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Butte once was a city of 60,000 (1920, including surrounding area); it dipped to 24,000 in 1970, and now is around 34,000.   Along with its population, the source of its wealth also drastically diminished, and the result is an early variant of the current Detroit: a place abandoned when its economic function ceased, and for which no forethought was given to establishing a sustainable society once the mines ran out.  It is a common American story, though here written in direct and clear terms.  Across the valley, Anaconda provides a similar example.  Montana is littered with many other much smaller mining towns, now, as Butte is attempting to do for itself, promoted as tourist destinations.  It is a kind of Disneyfication of history, with the reality gutted, and only the emblems left to stand.  There is something of the whiff of a corpse in it, and that, shall we say, makes it a hard sell.

Today in a Portuguese paper I saw a notice that Manoel de Oliveira was hospitalized there for some heart condition, and then had an infection of some kind – I think the oldest living, active, filmmaker is likely to die shortly.  He is 103.   His last films, one a year, got better and better, which is not often the case.

For anyone interested in seeing some odds and ends I am posting now on Vimeo.  Presently available are a relatively recent short, and a very old one.


  1. Butte had 100 thousand residents around the turn of the century. If the stinking EPA had not shut down mining operations, it would still be thriving today. It still is doing a lot better than you write, however. With approximately 28,000 residents, it is one of the biggest cities in Montana. It is still the headquarters for many major companies.

  2. The figures I saw when checking, ranged from 65,000 to 125,000 at its peak. That the population has dropped from 34 to 28K in the last few years tells me it is a dying place. More viscerally as I go around and see the 5 stores on Main St, next to or across the street from my friend Marshall’s “Len Waters Music Center” all closed down in the last 2 years, well… Not to mention the houses for sale, one after the other. It’s not that I like it, it is just that this is the story in Butte. I’m in Walkerville. FYI the population of Billings is 106K; Missoula is 68K, and growing; Bozeman 39K and growing; Helena 29K.

  3. Where is the house in the 1st pic? I love that house! It’s like a mini castle. I’m hoping to move to butte soon so your post is appreciated

    • 823 n. montana ave

      • Thnx for the info. I have around 800+ shots of houses in Butte, and another 200+ of buildings, and I went to the Butte-Silver Bow archive folks and offered them, and they were a bit stand-offish and then only were interested if I could give the address of each one. I am a fkn artist, not an archivist. But I’d be happy to hand them over if someone wanted to trace down the addresses!

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