Elk of 1916
by George Everett
- In 1916,
Butte, Montana was a crowded, bustling urban metropolis nestled
in the middle of the vast open spaces of Montana. The city of
almost 100,000, the largest urban center between Minneapolis
and Seattle, was busting at its seams with commerce surrounding
the extraction of copper and other metals at the edge of an era
of endless possibilities and optimism.
It was a time when everyone could believe that technology would
save us all. New inventions like the telephone and the automobile,
the typewriter and the airplane, and even the recent widespread
introduction of electricity, all combined to assure Americans
that the future was limitless and bright. And Butte, booming
to meet the world's voracious appetite for copper, was a bastion
of this bully spirit.
Mine shafts and stopes interlaced Butte's Hill as more and more
miners tunneled to extract copper and other precious metals from
thousands of feet below the surface. In 1883, 2,000 miners worked
in Butte's underground mines. By 1916, there were 14,500 miners
working in Butte mines on rotating shifts around the clock.
In the midst of the boom and the enthusiasm of the times, in
1916, members of the Butte Elks Lodge 0240, wanted their annual
July convention to be a memorable one, especially since it coincided
with Butte's favorite holiday, the 4th of July.
When the word was announced that the Elks lodge was looking to
build an arch to parade under, a local stage designer named Edmund
Carns approached them with an offer to build more than a simple
arch to pass under. He proposed to place an elk of epic dimensions
on the central corners of Broadway and Main Streets in time for
the festivities. The lodge agreed and paid Carns $4,000 for his
talents. Carns used a stuffed elk in the lobby of the lodge as
a model and then drew plans for the animal that were several
times larger. He assembled the plans in sections laying them
out on the stage of the Broadway Theatre where he worked.
The elk was then built behind scaffolding on the street corner
where it would stand. Workers labored for two weeks day and night
to complete the statue on time for the 4th of July.
They surrounded the heavy timbers that formed the legs with wire
mesh and then wrapped that with cotton cloth and glue. After
painting to prevent damage from the elements, Carns then applied
a plaster that included $1,200 worth of high grade copper ore
from the nearby underground copper mines.
When Carns unveiled his completed
elk, the statue stood 62 feet tall and 44 feet long with 24-foot
high legs that streetcars could easily drive between.
Black and white photographs of the statue are impressive but
they do not do it justice. The copper in the plaster finish gave
the statue a green hue. Purple and white lights shone from the
antler tips. Blue lights draped on a star of fidelity hung between
The eyes made from 10-inch, 75-watt nitrogen lightbulbs were
lit each night. Motorists could look up and see the flank branded
with the fraternal greeting "Hello Bill" in large white
The Elks also provided an "animated musical flag" that
was composed of 1,200 children in red, white, and blue costumes
singing "America the Beautiful" and "The Star-Spangled
Banner" as parade floats filed by. Prizes given for entries
included one for the smallest elk in the parade when "Big
Bill" Moreland of Colorado Springs, Colorado walked by with
an elk that he assured others could only be seen with the aid
of a microscope.
After the 30,000 or more visitors who had come to Butte for the
state convention and the 4th of July parade had left town, the
elk remained standing, but not for long. Heated debate erupted
among the local Elks who were divided over whether to dismantle
the statue or make a permanent display of the elk, either on
a butte above the city or at the nearby Columbia Gardens, an
amusement park with its carousel, carnival rides, and well-tended
Despite the efforts of Edmund Carns to raise the funds needed
to move the elk to a permanent site for posterity, the statue
was disassembled before the end of that July with the copper-clad
cloth being sent to a nearby smelter to recover the ore. Now
only memories remain of the mother of all elks that once was.
Today, B.P.O.E. Lodge 0240 is almost 110 years old, and the stuffed
elk that was the original model for the giant elk is stored in
the attic of the present lodge at the corner of Montana and Galena
Streets in Butte and the only readily accessible remnant from
that event more than 80 years ago is a large photo in a gilded
frame that still hangs in the lodge today.