Saturday, October 30, 2010

1. Silver Bow County

It would be impossible to understand the history of Montana without studying Silver Bow County, and its seat, Butte. Named for a stream that flows through the county, and which forms the headwaters of the Clark Fork of the Columbia River, Silver Bow County is number 1 for many reasons. In 1911, one quarter of the population of Montana lived in Butte. In 1934, when the county number system was implemented, Butte was both the largest city in the state and the most powerful community politically speaking.

Silver Bow County Court House

Smallest in area of Montana's fifty-six counties, Silver Bow was largest in population for over fifty years. Men came from all over the world to work in Butte's mines. In 1976. the Butte Silver Bow Bi/Centennial Commission published Butte's Heritage Cookbook, a volume of almost 300 pages containing recipes from the various ethnic and national groups living in Butte. Twenty-one different nationalities are included. In her Foreword, Editor Jean McGrath writes:

In 1885, Butte was booming with a population of 22,000, largely foreign-born, the majority of whom were Cornish and Irish immigrants (miners) who had found their way into the camp. Around the turn of the century, when vast migrations of people from Europe seeking freedom and a better way of life arrived in this country, Butte received its share of newcomers. The population swelled to 47,635, with an estimated 50% listed as foreign-born. Also, by then a number of settlers had come west to rebuild their lives and fortunes after the Civil War. In 1918, when the town reached its peak in population, some authorities (unofficially) estimated the number of people in Butte and the surrounding area to be 100,000.

When I was in grad school, one of my fellow students was a woman named Dorothy Gallovich. Her parents grew up in Nebraska, but when they wanted to get married, their families sent them to Butte. It had the closest Serbian Orthodox Church. In the 1950s, when my family lived in Butte, there were seven Methodist churches in town--thanks mainly to the large Cornish and Welsh population of the city.

Butte's heyday is over. Copper mining is not as profitable as it once was, and the deep shaft mines were replaced in the 1950s by the Berkeley Pit, an open pit copper mine that today is one of the largest EPA Superfund cleanup sites in the nation. The Pit ate vast portions of the Butte community, including the towns of Meaderville, East Butte and McQueen. Today it is a tourist site (!) showcasing the devastation of open pit mining with a hole that stretches a mile in length, a half-mile in width, and 1,780 feet in depth. It is filled with a toxic water that contains everything from arsenic to zinc.

The Berkeley Pit

Butte's spirit, however, lives on. Every March 17th the city celebrates St. Patrick's day and corned beef and green beer are the staples of the day's diet. The annual St. Patrick's day parade brings entrants from across the Rocky Mountain West, both from the U.S. and from Canada. In 2008, Butte was the first city west of St. Louis to host the National Folk Festival--an annual event that began in 1934. A community hosts the Festival for three consecutive years. You can read about my experiences with the folk festival in last year's blogs, or read about the 2010 Festival on their official web site.

If you'd care to read more about Butte, John Steinbeck spoke of the city in Travels With Charlie. D.H. Lawrence wrote of the Cornishmen who had left home for Butte, America. And local author Myron Brinig wrote several novels set in Butte, or with a Butte connection, one of which, The Sisters, was made into a movie starring Bette Davis and Errol Flynn.

Sitting on the western slope of the Continental Divide, Silver Bow County rises from a low of 5,000 feet above sea level to a high of over 10,000 feet. Growing season is short to non-existent, and you can expect snow anytime of the year. The 2000 US Census counted 34,606 Silver Bow County residents, but by the 2008 estimate, this number had dropped 5.2% to 32,803. This would make Silver Bow County 8th in population among Montana's counties. The county covers 718 square miles and in 2000 had a population density of 48.2 people per square mile. In 1977, the city of Butte and Silver Bow county consolidated to form Butte-Silver Bow. It is one of two consolidated city/county governments in Montana.

Headframe and Butte Panorama

Photo Information:

Note: Double clicking on any image will open that image in its own window and in a larger format.

Silver Bow County Sign: Taken 3/24/2010. Nikon D80 DSLR, Nikkor 16-85 mm lens set at 45 mm. ISO 125, f /11.0, 1/250 second. Finished in Photoshop CS4.

Silver Bow County Courthouse: Taken 10/3/2009 in Butte, Montana. Nikon D80 DSLR, Nikkor 16-85 lens set at 16mm. ISO 125, f /16.0, 1/125 second. Finished in Photoshop CS4.

Headframe and Butte Panorama: Taken 10/15/2008 in Butte, Montana. Nikon D80 DSLR, Sigma 18-50 lens set at 25 mm. ISO 400, f /11.0, 1/180 second. Finished in Photoshop CS4.

Berkeley Pit: Taken 10/15/2008 in Butte, Montana. Nikon D80 DSLR, Sigma 18-50 lens set at 40 mm. ISO 400, f /8.0, 1/1000 second. Finished in Photoshop CS4.

Mountain View: Taken 10/15/2008 in Butte, Montana. Nikon D80 DSLR, Sigma 18-50 lens set at 42 mm. ISO 400, f /8.0, 1/750 second. Finished in Photoshop CS4.

Looking across the Berkeley Pit at the Rocky Mountains

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