Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Path to a Thanksgiving Holiday


Saratoga Surrender (Library of Congress)

     We all have been taught the story of Thanksgiving, how the pilgrims were helped by the native Americans to survive and celebrated with a big feast. Well, maybe. Many myths and much controversy surround the “first Thanksgiving,” but the march of Thanksgiving toward its status as a U.S. national holiday is well documented. Although individual colonies had various earlier observances, the first time all thirteen colonies celebrated a day of thanksgiving on the same date was December 18, 1777. George Washington, in his role as Commander-in-Chief, called for a day of “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise” to celebrate the Continental Army’s victory over the British in the Battle of Saratoga on October 17th.

The proclamation was printed in newspapers, including the October 9, 1789 issue of the Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser (via

     The first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking the President to recommend to the nation a day of thanksgiving. Not long after, President Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26, 1789 a
 "day of publick thanksgiving and prayer" to express gratitude for both the successful end to the war for independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Washington attended church and donated money and food to prisoners and debtors in observance of the holiday. Subsequently, Presidents John Adams and James Madison designated days of thanks.

Sarah Hale pictured in Godeys (via Wikimedia Commons)

     During the first half of the 19th century, several states officially adopted an annual Thanksgiving holiday, although each designated a different day. Additionally, Sarah Josepha Hale, best known for authoring “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” began a 36-year campaign to get Thanksgiving designated a national holiday. She was later nicknamed the “Mother of Thanksgiving.”

President Abraham Lincoln s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of October 3, 1863, Page 3 (National Archives)

     In 1863, Hale implored both President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William Seward to officially designate Thanksgiving as a permanent national holiday. Despite the United States being torn apart by the bloody Civil War, Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be Thanksgiving Day in words written by Seward. “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States… to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Carving the Thanksgiving Turkey (National Archives) 

     Thanksgiving was celebrated on the last Thursday in November every year until 1939. In that year, Thanksgiving was set to fall on November 30, leaving only 24 shopping days until Christmas. President Franklin Roosevelt feared the short Christmas season would negatively impact the economy. He signed an executive order that moved the holiday a week earlier to November 23 in an attempt to aid retail sales. This met with fiery opposition, with critics calling it “Franksgiving.”

Senate Amendments to H.J. Res. 41, Making the Fourth Thursday in November a Legal Holiday, December 9, 1941

     After much effort to return the holiday to its traditional date, in 1941, Congress officially moved the holiday to its current place. President Roosevelt reluctantly signed the bill making Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November.

Happy Thanksgiving!

  Ann Markim




Buy Links: Paperback at Amazon                   Amazon print or digital

Amazon Kindle 

Monday, November 22, 2021

A Dreadful Punishment – looking into the crime of “Petty Treason” and the beliefs surrounding it.

There were a series of crimes in the Middle Ages that were thought so dreadful they were considered to be a form of treason. High treason is the offence of attempting to injure or kill the king or queen, and little or petty treason involves any “underling” killing his or her superior Under the law of petty treason, codified in 1351, wives accused of murdering their husbands, or clergy killing their prelates, or a servant killing his or her master or mistress could be tried under this charge.
Why were such crimes considered treason? In the Middle Ages, hierarchy was seen as natural, as part of good order, created and ordained by God.  God was always seen as male and at the apex of creation. Earth mirrored heaven, it was believed, and so man was held above woman. To a medieval man, a wife should obey her husband and be inferior to him, and the same was believed to be true for servants and their masters and mistresses.

Attitudes held at the time and the the demands of the church reinforced such ideas. One of the most popular lay stories of the fourteenth century was that of Patient Griselda, who submits to her odious husband while he takes her children from her, tells her he has killed them and finally tells Griselda he has divorced her. As an ideal, patient wife, Griselda then forgives him when her bullying husband reveals that all these ordeals have been fake and a test of her obedience. The church may have raised the Virgin Mary as a perfect woman but all other females and wives were said to be tainted by the sin of Eve, tempted by Satan in the guise of a serpent into stealing an apple from the tree of knowledge and then tempting her husband Adam into sharing it with her. For that sin, the church believed women should be subservient to their husbands.

