Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

Butte, Montana

on January 9, 2013

Lucille Ball (who was from Jamestown, New York) chose to tell people she was from Butte, Montana.. of all theLucille_Ball_by_Koyuki_Shirai places she could choose.  Apparently, this was to “seem more middle America.”  Of course she would do something so random,  and choose a  such a random place!

Why? why? why would she choose Butte? Well, let’s just see what kind of fascinating place Butte was/is…

FIRST of all, it’s pronounced “Beee-oot”, not “Butt”.  Most people know this and are just being sassy, but.. just in case some don’t…

(A “butte”, for those who actually don’t know, means “A hill that rises abruptly from the surrounding area and has sloping sides and a  flat top.”  Considering the landscape, it’s a perfect name! Of course, when I look for a picture to support that, I can’t find a single one…maybe it’s because there’s buttes the whole way there, and then mountains and rocks, once you arrive…)

A butteTHIS particular Butte was once a famous (infamous?) mining town.  It’s best know for its copper mining, but did you know that they first discovered gold there? That’s what actually brought prospectors to the area, in 1864, the year after the gold strike in Virginia City (see blog January 2, 2013).

However, the miners ran into so much silver while searching for gold, extracting the gold was very difficult!

In 1868, the miners’ focus officially switched to silver. The silver market peaked in 1887, but crashed in 1893, thanks to the “Silver Panic of 1893”, which was a severe economic depression, that has something to do with railroads and gold and silver and banks and inflation. (I think I got the gist of it, but if you want to know more, you will have to do your own research.)

In the meantime – the miners had found copper while they had been searching for gold in the 1870’s…  after a delay, trying to adjust in the turn in the economy, the focus was turned to copper mining.  It was really right on time.

Up until the late 1880’s, copper had only been used for pots and pans, roofing material and other odds anButte sceneryd ends.  However, with the popularity of electricity, came the need for copper for electricity’s wires.  Everyone wanted it! Street lights, electricity in the homes…

In 1882, a man named Marcus Daly discovered a deposit that contained up to 35% copper.  (This earned the hill – Butte Hill – the title of “The Richest Hill on Earth.”)  By 1898, Butte was the biggest supplier of copper, supplying 41% of the copper for the entire world!!

A smelter was built nearby (30 miles) in a newly constructed city, called Anaconda.  (Smelting is a process of heating ore in order to extract precious metals.)

The World Wars further increased the need for copper (apparently, it was included in all of the bullets), and Butte was considered one of the most prosperous cities in the United States. By the late 1920’s, the Anaconda Mining Company was apparently the fourth largest company in the world!!

In the 1950’s, to reduce costs oBerkeley Pitf underground mining, the Anaconda Mining Company started open strip mining – which basically meant that they just removed the ground above, rather than tunnelling through it, which is what you can see evidence of today, and for which Butte is most well-known, nowadays. 

You can visit the Berkeley Pit ($2 to visit the viewing platform.)
The website confirms that the pit is 7000 feet (2134 meters) long, 5600 feet (1707 meters) wide, and 1600 feet (488 meters) deep. 

The smelter itself was demolished in 1981, but the Anaconda Smelter Stack is still standing.  (I’ve searched through all of my pictures – somehow, I don’t have one. That’s the problem with the days of “film” (which shows how long Washington Monumentago I went through Anaconda) – pictures are hidden in a massive jumble of other pictures, and I can’t find even one.)

The smelter stack is 585 feet tall. To put that into perspective, Wikipedia explains that the Washington Monument could actually fit inside of it!!

The Pit was closed in 1982. The pumps were turned off and started to fill with water. (Somewhere I read that it’s about 1000 feet full, so far…but I forget the date that that report was written…) The water, mixed with all of the minerals, is toxic (sigh) so that’s a new thing that has to be fixed, and there’s a plan… there’s a strategy in place… they are working on it.

It’s interesting – I think we visited there (the first time) probably shortly after the mine had shut down.  At that time (from my memory), they hadn’t really done a lot of restoration on the town, and many surrounding houses were buried in the dirt that had been taken from the mine area. I remember it being a very sad and dirty place.

Perhaps they were in their mourning period (or I’m remembering wrong), because this past trip, it was a nice little city (2010 census confirms the population around 34,000), clean, with a lively downtown area.  (Although a different kind of “lively” than from once upon a time – when it included an entire “red-light district”…. you can tour the brothel (this brothel was still active until 1982!!!) …we haven’t taken the tour, but it’s an option! Wikipedia says that “In its heyday…it was one of the largest and most notorious copper boomtowns…home to hundreds of saloons and a famous red-light district.”  “Notorious” seems like an appropriate word.)

You can take a trolley tour around the city and it’ll take you around to the historical sites, including the Berkeley PiMontana sceneryt viewing area (which, according to this website) is the only stop. But, they will pass the Copper King Mansion, the Dumas Brothel Museum, and some other places that seem very interesting, that I didn’t write about, like the Mai Wah Museum and the National Landmark Historic District.

Another tour which seems REALLY Interesting is a tour of Butte’s Underground City. (I didn’t know it existed until my brother told me, and we’d already passed through – it’s on my “to-do” list for next time.) (Tripadvisor reviews are all 5*.)

