This story is not designed as a definitive account of the part played in the industrial history of the United States of America by the people of the ancient kingdom of Mourne in County Down, Ireland. I have attempted to bring back to life something of their world and struggles set in the background of a few tumultuous years in one Industry, and in in one city of this fair land of the United States of America. While many of their bones may lie without public recognition, with those of other immigrants from other lands, in a graveyard filled not with the common span of humanity, but with the young victims of uncontrolled exploitation and hardship, I felt it important to leave some testimony of them.
This I felt qualified to do by relating something of the history of my paternal grandfather, Henry Joseph Doyle. In his lifetime, from 1878 to 1965, he played out his allotted role as dreamer, patriot, adventurer, romantic, and above all honorable Irishman. His life spanned the age of oil lamps to television, from a day out to the next village on a horse drawn bus, as a middle class honeymoon, to the age of interplanetary space exploration. At the time of his birth his own Christian names demonstrate the submergence of Ireland into the Anglo-dominated world where the sun could not physically set on the Empire. He lived through world revolutions and two World Wars to see his native land re-emerge as a proud Republic and member of the European Community and the United Nations.
Politicians and establishments may subvert at times the path of behavior and idealistic concepts of any country and the ambitions of its people. I maintain the intertwined history and establishment of our two republics cannot be separated from the sojourns of the Irish here and the presence of their descendants. Their particular character and ambitions while of no more intrinsic value than that of any other race, is I feel never-the-less one, one from which I take fierce personal pride.
Lawrenceville, New Jersey, USA.
The Arrival - From Mourne to Montana
On July 10, 1915, my Grandfather, Henry J. Doyle from Kilkeel boarded the SS Tuscania in Glasgow for the nine day crossing to New York arriving at Ellis Island on July 19, 1915. Henry J. traveled as a steerage passenger and gave his final destination as Butte City, Montana. He was already in possession of a ticket to Butte and of $30. The ship manifest for the SS Tuscania, records Henry as being healthy, 5’10” tall with a fair complexion and brown hair. He gave his occupation as "seaman". His place of birth was recorded as Kilkeel, Ireland. Mrs. Doyle, of Newcastle St., Kilkeel was listed as his next-of-kin in Ireland. This was Anne Doyle (nee Quinn), the widower of James Doyle who had died nine years previously. This was Henry’s first trip to America and he stated that he was going to see his friend John Rooney who was already living in Butte City.
John Rooney, (son of Patrick Rooney from Moneydarragh), had sailed from Liverpool a month earlier on the SS Saint Paul arriving in New York on June 13, 1915. John gave his final destination as the residence of his cousin John McCarten at 67, East Copper St., Butte, Montana. John McCarten had traveled to the United States three years earlier with his friend Joseph Chambers (son of Hugh Chambers, from Glassdrummon) on the SS Caledonia arriving in New York on April 1, 1912.
Researching the Ellis Island records reveals that Henry J. and his friends had plenty of company from other young men from Kilkeel and Annalong who had made the trip to the mines of Butte.
Eight years previously, in September 1907 Hugh and Andrew McConnell along with their cousin Robert Burden headed to Butte to stay with Robert’s brother. Then on September 25, 1908, Joseph Maginn crossed the Atlantic and resided with his cousin Hugh McConnell. Joseph Maginn, in turn, sent money home for his 21-year old nephew Patrick Joseph Rogers to join him in 1914. Patrick joined his Uncle at the boarding house at 67, East Copper St., Butte, Montana.
A few weeks after Henry J. traveled to the United States, a cousin of John Rooney followed in his footsteps. James Rooney, (son of Patrick Rooney from Ballymartin), arrived in New York aboard the SS Saint Paul on August 07, 1915. He too was heading for 67, East Copper Street and work in the Butte mines.
Life in Butte - Dublin Gulch
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.
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 center between Minneapolis and Seattle. Quite a contrast to the fishing villages nestled at the base on the Mourne Mountains, which the men had left.
