The Sins of Butte

Tales from the Berkeley Pit

Image courtesy of the US EPA.

Standing on a ridge overlooking the expansive Berkeley Pit, a pungent smell emanates from the murky waters below, leaving a slight burn in my nostrils. This is Butte, nestled in a valley that straddles the Continental Divide, high up in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana. A little over a hundred years ago, Butte was a boomtown, ruled by copper and raging with prosperity. Industrious miners from Ireland to China ventured to this remote place to strike it rich or at least make a decent living. In its heyday, Butte was a bastion of socialist politics. Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was active in the early 1900s and, along with other labor factions, fought the monopolies of Butte’s three Copper Kings; Marcus Daly, William A. Clark, and F. Augustus Heinze. It was a tough, violent era, and miners were known to let off steam in local gambling dens, brothels, and bars. A historical plaque in town sums Butte’s past well: “She was a bold, unashamed, rootin’, tootin’, hell roarin’ camp in days gone by, and she still drinks her liquor straight.”

To read this article, log in here or subscribe here.
If you are logged in but can't read CP+ articles, check the status of your access here
In order to read CP+ articles, your web browser must be set to accept cookies.

JOSHUA FRANK is the managing editor of CounterPunch. He is the author of the new book, Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America, published by Haymarket Books. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank.

CounterPunch Magazine Archive

Read over 400 magazine and newsletter back issues here

Support CounterPunch

Make a tax-deductible monthly or one-time donation and enjoy access to CP+.  Donate Now

Support our evolving Subscribe Area and enjoy access to all Subscribers content.  Subscribe