Butte and the Berkeley Pit

The state of Montana has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1992, when Bill Clinton won 37.63 percent of the popular vote to beat George H.W. Bush. Bush received 35.12 percent of the popular vote that year.

In the 2016 election, when Donald Trump won 55.6 percent of the popular vote in Montana, six counties voted for Hillary Clinton: Missoula, Glacier, Big Horn, Gallatin, Deer Lodge and Silver Bow.

Deer Lodge and Silver Bow counties have voted for the Democratic candidate in every presidential election since 1956,* even in 1972 when every other Montana county went for Nixon.

The story of Silver Bow county is a unique one in the history of Montana and the United States. Up until the 1930s, it was the fastest growing county in Montana, with a booming copper industry. Now, it has a population of 34,523 (2013 numbers) and the entire area is on the EPA’s National Priorities list. The EPA gave the “Silver Bow Creek/Butte Area” a site score** of 63.76, the highest in Montana.

A Google Timelapse showing an aerial view of the area since 1984 and the growth of the Berkeley Pit can be found here.

The growing pit or lake in the top part of the frame was once home to neighborhoods that lived on top of the mines that made Butte a destination for European immigrants. Open pit mining in Butte began in 1955, when copper prices were the highest they had been since World War I. The accessible parts of the Butte mines had already been mined, but the Anaconda Company sought to continue to profit from its mines there.

The future Berkeley Pit in 1952. (Image/Pit Watch)

Butte was originally founded as a gold and silver mining camp, but it became prosperous in early twentieth century during the copper boom.

By 1900, historian David Emmons estimates 12,000 people of Irish descent lived in Butte. Below is a Google Earth Pro-generated movie mapping out the route Emmons describes in his book, “The Butte Irish”: “Skibereen to Queenstown; Queenstown to Boston; Boston to Butte and the Mountain Con Mine.”

The tour begins on the Beara Peninsula, near Skibereen. What Emmons calls Queenstown is today known as Cobh, a port town in County Cork, Ireland.

*In 1956, Silver Bow county voted for Dwight Eisenhower, while Deer Lodge still voted for the Democrat Adlai Stevenson. In 1924, Silver Bow voted for the progressive candidate, Robert Follette. In 1904, Deer Lodge voted for Theodore Roosevelt. In every other presidential election, both counties have voted for the Democratic candidate.

**The site score is calculated by the EPA using their Hazard Ranking System. A full definition can be found here. It examines a site’s ability to release hazardous substances, the characteristics of the waste created and the people and sensitive environments affected by the release.

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