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. At the time Butte had been described as “Ireland’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 distinct similarity — the people they knew back home. The legacy left by ‘Copper King’ Marcus Daly, whose preference to employ fellow Irishmen as workers became widely known meant that the overwhelming majority of Butte miners were Irish. At the turn of the century, 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.
Bucket of Blood – Social Life in Butte
As a diversion to the drudgery of daily life, the miners of Butte sought out any and every sort of entertainment when the day’s work was done. Butte was the scene of more bars than almost any city in the United States, with such colorful establishments as The Alley Cat, Bucket of Blood, the Cesspool, the Graveyard, and Pay Day, all beckoning the thirsty miner is search of a good time. Many workers believed that the “standard boilermaker”, a shot of whiskey and glass of beer, helped clean and relax lungs full of smelter gases and smoke. Henry’s son Malachy, now a resident of Newcastle, Co. Down, remembers his father’s exciting tales of time spent in the ‘Bucket of Blood’ saloon which dispensed "buckets o' booze" until the saloon was reeling with inebriates, and many a miner lost a day's wages over a game of poker. Unlike the rest of Montana, Butte's bars stayed open 24 hours a day to satisfy miners with cash to spend.
Henry J. was also an active member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). The early AOH in America often provided a monetary stipend to immigrants who arrived as members in good standing from the Irish Order, and also assistance in obtaining jobs and social services. It is likely that Henry J. and others from Kilkeel and Annalong benefited from this service. The Hibernian Hall will have provided a meeting place for Henry J. and his compatriots to enjoy traditional Irish music and dance. Irish interests and politics were fostered and preserved in the AOH Hall, providing for many a home away from home.
The Church also provided a meeting place and social outlet for the miners of Butte. The Irish brought Catholicism with them to Butte and wore it proudly, even referring to waste rock as "Protestant ore"
Life in the Mines – Working Life in Butte
Prior to 1915, miners looking for work simple turned-up and were hired on the spot as needed. By the time Henry J. arrived a more formal system of recruitment was in place. The Company hired “Shift Bosses” who in turn were responsible for hiring the daily workers. Naturally an Irish shift boss would give preference to his friends and fellow countrymen. It’s possible that by 1915 the McConnell brothers, the Burdens, John McCarten and Joseph Chambers had established themselves as shift bosses thereby ensuring work for Henry J. and the later arrivals from Mourne.
When Henry J arrived in Butte, there were over 14,500 miners working on rotating shifts around the clock compared to 2,000 miners in 1883. However, all was not how it may have first appeared. Miners’ salaries had not increased at the same ferocious rate as their numbers. The demand for increased production, “to get the rock in the box” was met with unskilled immigrants like Henry J. and his friends who were assigned to the most dangerous tasks. Henry J. was probably earning between $3.50 and $4.00 a day for this work, the same wage that was paid in 1878. The price of copper, however, had risen dramatically from 8 cents a pound in 1878 to around 20 cents a pound by 1914.
Conditions in the mines were atrocious. All men worked steadily, 12 hours a day, toward one goal - to take as much ore as possible from the mines 4,000 feet below the surface. It was the most dangerous job in America. In the dark airless tunnels, temperatures stayed above 90 degrees all year round. When miners went above ground, in winter, their bodies soaked in sweat, bodies were plunged into sub-zero temperatures. There was the perpetual threat of silicosis, from breathing-in dust which hadn’t any oxygen pumped into it. The polluted air tore at the miners’ lungs and led thousands to die prematurely from pneumonia and tuberculosis. There was the constant risk of mine collapse, fire and electrocution. Five miners were electrocuted in 1915 alone and mortuary records reveal 65 accidental deaths in 1916. If a man lived to be 40-years old, he was considered an old man in Butte. Against this backdrop it is not unsurprising that many miners felt antagonism towards the Company and to the bosses that lived in luxurious mansions in the town and in neighboring Helena, which at one time harbored more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation.
