Hell With the Lid Off: Butte, Montana
Coming August 2021
Author: Horace Herbert Smith
The Book: A newly discovered manuscript of an 1890s’ pistol-packing police reporter chronicles wild times, terrible tragedies and sudden millionaires on ‘the richest hill on earth.’
First Read: “What a rip-snorter of a story! Hell With the Lid Off is a spectacular contribution to the history of one of the greatest towns in the West, but even better – it’s an irresistible read.”
—David McCumber, editor, Montana Standard and Western regional editor, Lee Newspapers
whose books include Playing Off the Rail and The Cowboy Way: Seasons of a Montana Ranch.
Back Story: Hell With the Lid Off: Butte, Montana grew from the lost manuscript of Horace ‘Bert’ Smith, who arrived in the West as a teetotaling 21-year-old adventure-seeking reporter and went on to publishing successes in New York after nearly a decade in the West. His granddaughter, Melissa Smith FitzGerald, discovered the manuscript, which Smith was finishing when he died in 1936.
The Town: In its booming days, which extended close up to the final days of the last century, Butte was wholly untrammeled, perfectly natural in its always colorful and variegated activities and its enjoyment of life, and open and above-board in all it did. Everything was exposed in the raw, with not trimmings or decorations of any sort. If people liked things that way, Butte suited them down to the ground; if they didn’t, it made no difference. Its men were virile if not violently virtuous and they were frank and honest and clean and decent in the big things of life. One of their outstanding traits was their great respect for woman.
At Night: Concert halls, vaudeville theaters and hurdy-gurdies sprang into life, and gambling houses and saloons largely increased their forces, and the camp became a wild jumble of bucking faro, drinking, dancing and dumping silver on the stages of the theaters, to the accompaniment of uproarious goings on. And the racket continued until daylight, by which time everybody was worn out.
Desperadoes: ‘Plain Poison’ Billy Fay’s hands were so gnarled and twisted that anyone who didn’t know him would have ridiculed the suggestion that he could show any speed in handling a gun, yet he was one of the fastest men in the West with a six-shooter...Frank Dougherty was a crooked gambler of the tinhorn type and a morphine fiend; a man-killer when he was full of dope and a sneaking coward without it.
When Death Came Knocking: Ed Sherman and Tom Richards, the rival undertakers, cheerfully solicited my business and Tom Porter, the coroner, assured me that if things went that far he would get the old Vigilantes together and lynch my murderer. Which was reassuring, in a way, if not exactly comforting.
Newsroom Hijinx: ‘Egg’ put the two-column headline in big black letters — W.A. CLARK’S BALLS — over a dispatch from New York about ‘copper king’ W.A. Clark’s social hilarities.