16 August 2007

Anaconda, Montana, the "Order of Red Men," and history

I love Anaconda, Butte's sister city. The town is the county seat of Deer Lodge County, and the courthouse is a gorgeous sandstone structure completed between 1898 and 1900. It was designed by Bell & Kent--the same architectural firm that designed the state capitol building in Helena, and is of course on the National Register of Historic Places. Here's a shot of the Deer Lodge County courthouse:And a closeup:
According to Sally Campbell, Under the Shadow of Mt Haggin (Deer Lodge County History Group, 1975), the building cost about $100,000, is 110 feet high, and the interior frescoes (sorry, I should have went inside and got pics of them) were painted by Consolidated Artists of Milwaukee.

My friend Earl Sager, a retired science teacher and Anaconda school administrator, told me about the quarry where the sandstone for this building was mined. Dave Carter and I decided to have a look. It's been very smoky in Butte -- visibility down to 5 miles or less most days -- and one needs to keep busy so as not to dwell on a scene out of Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Here is the sunrise in Walkerville yesterday (the smoke only thickens as the day progresses):
Well, back to the courthouse in Anaconda. The quarry proved to be close by--just a long rifleshot from the courthouse:Here's Dave posed above the quarry rim; I tried to get him to back up a little for the photo, but he would not:Within the quarry, there is a lot of very soft and easily weathered stone exposed, but next to it is some very hard, solid sandstone that looks to be courthouse material:The quarry proved a bit of a disappointment. It has eroded greatly over the past century or so, and there was no sign of waste rock or how the rock was cut and hauled. There do not seem to be other buildings in Anaconda built of this material, so perhaps the quarry operated only for the courthouse.

The day was still young, so Dave & I did a long, looping hike through the cemetary. In death as in life: graves were grouped into distinct ethnic, religious, and fraternal association areas. For example, there was a Masonic section, one for Spanish American War veterans, one for members of the Eastern Orthodox faith, Knights of Pythias, Order of Woodmen, etc.

The most unusual and -- to me -- unfamiliar plot was for the "Improved Order of Red Men." There is one hell of an impressive monument:
With some cool details:



Most surpising of all, perhaps, is that the monument seems to be made of the same sort of sandstone as the courthouse.

These fraternal organizations were very important at a time when there was no health care insurance and people grouped together to take care of one another in the event of tragedy. Like the exagerrated claims of most fraternal organizations (cf. the Masonic claim to have descended from Moses' men who built the Great Pyramid), the Red Men claim to have descended from patriots at the Boston Tea Party. Whatever the truth of 'at, the group was officially chartered in 1834, and is still in existence today--though the membership of 38,000 is considerably down from the historic mark of 500,000 in 1938 (info from Wikipedia entry). Not surpisingly, perhaps, the current seat of the organization is in Waco, Texas!

On our hike, we also spotted a few wildflowers, such as this white knapweed (genetic variant or true white knapweed species?)--an exotic and many would say "noxious" species:
And this native blazing star:
Should we love the blazing star, and hate the knapweed? Well, in their place, all species are beautiful. So yes, love the natives. But there is not much use in hating the exotics: many, like knapweed and rainbow trout, are here to stay. And all have their virtues. Live with it, at least in cases where native species are not endangered.

4 comments:

Matt Vincent said...

Great piece, Pat. I've spent many a day wandering around the Butte cemeteries, in similar awe of some of the monuments there.
As for the "white" knapweed, no doubt a genetic variant. The same phenomenon is common among many native and non-native species, such as shooting stars, evening primrose, Rocky MT bee plant to name a few and I've seen white common toadflax blooms before. As for spotted knapweed, let it still be damned, the bees happen to use it to make some of the best and sweetest honey in the state.

sceamon said...

There's a few stories of people having had supernatural encounters at those Native American statues in Anaconda. I've heard stories about the branches moving on the statue trees. I always wondered if there was some coincidence of the ghost stories having to do with Native Americans since pretty much everybody in Anaconda now is white.

Pat Munday said...

Sean, note that the monuments are not Native American. They were erected by white guys organized into fraternal associations that appropriated Native American symbols. Sort of like the Boy Scouts “Order of the Arrow”—white guys playing at being Indians. On the other hand, as you point out, maybe the Indian spirits are angry at white guys having stolen their symbols (as well as their land—note the massacre of Indians that occurred near Anaconda). – Pat

Cialis Online said...

I think that this is really good, I would like to have the chance of read more about it because this place look so nice. I love the natural place.