry and Metallurgical Record of the United States, Canada and Mexico, 1897, by the Mine and Quarry News Bureau; Mining and Engineering World, Volume 24, Jan. 27, 1906 (source of claim map). Rebekah symbol from IOOF 

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