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Operation Butte Freedom, 1914

When Governor Samuel Venus Stewart Declared Martial Law in Montana

by JACKIE CORR

A familiar expression in the homes and on the streets of Butte is this: "Duncan was the best Mayor we ever had." Lewis Duncan was elected to office by the vote of the working people. Duncan was then re-elected to office by the vote of the working people. He accomplished things beneficial to the people, that were never accomplished by any Mayor before or since. He was "true blue," he was honest, he was fearless. Because he stood for what was right he was persecuted, he was maligned: he was ousted from office. That was a long time ago but the people of Butte have not forgotten.

-Charles Hausworth, Butte Mayor, October 30, 1936

Today my political scalp decorates the wigwam of the Amalgamated, but my record is clean and my spirit unquenched.

- Butte’s Socialist Mayor Lewis Duncan upon his removal from office by Judge Roy Ayers in a courtroom filled with armed state militia. October 6, 1914

There does not seem to be any reason but the desires of the Amalgamated for martial law and the troops in Butte.".

- Joseph Dixon, The Missoulian, September 11, 1914

In 1911 the Reverend Lewis J. Duncan, a Unitarian minister and Socialist Party secretary, was elected mayor of Butte by a landslide, winning more votes then his Democratic and Republican opponents combined. The Socialists also elected every one of their candidates for city office plus five of their nine candidates for aldermen. In my opinion Duncan made the best mayor Butte has ever had, as far as honesty was concerned. It was generally admitted there was no graft or corruption when the Socialists were in office.

- Burton K. Wheeler, Yankee from the West

On April 3, 1911, Socialist Lewis Duncan was elected mayor of Butte, Montana. With Duncan, a municipal judge and city treasurer, as well as six other party members were elected to office. Two years later the Butte Socialist Party repeated the 1911 victory. By 1914, the Amalgamated (later Anaconda) Copper Company decided Butte needed to be tamed and the right people placed in political office. The Montana newspapers then discovered the dreaded "Wobblies."

Suddenly Butte and Montana were in a grave crisis and facing great danger due to a growing number of fantastic IWW plots Future Montana U.S. Senator Burton K. Wheeler would remember it as a time when "the Anaconda Standard was seeking to alarm the public with rumors of a coming invasion by the IWW. One story, fantastic as it sounds, was that a marauding band of IWW’s, apparently 3000 strong and more bloodthirsty then any war party of Indians, was heading toward Butte out of northeast Montana."

So Governor Sam Stewart sent the state militia into Butte to restore law and order and bust up the miner’s union while naming the notorious warden-gangster and Sixth Floor triggerman, Frank Conley s provost marshal.

Following the martial law declaration, the entire force of the Montana National Guard was sent to Butte from Helena by armored train courtesy of Jim Hill and the Great Northern railroad. Upon departure, and with great ceremony, the troops and their mission were blessed by a Catholic priest representing Helena’s Bishop John Carroll, a loyal corporate servant and right-wing reactionary. And so they came, with field artillery, gatling guns and internationally outlawed dum-dum bullets. In Butte they would be assisted by 300 or so "special deputies" or "gunmen" of the Amalgamated Copper Company.

Filled with patriotism and Americanism, the armed troops reached Butte. The mission, which we might call the 1914 version of "Operation Butte Freedom," was to restore democracy and law and order in the mining city. Instead the invading army found Butte quiet and peaceful. As they marched around the city, the soldiers were greeted not with cheers but with the quiet stares of unarmed miners and a silent and unfriendly population. No flowers were thrown in their path and there were no cries of celebration and welcome. To make things worse, the militia arrogantly seized the brand new Silver Bow County Courthouse turning it into a combined barracks and stables for the officer’s horses. The horses had already been provided by the Amalgamated.

Incredible as it may seem, the fact that Butte was tranquil brought about a new explanation for the invasion. Butte was now to be saved from the I.W.W. . . With the militia came the notorious Frank Conley, brought in by the Amalgamated as provost marshal or military commander of Butte. The 1914 Conley would have been comfortable in present day Iraq. "Big Frank," warden of the state prison as well as the mayor of Deer Lodge, was a real busy man and a legitimate gangster in his own right. Conley had his fingers in every racket imaginable, the liquor and beer business, drugs, women, the Deer Lodge water company as well as outright owner of large chunks of Deer Lodge real estate. In addition, there were a dozen or more convict construction companies and a lucrative racket in renting out convict labor as well as sharp practice of charging the state for non-existent services and goods.

