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Boom-and-bust Legacy

March 2023
1min read

Your story of turn-of-the-century Butte (April) had a special poignancy for me. My grandmother, who recently died, was born to a Finnish family there in 1907. Unlike those who remained behind, though, she did not preserve the ethnic culture amid which she must have lived during the first three years of her life. Her case was only one of the many tragic situations that the rough-and-tumble days you describe produced. She later was adopted and left Butte about 1911, after her mother, who had nine children and was a laundress, had been committed to an insane asylum.

My grandmother’s memories of Montana’s copper country were unpleasant, and she claimed to remember little. Indeed, the only reason that we know she was born and lived in Butte, or even that her parents were Finnish miners, was that my uncle thumbed through old Montana records to establish her biological heritage. She herself did not consider this heritage important. More significant to her was her heritage in California as an American whose sons pursued higher degrees and middle-class lives.

And in this I suspect that she was probably like most who lived in Butte and other boom-and-bust cities of the West: She preferred to forget the rough years that you described. But this means, too, that the legacy of Butte is not only that of the few left behind, which you document so well, but also that of the majority who, like my grandmother, left to populate the growing cities of the West.

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