Headframes of Butte

Butte, Montana, known as the “Richest Hill on Earth,” had a more profound impact upon the world’s copper industry than any other mining community in the nation. In terms of total metal production alone, Butte remains unrivaled. No other single metal mining district in the United States was worked so intensively for such a long period of time. Butte’s story begins with the discovery of gold in the 1860s, a silver boom in the 1870s, but it was the mining of copper that put Butte on the national stage. As early as 1882, the mines of Butte were generating 10% of America’s total copper output. Today, Butte’s landscape is dotted with seventeen headframes, steel structures used to hoist ore and men.

Travona Mine, 1875-1954

Charles Murphy, Major William Graham, and Frank Madison were the first miners to lay a quartz claim on the Butte hill. In May of 1864, they laid claim to the Deer Lodge Lode later known as the Black Chief, and finally called the Travona by William Farlin. In 1872, a new mining law was passed that required yearly economic improvements must be shown for each claim or lose ownership. The last day to show proof was December 31, 1874. Mr. Farlin would take advantage of this new law and would stake several new mining claims in January 1875, including the Travona. A year or so before, Mr. Farlin took black-colored rock specimens to be analyzed in Idaho. The results were that black rock was actually silver. This discovery would change the Butte area from an almost ghost town to one of the highest silver-producing areas in the country. Farlin invested heavily in the Travona and added a mill. Unfortunately, the mine and mill would be foreclosed on in 1877. In 1880, William A. Clark patented the Travona Mine and would work it for another 25 years. Eventually owned by the Anaconda Company it became a highly producing manganese mine from 1946 until closing.
Courtesy of Paddy Dennehy, Butte Historical Society.

Original Mine, 1864-1940

The first attempt at mining on the Butte Hill was recorded by Caleb E. Irvine in 1856. Mr. Irvine, while transporting goods, camped in a gulch near where the Original Mine headframe now stands. He observed a crudely dug hole about five feet deep. The tools that were used were elk antlers which lay around the hole. It is assumed that the diggers were either members of the Salish (Flathead), Cree, or Crow tribes since all three often used the area for hunting and fishing. On August 10, 1864, the Original Lode was located by Garland O. Humphrey and William A. Allison. These two men were the first to settle on the Butte Hill and the Original was one of the first of three claims in the Butte area. In 1873, William A. Clark was recorded as the owner by the U.S. Mineral Survey. Clark sold the mine to the Anaconda Company in 1910. In the 1940s, mining of the Original was continued through the Steward Mine east of the Original Mine.
Courtesy of Paddy Dennehy, Butte Historical Society.