The message was clear: wives must obey. To murder one’s husband (whom a medieval wife had promised to obey in the marriage ceremony) was seen as the ultimate betrayal, a deadly, intimate act. Servants, too, were encouraged to be servile, especially since they lived with the family, inside the family.

Writing as I do about relationships and romance, I am particularly appalled by the crime of petty treason. For a wife convicted of it, the punishment was dreadful – she was burnt at the stake. It was a crime where the same act – murder of a spouse – was treated in different ways. A man could kill his wife and be tried for murder, but a wife killing her husband was committing treason. A man was allowed to beat his wife because, it was believed by philosophers like Thomas Aquinas that women were less capable of reason than men. This last did mean, strangely enough, that women could be acquitted of the crime of Petty Treason if it was discovered that she had no “accomplices”. Women were not considered able to murder their husbands alone! So in 49 cases of husband killing brought before the justices in medieval Yorkshire and Essex, 32 were released. For those desperate women who were convicted however, a terrible fate awaited. 

This horrific punishment was the same as for relapsed heretics and for the same reason. For a wife to kill her husband was seen as a form of heresy, a move against God’s order. Some “mercy” could be offered by the executioner’s choking the woman by cords before the flames touched her, but that often went wrong as the cords could also be burnt by the fire. The law was finally repealed in 1790.

[Renaissance image of Patient Griselda from Wikimedia Commons]


On a lighter note and just in time for the holiday season...

Read of a knight & a witch & their descendants in 3 wonderful medieval romances! All #freeread with #KindleUnlimited & in #paperback!

She is Beauty, but is he the Beast?











Thursday, November 18, 2021

Rules for a Wagon Train


Likewise setting forth the Duties of Wagon Master, Assistant Wagon Master, Mounted Extra-Hand, Teamsters, Night Herders, Caviyard Driver, &c., &c.

The short pamphlet by the above name was first published in 1866. It was endorsed by fourteen gentlemen who knew Mr. Cranmer "to have had sufficient experience to render him capable of forming The Regulations..."

I found a reprint at the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, Missouri. We happened upon the museum quite by accident. We were spending the weekend in Kansas City, and since we both love history and will turn every opportunity into a research trip, we traveled to nearby Independence. A quick search showed a restored train depot, which we enjoyed. But as we were driving away, the Frontier Trails Museum caught our eye. And what a find!

Recreations of frontier settings, wagons, general stores, lists of supplies recommended for a family undertaking the journey west, a pictorial timeline of westward travel… It was a treasure trove of information. We even topped off our visit with a ride in a covered wagon, pulled by a pair of silky-eared mules.

This little pamphlet gave me the idea for Coming Home, my story in Prairie Rose’s “Hearts and Spurs” anthology. While I took the liberty of adding a security guard as one of the train’s company, Mr. Cranmer provides some amazing details for writers like me who love all this history.


Sunday, November 7, 2021

A Passion For ...

 Post by Doris McCraw

writing as Angela Raines

Photo property of the author

November is National Novel Writing Month, commonly known as NaNoWriMo, where people work to write 50,000 words in thirty days. More importantly, it's National Native American Heritage Month. 

I do not have any Indigenous past relatives that I know of, but my departed ex did. Whenever we'd have conversations, he knew little to nothing about that heritage. From what I understand it came from both sides of his family. I always felt bad that his family couldn't or didn't talk about that heritage.

For myself, knowing where I came from, what has made me unique has been important. Much of my actions, philosophy, and even foods I ate, came from those ancestors. 

