BUTTE — One hundred and five years ago, Frank Little was murdered in a brutal lynching in Butte. All these years later, it’s still a mystery as to who killed him, but to those that know the story of this firebrand of a union organizer, it’s no mystery as to why they killed him.
“He gave radical, fiery speeches. He said, ‘put the managers to work down in the hole in the ground. Make them actually earn a living for a change.’ He wanted the workers to revolt and take charge of everything,” said labor historian and Frank Little reenactor Richard Gibson
Representing the Industrial Workers of the World, Little was in Butte just two weeks before he was lynched from the Wyoming Street boarding house by six men at 3 AM on August 1, 1917.
“They dragged him out, tied him behind the car, dragged him through the streets of Butte, took him to a railroad trussell down on Silver Bow Creek, and hanged him,” said Gibson.
The note found pinned to Little sent a clear warning to others, with initials written across the bottom.
“L was for Little, again no one knows for sure what those letters stand for, but there were taken to be the initials of those who are next in line,” Gibson said.
Many people were outraged by his gruesome death.
“His funeral here had 12,000 people lining the streets, over 6,000 followed his casket to Mountain View Cemetery. It was the biggest funeral Butte had ever seen or has ever seen,” said Gibson.
Little’s murder was never solved, but many believe the Anaconda Company hired goons to take him out.
“I think most people believe that there were agents of the police force, the Butte police force, under the control of the Anaconda company among the six men who killed him,” he said.
Butte Archivist Kim Murphy Kohn added, “Every now and then we still get people who will go, ‘oh yeah, my great-grandfather drove the car,’ or ‘my great-grandfather was involved in that.’”
Archivist Aubrey Jaap said Butte may never know who killed little: “I don’t know if it will every be solved. It would be such a festinating button to close in history, you know, to put the lid on that, but I don’t think so.”
The Anaconda Co. left Butte a long time ago after it pulled all the riches it wanted from its soil, but Frank Little remains. His grave has become a shire for people who believe his message is still relevant today.
“It remains a big deal, there are people there every year on August 1, every year, they sing labor songs, solidarity forever and things like that. It’s not trivial at all,” said Gibson.