Section 6 Articles

"Gallows" Frames

There is no skyline in the world like Buttes. Standing like sentries on the surrounding hillsides are stark black headframes of several mines no longer in use. The Orphan Girl headframe at the World Museum of Mining is visible from the interstate. Dominating the landscape are the Kelley, Steward, the Original, Belmont, Granite Mountain, Bell Diamond, Badger State, Travona, Lexington, Centerville’s mighty Mountain Con and the Anselmo gallows frames.

To put it simply, headframes are like the tops of elevators, but not hidden in the inside of a tall building. The frames held the cables that lowered men, equipment, timbers, dynamite, ore cars and, in earlier days, the mules to pull the cars. Once the men and equipment were inside the mines, the frames hauled to the surface the copper ore which was then loaded on trains and shipped to the smelter in Anaconda.

At its peak, the Butte Hill was alive with the bright lights of the mine yards at night. The sound of bells used as signals for the hoist operators, the shrill mine whistles signaling the shift changes, and the throaty “toots” of the trains as they hauled their ore loaded cars through town could be heard around the clock.

Chinese Pioneers

Chinese pioneers were one of the first distinctive ethnic groups to come to Montana during the late 19th century. During the 1870s ten percent of the state’s residents were Chinese. These hardworking and often courageous immigrants worked in mining, railroad construction and numerous service industries.

Most of the Chinese immigrants who followed the lure of quick riches of “Gold Mountain” were young men who left villages and families. China was plagued with economic difficulties. Many Westerners were frightened by Chinese food, dress, customs, clannishness and religious beliefs. This resulted in name-calling, obstruction of their legal rights, anti-Chinese laws, and violence.

The Chinese immigrants sacrificed blood and dreams to help build the American West. The Mai Wah Society, an organization to preserve the Chinese cultural history of Butte, Montana, is researching the contributions that Chinese pioneers made to the settlement of the Montana area. The Chinese, who left behind their families and lives to travel east, also helped to build the foundation of our nation with their dreams and hopes for a better future.

Notable Chinese in the state are immortalized at the Mai Wah museum such as: Tommie Haw, who came on the first cattle drive into Beaverhead, came to Montana in 1850, adopted by a local rancher William Orr, and later raised cattle and sheep in the Dillon area; Dr. Rose Hum Lee, graduated from Butte High School in 1921. Her father came to the Butte area in the 1870s. He worked in ranching and mining, and had a laundry business. Dr. Lee later became the head of the sociology department at Roosevelt University, Chicago in 1956, according to the Mai Wah Society. Our nation was built on the dreams of all immigrants who came in search of a new beginning.

Montana's Vigilantes

The Vigilante movement began the winter of 1863 in Alder Gulch. While thousands came to the fields to mine gold others came with them who had other ideas for making money. Gamblers, dance-hall girls, and crooks flooded into the area with the miners. While every part of the west had its share of criminals, Alder Gulch had someone to organize them in the personage of Henry Plummer. A smooth, shrewd con man with a rap sheet going back 10 years, Plummer arrived in Bannack in the winter of ‘62-’63. By spring, he had conned everyone and was wearing the sheriff’s badge. Now in control of the law, he began to organize the criminal elements into a cohesive unit that terrorized the thousands in the area.

After suffering through a year of Mr. Plummer’s reign, the honest miners took matters into their own hands. A three day trial in Nevada City claimed its first “Road Agent,” and George Ives was hanged, and the Montana Vigilantes were formed. During the next two months, the Vigilantes cleaned up the area. The nucleus of the Plummer gang were either hanged or banished and the consummate conman finished his reign at the end of a noose.

The Worked Underground

The mining industry had it's own set of names for the various workers and trades in the mines. Among them:

Trammer—pushed ore cart or cage to surface or away from face

Topman—pulled cars on and off the cage

Bar down—barred loose slabs and rock

Mucker—Shoveled rock into car or chute

Smitty—blacksmith (fashioned and sharpened tools)

Miner—drilled, blasted, mucked and timbered

Hoistman—ran engine for hoisting and watched compressor

Station Tender—loaded cars on cage from different levels

Shifter—The boss directly over the mine crew