There has always been a fascination with the roots of civilizations. As a child, I was always reading about the Olmec, Aztec, Toltec, and Anasazi people. Later, after visiting the Cahokia Mounds I tried to find more about that group of people. To this day, I find myself reading anything I can on the history of the mounds and it's people. Overview of Cahokia Mounds

This naturally grew to include the lives and civilizations of later indigenous people. Illinois, where I grew up, as most know, got its name from the 'Illini' people. The Fox, Kickapoo, Sacs, were among the early people of that state. Here is a map to help illustrate:

In Colorado, where I now reside, the dominant group was the Ute, who primarily lived in the mountains. The other nations were the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Apache, Pueblo, and Shoshone. Of course, there were earlier people. In Dinosaur National Monument there are petroglyphs plus Mesa Verde is in the southwest part of the state. Here is a link that offers more on that subject.

I have a copy of this map in my possession. I find it endlessly useful. I've also included the link that includes more information about the map.

Thank you for allowing me to share my passion for these people and their history.

 An article on the creation of National Native Heritage Month 

Until next month, stay safe, follow your passion, and keep reading and writing.

Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women's History
Angela Raines - author: Telling Stories Where Love & History Meet

Thursday, November 4, 2021

New Release - Wish Upon a Moravian Star by Sarah J. McNeal


Phoebe Ann Ettleman only needs one thing to make her life perfect—a man to love her as much as she will love him! Phoebe has everything her heart desires—a successful career, a loving family, and lifelong friends. But her love life has been a disaster, and she’s almost ready to give up her dream of having someone to love.

In desperation, she makes a wish on the Moravian Star to bring her the true love she yearns for. With Christmas on the way, and the perfect star to wish upon, how can her heart’s desire be denied?

Phoebe has no idea that wish is going to change her life forever in a way she never could have believed. When she takes part in a Colonial Christmas celebration, she discovers it’s not a re-enactment, but the real thing! Granger Montgomery, the man of her dreams, loves her the way she’s hoped for—but will she be able to stay in his world two hundred years in the past? Will she regret the wish she made one starry night on that Moravian Star?


“I hope you’re listening to me, Moon and Star. I’ve tried everything else, so maybe this last-ditch effort will work. This is going to sound so lame, but I don’t want to spend my life alone. I’m an independent woman with a career I enjoy. I have a doting family and many good friends, but I’m missing just one thing.” She took a deep breath. “I want to find that one man I can love…and who will love me back for the rest of my life.  I thought I found him several times, but each of them proved to be false.” She bit her lip as the memories assailed her. Finally, she went on. “Each of them was cruel in the way he broke up with me—one by a phone call while I was at work, another by a text message, and the last one, in the middle of my birthday party in front of all my friends.”

She took a breath as she remembered the painful stab in her heart as the last one slammed the door behind him with finality when he left. “More than anything on Earth, I want to find the man God intends for me, my one true love. If there is such a man inhabiting this world, somewhere in space or time, please, I wish destiny to bring him to me.”

She grasped the windowsill. “And if true love is never going to come into my life, please help me have the strength to accept my fate.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Myth and Reality

Myth and  Reality

by C. A. Asbrey

Every culture has myths and legends, and they generally end up as tales which we love to tell, and retell, down the generations. As we do so, they morph and alter, and those almost imperceptible changes finally add up to a huge shift over the centuries. When we strip them back, we might be surprised to find that there are basic truths behind the stories. It's even more surprising to find that modern scientific advances are helping us find them. It's interesting to juxtapose what we can prove against the ancient legends, or what is just too much of a coincidence to ignore. 

Archaeology shows that Ireland was originally inhabited around 33,000 years ago. Why am I using Ireland? Because there's actually no such thing as the modern construct of the Celt. There was a loose confederation of tribes and settlers from Europe who gradually ventured as far as they could go by walking over the old land bridge of Doggerland, or by boat, hugging the coast as they went. They spoke the Goidelic group of Indo-European languages, but the first settlers spoke a different tongue, and are not considered to be Celtic in modern terms.  Interestingly, the study of linguistic links between languages matches the genetic studies of human dispersals of ancient peoples. Modern Ireland still has a distinct genetic legacy on the fringes and in more remote areas, so they link the people directly to the times ancient European and British myths originated. Also, being in the edge of the known world, their genes mixed less in ancient times, so their stories link to a distinctly less-mixed heritage than in the melting pot of mainland Europe where people went to and fro. Their stories of very ancient times give us an insight to the Palaeolithic age  - albeit a tenuous one. Their story is a stripped-down version of the tale of Europe's ancient history.    

