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.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

“My friends call me Zig”

By Richard I. Gibson

C.O. Ziegenfuss is certainly not a common name in Butte history, but he was a renowned newspaperman of the last quarter of the 19th Century. He seemed to follow trouble, and he made the news several times while reporting it.

One of his early assignments, for the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Times, was to cover the June 21, 1877, hangings of activist Irish coal miners—the Molly Maguires. He made his way west within a few years of that event, and was in Butte by 1886, working as editor of the Butte Miner when it was located at 16 W. Broadway, an address that evolved to 27 W. Broadway, in the building that was remodeled in 1906 to house the Butte Floral Company.

During Zig’s short (8-month) tenure as the Miner’s editor, he was nearly murdered there in the newspaper office, on June 23, 1886.

At 5 o'clock this evening a desperate attempt was made to assassinate C. O. Ziegenfuss, editor of the Miner. The would-be murderer is a carpenter named Miller, whose daughter eloped a few days ago from Anaconda with a young fellow named Harrington. Miller pursued the couple to this city and found them occupying an apartment together. He compelled Harrington to marry the girl and then went around town boasting of what he had done. Next morning the Miner contained a brief account of the affair, and in the afternoon Miller visited the newspaper and demanded a retraction. Editor Ziegenfuss told him he would investigate the matter and publish a retraction if one was deserved. Miller went away apparently mollified, but returned later in an intoxicated condition and made a nuisance of himself, generally. This evening he returned again and requested a private interview with the editor, who conducted him to the editorial room, up stairs. When the head of the stairs was reached Miller suddenly grasped Ziegenfuss with one hand and, drawing a pistol with the other, fired at his head. The bullet whistled past its target, and Ziegenfuss and the shootist rolled down the stairs together. In the descent the pistol was dropped and Miller after being severely pummeled by an attache of the business office, was given into custody. A charge of an attempt to kill will be entered against him to-morrow. Mr. Ziegenfuss was not injured in the least by his rough experience, and numerous friends are congratulating him upon his narrow escape. Public feeling is strong against Miller.

That same month, Zig was appointed to lead the New York World’s expedition to Alaska to check out rumors of gold in the territory acquired by the U.S. 20 years earlier, but as far as I can tell that expedition never happened. By 1890, Ziegenfuss was in California, where he soon became known as one of the preeminent newsmen of the West Coast. He served in various editorial and reporting positions at the San Francisco Chronicle, the Calaveras Citizen, San Francisco Post, Stockton Mail, Fresno Republican, Fresno Expositor, San Francisco Examiner, and the Republican of Phoenix.

He made the news in Fresno in 1897 and Calaveras in 1900, both times as the victim of attacks by citizens irate at the way they were treated in his newspapers—but he brushed both off as he had the skirmish in Butte.

By 1902 Zig was editor and proprietor of the Manila American, in the Philippines. He returned to San Francisco in late summer 1902 because he contracted malaria and dysentery in the Philippines; the Manila newspaper was for sale. He was found dead in his hotel room November 6, 1902, asphyxiated because a gas burner was turned full on. Suicide was suspected initially, but the death was ruled accidental. His remains were cremated at the San Francisco Odd Fellows’ crematory and sent to his mother in Pennsylvania; the San Francisco Press Club conducted a memorial in his honor. It was recalled that “he had an inexhaustible fund of good humor, and was at all times considered the best of companions.” In 1895, when he managed the California News Agency on Bush Street in San Francisco, he was quoted as saying "I admit that I have rather a hard name to spell or pronounce, and that is why I encourage my friends in their proclivity to call me 'Zig.' "

Resources: San Francisco Chronicle's special Butte reporter, published in Los Angeles Herald, June 24, 1886 (main quote of Butte story); Engineering & Mining Journal, July 3, 1886; San Francisco Call, Sept. 19, 1895 (source of sketch); San Francisco Call, Nov. 7, Nov. 9, Nov. 12, 1902; Butte Bystander, The Story of Butte, 1897, p. 67; Sanborn maps; city directories.

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