(Apparently, Butte’s Underground City tour is similar to the Moose Jaw Underground Tours, which we also missed, but talk about in my September 29, 2012 blog.)

Part of the Underground tour apparently includes a below-ground city jail, where Evel Knieval spent some time…which segues nicely into my segment on him!

Speaking of “notorious”, “famous” and “infamous”, the famous dare-devil, Evel Knieval was born in Butte, in October 1938.  There is a an annual celebration each summer ~ the Evel Knievel Days.  On the second day, there is a moment of silence for the entire Knievel clan, ending with 5 daredevils jumping over 19 trucks, all at the same time! AND with 50 foot flames shooting up through the trucks! YIKES!

Evel Knievel started racing around Butte on his bicycle at a very young age, laying a foundation for his future career as a motorcycle riding daredevil.Butte scenery

After he was an adult, and had to be more responsible, he got a job at the Anaconda Mining Company, but was eventually fired because he “made the earth mover do a motorcycle-type wheelie and drove it into Butte’s main power line.”

After tries at desk jobs (something about insurance), and some smaller motorcycle shows (his first public show involved jumping over a 20 foot box of rattlesnakes and 2 mountain lions.  Though mildly successful, it wasn’t enough to support his family.)

His first big show was January 1966, in California, and was a huge success! His career was launched!

He is super famous for setting all kinds of records in his life time – He also set a World Record for jumping 19 cars, in February 1971.  In February 1973, he set the Record for jumping 50 stacked cars!!  His motorcycle is now in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. AND he is in the Guiness Book of World Records for surviving having the most bones broken in a lifetime (including several concussions)!

Pasty shopMany little boys had Evel Knievel toys, action figures and accessories. Even Peter remembers having an Evel Knievel motorcycle toy. He was an icon, representing a very specific time period. If you don’t remember him in his red, white and blue jumpsuit, with stars and stripes – you have to Google for some images!!!  A 1970’s icon.

In November 2007, he died of pulmonary disease, and is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery, in Butte.

He was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Sturgis Hall of Fame in 2011. (For more on Sturgis, please see my December 18, 2012 blog.)

When in Butte, try the foods for which they are famous!  Three restaurants were featured on Man Vs. Food, on the Travel Channel. One such place was Joe’s Pasty Shop.  (This is “PASS-TEE”, not “PAY-STEE”, because, as they explain “Pay-stees are for strippers.”) Pasties are basically meat pies, served with gravy, and brought over during the Gold/Silver/Copper rushes, by prospectors from Europe.  (I ordered mine with gravy on the side, but I think it’s probably important to have gravy served right on it – for the sake of regulating the dryness of the Pasty…)
Pasty gravy on side Pasty

(Apparently, Pasties were introduced to the Butte area, during its hey-day, when so many people from around the world (Cornwall, in particular) were coming to Butte for work.)

There’s so much more to talk about, but I’ve decided to stop my blog here… just too much…

Sunday, we’ll be in Great Falls.

OH! ONE MORE THING BEFORE I GO!!! I canNOT believe I almost forgot this!! The Ringing Rocks!! I haven’t seen them yet (a hike is required and we are normally running out of time by this point in our trip), but if you can go see them, go see them!!  (Google “Ringing Rocks Montana.”)  Next time we are there, we are GOING! (Will be this coming September, hopefully.)

References (because there were too many to list during the blog).

History and statistics:

Evel Knievel:

Attractions and tourism:

6 responses to “Butte, Montana

  1. Billy Deakin says:


    Nice post, great to see the difference in pasties around the world!

    I’m currently writing a book about the Cornish Pasty and have a section on how it has been exported to different countries and evolved. I’d really like to use the 2 pasty with gravy photos from this page in the book, would you mind if I used them (I would give you a photo credit of course, and I can send you a free digital copy of the book when it’s published)

    If you’d like to find out more about the book take a look at

    Many thanks


    • 4mygypsysoul says:

      Hi Billy, I would be honored if you used my pictures, and thank you for asking! (I have at least one picture of the inside of the pasty, too, if you want/need a copy of that too.)

      And, I’d love to read your book – I took a look at the link you sent – it looks fun and interesting. (Would like to try your award-winning pasty recipe, too – congratulations on your awards!)

      • Billy Deakin says:


        Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, I’ve just been super busy!

        That’s fantastic thank you very much. Do you have an email or another way I can contact you? If you don’t want to post that publicly here, you can contact me via the contact page on or send me a DM on Twitter @billydeakin

        I’ll be happy to send you a digital copy of the book when it’s ready so you can try the recipes!

        Many thanks


      • 4mygypsysoul says:

        Hi Billy,
        Was thinking about you because we just got back from a roadtrip over the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and every single town had a least one “we have the best Pasties in town/state/country” restaurant! We, unfortunately, were coming through after and before hours, so we didn’t get to stop (I did start taking pictures of all the signs we passed.)

        Anyway – maybe you already know about this region, but I thought it was interesting that there were SO MANY!!!

      • Billy Deakin says:

        Oh hey, thanks for thinking of me. Yes I’ve spoken to a lot of “Yoopers” and was aware that pasties are really popular there, but never yet had the chance to visit myself.

        By the way the book has finally been published. I’ll email you a digital copy over the weekend!

        And in case anyone else reading this is interested, here’s a link to it on Amazon (hope you don’t mind)

        All the best,


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