Filed Under Labor History

Frank Little Tour: Milwaukee Train Trestle

Site of Lynching of Frank Little

After being beaten, Little was hanged from this train trestle.

On the southwest edge of Butte in 1917, the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad line crossed above a little dirt road on a wooden train trestle before heading out of town along Silver Bow Creek. That trestle was the final destination for Frank Little’s kidnappers in the early morning of August 1, 1917.

The Milwaukee Railroad line and trestle are now gone. In 1917, however, the Milwaukee was the newest of the West’s transcontinental railroads. It was also one of the longest electrified train lines in the world. Its electrical power was supplied in part by the Montana Power Company, a subsidiary of the Anaconda Company that John D. Ryan, Anaconda’s president, had started.

Shortly after Little’s kidnappers sped away from the boarding house in Uptown Butte, they stopped the car. They took Little out and tied him to the bumper. Then they dragged him through the streets, scraping off his kneecaps.

When the kidnappers arrived at the trestle, they parked underneath it and put Little on top of the car. They put a rope around Little’s neck and drove off, leaving the noose to tighten as Little dangled in the air. Little was probably unconscious, but not dead. He died of asphyxiation.

Hours later, a man named Charles Holmes was taking his regular route to work, which took him from a neighborhood south of the tracks to Alabama Street. Holmes walked north, crossing the County Road (now Centennial Avenue). Then he passed the Centennial Brewery on his left. The Centennial Brewery site is now a complex of industrial buildings at 701 Centennial Avenue. From the south end of Alabama Street, this complex is to the south and slightly to the west.

On a normal day, Holmes would have then passed under the Milwaukee trestle and over the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railroad tracks before reaching the south end of Alabama Street. But as he approached the Milwaukee trestle, he saw a dead body hanging from it. He headed home to notify the police.

The police arrived and cut Little down from the trestle. He was still warm. He had clearly been beaten before he was killed. And there was a note jabbed into his thigh. Written on a 6x10 inch placard in red crayon it said: “Others take notice. First and last warning.” Below that were the numbers 3-7-77, the traditional warning of the nineteenth-century vigilantes. At the bottom of the note was a series of letters, probably representing the names of Butte’s strike leaders. The first letter was L, for Little presumably. It had been circled, as if to show he had been crossed off the list as a problem.

Within hours, news spread through Butte that Frank Little had been murdered.

Audio

John Cavanaugh Recollections John Cavanaugh describes delivering groceries to the boarding house where Frank Little was staying on the day Little was murdered. Cavanaugh describes Little and some of the reactions of people around town to the murder of Little. Source: Ray Calkins interviewer. Butte-Silver Bow Public Archives. Date: May-June, 1980

Images

Milwaukee Railroad Trestle Frank Little’s killers hanged him from a Milwaukee Railroad trestle that spanned a small dirt road. Little was hanging from this trestle in the morning when a worker taking the dirt road happened upon him. The Butte Daily Post marked an “X” on this photo of the trestle to show where Little was hanging. Creator: Butte Daily Post Date: August 1, 1917
Sanborn Map of Lynching Site The trestle that Little was hanged from, as well as the whole Milwaukee railroad line, no longer exists in Butte. It is clear from this 1916 Sanborn Map where the trestle would have been. The worker who discovered him was walking from the south, taking a road under the Milwaukee railroad on his way to Alabama Street. On the Sanborn map, this road crosses the County Road (now Centennial Avenue), passes by the Centennial Brewery, and then passes under the Milwaukee Railroad trestle just as the line is curving toward the west. Source: Library of Congress Creator: Sanborn Insurance Company Date: 1916
The Warning Note Pinned to Frank Little’s dead body was a strange note. The note was a warning and threat, apparently to other unionists and sympathizers. In addition to a written warning, the note includes the numbers 3-7-77. These are associated with nineteenth century vigilantes in Montana, who took extralegal action against people they viewed as criminals. At the bottom of the note is a list of letters. The first letter, L, presumably for Little, is circled. The other letters may refer to the last names of other strike leaders, such as Bill Dunne and Tom Campbell, as well as other people perceived as sympathetic to the striking workers, such as U.S. Attorney for Montana Burton Wheeler. Creator: Anaconda Standard Date: 1917

Location

South end of Alabama Street

Metadata

Leif Fredrickson, “Frank Little Tour: Milwaukee Train Trestle,” Story of Butte, accessed January 27, 2023, https://storyofbutte.org/items/show/3418.