The speech, given at the Columbia Gardens baseball stadium to a crowd of 6,000, was castigated as treasonous and seditious, and garnered national press attention.
On July 18, 1917, Frank Little stepped off the train at the Northern Pacific Station about a mile to the south of here. He slowly made his way up to his lodging on North Wyoming Street near here. While Butte had been on strike, Little had been organizing for the IWW in Arizona’s copper mines. While there, he’d been in a car crash that broke his ankle, necessitating a cast and crutches. On top of that, he was suffering from a hernia.
Little was exhausted, in pain – and in danger. He had narrowly escaped being kidnapped and dropped in the southwestern desert by anti-labor vigilantes. That had been the fate of 1,200 other miners and organizers from Bisbee, Arizona, in one of the most notorious cases of union repression in history. It wouldn’t have been the first time he was kidnapped. In 1912, Little was abducted and beaten while organizing in Minnesota.
But the IWW had asked him to come to Butte. So he did. And he went to work right away. First up on the agenda was a rally at Columbia Gardens, where Little was scheduled to speak along with other labor organizers.
Columbia Gardens was a huge amusement park. The Copper King William A. Clark established the park in 1899, perhaps to curry favor with voters and unions. Unlike the Silver Bow Club, the Columbia Gardens was for everyone.
The park was located three and a half miles southeast of here, at the base of the mountains. Later in the twentieth century, the Continental Pit swallowed the park’s location. The excavated terraces at the far eastern side of Butte, visible from here, are approximately the location of the old Columbia Gardens.
Among other things, the Columbia Gardens had a baseball stadium. It was there that Frank Little gave what was probably the most famous speech of his life. Before a packed crowd of 6,000, Little lambasted greedy mine owners and called for all workers to join the IWW’s One Big Union. Little also lashed out against the war. His position was even controversial within the IWW, who feared invoking backlash by criticizing the war. But Little hated the war, which he saw as an extension of capitalist violence. And, in his most incendiary talking point, he castigated soldiers who took up arms against striking works as “federal thugs” and “scabs in uniform.”
The press the following day was awash in coverage of Little’s speech. Newspapers across Montana (many under the influence of the Anaconda Company) railed against Little’s “treasonous” and “seditious” speech. The national press picked up on it, too, given the stakes of Butte’s strike for the war.