1916 – News from Home
Butte mining was synonymous with ‘Unions’. Numerous unions made their home in Butte. As early as 1878, Butte workers unionized forming the Butte Miners Union #1. This Union evolved into the Western Federation of Miners (WMF) with one-third of national membership hailing from Butte. An annual Miner’s Union Day picnic became an opportunity for union members and their families to celebrate and was complete with drilling competitions and other similar contests. A ‘sour note’ to union prosperity played out about 1912. The Company issued ‘rustling cards’ to prospective new hires. If you didn’t have a card, you couldn’t be hired. Of course, the Company controlled who received the cards and, thus, kept out those it deemed undesirable. Throughout and beyond Henry’s time in Butte, the Company and the unions had an uneasy relationship and each would persist in testing the strength of the other.
Henry J. may have had some forewarning of the situation in Butte. It’s possible that news reached Ireland of the events of June 13, 1914. The day of the annual celebration of Miner’s Union Day a bitter battle broke out between opposing Unions. A crowd ransacked the Butte Miner’s Union Hall after their own parade had erupted into a riot. Accusing WFM leaders of election fraud and collusion with the copper companies, the insurgents blew up the Union Hall, leading Montana’s governor to send in the state militia to restore order. While the city was under martial law, company officials withdraw union recognition, leaving miners on both sides of the dispute without job protection. So by the time Henry J. reached the mines of Butte, the era of the closed shop had ended.
1916 brought news from home. In July, James Larkin arrived in town to speak to the miners about the “Rising”, when on April 24; Pádraig Pearse had stood on the steps of the General Post Office in Dublin and declared Ireland a Republic. Thousands came out to listen to Larkin and undoubtedly Henry J. and his co-workers would have been among the crowd. Larkin, who was reared by his grandparents in Newry, Co. Down may have perhaps recognized the Mourne dialect as he mingled among the crowd. Then in late October Henry will have received the sad news that his mother had died on October 21, and was buried in the family plot in Massforth graveyard, Kilkeel.
Spectator Mine – Disasters, Strikes and Spies
Almost two year after Henry J. had been in America and two months after the United States joined World War I, one of the deadliest disasters in mining history occurred. With the war industries clamoring for copper, every mine in Butte was working at full capacity. Demand for copper was at its peak as every rifle cartridge contained an ounce of pure copper. Among the mines aiding the war effort was the big Speculator, with close to 2,000 miners employed on two shifts. On that fateful June night, a group of men descended in the Spectator Mine to inspect an electrical cable that had fallen loose. When the assistant foreman accidentally touched his carbide lamp to the frayed paraffin paper that wrapped the cable, it caught fire. The fire and deadly smoke quickly fanned through the stopes and shafts of the well-ventilated mine to connecting mines. Over four hundred men were trapped underground as flame and smoke filled the shafts. Within an hour, an estimated 163 perished by suffocation or burning and miraculously 247 men escaped, 25 due to the heroic act of Manus Duggan who gave his life for his fellow workers. The North Butte Mining Company estimated damage to the mine at a million dollars.
The facts surrounding the fire and the possibility that it may have been started deliberately, even an accurate account of the casualties continues to be debated. One undisputable fact was the shock felt by Butte and the world. With almost 38 countries now represented in Butte, it is perhaps not surprising that ethnic fighting erupted as men tried to grapple with their anger and grief. The Irish, who had previously ruled supreme, were infuriated by the arrival of the Finns, Slavs and Turks who were prepared to work for lower wages. Suspicion was directly towards the Finns that they had been in some way responsible for the fire at the Spectacular mine.