Professor Bradley of Trinity University in Dublin, says that the very first Irish probably looked very much like the recently published pictures of Cheddar Man. Whilst there has been some scientific debate over whether or not the presence of the genes actually reflect the real skin colour, it does fit with the mythology. 

“The earliest Irish would have been the same as Cheddar Man and would have had darker skin than we have today,” Prof Bradley said. “We think [ancient Irish populations] would be similar. The current, very light skin we have in Ireland now is at the endpoint of thousands of years of surviving in a climate where there’s very little sun. It’s an adaptation to the need to synthesise vitamin D in skin. It has taken thousands of years for it to become like it is today.” Prof Bradley added that his findings suggest that early Irish men and women originated from areas such as Spain and Luxembourg.

Similarly, Cheddar Man’s tribe migrated to Britain at the end of the last Ice Age and shared DNA with individuals in Spain, Luxembourg and Hungary. They ate a lot of fish, hunted wild boar and gathered plants and nuts.  

Cheddar Man


Brownies are found in various versions in western European folklore. In some versions, they are domesticated house elves. In others, they are mischievous or even downright malicious. They are said to be hairy, and brown-skinned. The height varies. In more modern times, they are small and wizened, but the more ancient tales speak of them being human height, albeit slightly less tall than their fairer-skinned companions. For centuries, historians dismissed the idea of modern Northern Europeans having dark skin only 7,000 years ago, but advances in genetics show that as recently as 4,300 years ago, various waves of migrations meant that Western Europe was a mix of skin colours and tribes. Some were taller than others.
A Fomorian
A recent study in Sweden found that the people carried both light skin gene variants, SLC24A5 and SLC45A2, as well as a third gene, HERC2/OCA2, which causes blue eyes and may also contribute to light skin and blond hair.  These were not found in early hunter-gatherers in Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary. These had darker skin, and lacked the SLC24A5 and SLC45A2, which help lead to depigmentation. 

Was one of these tribes the Brownies of legend, the first hunter-gatherers still living in Ireland when later waves of immigration brought their genes for lighter skin? The Scottish Gaelic  names for them are gruagach or brùnaidh. The first word means hairy, and the second means brownie. The first people to populate the British Isles, and Ireland, have genes which cause both. To this day women from the Celtic fringes know their hirsuteness comes from their ancestors, and very few are grateful for it. 

Could these tales of the dark-skinned peoples have morphed into the mythical brownies? And were the tales of them only coming out to work, but being subversive wherever they could, reflect enslavement, or serfdom, to the next wave of invaders? We've seen that happen repeatedly in history. The gruagach was an expert hunter to whom the early farmers turned for protection of their herds. This also chimes with known history. The first inhabitants were hunter-gatherers. The next wave of invasion brought pastoralists - rudimentary farming and animal herding - often moving from place to place to exploit the next pasture and be in the right place to exploit for seasonal food sources. All the legends have versions of work in exchange for food or practical goods. It would appear that they had no concept of money, but that doesn't tend to be useful to hunter-gatherers anywhere in the world. The brownies were also quick to anger, and would take revenge on those who slighted them. That speaks of someone who doesn't need to rely on staying as part of the community to survive - of an outsider to the mainstream. In Ireland they are called Lucharacháin. the origins of the word 'Leprechaun', meaning“Little, Small (Dwarf, Pygmy) person.

