The east side of Butte Hill, now the Berkley Pit

Butte, Montana is a city that symbolizes American mining.  The city is built on the “Richest Hill of Earth” and the City slogan is “A mile high and a mile deep”.  Butte has been termed the “Ugliest City in the World”, and possibly it is.  However, there are few places with as much mining history.

Butte Today:

The mining era is slowly fading from Butte.  The city remains a center of commerce for south central Montana.  Butte is the home of Montana Tech, formerly the Montana School of Mines,   and a regional airport.  The population has stabilized at 34,000, down from a 1920 peak of 100,000.

Overview of Mining History:

Gold was discovered near butte in the 1860.  The short term gold discoveries were followed by a period of silver mining.  Silver was discovered just north of Butte at what is now the town of Walkerville, MT.  One of the early producers at Walkerville was Moulton Mine.  Copper was discovered in the 1890’s at the same time as the demand for copper was greatly increased by the electric applications.  The earlier mining companies consolidated by the “Copper Kings”, Marcus Daley, Senator William A. Clark, and F. August Heinze.

Marcus Daly of the controlled the Anaconda group of mines which included the Anaconda, St. Lawrence, Never Sweat, Bell, Diamond, High Ore, Green Mountain, Modoc and some smaller mines.  The 1902 Copper Handbooks (Google Books) list 1900 production from this group of mines at 107 million pounds of copper.

Senator William A. Clark is listed as owning numerous properties including the Moulton, Original, Steward, Colusa, Mountain Chief, and Gambella.  Sen. Clark was also the owner of the rich United Verde mine at Jerome, Arizona.  The 1902 Copper Handbooks (Google Books) list 1900 production from this group of mines (the Butte Reduction Co.) at 12 million pounds of copper.

The Boston based Boston and Montana owned the Mountain View, Pennsylvania, Moorse, Leonard, East Colusa, and West Colusa.  The 1902 Copper Handbooks (Google Books) list 1900 production from this group of mines at 66million pounds of copper.

The Boston based Butte and Boston owned the Silver Bow, Michael Davitt, Blue Jay, East Grey Rock, West Grey Rock, and Berkley mines.  The 1902 Copper Handbooks (Google Books) list 1900 production from this group of mines at 17 million pounds of copper.

The Parrott Gold and Silver Co owned the Parrott mine.  The 1902 Copper Handbooks (Google Books) lists 1900 production at 13 million pounds of copper.

F. August Heinze organized the Montana Ore Purchasing Company which operated the Nipper, Belmont, Johnstown, Corra-Rock Island, Rurus and Minnie Healy mines.  The 1900 Copper Handbook lists 1900 production at 22 pounds of copper.

The Amalgamated Copper Company was holding company organized in 1899 by Rockefeller interests to consolidate the mines at Butte.  This task was largely accomplished by 1906 and the name of the company was changed to Anaconda. In the succeeding years the other companies that operated in Butte were merged into Anaconda. 

“The War of the Copper Kings” was initiated by Heinze who controlled some companies that operated near the mines of the Amalgamated Copper Company.  Heinze claimed that the veins of the Amalgamated properties apexed on lands of his company.  Battles were fought in the courts and underground.  The war ended when Heinze was bought out by Amalgamated.  The Amalgamated CC later became the Anaconda Consolidated Copper Company.

Overview of Anaconda Operations:

After the consolidation, Anaconda operated its holding in groups. The company owned common carrier Butte, Anaconda & Pacific RR operated spur lines over Butte Hill to collect ore from the ore bins of various mines.  The ore trains were assembled at Rocker at suburb of Butte, and then transported to the reduction works and smelter at Anaconda, MT, about 20 miles away.

The Kelley Mine at Butte

In the 1950’s Anaconda initiated the Greater Butte Project which was designed to extend the life of mining at Butte.  The project consisted of a high capacity new mine, the Kelly Mine, and the Berkley Pit.  The Kelly Mine served a hoisting shaft for block caving operation in the vicinity of the original Anaconda group of mines.  The Berkley Pit is located on the easterly slope of Butte Hill.  The pit devoured nearly all the historic old mines on easterly end of Butte Hill; it also devoured Butte’s “good time” suburb of Meadervile.

Over time the block caving operation ceased.  But the Berkley Pit continued to produce.  In 1973 a new pit, the Continental Pit began operations. The concentrator at Anaconda was replaced with a new facility near the Berkley Pit.  Mill feed was mixture of low grade ore from the Berkley Pit and the remaining underground mines.

In 1977 Anaconda was bought out by Atlantic-Richfield and in 1980 the mines at butte were closed due to low copper prices.   In 2000, Montana-Resources purchased and started to operate the Continental Pit.  The mine employs a few hundred.


The geology of the ore deposits of Butte consists of complex veins and faults.  Superimposed on this complex structure are zones of different mineral groups that reflect deposition at different temperatures and pressures.  The central zone is dominated by molybdenum and copper; this is followed by a zone of copper and zinc, which is in turn followed by a zone of lead and silver.


Google Books has a lot of resources available to those who want to know more about the geology and mines at Butte.  The 1907 Copper Handbook includes detailed descriptions of the mines before the consolidation into the Anaconda Copper Company. Another Google book, A Brief History of Butte, Montana, The world’s Greatest Mining Camp (published in 1900) has a great narrative and photos of Butte.  This book has photos of most of the major mines just before the consolidation.  Recent information about Butte is from Wikipedia.