Following the disaster a new union arose, literally, a phoenix from the ashes. Disgruntled miners, metal workers and smelter workers formed a Metal Mine Workers’ Union to lobby the Company for improved working conditions, better wages and abolition of the ‘rustling card’ and “blacklisting” – the firing of workers for union membership. To its cost, the Company totally ignored the efforts of these desperate men. While funerals for the miners were still taking place, almost 20,000 men walked out of the copper mines of Montana.
The war effort brought work to Butte, but with it other fearsome consequences. Stories of German spies were common, and there was much talk about a possible attack from German aircraft. There were all kinds of sightings of the airborne Hun, and the newspapers ran stories that the hills of Montana were crawling with the Kaiser’s legions. The immigrant miners were caught up in this hysteria, much of it based on ethnicity, the Irish came under particular scrutiny, on account of alleged pro-German sympathies. Fueled by the general strike and the spreading frenzy of world war, a palpable atmosphere of anarchy swept over Butte.
WOBBLIES - The Lynching of Little
Reporting on the strike, the Company-controlled press reported that there were no worker grievances and that pro-German influence had caused the strike. The Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W), which was labeled antiwar, socialistic, and pro-German, provided a convenient scapegoat.
On July 18, 1917, Frank Little, an organizer for the I.W.W., arrived in Butte. “The Wobblies” had set its sights on bringing Butte’s miners into the “One Big Union.” The radical ideas of the I.W.W, including the belief that workers should take control of the means of production, naturally made the Company very nervous. The I.W.W embraced less-restrictive membership policies than other unions and was one of the few unions that had accepted Irish immigrant workers to its membership. I believe that Henry J. and some of his compatriots were in fact members of the now infamous “Wobblies”. Butte erupted into a battlefield with non-union members pitted against union members and unions fighting each other. Labor strikes were commonplace. The “Gibraltar of Unionism” was in fractured pieces. Little’s arrival served to fan the flames of discontent.
The “Draft” was introduced that summer, and proved unpopular in Butte for a variety of reasons. German, Serb, Croat, and Italian immigrants were reluctant to return to Europe to fight against their own. Many Irish immigrants, most likely including Henry J. and his friends from Kilkeel, loathed the idea of dying to defend the British. This all added to the antagonism that already existed towards the Irish miners.
Against this troubled backdrop, Frank Little gave public speeches telling the miners that the war was a conflict that should be left to the capitalists who started it to finish. Workers, he argued, had more in common with each other, regardless of their nationality. The I.W.W opposed United States participation in the conflict and was vocal in their argument. Speaking before large crowds of miners, Little referred to President Woodrow Wilson a “lying tyrant” and denounced US soldiers as “scabs in uniform.” This proved to be free speech at it’s most costly! These were not tolerant times in Montana and Little had picked the wrong time and place to incite dissent and to encourage what the Company-backed newspapers called “acts of sedition”. In the middle of the night on August 1, 1917, just two weeks after his arrival in Butte, six men arrived at Little’s boarding house. They identified themselves as officers, abducted Little from his room. Henry J. recounted the horrific tale to his son Malachy how Little was savagely beaten, dragged behind a car with a rope, and then hanged from a railroad trestle on city’s edge.
A note: "Others take notice …..first and last warning 3-7-77 " was pinned to Frank Little's chest. It was an old Montana vigilante warning. 3-7-77 were the required measurements for a gravesite.
No serious attempt was ever made by the police to catch his murderers. Although Burton K. Wheeler, then a federal attorney, condemned the affair as “a damnable outrage,” no one was ever prosecuted for the lynching of Frank Little. That didn't mean that the perpetrators were unknown. Although never proven, many believe that the key suspects were agents of the "Company". The theory being that by inciting the striking miners to riot, Company agents could literally shoot rioting miners and drive them back to work.
The Helena Independent reported the event.
"Good work! Let them continue to hang every I.W.W. in the state. The time has come. It is beyond the comprehension of the average citizen why the war department has not ordered certain leaders arrested and shot. The people will not stand for much more."