Another aspect of the five waves of invasion is that Brownies are linked to the Fomorians. Both sets of people were there at the same time in primordial history. But where the Brownies were small, and fairly cooperative, the Fomorians were large, warlike, and dangerous. Does that reflect two sets of people sharing Ireland? Europe certainly had various tribes competing with each other at that time. It's not too much of a stretch to suggest that Ireland did too. When the first wave of invasion came from The Partholans, the Fomorians were already there. Whilst myth portrays them as hostile beings who lived under the sea, and more tellingly, under the land, they were said to be larger and more hostile than the Lucharacháin. Some legends describe them as having monstrous animal heads and one eye, but other ancient texts portray them as "darkly beautiful."  They were later conflated with any pirates or sea-raiders, but were they another tribe? Marie-Louise Sjoestedt, and expert in Irish mythology, interprets the name Fomorian as meaning "inferior" or "latent demons", saying the Fomorians are "like the powers of chaos, ever latent and hostile to cosmic order"
12,000 years ago

Legends say that when the Fomorians arrived in Ireland, there were three lakes and nine rivers set in a vast plain, and was a vastly different topography than today. We know that could not have been accurate as even today there are over 6,000 natural lakes in Ireland. But could it have been a description of Doggerland? Archaeology shows that people walked across the land bank joining Britain to Europe before melting glaciers flooded Doggerland. Divers can still find worked flints under the sea as evidence of human activity. Doggerland flooded 8,200 years ago, but there's evidence of humans in the British Isles for around 10,000 years. Ireland was glaciated and land-locked with continental Europe. It's clear that nomadic people could arrive by land or sea.

One theory is that some people walked across Europe, and others arrived by boat. There is a tiny percentage of R1a and R1a1 genes, which are Balto-Slavic, in the Irish population. A rough translation of the old Irish version of the Fomerians means, "under the sea." But in Georgian, one of the oldest language groups in the world, "Pomerians" means "by the sea," which makes more sense. And in ancient Indo-European Goidelic tongues the ability to pronounce 'p' didn't develop until Brythonic appeared thousands of years later.  It is worth stating at this point, that the languages spoken at the time of the Fomorians and Partholans were pre-Goidelic, and therefore not Celtic. 

A gigantic, yet deformed, group of violent people called the Fomorians were the main rival of the Partholans, and they fought viciously for control of the island. Eventually, it is believed that the Partholans gained the upper hand and drove the Fomorians out to sea. However his clan did not get to stay long enough to make wholesale changes to the country as the conquering crew was all wiped out by plague within 40 years of arriving. The Formorians were not wiped out, though. They were encountered by later arrivals in the country.

Were the Fomhóraigh (Fomorions), a race of supernatural people found in the folklore traditions of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, early travellers from the Baltic? Who knows, but their genes got there somehow, and are amongst the oldest in the Celtic fringes. They were certainly warlike, and their skills at producing and using weapons was part of their legend. The Hamburgian culture was a Late Upper Paleolithic culture of reindeer hunters who were replaced by various waves of invasions in the Baltic region. Their work was characterized by shouldered points and zinken tools, which were used as chisels when working with antler. In the British Isles and Ireland there was a group whose work was specific enough to gain a name of its own, Cresswellian.

They produced scrapers made from long, straight blades. A special technique was employed to remove blades from a core through striking in a single direction, leaving a distinct 'spur' on the platform. The tools were made using a soft hammerstone or an antler hammer. Their diet included horse, deer, hare, reindeer, mammoth, antelope, wild cow, bear, lynx, and wolf. Cave remains show signs of cannibalism too; with skinning, removal of marrow and dismemberment.  It's not known if the cannibalism was part of a ritual, or simply a food source. Treatment of skulls do indicate that there may have been a religious element. If the possibility of ferocious hunters who turned to cannibalism in caves doesn't fit the bill of a netherworld demon, I don't know who does.

Another convincing piece of evidence is that elsewhere in Europe their fellow tribes and septs suggest that exchange of goods, and the sending out of specialised expeditions seeking raw materials may have been practised. The genes are not the only evidence from the Baltic region. Amber beads from that area have also been found in the UK and Ireland. 

