We ♥ Butte Books!

Last week, I was talking with a couple of people about Butte. They were discussing environmental studies past and present, and one told the other that he should read Smoke Wars. He said that it was his favorite book about Butte, which surprised me a little because I know he has read a lot of books about Butte. I had never heard him mention having a favorite. This made me curious about what other books people considered to be their favorites.

When I got to work on Monday, I asked several people if they had favorite books. I especially wanted to know if they had favorite go-to books for research. I loved their answers. Here they are.

Ellen Crain and Aubrey Jaap were the first to be interrogated. Ellen Crain immediately mentioned Michael Punke’s Fire and Brimstone. That book may be on her mind these days because of the upcoming commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Granite Mountain-Speculator disaster.

  • Punke, Michael. Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917. New York: Hachette Books, Reprint Edition, 2007.

An account of the Granite Mountain-Speculator Mining Disaster and its place in politics and history of Montana and the United States as told by Michael Punke, author of The Revenant.

Ellen also mentioned:

  • Emmons, David M. The Butte Irish: Class and Ethnicity in an American Mining Town, 1875-1925. (Statue of Liberty Ellis Island) Chicago: University of Illinois Press, Reprint Edition, 1989.

A scholarly treatment of the history of the Irish in Butte which Emmons has said was inspired by his students at the University of Montana and the finds they made as a result of their own research in the city.


  • Kearney, Pat. Butte Voices: Mining, Neighborhoods, People. Butte, MT: Skyhigh Communications, 1998.

A compilation of information on neighborhoods, ethnic groups, and historical events in Butte.


  • Malone, Michael P. The Battle for Butte: Mining and Politics on the Northern Frontier, 1864-1906. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981.

First published in 1981, and reprinted in 2012, this is a history of the impact of copper on Montana history.


  • Malone, Michael P., Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang. Montana: A History of Two Centuries. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

First published in 1976, and updated and revised in 1991, this is a comprehensive history of Montana written by prominent historians.


  • Writers Project of Montana. Copper Camp: The Lusty Story of Butte, Montana, The Richest Hill on Earth. Helena, MT: Riverbend Publishing, 2001.

Originally published in 1943, this is one of the publications resulting from the Montana Writers Project of the W.P.A. Ellen likes it for the “folksy” feel of its accounts of the city and its characters.

Aubrey Jaap also immediately mentioned Michael Punke’s Fire and Brimstone as a favorite read. Two titles on her list were influenced by the fact that Aubrey is responsible for much of the research for an upcoming Archives display on the ethnic groups of Butte:

  • McGrath, Jean. Butte’s Heritage Cookbook. Butte, MT: Artcraft, 8th Edition, 1988.

This is more than a cookbook. Each section contains a brief history of a specific ethnic group and traditional recipes…some a little strange…that make you know that the melting pot of Butte was an interesting and aromatic place.


  • Ostberg, Jacob. Sketches of Old Butte. Self-published by the author, 1972.

A comb-bound collection of essays on many topics including ethnic groups and neighborhoods.

Aubrey added:

  • Murphy, Mary. Mining Cultures: Men, Women, and Leisure in Butte, 1914-41. (Women in American History) Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1997.

A sociological study of the changing lives and roles of women over time in Butte.


  • Murphy, Mary and Bill Walker. Butte, Montana: A Select Bibliography, 1980.

This bibliography, though dated, has a few unique features, including a timeline of Butte newspapers.

Nikole Evankovich said her favorite book about Butte is probably Mile High, Mile Deep, by Richard Kilroy O’Malley. I will add that title later because it was mentioned by another member of the Archives staff as well. Nikole said that for research she often turns to Pat Kearney’s Butte Voices and Ostberg’s Sketches of Old Butte. She also uses this title which we all turn to for things that are missing:

  • Gibson, Richard I. Lost Butte, Montana. The History Press, 2012.

One of our favorite writers provides information about buildings that were once a part of Butte’s streetscapes.

Kim Kohn answered before I told her I was looking for titles for research. Her favorite book is a work of fiction:

  • Dallas, Sandra. Buster Midnight’s Café. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998.

A novel set in Butte that tells the tale of a movie star, a boxer, and their circle of friends and acquaintances. Kim says she thinks it accurately captures the flavor of Butte.

Kim also recommended Copper Camp and:

  • Dedman, Bill, and Paul Clark Newell, Jr. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. New York: Ballantine Books, 2014.

The fascinating story of Huguette Clark, the youngest child of W. A. Clark, as told by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of Huguette’s cousins.