The lynching of Frank Little was in the context of extensive, protracted, and brutal repression levied against the “Wobblies” by Company gunmen, state and local vigilantes, and increasingly by the Federal Government. Perhaps Henry J. joined the crowd of several thousand mourners that turned Little’s funeral procession into an antiwar protest. Not all Miners subscribed to Little's radical message, but all were uniformly outraged at the way the messenger was so brutally silenced.
Infuriated by Little's murder, the miners rallied to press their strike against the Company. The authorities responded by employing federal troops to occupy Butte and drive the I.W.W. from the mines. Soon, federal and state laws were cracking down on all activities deemed detrimental to the nation's war effort. Strikes and anti-war speeches were specifically targeted. After Little's murder, virtually everyone who ever knew him scurried for cover as America's most shameful repression of a labor organization began. Any connection with Frank Little was worth a beating, a prison sentence, or deportation. If times had been bad for Henry J., they had just got worst!
St. Patrick’s Day
In the spring of 1918, Henry J. and his friends bore witness to another pivotal moment in Butte history. A Butte Irish organization, the Pearse-Connolly Club, had organized a parade to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day scheduled for Sunday, March 17, 1918. The club named after Pádraig Pearse and James Connolly, was thought by many to be connected with the Socialist Party and the I.W.W. Consequently, the Mayor of Butte refused a permit for the parade and issued an order “forbidding the parade, and further, to make this order permanent during the period of the present war, with the exception of strictly patriotic parades and demonstrations.” Mayor Maloney also ordered the chief of police to use whatever force necessary to make his order effective. At 4 o’clock, the parade began and attracted thousands of spectators. Immediately, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and federal troops began to arrest the marchers. Riots erupted throughout the neighborhood. The crowd was moved-on by soldiers carrying loaded rifles fixed with bayonets. At one point a mob burst out of a saloon and attacked a soldier. When the crowd surged around him he fired a shot into the air and began scattering them with his bayonet. Martial law prevailed until the saloons were closed and the streets cleared. 54 men were arrested for “plotting against the U.S. Government.” I.W.W cards were found on five of the men arrested.
According to news reports the AOH cancelled their participation in the parade but had a "social and solemn observance of the day."
In 1918 the Federal Government amended the Espionage Act prohibiting political strikes that interfered with the war effort. Congress approved laws against enemy aliens authorizing the arrest and deportation of any alien who was a member of the I.W.W. In order to root out subversion, the FBI and U.S. military engaged in systematic spying directed at the labor unions and political activities of Butte miners. The Company, of course, was happy to assist in their endeavors.
As the world welcomed 1919, the War was over but peace did not come to Butte. Declining demand for copper brought a wage cut of $1 a day for Henry J. and his colleagues. Butte responded in the only way it knew how – another strike! To break the strike the Governor called in the 44th U.S. Infantry. February 10, 1919 was another bloody day in Butte as the soldiers bayonet nine strikers. Enough was enough! Henry and his compatriots had to leave Butte. In convoy, they managed to escape Montana and sailed home on a troop ship from the port of San Francisco.
The Wedding – A New Year – A New Life
On December 30, 1919 he married a local farmer’s daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Rogers, from Moneydarragh. As Henry J. entered his first year of marriage and his new life - time was running out for the miners of Butte.
Perhaps as he sat with Sarah Elizabeth, in their home on Newcastle St., Kilkeel he read of the strike that resulted in the "Bloody Wednesday" massacre of April 21, 1920. The riot and the killings took place on Anaconda Road, just yards from Henry’s old boarding house on East Copper St. Finally in May 1920, the Company banned I.W.W. members from the mines. Signs were posted that read
"No member of I.W.W. will be employed at this property."
Sarah’s brother, Patrick Joseph Rogers, who had worked and boarded with Henry J. in Butte, chose to stay in the United States. After quitting the mine, he headed to the Ford Motor Car Company in Detroit, Michigan. But that’s another story for another time………..
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