The Partholons were the first wave of invaders. They arrived in boats, and the Fomorians were a formidable opponent. It's a difficult job to work out who the Partholons were, as there has been a definite effort to demonize the people of the pre-Christian era, and to glorify the later peoples who converted. And the deliberate alterations obscure the previous oral histories. Some versions show Partholon turning up in a boat with a few close relatives. Others say that he had to flee his previous homeland as he had killed his father, but turned up with a thousand men. Some stories say he came from Greece, others say he came from Spain. We simply don't know. It's unlikely a small family would last long against the Fomorians, so I tend to be drawn to the theory that it was a full-scale invasion. Again, the stories vary. Some say that Partholon and his men drove the Fomorians into the sea. Others say they were defeated on a battle in the great plain in the Battle of Mag Itha. The location is disputed, but they say it may have been in Donegal, with the Fomorians' stronghold in Sligo. Once more, differing versions tell us that 300, 800, or all the Fomorians fought and died. Other outcomes say that as they were supernatural, they were able to continue to fight with one arm and one leg. 
Creswell point

It is unlikely that they were all killed, as Fomorians were certainly still around in legends after the Partholons died out in some kind of plague. One thing is of note about the Partholons. 

They are said to have brought the plough with them, to have cleared land for farming, and that many lakes sprung up during their tenure. They also brought cooking, domesticating cattle, and therefore possibly, the genes to digest lactose. This was a distinct advantage as it meant that there was a more predictable and ready source of nutrition. It's worth noting that the Brownies often enjoyed their work being rewarded with dairy produce, but that does not mean they were lactose-tolerant. Many old types of cheeses can be consumed by lactose intolerant people without ill effects. The rising of the lakes probably reflected retreating glaciers, and warming temperatures at the end of the ice age.

Does any of the above prove that the myth of helpful Brownies and ferocious Fomorians actually existed and lived as competing tribes? No. It's generally accepted that the Fomorians existed, and that their determination to hang onto pagan beliefs resulted in them being, quite literally, demonized. Can we prove the end of the Partholons took place as the glaciers retreated and Doggerland disappeared under the sea around 6,500 BCE? Again, no. But there are compelling elements there which make us feel that these myths could be based on real people and events. 

But that's not the end of the mythical God-Kings of the waves of invasions to Ireland. We'll look at them in another post.   


There was no reply, so Jake rapped at the door once more, harder and with more insistence. “Tibby. I can’t stay. Open this door.” 
There was something about the thick, heavy silence which felt wrong. Tibby was anything but quiet, so it was fair to assume any room containing him wouldn’t be, either. 
Jake knocked again. “Tibby?” All he could hear was the sound of his own breath echoing against the wooden door. A muscle in his jaw flexed and he felt in his pocket for the room key he’d been asked to hold. He grabbed the wooden fob and called out once more. “I’m comin’ in, Tibby. Make sure you ain’t doin’ anythin’ indecent.” He paused, running through what he knew about the man. “Or strange.” 
The key rattled in the lock and the door swung slowly open. Jake’s jaw dropped open at the carnage which greeted his horrified eyes. 
The room was awash with blood; splattered over furniture, walls, and fabrics. Gouts of gore lay littered on the floor, and adhered to the wall behind the bundle of bloody petticoats in the corner. Thick claret dripped from the drapes in a sickening seep and intestines dangled over furniture and snaked across the floor. 
Tibby lay unconscious near the door, a knife near his hand, his blood-drenched clothes stained red. Worst of all, the pale blue dress was saturated in blood and revealed what looked like a dismembered carcass beneath the pulled-back frills. 
It looked like she’d tried to hide under the bed and had been dragged out as her legs were hidden, but the torso appeared from underneath. The clothing was pulled over her head so all Jake could see were the bare bones of the ribs and the open belly covered in blood with what remained of her intestines. 
“Dear God.” Jake’s reaction to the trauma robbed his voice of its power, his eyes drawn to the intestines strewn on the floor near what what looked like half a kidney. “Tibby! What the hell have you done?” 


