Reactionary Radicals

Wheeler’s Progress

Shutting Down “The Company”

On October 15, 1905, Burton K. Wheeler stepped off a train at the Northern Pacific depot in Butte, Montana, thinking that he had seen more of the West than Lewis and Clark but wondering if his luck had run out.  After looking up every lawyer in town (Wheeler had graduated from the University of Michigan Law School) and receiving only one offer, he decided to go up to Spokane, Washington, on the grounds that he had never been there.  On his way to the train station, he passed a saloon.  Standing outside were two men dressed like respectable citizens and, as Wheeler described them, “oozing with geniality.”  Before he knew it, he was inside and deep in a poker game.  A friendly game of cards turned out to be a complete loss for young Wheeler: Inside of a few hours, both the train and his savings were long gone.  He had no choice but to stay in Butte—a quirk of fate that would have a major impact not only on the course of his own career but on the developing politics of the state of Montana.

Butte was a boomtown in the middle of mountains, the countryside denuded for 50 miles around; it was a jumble of soot-stained buildings, crisscrossed wires, and mountains of slag.  “The Company,” as Butte’s citizens called the Anaconda Copper Company, dominated not only the town but the state: A gigantic smokestack, said to be the largest on earth, commanded the skyline, belching...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here