My Forty Years Scribblin's
Interviews
Butte—“Cradle of Memories”

In an interview from 1966, published in the November-December 1996 issue of The Montana Journal, Mrs. Evelyn Modjeska told how she moved to and away from Butte for reasons of health!


It was Thanksgiving weekend of 1912 that Mrs. Evelyn Modjeska boarded a train with her husband and left Chicago to make a new home in the west. Her doctor advised a change of environment, so they decided to try Butte, having had a sister-in-law who had lived there. Evelyn remarked to her husband that she felt warmly welcomed upon seeing her first Butte newspaper proclaiming, "ENOUGH ROOM IN THE CEMETERY TO BURY ALL OF BUTTE."

Soon after her arrival, she was startled by a man charging up and down the street on a nervous horse and shooting his gun in the air. Inquiring what that was all about, she was told that he had just been married and was duly celebrating. She remembered that her older brother had come to Butte in the 1890s and gone to a hotel where he sat gazing out the window with his feet propped up on the window sill. He hastily withdrew the appendages when some unknown prankster fired a shot, nicking a piece out of his shoe sole.

Butte's politics were Socialist at the time, having a Socialist mayor. Gambling was prevalent. Pedestrians were obliged to sidestep groups of men "shooting craps" they called it, "and right on the sidewalk!"

There were three big department stores, a nice cafeteria, some good restaurants, and Gamers ice cream parlor, a very popular place.

The Modjeskas' son was born in Butte, and they decided to buy a home there. Evelyn found an attractive place, and the gentleman owner took her on an inspection. It was a real eye opener. The bathroom fixtures sat in the bedroom, and there was no door. But the house they finally bought was all that any woman could desire.

"I just loved it… and all the hilly streets and Big Butte mountain too," she reminisced.

She joined the Butte Women's club. She bought a piano and held an open house each New Year's Eve. She watched each graduating class from the School of Mines climb Big Butte to whitewash the M on the side of the mountain. And often on Sundays she would awaken to find a group of friends waiting for the Modjeskas to get up so they could have breakfast with them. The "Hungry Bunch" had already climbed Big Butte mountain and returned just for a Sunday morning lark.

Japanese gardeners made their rounds twice each week in season carrying a pole across their shoulders with a hamper full of vegetables hanging from each end. And much of the town's advertising was done by streetcar with a band on board, their musical numbers interspersed with "Big Sale," announcements.

Butte had good schools and two fine hospitals. There was a mixture of nationalities making many types of pastries and foods available in the bakeries and stores. There was also a fine monastery and lovely churches.

There was one circumstance Evelyn found hard to understand and a little sad. Miners went into the caverns of the earth in work clothes and carrying lunch buckets—wearing diamond stick pins and other expensive items. Because of the uncertainty of their coming out alive, they were making sure they used their jewelry if only for one last fling.

A fondly remembered recreation was a trip to Gregson Hot Springs via Northwestern Railroad for indoor swimming and a delicious homegrown, homecooked meal. Fishing in the Big Hole River was a favorite sport, and it was a delight to be invited out to Columbia Gardens to pick pansies.

Yes, Butte was a most interesting place to live, until one night when they were waiting for a streetcar and there came a terrible blast.

"I thought I'd been shot!" Evelyn related. What really happened was that someone had blown up the Miners Union hall.

"It was terrible!" she remembered. The militia was called out, and one could not go anywhere without a soldier pointing a gun and asking what your business was. No one felt safe. That's when the Modjeskas packed up and went home to Chicago.

In her last missive to me, Evelyn Modjeska stated… "As Thanksgiving approaches I give thanks for my many blessings and memories. Butte may get down to forty below zero, but no one was ever known to have heat prostration or be struck by lightning!" She was then eighty-seven years old and still making life more enjoyable for others, organizing singalongs and social functions within the Methodist home where she spent her last years at Lawerenceville, Illinois.