Monday, November 1, 2021

Butte and the Copper King Mansion - Elizabeth Clements


In August, 2012, two girlfriends and I took a road trip to Butte, Montana, for no particular reason except to go on a mini-holiday. I’d never been to Montana and at the time was considering locations for another book. I’ve been fortunate to have visited all the settings of my books so I could familiarize myself with flora and fauna and the scenery. Well, I am once again hunting for a location for my current wip, which has to be set in the western United States. I’d love to use Texas or Colorado or Wyoming but have only seen them in western movies, not the same as actually being there. Then I remembered I’d taken dozens of photos on the trip to Butte and problem solved (gulp), I hope. 

Butte is situated in a wide, natural bowl surrounded by bluffs in the northern Rocky Mountains of Montana. This Silver Bow Creek area was the hunting and fishing area for the native Salish people and its name originates from the Salish “Sin-tahp-kay-Sntapqey” meaning: Place Where Something Is Shot In The Head. 

Butte, Montana, is an amazing city that began as a silver and gold mining camp in the late 1860s but became most famous for its huge natural stores of copper. In 1888 alone, mining operations generated $23 million, a huge sum for the times (equivalent to over $640 million in today’s money). The lure of gold and silver brought miners and fortune seekers from all over the world and Butte soon became a melting pot of European nationalities, culture, and food. In just two decades Butte became the largest city between Chicago and San Francisco. 

As we explored Butte via car and guided tours, that mix of nationalities was still evident as some areas clung to their ethnic roots. Back in the day, gangs formed ethnic groups to preserve their traditions and to date, Butte has the highest percentage of Irish Americans in the United States. Some of the foods popular with the miners were easily taken with them for a cold meal underground, such as povitica, a Slavic nut bread pastry, a boneless pork chop sandwich, Scandinavian lefse and baked foods made with the readily-available huckleberry, the latter made into jam and available for purchase at several tourists spots we visited. 

I was so impressed how devoted Butte citizens are in preserving their history and historic buildings, proven by the fact that in 2002 Butte was one of only twelve towns in America to be named a Distinctive Destination by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. To me, Butte is literally a photo album of elegant home and buildings mingling with old buildings sagging on tired feet, proudly showing all their cracks and peeling paint. For two nights we stayed in a hundred-year-old elegant hotel, toured a century-old jail and an abandoned state prison that made me shudder for the miscreants, some underground tours, and the infamous Berkley Pit. A tour on an old trolley took us past beautiful elegant Victorians including the famous Copper King Mansion where we spent the last night of our visit. We also visited the statue of Mary, Our Lady of the Rockies, who overlooks Butte and protects its inhabitants. (sorry for the poor was taken from afar.

Any town that grows too fast and lawless also invites the risk of earning a reputation of “anything goes”. Saloons and bordellos sprang up like weeds. The red light district flourished on Mercury Street with elegant or shoddy bordellos and cribs on Venus Alley. During our tour of Butte, we passed the famous Dumas Brothel and planned to visit it, but the only free time we had left led to disappointment because the brothel wasn’t open for tours. This infamous district was popular with not just the miners, but welcomed visitors from all over the territory and stayed operational until circa 1982. 

Fortunes were made in the mining of copper, an important component in electrical power—as a result, Butte became the largest producer of copper in North America. And thus the legend of the Copper Kings was born. Three tycoons jockeyed for power in Butte in the 1880s. The rivalry between William A. Clark, Marcus Daly, and F. Augustus Heinze became heated in their bid for power. Clark and Daly each established their own newspaper to help influence their political agendas with the miners and the general population. Clark had studied law in his early years, then traveled to Colorado to mine for gold, invested his gold and eventually amassed a fortune through his copper mines, railroads, and newspapers. 

