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THE SOCIALIZATION OF UNCERTAINTY: THE ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS IN BUTTE, MONTANA 1880–1925 DAVID M. EMMONS the copper-mining city of Butte, Montana, was for its work force a place of multiple horrors. Built on untimbered hills at an elevation of 5,000 to 6,500 feet, the city was described as looking like a “gigantic ship wreck.”1 Even the climate conspired. Winter temperatures routinely reached thirty to Wfty degrees below zero. Head frames and hoisting platforms, smokestacks and slag heaps were scattered randomly over a landscape as urban as any in America. The residential neighborhoods adjacent to the mines consisted of densely packed frame homes, boarding houses, saloons, and churches. All reXected the wildly mixed ethnicity of the city. Narrow, unpaved streets took residents into the center of Butte to, among other imposing structures, the Hennessy Building on whose sixth Xoor the giant Anaconda Copper Mining Company (ACM) had its corporate headquarters. The people of Butte spoke of the “sixth Xoor” in the hushed tones beWtting reference to a company having near total control over the city and its working families. There can have been few more unlovely industrial settings anywhere than that oVered by the world’s greatest mining city. Despite the harshness of the place and its status as a corporate Wefdom, by 1910, ten thousand men from almost everywhere were making a precarious living by taking copper ores from Butte’s nine hundred miles of underground drifts. Their wages were the highest in industrial America; nothing less, it may be assumed, would have been enough to keep them there. Butte’s mines were worlds of their own. Underground temperatures were seldom below eighty-Wve degrees, the humidity seldom below THE ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS IN BUTTE, MONTANA, 1880– 1925 74 1 The author wishes to thank the Irish American Cultural Institute for the generous grant that made additional research for this article possible. The shipwreck reference is from Gertrude Atherton, Perch of the Devil (New York: A. L. Burt, 1914), p. 57. For an account of the Anaconda Company and its power, see Michael Malone, The Battle for Butte: Mining and Politics on the Northern Frontier (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981). ninety percent. The work was physically punishing and uncommonly dangerous. Figures for the years 1899–1906 show 1.14 mine accident deaths per 1,000 men working in the United Kingdom; 1.07 in Germany; .75 in Belgium; and 2.02 in France. In the period 1909–11, India’s mine fatality rate was 1.18; Russia’s .98; the notoriously dangerous Transvaal’s 4.29. From 1893 to 1906, the Butte rate was 4.72; in 1896, it was 9.3.2 To these grim Wgures must be added those enumerating death and permanent disability from silicosis and tuberculosis. Mortuary records from 1906–07 show 277 miners who died of respiratory disease. The average age at time of death was 42.7 years. The youngest to die was twenty-two; seventy -Wve others were under forty. Between 1916 and 1919, of 1,018 Butte miners studied by the United States Bureau of Mines, 432 (42.5 percent) had miners’ consumption, another sixty-three had tuberculosis. A Butte physician testiWed before a federal commission that the rate of consumption death in Butte was “something appalling. . . . Butte is worse than any place I know of.” Another said simply that “the slaughter of the miners of Butte . . . is a disgrace to this country.” Mine accidents killed between Wfty and a hundred men in Butte every year; respiratory disease killed thousands.3 THE ANCIENT ORDER OF HIBERNIANS IN BUTTE, MONTANA, 1880– 1925 75 2 For the number of men working in Butte, see Works’ Project Administration, Copper Camp: Stories of the World’s Greatest Mining Town (New York: Hastings House, 1943), p. 21; U.S. Industrial Commission, Mining Conditions and Industrial Relations at Butte, Montana. Sen. Doc. 415. 64th Cong., 1st sess. Final Report and Testimony, vol. 4 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing OYce, 1915), p. 3687. On wages, see Butte Chamber of Commerce, Resources of Butte: Its Mines and Smelters (Butte: Intermountain Printers, 1985), pp. 7–10; Clarence Long, Wages and Earnings in the...


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