Irene Scheidecker mentioned only one book, but she feels strongly that this book should be used in Butte schools to teach young people what it was like to grow up in Butte from the perspective of a young person. Clark City Press, based in Livingston, printed an illustrated version in 2002. However, the book is now out of print. Irene thinks it should be reprinted so that the schools would have the opportunity to use it. Nikole mentioned it as her favorite book, and it is one of my favorites as well:

  • O’Malley, Richard Kilroy. Mile High, Mile Deep. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press, 1971.

Told in the voice of a teen-aged boy and set in Butte in the 1920s, this is the autobiographical account of the experiences of Richard Kilroy O’Malley who lived in Butte from the age of eight and became a nationally-known journalist.

I asked a few people who happened to visit the Archives on Monday what their favorite books are. Mary McCormick, the Butte-Silver Bow Historic Preservation Officer, said that she uses the Malone books mentioned above for research but that the first book she ever read about Butte may still be her favorite:

  • Glasscock, Carl B. The War of the Copper Kings: Greed, Power, and Politics; The Billion-dollar Battle for Butte, Montana, the Richest Hill on Earth. Helena, MT: Riverbend Publishing, 2002.

Originally written in the 1930s, this is the story of Butte and its politics as shaped by W. A. Clark, Marcus Daly, and F. Augustus Heinze and their rivalry.

Mitzi Rossillon, a consulting archaeologist who is a member of Butte’s Historic Preservation Commission and the SARTA Board, chose a work of fiction as her favorite book about Butte:

  • Brinig, Myron. Wide Open Town. (Sweetgrass Books) Helena, MT: Farcountry Press, 1993.

A novel set in Silver Bow, a fictional version of Butte, which tells the story of an Irish immigrant, his love interest Zola, and his uncle Roddy. Mitzi loves this book. I guess I really should read it.


  • James, Don, with pictures by C. Owen Smithers, Sr. Butte’s Memory Book. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, 1980.

Photographs taken or collected by C. Owen Smithers, Sr. illustrate a photographic history of Butte.

The book Mitzi had come to the Archives to use for research is one that we use often for biographical information about early residents of Butte:

  • Progressive Men of the State of Montana. Chicago: A. W. Bowen & Co.

Biographical sketches and, in some cases, actual sketches of pioneers of Montana.

One of our volunteers, JoAnn Piazzola, mentioned a book that she has used extensively in her research:

  • McGlashan, Zena Beth. Buried in Butte. Butte: Wordz and Ink Publishing, 2010.

Butte history built from the stories of those who are buried in its cemeteries.

I think we have all turned to Zena Beth’s book a time or two. I know I have.

Samantha French, a new member of the Archives staff hired specifically to work on the Smithers Collection, grew up in Havre, Montana, and attended Carroll College in Helena. She does not yet have a favorite Butte book, but she did recommend a book about an architect who has contributed to the built environment of the state of Montana with the design of the Daly Mansion, the Missoula County Courthouse, five buildings at the University of Montana, and Hellgate High School, along with many homes in the University neighborhood of Missoula.

  • Chacon, Hipolito Rafael. The Original Man: The Life and Work of Montana Architect A. J. Gibson. Missoula, MT: University of Montana Press, 2008.

The person who started this conversation is Dave Schultz, the Butte-Silver Bow Public Works Director. When I told him I was planning this blog post, he wanted to add a few books to his list along with Smoke Wars:

  • Macmillan, Donald. Smoke Wars: Anaconda Copper, Montana Air Pollution, and the Courts, 1890-1924. Helena, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 2000.

An account of the legal battles fought to combat air pollution caused by mining and smelting in Butte, Anaconda, and the surrounding area.


  • Jackson, Jon. Go by Go. Tucson, AZ: Dennis McMillan, 1998.

A fictional version of the investigation of the lynching of Frank Little provides a glimpse of Butte in 1917.


  • McCaig, Donald. The Butte Polka. New York: Rawson, Wade, 1980.

A murder and its investigation reveal many facets of the character of Butte. Dave has always loved this novel.


  • Lee, Patrick. The Fire Season. Kalispell, MT: Patrick Lee Publishing, 2001.

A novel that weaves a tale of the fires that devastated Butte in the 1970s. Dave likes this one for its special insight into the inner workings of the Butte Archives. 😊

I did not give any of these people time to prepare an answer to this question. I know there are many books they would add to their lists if they had been allowed time to think about all the resources we use at the Archives. There are so many great books about Butte written by so many authors we love and respect. I know they would add the works of Christy Leskovar because they show what can be done with archival research. We also love Marian Jensen because her research keeps us on our toes.  There is Aaron Parrett who has his own book about Butte books, Literary Butte. I could go on and on. Maybe I will ask the question again in a month or two.  I know this has made me think about books I should add to my own reading list. I had better get busy!





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