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.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Teddy Roosevelt's visit to Butte, 1903.

Teddy Roosevelt recalls his May 1903 visit to Butte, in a letter to his Secretary of State, John Hay, later that year. Quoted in My Brother Theodore Roosevelt, by Corrine Roosevelt Robinson (1921).

Theodore Roosevelt, 1904.
From Washington [State] I turned southward, and when I struck northern Montana, again came to my old stamping grounds and among my old friends. I met all kinds of queer characters with whom I had hunted and worked and slept and sometimes fought. From Helena, I went southward to Butte, reaching that city in the afternoon of May 27th. By this time, Seth Bullock had joined us, together with an old hunting friend, John Willis, a Donatello of the Rocky Mountains,—wholly lacking, however, in that morbid self-consciousness which made Hawthorne's 'faun' go out of his head because he had killed a man. Willis and I had been in Butte some seventeen years before, at the end of a hunting trip in which we got dead broke, so that when we struck Butte, we slept in an outhouse and breakfasted heartily in a two-bit Chinese restaurant. Since then I had gone through Butte in the campaign of 1900, the major part of the inhabitants receiving me with frank hostility, and enthusiastic cheers for Bryan.

However, Butte is mercurial, and its feelings had changed. The wicked, wealthy, hospitable, full-blooded, little city, welcomed me with wild enthusiasm of a disorderly kind. The mayor, Pat Mullins, was a huge, good-humored creature, wearing, for the first time in his life, a top hat and a frock coat, the better to do honor to the President.

Seth Bullock (from Wikipedia)
National party lines counted very little in Butte where the fight was Heinze and anti-Heinze, Ex-Senator Carter and Senator Clark being in the opposition. Neither side was willing to let the other have anything to do with the celebration, and they drove me wild with their appeals, until I settled that the afternoon parade and speech was to be managed by the Heinze group of people, and the evening speech by the anti-Heinze people; and that the dinner should contain fifty of each faction and should be presided over in his official capacity by the mayor. The ordinary procession, in barouches, was rather more exhilarating than usual, and reduced the faithful secret service men very nearly to the condition of Bedlamites. The crowd was filled with whooping enthusiasm and every kind of whiskey, and in their desire to be sociable, broke the lines and jammed right up to the carriage. Seth Bullock, riding close beside the rear wheel of my carriage, for there were hosts of so-called 'rednecks' or 'dynamiters' in the crowd, was such a splendid looking fellow with his size and supple strength, his strangely marked aquiline face, with its big moustache, and the broad brim of his soft dark hat drawn down over his dark eyes. However, no one made a motion to attack me.

My address was felt to be honor enough for one hotel, so the dinner was given in the other [The Thornton]. When the dinner was announced, the Mayor led me in!—to speak more accurately, tucked me under one arm and lifted me partially off the ground so that I felt as if I looked like one of those limp dolls with dangling legs, carried around by small children, like Mary Jane in the 'Gollywogs,' for instance. As soon as we got in the banquet hall and sat at the end of the table, the Mayor hammered lustily with the handle of his knife and announced, 'Waiter, bring on the feed.' Then, in a spirit of pure kindliness, 'Waiter, pull up the curtains and let the people see the President eat';—but to this, I objected. The dinner was soon in full swing, and it was interesting in many respects. Besides my own party, including Seth Bullock and Willis, there were fifty men from each of the Butte factions.

In Butte, every prominent man is a millionaire, a gambler, or a labor leader, and generally he has been all three. Of the hundred men who were my hosts, I suppose at least half had killed their man in private war or had striven to compass the assassination of an enemy. They had fought one another with reckless ferocity. They had been allies and enemies in every kind of business scheme, and companions in brutal revelry. As they drank great goblets of wine, the sweat glistened on their hard, strong, crafty faces. They looked as if they had come out of the pictures in Aubrey Beardsley's Yellow Book. The millionaires had been laboring men once, the labor leaders intended to be millionaires in their turn, or else to pull down all who were. They had made money in mines, had spent it on the races, in other mines or in gambling and every form of vicious luxury, but they were strong men for all that. They had worked, and striven, and pushed, and trampled, and had always been ready, and were ready now, to fight to the death in many different kinds of conflicts. They had built up their part of the West, they were men with whom one had to reckon if thrown in contact with them. . . . But though most of them hated each other, they were accustomed to take their pleasure when they could get it, and they took it fast and hard with the meats and wines.

Roosevelt photo (1904) from Library of Congress.


  1. An extraordinary and colorful piece of writing about Butte by President Teddy Roosevelt! I knew of a vaguer account of this story and take pride of the fact that his speech "from the other Hotel" was the original Hotel Finlen, previously named the McDermott Hotel. Just the thought of Teddy Roosevelt addressing the crowd from the main balcony facing the site across the street where later my property the Tait Hotel would be constructed in 1915 just amazes me.

    Another revealing piece of the writing is Roosevelt's portrayal of the Copper King's war as being "the fight was Heinze and anti-Heinze", which illuminates the atmosphere in Butte at the time as everything Heinze.

    Thanks for posting such a rich piece of history.

    1. Thanks Robert, and thanks for posting the pic of the McDermott-Finlen on the Facebook page. TR's visit to Butte came almost exactly 5 months before Heinze's famous "Standard Oil Coffins" speech on Oct. 26, 1903.

  2. Does anyone know about Emil Kerola? He owned 3 hotels in butte, Montana in the 1900's. I need your help

    1. you might contact the Butte Archives. i'm away from Butte for a couple weeks.