1904 bird’s-eye view of Butte Montana

Henry Wellge, PANORAMIC VIEW OF BUTTE, MONTANA. Milwaukee: Henry Wellge, 1904
Two stone lithographic bird’s-eye view, 20 5/8”h x 30 5/8”w at neat line plus margins. Gently toned, edge tear at left extending ¼” into printed border, ink inscription at lower left. About very good.

A finely-detailed bird’s-eye view of Butte, Montana, “The Largest Mining Camp on Earth,” published by Henry Wellge in 1904, near the end of the Copper Wars.

The view presents Butte as “A Model City with All Modern Institutions and Conveniences” as seen from an imaginary viewpoint to the southwest, looking across the city to the smelters on Butte Hill. The view is dominated by the smelters and railroads that were the foundation of the city’s economy. A short legend identifies public buildings, schools, and churches while boasting of “4 daily, 12 weekly and monthly” newspapers. At lower left is a inset view of Copper King William Clark’s Colorado Smelter, at the time the largest such operation in the area, and his equally-vast Butte Reduction Works may be seen at bottom center. At far left is the Montana State School of Mines, founded in 1900 and now part of Montana Technology University.

Butte was initially established as a gold- and silver-mining camp in the 1860s, but really began to boom when demand for copper soared after the development of electric lighting and other electricity-driven technologies. By 1889, Butte, which fifteen years prior had been “a small placer-mining village clinging to the mountain side”, had risen to the rank of “the first mining camp of the world” with a population of 25,000. (The Great Reservation. Chicago: Poole Bros., 1889, p. 39) By 1904, when this view was published, the population had grown to 60,000. A diverse workforce of immigrants hailed from all corners of the globe, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Lebanon, Austria, China, Finland, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Montenegro, and Serbia and Syria. Over the past two decades, the view claims, these miners had produced 600-700 million dollars worth of gold, silver and copper “with more than double this value “in sight,”” rendering Butte “the richest hill on earth”.

The Copper Wars
The view is dotted with the stacks of the many smelters dominating the city physically and economically. Beneath the surface are not just the works of dozens of mining operations but also a complex history of economic and political rivalries known as the War of the Copper Kings, William A. Clark, Marcus Daly, and Frederick Augustus Heinze. Clark and Daly battled for supremacy over their mining, railway, lumber, and political interests from the late 1870s towards the end of the century. But by 1900 Daly was dead, and his interests had been consolidated into the Amalgamated Copper Mining Co., owned by Standard Oil of New Jersey and later renamed the Anaconda Copper Mining Company after the mine where Daly had first built his fortune.

The next round of the Copper Wars came to a head in the early 1900s as Heinze built his United Copper Company into a powerful rival to Amalgamated. Heinze took advantage of the so-called “apex law”, which allowed owners of a claim to follow and mine veins wherever they led—even if they continued onto another owner’s property. Heinze eventually extracted over 100,000 tons of ore beneath land owned by Amalgamated. Thousands of feet beneath the surface workers for the two enterprises quite literally fought—collapsing tunnels with dynamite, planting grenades, smoking each other out with burning rubber, blasting high pressure hoses, and using hand-to-hand combat. (LaGrande, p. 128)

Throughout all of this, Heinze and Amalgamated were embroiled in litigation (In 1902 alone Heinze had 37 lawyers working on 100 lawsuits.) The lawsuits didn’t scare Heinze, who had essentially bought control of the courts in Butte. However, everything changed in 1903 when the Montana legislature passed a “fair-trials bill” allowing Amalgamated to sue Heinze in jurisdictions outside Butte. Amalgamated eventually bought Heinze out in 1906 for a reported $12 million, and later bought out Clark’s mining interests in 1910, ending the copper Wars.

Henry Wellge (1850-1917)
Wellge was born in Germany and by the mid-1870s had emigrated to Milwaukee, WI where he became on of America’s most prolific viewmakers. Over more than three decades, he drafted and/or published no fewer than 152 bird’s-eve views of cities and towns in 26 different states and Quebec, primarily in the Midwest and South. He also produced five Montana views, including Bozeman (1884), Butte (1884), Missoula (1884), Billings (1904) and of course this view of Butte. Reps has high praise for the quality of his work:

“Always well drawn and printed—sometimes brilliantly so—his views of Midwestern and southern cities in the decade of the 1880s provide particularly valuable records of urban conditions at a time when many other post-Civil War view-makers had stopped work or had reduced their output.” (Reps, p. 213)”

This view is extremely rare: It is not recorded in John Reps’ standard reference on American bird’s-eye views, and I am aware of only a single institutional holding at the Library of Congress. The Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives holds a variant edition issued as a brewery promotional.

Provenance and references
The view bears manuscript notations at lower left indicating it was used in litigation, though likely too late for the Copper Wars: “No. 222 / Filed March 26 1906 / Geo. W. Sproule Clerk / [illegible name] Deputy / Def[endant]s Exhibit No 3. Before the Master / CHC.”

OCLC 904321724 (Library of Congress only). Not in Reps, Views and Viewmakers of Urban America. Background on the Copper Wars from Krys Holmes, Montana: Stories of the Land (Helene, MT: Montana Historical Society Press, 2008), pp. 192-203 and LaGrande, Daniel J., “Voice of a copper king: A study of the (Butte) Reveille 1903-1906” (1971). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers, 5038.