European Immigrants

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The city of Granite, Montana, ca. 1890. Courtesy of the University of Montana - Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library via Big Sky Country Digital Network.

European immigrants made up the largest share of men and women who came to Montana seeking work and fortunes. Its non-Indian population grew from 20,595 people in 1870 to nearly 143,000 people by 1890. The boom and bust nature of Montana industries kept people on the move. In the silver panic of 1893, Granite silver mine shut down and the nearby mining town of Granite had 3,000 people leave in a single day. Three years later, with silver prices back up, the Granite mine complex was the biggest mine in the world. Today, Granite is a ghost town.

Labor Unions were formed to give the workers a voice against the large companies. Unions organized workers to fight for better working conditions and better wages. Unions also provided social gatherings for employees and their families, helped their members when they were sick, and paid for funeral expenses if a man was killed on the job.

The Anaconda Copper Company, called “the company” by the employees, was a huge political power. The company owned the mines, smelters, and many of the state newspapers, and bribed politicians. Men under the control of the company were said to wear the “copper collar.” In 1903, the company shut down, forcing thousands of employees out of work until the legislature passed the legislation it sought. The company also paid men to join the unions and to seek positions of leadership, so eventually they controlled the unions too. Meaderville, McQueen, and East Butte, once thriving Butte neighborhoods, were destroyed so the company could create Berkeley pit.