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When Harry Truman Stopped in Butte

“I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he’d taken a poll in Egypt.”

Harry Truman

“There is a housing bill in the interests of the whole country and not just in the interests of the real estate lobby. That bill passed the Senate three times. It even passed this Senate by the help of a lot of good men in there who knew what they were doing. It has been shelved in the House and it is still shelved, and the poor man is still going to be out of housing and the veteran is going to be out of housing because he can’t afford to pay the prices that are on now, because the prices have gone out of sight, just as they have for food and clothing.”

Harry Truman, June 8, 1948, Butte, Montana

With Butte yelling “give em hell,” Truman could say he was only telling the truth and the Republicans thought it was hell.

On September 9 1948, national pollster Elmo Roper noted Republican candidate for president, Thomas Dewey led Harry Truman 44 to 31 percent. Roper added he would discontinue polling the presidential race as the result was a foregone conclusion. Thomas Dewey would be the next president.

But what Roper did not realize was that on the afternoon of June 8, 1948, Harry Truman’s train stopped in Butte . The Butte stop was just that, a stop. Nobody at the time considered it of any real importance. Truman was on his way to Spokane and Seattle. A short ride through Butte from the railroad station on Front Street and a brief speech at old Naranche Stadium would do it.

From the depot, the Truman car went up Utah past St. Joseph’s Church and then on to Arizona St. passing the Silver Bow Homes. Reaching the uptown district, the car paraded on Broadway and Park Streets. It then preceded down Wyoming and past what remained of Butte’s once notorious red-light district. Here Truman entered the stadium, next to the Butte High School, from the east.

He was escorted by an honor guard of the Butte Miner’s Union. The miners wore their ceremonial uniforms, good for Miner’s Union Day or funerals, which were new bib overalls, white shirts and ties, the distinctive miner’s cap and lantern, and the emblems and badges of the Butte union.

In the car with Truman were Congressman Mike Mansfield, a former Butte miner, and Butte resident, U.S. Senator James Murray.

Harry Truman, later recollected that he was shocked and surprised by what would happen in Butte.

Truman, who would later return to Butte on two different occasions, was visibly moved and those close to him thought that upon arriving at Naranche Stadium he was close to tears.

Newspaper reporters traveling on the train said Truman left Butte visibly happy and with a new energy. The crowds and the reception at the stadium had fueled Truman’s legendary determination and fight.

Upon leaving Front Street, the Truman car was nearly swallowed by the men, women and children of that boisterous working class Butte of 1948. The street crowd up to the stadium was estimated at 40,000 spirited people. Inside the stadium were another 10,000 supporters. Many of those on the street route then surrounded the stadium to cheer Truman on.

And the people of Butte (and Anaconda, I might add) had a common bond with Truman. Butte and Truman both knew who the Republican “sons of a bitches” were. In 1948 Butte and Harry Truman were a match made in heaven.

The President’s speech began at 8:45 p.m. in the Naranche Memorial Stadium in Butte

When Truman was finally seated at the stadium, the Butte High band played the Tiger Rag, the Missouri Waltz. Then Truman made a request. “You know what I think? I think it would be a fine thing if your band would play just one more piece before I have to speak.”

The Butte High band then performed a long marching version of Sousa’s “Stag and Stripes Forever.”

Truman then thanked the crowd.

“I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I am at the welcome you gave me this afternoon on the streets. In Kansas City, which is a suburb of my old hometown, I have never had such a welcome. There are only two other places that I know of to compare with it; one was at Mexico City and at Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil.”

Tonight, Harry Truman was where he didn’t have to make any deals, where there would be no Max Baucus nonsense about being bi-partisan, where he didn’t have to give reassurances to a civic elite, and where there would be no praising of Wall Street and the bankers. With Butte yelling “give em hell,” Truman could say he was only telling the truth and the Republicans thought it was hell.

So in Butte he called the Republican Congress, with it’s hatred of working class America, the “worst congress in history.”

And he talked about housing, about how so many people lacked a decent place to live and that something should be done about it. And Harry Truman said “we need a housing bill in the interest of the whole country and not just the real estate lobby.” The crowd roared.

And he talked about price controls, about real regulation and the public good as opposed to deregulation and the corrupt congress. In Truman’s view prices controls had been released too quickly and ” we now had prices so arranged that the people who have a lot of money can get anything they want and those who are denouncing government controls (regulation) are the people who control the things we buy and the everyday man an woman can go hang.”

And in Butte he made a prediction, that sad to say, has mostly come true. The president brought up the subject of what he called the “notorious Taft-Hartley Act and how the Republican Congress had almost abolished the Labor Department.” He warned the crowd that “there is going to come a time when there are no labor unions unless we do something about it”.

Truman ended his speech with a defense of government and the legacy of the New Deal.

“They have been telling you a lot of things about your President, that he doesn’t know what goes on, that he can’t handle the Government. It seems to me that it has run pretty well for the last 3 years. Everybody has got something to eat, and has got a little more money in his pocket–more than he ever had before. Business has been the best in the history of the country.”

“There is more money on deposit in the banks, and the banks are not going to blow up in your face like they used to. That is one thing you can be proud of.”

Most of the people in the crowd at Naranche Stadium remembered the banks blowing up in their faces. The Great Depression and the hapless Republican rule that led to it were a bitter memory in Butte in 1948.

Unfortunately, that lesson has been forgotten. Harry Truman would be appalled at the corrupt President and the corrupt Congress that presently run the country.

JACKIE CORR can be reached at: jcorr@bigskyhsd.com

NOTES: Truman visited Butte again in 1950 and 1956. During the October 1956 visit, Truman, a private citizen, stayed at the Finlen Hotel He commented on his 1948 speech at Naranche Stadium, noting that “Butte was the place where things really started to roll.”

The former president also complimented the Butte High Band: “This is still the finest band in the world and I appreciate what it has done to receive me. ”

 

 

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