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1919 - Butte

Butte is one of the most interesting places on top of the earth, and is absolutely unique. It is a huge hill crammed full of precious minerals. When mining was begun there it was expected that the rich yield would be only temporary. The miners had to live, however, so "shacks" were built on the hill for their accommodation. The deeper the mines have sunk and the more extensively they have ramified the richer has been the yield, which is to-day at the richest point in its history. The Butte mines yield an average of 300,000,000 pounds of copper annually, besides housing the richest silver deposits in the world, so far as known, together with great quantities of gold. As the yield has continued, more miners' houses have been built upon the hill, until now a city of more than ninety thousand people covers this great ant-hill of activity, which is so honeycombed with mines that it is possible to traverse the entire hill from one end to the other underground.

The smelting which was formerly done in Butte itself, but is now carried on at the town of Anaconda, about a dozen miles away, destroyed with its fumes all vegetation, including the trees on the mountains 'round about. This brown and denuded aspect of death adds weirdly to the general impression as one stands on the height of the hill, which, in the very thick of this mushroom city, prickles with the derricks of the mines like some huge industrial pin-cushion. Far-off, seen through an ever-present haze, are huge snow-covered mountains, the very snow of which seems contaminated by the atmosphere of Butte, which is so ugly that it is positively fascinating.

The Industrial Workers of the World [I.W.W.] was founded in 1905 by Eugene V. Debs, William "Big Bill" Haywood, and others who believed that workers should be organized into a single industrial union because individual trade unions were likely to be pitted against each other during disputes with the employers.

The I. W. W. activities were so effective in this greatest of mining camps as to impede and almost suspend mining operations. This was most serious when it was remembered that every ounce of mineral wealth taken out of the mines was consigned to the United States Government. On June 12, 1917, 14,000 miners in the city of Butte, Mont., went on strike following the loss of two hundred and sixty lives in a fire in the Speculator Mine. The strike was principally for the abolition of the Blacklist and for union control of safety appliances underground. This strike was called and conducted jointly by the I. W. W. and the Independent Miners' Union of that city. The strike was, however, taken up by the I. W. W. miners in Arizona, where 24,000 miners went out. On July 10 nearly a hundred miners at Jerome, Ariz., were taken from their homes early in the morning by the so-called "Loyalty League." They were loaded on cattle cars. The train was headed towards California but was turned back at the state line by the officials of that state. The men were then taken to Presco tt, Ariz., where they were held in jail three weeks before they were released.

On August 1, 1917, IWW organizer Frank Little was taken forcibly from his boarding house in Butte, Montana, and was lynched from a railroad trestle. In the summer of 1917, Frank had been helping to organize copper workers in a strike against the Anaconda Copper Company, but it was most likely his stand against World War I that so infuriated his assassins. He argued that all working men should refuse to join the army and fight on behalf of their capitalist oppressors.

In Butte the influence of the IWW declined with the failure of a strike in February 1919, which was broken by troops and special deputies after only 11 days. A detachment of the 21st Infantry arrived on 23 April 1920 from Fort Wright, near Spokane, Wash., for duty in the Butte district, and a speedy collapse of the I.W.W. strike was predicted. The shooting of fifteen of the I. W. W'. pickets had a sobering on the spirits of the strikers. Following the receipt of advices from the War Department that Federal troops were coming to Butte, the mining companies announced that all mines would reopen, directing the miners to report and promising there would be adequate protection. Of the fifteen wounded fourteen are foreign born.

Montana had so managed its labor troubles, however, that the mines were running full blast. The minimum wage was $5.50 a day, while the average wage of miners was said to be between $9.00 and $10.00. The managers of the mines of Butte plumed themselves on the patriotism of the miners. Four companies (the Anaconda, the Butte-Superior, the East Butte, and the Davis-Daly mines) made a drive for the "War Chest," spending on the expense of the speakers, etc., an amount equivalent to seventeen cents a ton on 125,000 tons of ore - this at least was the Anaconda figure; with the result that 98 per cent of the miners of these four companies subscribed to the War Chest.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:21:26 Zulu