“Give the Sons of Bitches Hell!” The Anaconda Road Massacre

The body of IWW organizer Frank Little

To say the teens were tumultuous in Butte would be a massive understatement.  The Gibraltar had experienced years of martial law beginning in 1914 and extending into the ‘20s.  Once a bastion of organized labor, the Butte Miners Union fell victim to its own success and growing conservative streak to get along with “The Company”.  As such, the leadership lost touch with the rank and file members ignoring their growing anger that began in 1912 with the introduction of the “rustling card” system that required all miners wishing to work on the hill have a card on file with the employment office attesting to their character and signed off on by one of the mine foremen.  This led to a revolt of the members who in the process of destroying their own union hall in 1914, destroyed their union as well.

During the war years, as copper prices continued to rise, Butte miners suffered under the heavy hand of “The Company” from wage stagnation and the suppression of union organizing.  When the Granite Mountain/Speculator Mine fire occurred in June 1917 Butte’s miners once again organized as the Metal Mine Workers Union.  Since the miners went on strike after the U.S. declaration of war against Germany, the “Company” owned Montana press labeled them as misbegotten dupes of those who sought to derail the American war effort.  Meanwhile, corporations such as the ACM branded unions like the Industrial Workers of the World treasonous and used the press as well as their political ties to attack the IWW.   Once again, Butte found itself under martial law and as federal troops patrolled the streets and enforced a night time curfew, IWW organizer Frank Little came to town.

Frank Little

Frank Little was a labor agitator of the first order and spent his time traveling from hotspot to hotspot throughout the west in defense of the working class.  However, Little’s presence in Butte was not seen by the members of the Metal Mine Workers Union as useful to their cause and “The Company” certainly viewed his arrival as a direct assault on their authority.  Six men kidnapped him from his boarding house and lynched him from a railroad trestle.  Local law enforcement failed to find any suspects which did not surprise the miner but rumor ran rampant that the order to execute Little came from the executive offices of “The Company.”  The murderers of Frank Little sent a clear message that they would not tolerate labor agitators in Butte.

The body of IWW organizer Frank Little

Ratchet forward three years and once again the IWW was making its presence felt in Butte.  Despite the unsuccessful strike of 1917 and the murder of Frank Little, the radical labor organization had not given up its organizing efforts.  Members of the Metal Mine Workers Industrial Union No. 800 went out on strike in September 1918 and again in February 1919.  Each time, Governor Sam Stewart called out the troops to quell the strike, forcing the miners to abandon the effort.  On April 19, 1920 members of the union clogged the streets of Butte turning back workers heading to their jobs, the strike was on.  More miners turned out the next day and successfully shutdown mining operations on the hill.  The union’s “dry squad” combed the city’s saloons, cigar stores, hotels, and pool halls insisting that the proprietors enforce the prohibition and gambling laws for the duration of the strike.

Governor Stewart once again called for troops and Silver Bow County Sheriff John K. O’Rourke deputized all the ACM’s special guards.  In the afternoon of April 21, 300-400 striking miners gathered at the entrance of the Neversweat Mine, facing off with approximately 50 special deputized guards.  Emotions were high when someone shouted, “Give the Sons of Bitches Hell!”  The guards opened fire and charged scattering the miners who broke ranks and fled.  During the melee, the guards wounded sixteen strikers as they attempted to escape the gunfire along the Anaconda Road, all shot in the back.  Among the wounded was Tom Manning, a 25-year old miner from Ireland.

Manning who only recently arrived in Butte was attempting to save enough money to pay for the passage of his wife and son from Ireland.  He along with several other wounded managed to make it to Industrial Hall (Finlander Hall) where strike leader Sam Embree telephoned for medical assistance. Manning died four days later of peritonitis.  The coroner’s inquest was brief—cause of death a .32 caliber bullet—shooter unknown.  Case closed!  “The Company” chortled in the press that the union’s attempt to frame their guards was a spectacular failure.  The murder of Tom Manning in a company town ended six years of labor warfare in Butte and left the union movement in Montana bloody and bruised.

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3 Comments

  1. Union members of Butte are starting to plan for the 100th anniversary of Frank Little’s murder (August 1st). If we can raise a little money (maybe a crowd fund) we can have a big event (concert, parade, history displays, etc) that draws State and possibly Nation-wide attention. It would be great to spread the Gospel of Unionism and all it has done to make America great! It would be great to honor our Martyred Union brothers and sisters, it would be great to celebrate Frank. If you have any ideas please call Butte’s SWM CLC VP Chris Danielson 406-491-5233.

  2. We could invite other States such as Pennsylvania. When we would strike they would visa versa. The Native Americans within our state would be excellent. The women involved with The Woman Citizen magazine and Unity. Many of the families are still in Butte.

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