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3. Life in Butte
 

 


Dublin Gulch

 

"They've got cars Big as bars They've got rivers of gold
But the wind goes right through you It's no place for the old"
Shane McGowan

So in late August 1915, the boarding house at 67, East Copper Street, Butte was home to Henry J. and several of his friends from Kilkeel and the surrounding villages. East Copper Street was in an area of Butte known as “Dublin Gulch". This was a pitifully poor area of town that was home to many Irish immigrants who worked the mines. Living conditions in the area were extremely difficult, with many back-to-back buildings crowded into small spaces.  Little did two of the lodgers Henry J. Doyle and Patrick Joseph Rogers know that their lives and that of their families would be intertwined in a few years time by an unforeseen marriage back in Ireland.

 

Dublin Gulch - The waste land between the buildings, shown in the photograph is the site of 67 E. Copper St. Miners of Mourne, Mourne Mountains, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, mining in Butte, Montana. The waste land between the buildings, shown in the photograph is the site of 67 E. Copper St. Photograph taken by Suzanne Andrews, February 2003.
   
To Henry J. and his companions from Mourne, Butte will have seemed an enormous and crowded city oddly nestled in the middle of vast open space. In 1916, the city was home to almost 100,000 residents and represented the largest urban centre between Minneapolis and Seattle. Quite a contrast to the fishing villages nestled at the base on the Mourne Mountains, which the men had left.

 

Main St.  Looking North, Butte, Montana  .
Courtesy of Joy Fisher of the MT Penny Post Card Archives       

 

Main St.  Looking North, Butte, Montana. Miners of Mourne, Mourne Mountains, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, mining in Butte, Montana.
 
Butte was and always had been a mining town. It had been born during a gold rush of the 1860s, and was given a second lease on life with a silver strike in the 1870s. Then, in 1881, 300 feet below the ground, miners discovered the largest deposit of copper the world had ever seen and Butte became “The Richest Hill on Earth.”
Inventions such as the telephone, automobile, typewriter, and airplane and the recent widespread introduction of electricity, would have given Henry and all new arrivals a feeling of optimism for their future. An example of the feel-good factor of American society is demonstrated by the fact that Henry Ford had just produced and sold his one millionth automobile. At the time Butte had been described asIreland’s Fifth Province” and “the city the Irish would have built if the English had said build a city of your own design and consider money to be no object”. Beyond that, similarities with their homeland were rare.

Geographically Butte had little in common with Co. Down. Situated high in the Northern Rockies beside the Continental Divide, 600 miles from the coast, Butte remained frozen in winter by sub-zero temperatures and Arctic winds, and baked in summer by withering heat with little rain. Without doubt, it was a hard life in a hard land. But Henry J. and his friends will have found one reference point — the presence of so many people they knew from back home.  The preference of the ‘Copper King’ Marcus Daly whose entrepreneurial skills had in 1881 established the Anaconda had been to employ fellow Irishmen. The result of this was that the overwhelming majority of Butte miners were Irish. At the turn of the century, no one would argue that the Irish ruled Butte.

The extremes in the physical environment were mirrored by extremes of wealth and poverty.  The “Company”, as everyone referred to the Anaconda Copper Company, dominated the town and indeed the state of Montana.  A gigantic smokestack, said to be the largest on earth, dominated the skyline, belching smoke 24-hours a day.  In its shadow Henry J. and his fellow workers will have risen each day before descending into one of the two thousand miles of mines that tunneled through the Butte Mountains.  Above ground, the city resembled a moonscape, barren of flora and fauna. Where the buffalo had once roamed, the air had become inhospitable with sulphur and arsenic fumes rising from ore being roasted in the open. Oftentimes,  the streetlights would have to remain lit all day as the soot bellowing out of the smelters would plunge the city into darkness.  How Henry J. and his companions must have missed the sea breezes and salty air of home.
 
 

Up Contents 1. The Arrival 2. The Immigrant 3. Life in Butte 4. Bucket of Blood 5. Life in the Mines 6. 1916 7. Speculator Mine 8. WOBBLIES 9. St. Patrick's Day 10. The Wedding Sources Reader's Comments

 
 

 

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