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Look for Me in Butte


If you grew up in Butte, you'll probably remember half of these songs.  If you weren't lucky enough to grow up next to the Pit, here's your chance to feel like you did.

Butte was known as " the Richest Hill on Earth" because of its great copper veins, which were the largest and richest in the world. Founded as a placer camp in the 1860's, Butte was producing rich silver ore in the 1870's. With the opening up of the great copper ore body in the 1870's and '80's, began in Butte an epoch in the history of mining probably unparalled anywhere else in the world. It can be described only in superlatives, for it produced the richest single individual in the world, W.A. Clark, and left as a legacy of capitalist greed in the United States. Nevertheless, Butte's story will always remain a fascinating challenge to the imagination.

Dan Price

This recording is dedicated to Bessie Mulhern.

1.    My Sweetheart's A Mule In The Mines/Butte Miner's Song
2.    Butte
3.    I Wandered Today To The Hill Maggie
4.    Dad's Dinner Pail
5.    Marcus Daly Enters Heaven
6.    The Butte Newboys Song
7.    Only A Miner
8.    The Steward Mine Disaster/7 Stacks Of The Neversweat
9.    Hey Boys, Let It Ring
10.  If We Could But Remeber
11.  Goodbye Joe Hill
12.  Nevada Jane
13.  Letter From A Miners Wife
14.  The Situation In Butte
15.  The Popular Wobbly
16.  Frank Little
17.  I Am A Butte Miner
18.  The Pigeons They Fly High In Butte, Montana
19.  Old Friend
20.  Dance Hall Gals
21.  Butte
22. Look For Me In Butte

SWEETHEART is a traditional song known in the coal mines of Pennsylvania as well as in Butte. The only way to get a mule underground is to blainfold it, throw it, tie it up and lower it underground. I guess by the time it gets to the 3000 foot level or so, the only way to get it working again would be to sing love songs to it. The verse is from the singing of Kevin Shannon.

Folklorist Wayland Hand collected THE BUTTE MINERS SONG back in the '40's, but I learned it from Jay Rummel who learned it from Eddie Gallagher, whose uncle had written it when he worked in the mines during the Depression. It took me years to convince Rummel to teach it to me when I first came to Montana in 1978. He felt that it takes a least ten winters in the Big Sky Country to get the feel of the land and be considered a citizen.

2. BUTTE (Berton Braley)
Braley was an Easterner who came here to work as a newspaperman shortly after the turn of the century. His autobiography "Pegasus Rides a Hack" has some wonderful descriptions of life here, back when this was the boomingest town in the west.

After the Hysterical Conference "Butte, The Urban Frontier", a bunch of us adjourned to the New Deal Saloon for cocktails and Mrs. Hugo Kenck sat down and listened to my singing of a couple of these songs. Then she sang me this one, which she learned from her father.

4. DAD'S DINNER PAIL ("Haywire Mac" McClintock)
It used to be the custom for kids to "Rush the Growler", head down to the local bar and fill their father's lunch bucket with beer (for a nickel!).

5. MARCUS DALY ENTERS HEAVEN ("Haywire Mac" McClintock)
"Haywire Mac" was a hobo, cowboy, sonwriter, recording star, I.W.W. organizer, storyteller, railroad boomer, and radio performer. A couple of years before he went to the Big Rock Candy Mountain he sat down with Sam Eskin and a microphone and recorded this tale. It appears to hark back to a much older style of story-telling than is usually found in this part of the country. In fact, people outside of Butte don't know what to make of this story.

Marcus Daly, an Irish immigrant was an eminent robber baron and the founder of The Anaconda Co., the shadow that loomed over Butte and the rest of Montana for so many years.

Somewhere in the 'teens, the Butte Newsboys decided to stop being a club run under Company auspices and become Union members like their dads and moms. Utah Phillips said he'd like to hear a song about their strike, and this  is what came out.

7. ONLY A MINER (Cho.; Aunt Molly Jackson - New Verses Phillips - Ross)
The Great Spec' Fire of 1917 was the worst mining disaster in American history. The fire started in the Granite Mountain and spread over the Speculator Mine. Close to 200 men died underground, mainly because the Company had cemented over the bulkheads to prevent highgrading (stealing ore). Utah Phillips and I wrote this for the memorial in 1995.

Al Giecek and Leroy Lemke were miners and drinking buddies according to Al's son Rudy, an antique dealer here in Butte. Al was also the editor of "The Miners Voice", the union paper. THE STEWARD MINE DISASTER was collected by folklorist Wayland Hand in the '40's. The story of the massacre on the Anaconda Road was told to me by George Foley of Silver Street. Tom Manning who was killed that day is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery at the foot of the hill.

9. HEY BOYS, LET IT RING (Utah Phillips)
Double jacking was a two-man job. In the  days before automatic drills, one miner would stand with the drill on his shoulder and give a twist while his partner swung the hammer. You really had to trust your buddy. On Miners Union Day they used to hold contests to see which team of men cold drill further and faster.

Utah wrote this for Bill White in California, who used to word up in this country. Bill is also the guy who taught me how to play fiddle tunes on the mouth-harp.

We are an ahistorical people. Anything older than two weeks is considered ancient history, the persistence of memory here is a joy to behold.

