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. Many of these blog posts have been converted to podcast episodes, available at KBMF.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Booker T. Washington comes to Butte

By Richard I. Gibson

In Butte in 1913.
Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was a prominent leader and spokesman in the African-American community from 1890 until he died in 1915, traveling the country to promote the cause of education and schools for African-Americans. He gained support from and became friends with a long list of prominent backers, including William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Sears Roebuck president Julius Rosenwald, and Standard Oil’s Henry Rogers—the co-founder of the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company, which evolved into the Anaconda.

Washington came to Butte on March 6, 1913. He arrived as the white supremacist governor of South Carolina, Coleman Blease, was announcing that Negroes in that state would not be tried for alleged assaults on white women (conviction would be automatic), nor would those who lynched them be punished. He also famously advocated beer over Coca-Cola as a refreshing drink—in his inaugural address as governor. In Butte, Washington tactfully refrained from saying “what I think of Governor Blease,” but he lauded the good works of Alabama Governor O’Neill: “My race is getting a square deal in his state.” Alabama was (and is) home to the Tuskegee Institute that Washington made famous.

A welcoming committee from the Colored Progressive League met Washington’s train in Butte. He was given an automobile tour of Butte (including a surface visit to the mines) that ended at his hotel, the Thornton, where he expressed surprise that all of Butte’s people were not covered with icicles—this was his first trip to the Northwest. Introduced by former Montana Lieutenant Governor W.R. Allen, Washington delivered his speech that evening at the Auditorium in the old Butte Public Library on West Broadway Street to “a large audience about equally divided between the white and black races,” according to the Butte Miner. The presentation was followed by a banquet in Washington’s honor at the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, Shaffer Chapel at Platinum and Idaho.

Shaffer Chapel, built in 1901, still stands today; it was reportedly a gift to the African-American community from W.A. Clark. It was the second home to the AME congregation in Butte. That group built its first church at Idaho and Mercury (where the fire station is today) in 1892, but after they moved to Shaffer Chapel, the original building became home to the Baptist Bethel Church which also served African-Americans.

Shaffer Chapel, Platinum at Idaho, in 2013.

Resources: Butte Miner, Anaconda Standard (including photo of Washington), March 1913; W.R. Allen, 1911, caricature scanned by Butte Public Library; Methodism on the Richest Hill on Earth 1873 – 2007, compiled and edited by Mike Parr; 2013 photo of Shaffer Chapel by Dick Gibson.


  1. Wow Thanks Richard, I have news clippings as well as some notes from his letters home on his visit to this area. I am getting the info gathered on African Americans in Butte together and should have my blog up and running soon -
    michael mcdaniel

  2. African Americans in Butte is a history waiting to be told. Many converging factors point to a unique story of place and circumstance: The southern roots of the earlier pioneers, fallout from the Civil War, refuge into the West, and the emergence of popular black personalities in sports, entertainment, and politics. The rise of Butte as a western metropolis would seem to be a natural destination.

  3. I am creating a poster of AME churches in the NW thank you for this blog post this AME church in Butte was just a black holding spot. I'm giving you source credit it is going up in the AME church in Portland OR for a week.