Kiss My Butte: a travelogue of sorts

Kiss My Butte: a travelogue of sorts

A Story by Dustin Chang


Nicole and I went to Butte, MT., for a book she is working on- not strictly for research purposes but hoping there would be enough time for city folks like us to look around. Butte, a Gibraltar of labor movement in the turn of the century USA is now a economically depressed small hilly town, surrounded by snow capped mountains. Nowhere else I’ve been in the country the past and the present are so evidently historically entwined.  Anywhere you turn, there is no escape from its history.

Once called as the richest hill on earth, Butte was perhaps the biggest mining town in the early 20th century. The influx of immigrants- Irish, Finns, Servo-Croats mingled in the shanty towns on the same richest hill. The conditions of the workers were atrocious. With President Wilson’s declaration of the US entering WWI, mining companies exploitation of its workers reached its monstrous height. Many people died in hazardous conditions, most notably Granite Mountain- Speculator Mine fire of 1917  which claimed 168 lives, still, the biggest mining disaster of all time.

Nicole was doing a book on a specific union organizer who was lynched by Anaconda Copper Company (now ARCO) hired thugs. Trudging through a hail and snow in June, we were buried deep in old newspaper articles and books in dusty Butte Historical Archives for 2 days in this short five day trip.

Butte is a beautiful little town if not in a sad way. Downtown is just like any other city, dotted with chain stores and a Walmart. Most of the mines are closed down because they are all used up of their resources or not cost effective enough to operate anymore. Most of the copper and other minerals are mined in China now, a local told us. Meth epidemic is a big problem since there are so little job prospects other than being a Walmart employee.

Wine Colored Poison Water

Berkeley Pit; an artificially created lake color of a nice burgundy, the largest contaminated body of water in the world, is visible even in space(just google map Berkeley pit Butte, MT). This eerie site is a by-product of copper mining. They decided to pump out the water rich in copper and zinc to a small pit. Then slowly the water has risen, until it got shut down in 1982. It is recorded that flock of unsuspecting migrating birds landed on the water, tricked by its color, to their untimely demise.


Some smart alec decided that this could be a tourist attraction, set up an entrance to the pit which resembles a mine shaft, then a long tunnel- which feels like you are going through an out-of-body/end of the tunnel experience. Then you get to see the massive mauve body of water.

They also had a gift shop trailer just outside. A young woman explained to us that the water is just a tad bit more acid-y than a salad vinaigrette. We took her word for it, wondering the legitimacy of Butte's EPA approved tap water supply.

Speaking of water source, Montana has a healthy number of micro breweries. We've tasted some of their selections. By far, Moose Drool Brown Ale was our favorite followed by Fat Tire and Trout Slayer.


Death of Socialism


It was late at night. After exhausting research and incessant driving and taking pictures everywhere, hunger was deadly. I had an idea. I remembered these drive-thru fast food joints as we drove pass the same paths over and over(Butte is a pretty small town indeed). We decided that we go to depressing downtown Butte and get some unholy fast food. There was an eerie excitement in the cold crisp air. Snow was still lingering.
"I've never gone through a drive-thru since college!"
Nicole said like a true New Yorker, giggling.

McDonald's or Wendy's? Even our delirious famished state, we couldn't bring ourselves to go to one of those. After driving around like a wayward teenagers on a school night, we settled on Taco Joe's, mumbling to each other's indecisive head the legitimacy of its name. Why is it not called Taco José?

I have to admit that I missed the simple joy of driving. Since I moved to New York, I've been car-less. I miss the freedom...freedom to go to a drive-thru at midnight, if desired.

So there we were, in Butte, Montana, sitting in the car next to a drive-thru window of Taco Joe in the snow, blasting Tom Waits' Bone Machine CD. The absurdity of it all made us giggle uncontrollably for a long time. 


Nicole pointed her finger toward the horizon. I looked up. And there it was, the Socialist Hall, right across from Taco Joe, above the fishing and hunting goods store. One of the more historic places we had been looking for during the course of the trip but weren't able to locate.



© 2017 Dustin Chang

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Added on September 16, 2009
Last Updated on April 24, 2017


Dustin Chang
Dustin Chang

Brooklyn, NY

Not much to tell. Born in Korea. Dabbling in filmmaking and writing. Studied painting in high school, literature and film in college. Married with two cats. Live in Brooklyn, NY. more..