"Those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
George Santayana

"The long memory is the most radical thing in America."
Clair Spark

11. GOODBYE JOE HILL (Utah Phillips)
Joe Hill House was the tramp's mission run by Ammon Hennacy in Salt Lake City where Utah Phillips worked for many years. All the names in the song are known in Butte.

12. NEVADA JANE (Utah Phillips)
Women like Nevada Jane never get the credit due them in the histories of organizing. While her husband Big Bill Heywood was out dehorning, agitating, and organizing for the Western Federation of Miners, Jane, who was a cripple, would be sitting down at the train station taking to and organizing the women. At sunset, Bill would come get her, walking slowly back up the hill with Jane in his arms and the kids hanging from his shoulders.

Utah wrote this song 20 years ago from the recollection of an elderly Finnish woman, Gilda Hakkonen.

13. LETTER FROM A MINERS WIFE (Words - Donna Devine, Music - Mark Ross)
My friend Donna Devine wrote this because she thought that there weren't enough songs telling the women's side of life here.

14. THE SITUATION IN BUTTE (Dublin Dan Liston)
Dublin Dan was a Butte saloonkeeper and Wobbly who wrote class conscious poetry for his own amusement and for publication in the Little Red Songbook. When the more radical members of the Butte Mine Workers Union appealed to the Siver Bow Trades and Labor Council for assistance in fighting the Company blacklist and the A.F.L. refused to take any action, this was Dublin Dan's reply.

Valentine Matthew Huhta, otherwise known as T-Bone Slim, was a logger, songwriter, and columnist for the IWW papers. He had a great sense of humor. This is a more than somewhat sardonical reminder of the risks of being known as a radical. The risk in Butte was somewhat more severe, as witness the above-mentioned Tom Manning and Frank Little, who were tortured and murdered for their efforts during World War I.

16. FRANK LITTLE (Mark Ross)
Frank Little, "1/2 white, 1/2 indian, all IWW" came to Butte to organize in the 1917 strike resulting from the Speculator Mine Disaster. When his grandniece, Delores came here for the first time and inquired as to the whereabouts of his final resting, not only was it well-known, but the grave was not un-marked and covered with flowers. His picture still hangs in the bars with the notation "We Never Forget".

17. I AM A BUTTE MINER (Mark Ross)
Butte has always had a large transient population, 10-day men who would make their stake and move on. But when the Company pulled out in the early '80's a large number of folks left to look for work and won't be back.

This one started out in Ireland, I think, but I've heard versionsof it all across the country. It didn't take too much imagination to adapt it to its present locale.

19. OLD FRIEND (Mark Ross)
The first time I came to play in Butte was for the 1980 celebration of Miners Union Day, the first time they'd held that party since 1948. I came over with A. L. Nurse, logger, sailor, lonshoreman, and Wobbly. Art won the prize for being the oldest union member there, he'd joined the IWW in 1918 and had stayed in the union ever since. He was also the reson I came to Montana in the first place. He passed over the Great Divide shorly after I moved to Butte in 1990. I went back to Missoula and sang at his funeral.

20. DANCE HALL GIRLS (Carson J. Robison)
Historian Mary Murphy estimates that thousands of women worked on the line in Butte. I'm talking about prostitutes in Venus Alley, down by Mercury and Main. The Alley officially closed in 1917 in a wave of reform due to WWI (Storyville in New Orleans was another casualty).
The last brothel didn't shut down until 1982. The bars in this town didn't use to ever shut down.

21. BUTTE (Mark Ross)

22. LOOK FOR ME IN BUTTE (Utah Phillips and Mark Ross)
The poem "Butte" was written while I was still living in Missoula. Missoula has DINKS (double income, no kids), Butte has SKINI'S (seven kids, no income). Utah gave me the song as a housewarming gift (I'd already had two trailer fires in Missoula, I thought that was enough). I fiddled with the choruses a bit and hitched on this tune.

Bessie is Bessie Mulhern, the proprietress of the Towey Hotel on South Montana Street, where she's lived ever since she came to Butte in 1937. She still speaks with a lilt (not a brogue) and has forgotten more than most of us would care to remember.

A Smokestack Recording
A subsidiary of Moscow Gold Productions

Mark Ross
6 string and 12 string guitars, banjo, harmonica, vocals
Produced by:
Utah Phillips
and Mark Ross
Engineered by:
Bruce Wheelock, Flaying Whale Studios, Nevada City, CA
May 19 & 20, 1992, November 17, 1995
Photographs by:
Howard Morris

Special Assistance by:  Susan Maguire
Thanx to:  Dianne Kimball, James Dorr Johnson, Robert Rosenfeld, "Railroad Dick" and Mary Garvey, "Portland Grey", Dan Price, Clara Joslin, Joanna Robinson, Archie Green, Ed Gallagher, Donna Devine, Jay Rummel, John Hughes, Mike Anderson, Kuddie, for the ride,
and the People of Butte.

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Home | Loafer's Glory | Look For Me in Butte | Great Links | Drop Me A Line
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Home | Loafer's Glory | Look For Me in Butte | Great Links | Drop Me A Line
Teaching Philosophy

Copyright © 1997-2002 Mark Ross
Web architecture, maintenance and marketing by Internet Navigating
For problems or questions regarding this web site, contact my Web Diva