the mine and town of vulture arizona anyox copper and smelter african diamonds of kolmanskop leechtown bc midas gold mine harrison gulch utah potholes gold

Main Listing Page

The Mines & Town Of Butte

Whenever we think of Butte, we tend to think of copper. And rightly so, because Butte is well known as the King of Copper when it comes to copper mining towns. However it never started off that way. Butte actually started out as placer gold camp back in the 1860s after the miners started moving north from California after the big rush there started to die off. Within a few years however the gold ran out and mining slowed down to an almost stand still until the 1870s when some silver was found. Even with the mining of silver the area never saw any real action but around the late 1880s when the country started to get telephones and electricty, that's when things started to get happening. It wasn't so much the silver that attracted the miners, but it was the high copper content of the ores that that drew in the interest and big money and put this place on the map.

By the mid 1880s, Butte had become a major copper producer and by 1896, the mines aroud Butte were producing over 25% of the world’s copper. These mines supplied work for over 8,000 men and by 1917, Butte had a population of over 100,000. Copper ore mined from the Butte mining district in 1910 alone totaled 284,000,000 pounds at the time, Butte was the largest producer of copper in North America and rivaled in worldwide metal production only by South Africa. The same year,in excess of 10,000,000 troy ounces of silver and 37,000 troy ounces of gold were also discovered. The amount of ore produced in the city earned it the nickname "The Richest Hill on Earth."

Immigrants by the thousands came to Butte to work the mines. The largest group of miners were Cornish and Irish that were estimated to be around 20,000 followed by other nationalities. With around 2500 Chinese, Butte was said to have had the largest Chinatown in the all the United states at that time. It wasn't just miners coming to town for though. Merchants and shop keepers along with gamblers and bar owners were quick to monopolize on this copper boom. Of course with thousands of single men, prostitution was big business. Aside from the usual dingy brothels that were common in most mine camps, Butte had it's own high end red light distict called "The Copper Block", that housed many upscale brothels including the famous Dumas Brothel which was owned Joseph and Arthur Nadeau. After many years of operation and several different owners, the Dumas brothel closed in 1982.

Not only did Butte provide wages for many people, it also made a few very rich. Three men in particular, William Clark, Marcus Daly and Augustus Heinze all became known as the copper kings.Clark got his start in Bannack and other gold camps and eventually got into banking. Daly who had connections from his times spent in the mines working the Comstock ended up buying the Anaconda claims and made the Anaconda Company one of the biggest copper mining operations in Butte. Heinze got rich when he built the Montana Ore Purchasing Company. This company offered small mining companies an affordable means of smelting their ores. Heinze also became powerful by using a provision of the General Mining Act of 1872 which allowed a mine owner to mine the outcrops on his claim and follow them underground wherever they went, even if they went beneath the claims of other mine owners.

Butte was home to hundreds of different mines. You can still see dozens of head frames standing throughout the area.

Butte also saw it's share of trouble with labor unrest between unions and mine owners. In 1914, the Anaconda Copper Mining Company ended up being the largest miner in town and Butte then became sort of a one-company town. From then on the Company” called all the shots for everything including wages wages and working conditions. This resulted in the labor riots of 1914 where the mine owners basically got rid of the unions. Labor unrest continued for a few more years and then in 1917 union man Frank Little came to town to help reorganize the union for a strike against the copper companies. However on August 1, 1917, six masked men abducted him and he was later found hung from a railroad bridge. It is said that 10,000 workers lined the streets of Frank Little's funeral procession, which was followed more than 3000 others. That funeral is still the largest ever in the history of Butte.

Then in 1920, company guards gunned down striking miners and seventeen miners were shot as they tried to flee and one miner died. This became known as the Anaconda Road Massacre. Between 1914 and 1920, the National Guard was called on to restore law and order in Butte.

Butte also saw it's share of disasters. On June 8, 1917, a fire broke out in a mine shaft 2000 feet below surface at the Granite Mountain Mine. Fumes and toxic gas spread quickly throughout the mine and by the time the fire was put out 168 miners had died. After that mine disaster, about 15,000 workers abandoned their jobs. It also just so happened that 1917 was the peak year for copper production in the Butte ditrict.

From when the first mines started production, all mining was done underground. One of the more impressive mines was the Mountain Con Mine. It was noted as being a mile high and a mile deep, with a main shaft that reached almost 5300 feet. The mine headframe sat at an elevation of 6,135 feet. The Orphan Girl Mine and the Travona Mine, although not as deep both poduced ore for around 70 odd years. One of the longest runnng mines in the district was the Steward Mine which ran from 1877 to 1973 and went down 4400 Feet in depth.

Then in 1950 the first open pit mine was started. This huge pit was known as the Berkley Pit and became the largest haul truck operated open pit copper mine in the United States. Hundreds of homes had to be demolished and relocated to make way for this great pit. Ths open mine was worked until 1982 when mining was suspended due to low copper prices. When mining ceased, the pit was a mile long and a half mile wide and 1700 feet deep.

From 1880 through to 2000, the mines Butte produced more than 9.6 million tons of copper, 2.1 million tons of zinc, 715 million troy ounces of silver, and 2.9 million troy ounces of gold. There is also said to be around 10,000 miles of old mine tunnels under the city of Butte.

Today Butte has a population of around 35,000 residents. There is still some active mining that goes on in the area. The city hosts a large mining museum that show cases the history of this great copper town. For rock hounds there is the mineral museum and for historians there is a real cool down town. Be sure to check out the Copper King Mansion.