Filed Under Labor History

Frank Little Tour: Nora Byrne's Boarding House

Site of Frank Little's Kidnapping

Six masked men dragged Frank Little out of this boarding house at 3 a.m. on August 1, 1917, and drove away in a black Cadillac.

The large Butte Brewing Company took up much of the 200 block of North Wyoming. Wedged between the Brewing Company and the Finlander Hall was a residential flat and a boarding house. The boarding house was where Frank Little stayed in Butte, and where he spent his last night on earth.

The boarding house was owned by Nora Byrne, an immigrant from Ireland. She was a widowed mother, and boarding houses were one of the few businesses available at the time to women who needed to support themselves and their families.

When Little arrived, Byrne set him up in a room near the front entrance due to his broken ankle. Little returned to his room to sleep and write letters throughout his stay in Butte. On his third day in town, he returned to his room to find an envelope waiting for him. Inside was a note reading: “This is the first warning. Beware. 3-7-77.”

The numbers 3-7-77 were the calling card of the nineteenth-century Montana vigilantes. The specific meaning of the numbers is much debated today, but there is no question that they threatened death. Little showed the note to a fellow union organizer, then shrugged, tore it up, and went on with his business in town for the next ten days.

On July 31, in broad daylight, some unidentified men visited Nora Byrne’s boarding house. They asked about the new person (Frank Little) staying there. Later that evening, as Frank was returning to the boarding house, a barber stopped him outside the O’Brien Saloon on the corner of Wyoming and Copper Streets. The barber told Little that a lynching party was being formed, and he urged Little to leave town. But Little made no plans to leave. He returned to the boarding house, stripped down to his underwear, put his crutches away, and went to bed.

At 3 am that night, now August 1, a black Cadillac pulled up in front of the boarding house and six men in masks jumped out. Bearing pistols, they woke up Nora Byrne. They told her they were “officers,” and said they were looking for a man named Frank Little. She directed them to Little’s door, which they smashed open. The men dragged Frank out of bed and out of the boarding house, stuffed him in the car, and sped north on Wyoming Street, into the dark.

(Just a half block west on Quartz Street there is a memorial to Frank Little’s kidnapping. The kidnapping getaway route, however, does not seem to have been on Quartz Street).

Images

North Wyoming Street In this panoramic lithograph from 1916, North Wyoming Street is visible. The red brick building on the bottom right is the Butte Brewing Company. Wyoming Street runs in front of the brewery. Quartz Street meets Wyoming at the bottom middle of the image. To the left of the brewery is a beige housing flat. And to the left of the flat is Nora Byrne’s boarding house. The next building on the left is the Finlander Hall. And the building at the end of the block is O’Brien’s Saloon. Source: Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives Creator: Keefe Brothers Date: 1916
Sanborn Map of North Wyoming Street This detail from a 1916 Sanborn fire insurance map shows the North Wyoming Street block where Frank Little stayed and did much of his organizing. On the southeast corner of Copper and N. Wyoming Streets was the location of the O’Brien Saloon (labeled “Sal.”). This saloon was the site where a barber warned Frank Little to leave town, and where several witnesses saw a black Cadillac speed away from the boarding house on the night Little was abducted. The Finlander Hall was located at 318 Wyoming. It is the larger red square labeled “Hall” and “Gymnasium.” And the building to the south of the Finlander Hall (labeled “Lodgings”) was Nora Byrne’s boarding house where Frank Little stayed. Source: Library of Congress Creator: Sanborn Insurance Company Date: 1916
Butte Brewing Company The Butte Brewing Company, circa the early 1900s, located on the 200 block of North Wyoming Street, near Wyoming’s intersection with Quartz Street. Source: Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives Creator: C. Owen Smithers Date: c. Early 1900s

Location

316 N Wyoming (just north of the current Motel 6)

Metadata

Leif Fredrickson, “Frank Little Tour: Nora Byrne's Boarding House,” Story of Butte, accessed January 27, 2023, https://storyofbutte.org/items/show/3417.