See other history stories
The Street-Straddling Elk of 1916
Butte's Far Eastern Influences
When Toil Meant Trouble: Butte's Labor Heritage
How Keno was Born in Butte, Montana
Mark Twain's Trip to Butte

The Captain Who Fought World War I in Butte, Montana
by George Everett
 
West Point cadet Omar Nelson BradleyCaptain Bradley's military career seemed to be hurtling toward a dead end.

Prospects could not have been bleaker for this career U.S. Army Infantry officer in 1918. He was three years out of West Point, a graduate of the class of 1915, West Point's "class the stars fell on," so nicknamed because 59 of the 164 graduates of that class attained the rank of general. Only the class of 1917 came close with 43 members reaching the rank of general in their careers.

During World War I, though, his career seemed over. Instead of being sent to France to Capt. Bradley in Arizona against Pancho Villa in 1916command troops in battle, he was assigned to duty in Arizona to help guard the nation's southern border against incursions by Pancho Villa.

Then a ray of hope for a military career officer: he was assigned to Vancouver Barracks, Washington to train new recruits for eventual deployment in France. At last his career may be back on track. He may be late but he would have an opportunity to further his career by distinguishing himself on the battlefields of Europe in what was being described as the war to end all wars.

All that evaporated with the arrival of new orders. Capt. Bradley was dispatched at the command of Company F to police the strategic copper mines in Butte, Montana. Instead of leading his men into battle in France, he had pulled guard duty for the raw copper essential for casings for bullets and bombs and the copper wire that were all crucial to America's military.

Labor unrest and the threat of sabotage had resulted in the stationing of federal troops in Butte and throughout Montana wherever strategic metals were mined or refined. Other troops served in Anaconda and Great Falls. In fact, Butte was intermittently occupied by state militia and federal troops from 1914 until 1921.

When Captain Bradley arrived in Butte by train with Company F on January 26, 1918, it was 40 degrees below zero. He established a barracks for his five officers and 86 men at the School of Mines campus on a bench on the west edge of Butte overlooking the city's mines.

He would turn 25 on February 12. His wife Mary arrived that month with her mother, Dora, to join her husband at his remote post. Mary had recovered from a serious bout with typhoid fever while Bradley was on border duty in Arizona but she was still weakened by the disease. Now she was seven months pregnant with their first child. Whether her recent illness was the cause, or the bleakness of Butte in February was to blame, she soon went into labor and the result was a stillborn boy.

To top it off, Bradley found himself in the awkward position of commanding troops who were draftees from Butte, Irish miners or miner's sons expecting to be sent to France to fight for their country. They were among the first young men from Butte drafted into the Army during World War I and sent to Fort Lewis, Washington for basic training. Instead of being sent to France, however, they were turned around after basic training and sent back for guard duty against their civilian neighbors in their own hometown!

In 1918, Bradley's duty included policing the streets during a rancorous St. Patrick's Day celebration on North Main Street in Butte that quickly disintegrated into a riot.

Butte was a city populated by Irish immigrants, some who had come directly from Ireland to work in Butte's mines. Events in Ireland included the Easter Uprising of 1916 and the effects of that turmoil were felt as strongly in Butte as in Dublin. Also, it was the spring following the Granite Mountain Mine disaster that killed 168 miners, a miner's strike and the murder of Frank Little, an I.W.W. organizer who spoke in public about opposing the war and forming "One Big Union" to oppose capitalism in Europe and America. Among the suspects for Little's murder were federal troops offended by his unpatriotic speeches.

Bradley's troops arrested more than 50 men, mostly Irish members of the Pearse-Connolly Club wearing green and yellow ribbons. They spent the night in the City Jail according to the newspaper accounts of the event and one protestor played Irish tunes on a penny whistle until a few of his tired compatriots took it from him and smashed it to pieces.

After the event, Bradley commented on the performance of his men during the riot. "We have no part in the policing of Butte," Captain Bradley said, "but when my men are ordered to do a thing, I believe they will do it. We got orders to assist the police in quelling a riot and had no alternative but to quell it. I am glad nobody was seriously hurt, but I would rather have seen a lot of people hurt than to feel that my boys fell down on the job. I am proud of every boy in my command."

From then on, most of Bradley's time in Butte was taken up giving patriotic speeches to civic groups, and at Liberty Bond drives, coaching baseball, and drilling new recruits and draftees.
One last engagement in harm's way remained, however.

On Friday, September 13th, Bradley led a raid on the Metal Mine Workers Hall on South Idaho Street and then the Finlander Hall on North Wyoming St. where they arrested about 50 suspected members of the I.W.W. who were preparing fliers to call for a general strike. Among them was William F. Dunne, editor of The Daily Bulletin, who was arrested and charged with sedition.

Three days later, on September 16th, troops of the 23rd battalion from Fort Douglas near Salt Lake City arrived in Butte. Captain M.S. Gone relieved Major Bradley of his command. After remaining in Butte to ensure a smooth transition, Bradley received orders to report to Camp Dodge in Des Moines, Iowa. There, Bradley's hopes of being sent to Europe were high when they arrived on September 25 and began intensive training for field conditions in France. However, by October, those hopes were crushed by an outbreak of influenza that killed or incapacitated hundreds of soldiers in the camp. In November, the war ended as did Bradley's hopes for a combat command.
Gen. Omar N. Bradley during WWII, before the fifth star
Of course, more than 25 years later, General Omar N. Bradley oversaw quite a bit of combat in World War II as he helped plan and execute the Allied invasion of Europe and the defeat of Germany.

During his career, Bradley earned a reputation as being one of the best infantry commanders in WWII. He commanded the 82d and 28th Infantry Divisions before going on to command the 1st Army and the 12th Army Group. After the war he served as Chief of Staff of the US Army from 1948-1949 and as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1949-1953 while holding the rank of General of the Army (five stars).
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