Conley was called to Butte by no less then Captain D’Gay Stivers who ran the Amalgamated’s very efficient state-wide intelligence service and secret police. At Butte city hall, Conley fired all the Socialist party employees including a socialist policeman named Ivan Lincoln. (In February of 1915, Lincoln would be found shot to death, a killing that many thought was the work of Stivers and Conley.) Conley also had much of the Socialist administration’s records and correspondence hauled away and burned.

An ambitious man with no scruples, the warden appointed himself as newspaper censor of Silver Bow County, a moved aimed at the Socialist press. But when he banned and then seized a Sunday edition of THE MISSOULIAN at the railroad station, Conley clashed with former senator and future governor Joseph Dixon. The paper had been asking serious questions as to the purpose of the troops in the quiet city. Another Amalgamated enforcer, this one a district judge (and future Montana governor) from Lewiston named Roy Ayers also arrived. Ayers was well known in Montana as "Whiskey Roy, " his hard earned nickname.

The plan was to take the mayor as well as the sheriff Tim Driscoll out of office. But the corporate mob couldn’t do it with a jury in Silver Bow County. And it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to kidnap Duncan and Driscoll take them up to Helena where the Amalgamated always found friendly juries. So what the legal department of the Amalgamated did was make up a law to be enforced by Ayers.

Then, to give this imaginary legality some basis, they had the Butte Chamber of Commerce file a citizen’s complaint against mayor Duncan and Driscoll stemming from the destruction of the Miner’s Union Hall back in June. Not that Duncan and Driscoll had anything to do with the riot or the destruction of the hall. The charges were that they could have prevented it. Then Ayers spent three days in a courtroom guarded by the state militia listening to testimony.

On the fourth day, October 6, 1914, "Whiskey Roy" removed Mayor Duncan and Sheriff Driscoll from office based on non-existent laws or statutes. All in all, a good example of what you can do legally when you have martial law, censorship, and heavily-armed soldiers marching around with field artillery, gatling guns and outlawed dum-dum bullets.

A few years later Silver Bow County Sheriff Larry Duggan recalled the events of 1914:

"In 1914, the Amalgamated called into Butte the state militia through the orders of the putty governor. Already in place was an army of Pinkertons and stool-pigeons operating to create trouble and to poison the minds of the workers against one another while arousing suspicion and distrust. Through the courts – if we may call them such – Tim Driscoll was ousted from the office from Sheriff. Lewis J. Duncan, mayor of Butte, and the only mayor who was ever elected a second time, was also ousted out of office. Conley, warden of the penitentiary, was given the position of provost marshal and threw all the city employees into the street, bag and baggage. The state militia seized the new courthouse, a building that had cost the citizens three-quarters of a million dollars to build, then turned it into a barracks and a stables for the horses loaned to the officers of the militia by Con Kelley and the Amalgamated. At that time, as at the present, thousands of the best workers and citizens were driven out of Butte by starvation and the blacklist system. Since then, through corruption and stealth, the Industrial Kaisers have stolen one election after another. Men have been killed and murdered without a single person being sent to the penitentiary. This is only one part of the over-riding of our laws by those who know no law but that of pistols, black-jacks, high-powered rifles and sawed-off shotguns as was shown a short while ago on the Anaconda Road."

The above author, Larry Duggan, Butte’s famous mortician was elected sheriff of Silver Bow County twice during the 1920′s. Like the earlier Socialists, he ordered the corporate gunmen "behind the fence,." meaning inside the mineyards. Duggan also gained some fame during the nationwide resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and 100 percent Americanism movement of the 1920′s by issuing a statement that "should the Klan attempt any of their time-honored activities in Silver Bow County, they are to be shot down like wolves." As for Lewis Duncan, who had arrived as Butte’s first Unitarian minister in 1902, we know little of his life after 1914. Duncan died in Rochester, Minnesota on January 24, 1936, at the age of 78.


How "WHISKEY ROY" Ayers earned his nickname.

Burton Wheeler described a civil case in 1920 and what he found upon entering the judge’s chambers. "I found Judge Ayers half-drunk and asked him where the instructions to the jury were and he said they were on his desk.. When I looked on the desk I found the instructions were missing, Apparently the defendants or friends of theirs had stolen the instruction while plying the judge with liquor."

JACKIE CORR lives in Butte, Montana. He can be reached at: jcorr@bigskyhsd.com