Butte sunrise, looking west to the Pintler Wilderness, December 2006
Not "Butte, Montana." Butte was long referred to as "the black heart of Montana" because of the abuse of political power by the Anaconda Copper Company. Montana residents who were not of Butte or Anaconda resented this abuse, of course, and came to regard Buttians and Anacondans as Other. Buttians responded by divorcing themselves from their own state, and emphasizing the national importance of Butte. Hence, "Butte America."Today we are just a burnt over mining town. But -- unusual for a mining town -- Butte was not merely a boomtown or a temporal flash in the pan. Mining persisted here for a century. Even today copper mining plays a significant if small role in the local economy. This persistence led to a sense of place and a cultural rootedness that set Butte apart from other mining towns. Even when the crash came, many Buttians did not leave.
A herd of antelope along the road, just west of town.
And some non-natives, like me, found our way here and we stuck, too. Why? Well, to begin with, "Butte is only 15 minutes from Montana." First rate hunting, fishing, backpacking, skiing, and other outdoor opportunities are at our back door. Furthermore, Butte is incredibly friendly and welcoming. Some days the 20-minute/1&1/2 mile walk from my college office to home can take 2 hours. People want to say "Hi." They want to talk. They want to know how my daughter is doing at college, how my wife is doing in her job, how my dog is doing, how many days it took me to kill my elk this year... God, I love my adopted town and its people.
One of my elk hunting spots, as seen from one of my cross country skiing spots.
For the same reason, of course, I can get very angry with my adopted family. Butte -- and Montana Tech, the college where I teach -- can be incredibly backward. Trying to get ahead by driving backwards and looking in the rearview mirror. But lots of locals -- including many Butte natives -- "get it." They too realize that our future will NOT look like the past. That our future needs to embrace cultural changes that restore our lives. God, I love my adopted town and its people.