It took William Clark four years to build his elegant red brick mansion (1884-1888), which is beautifully preserved (restored in 2011) and the large, airy rooms are filled with exquisite woodwork, stained glass, antiques, paintings, and bric-a-brac. The mansion had remained unoccupied for many years when William Clark left to again live in New York in 1999, where he built two mansions. The Copper King Mansion is now a bed and breakfast and is open for daily tours to help maintain its upkeep. We spent the final night of our vacation there (but encountered nary a ghost) and enjoyed a lovely, elegant breakfast. The only drawback was we had to remove all traces of our occupancy during the public tour. Of course, I took lots of interior pictures, far too many to include here. 

This wealthy magnate created a retreat for families and their children to enjoy a bit of life away from the mines by purchasing the Columbia Gardens and developing it into an amusement park, complete with a pavilion, rollercoaster and a lake for swimming and boating. Two Boston investors and a wealthy miner formed the Boston and Montana Marching Band to add to the entertainment of the community. With all these amenities, Butte earned the rank of the first mining camp of the world and for a time became Montana’s most populated city. It also became known as “the richest hill on earth” because of the copper, silver and gold mined there. 

There is a treasure trove of information about Butte’s mining history, which is too voluminous to get into here, but I have to touch on The Berkely Pit, which, to coin a favorite English adjective of mine….had me gobsmacked! This pit is HUGE. It’s one mile long and a half mile wide and 1780 feet deep. Absolutely boggles my mind, hence the adjective. The phrase, “the pit is a giant bathtub” is an excellent description. It’s hard to wrap my head around 7,000,000 US gallons of treated water per day being discharged from the Berkely Pit into Silver Bow Creek just to keep the pit water from contaminating the groundwater. Great safety measures are in place to protect birds and wildlife from this contaminated site because this lake is toxic to birds, animals, and humans. 

“From 1880 through 2005, the mines of the Butte district have produced more than 9.6 million metric tons of copper, 2.1 million metric tons of zinc, 1.6 million metric tons of manganese, 381,000 metric tons of lead, 87,000 metric tons of molybdenum, 715 million troy ounces (22,200 metric tons) of silver, and 2.9 million ounces (90 metric tons) of gold." After the closure of the Berkeley Pit mining operations in 1982, pipes which pumped groundwater out of the pit were turned off, resulting in the pit slowly filling with groundwater, creating an artificial lake. Only two years later the pit was classified as a Superfund site and an environmental hazard site. The water in the pit is contaminated with various hard metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, and zinc.” 

The usually big blue sky that Montana is famous for was hazy the entire time of our stay from the numerous area forest fires, which helped temper the usual August prairie heat. Butte is an amazing city, full of history and beautifully restored buildings as well as ones showing their wrinkled, worn faces. There are so many places to visit, especially The World Museum of Mining, which is a fabulous recreation of a mining town with dozens of historic buildings. 
     Easily plan an entire afternoon for that stroll through history and peek through all the windows. This is one of the many buildings in the park...a lady of the evening gazing out her window

Mary, Our Lady Of The Rockies stands on The Continental Divide and watched over Butte, and is well worth a little side trip. In a nearby town, we also visited a car museum (sorry I can’t recall the name of the town) that has an abandoned state prison open to the public and nearby is the most amazing collection of vintage cars. If you are planning a trip to Montana, definitely pencil in a few days to explore Butte, a visual feast for the eyes of any history buff. I’d go again in a heartbeat and stay longer, especially in the awesome Copper King Mansion. Hmmm, I believe there’s another story idea there…. 

I would love to hear from anyone who has visited Butte, or had an interesting experience exploring an area rich with history. There are so many fascinating, historic places that I don’t think a person can live long enough to explore them all. 

Note: I apologize for this repeat of my blog from three years ago. My worst trait is procrastination and truly lost track of time.  This was such a fun trip that I wanted to share it with new readers who hae come on board. Hopefully those who have read it will enjoy it again because Butte, Montana is a fascinating place I'd love to revisit.