Season one of Death in the West brings together a menagerie of larger-than-life characters who collided as the Old West met the Industrial Age. In Butte, Montana, during the summer of 1917, low-down thugs cross paths with robber barons, and revolutionaries plead their cause to frontier rogues. Some of the people you’ll meet this season:
Frank Little: From hardscrabble beginnings in frontier Oklahoma, an itinerant miner becomes one of America’s most inspiring—and notorious—radicals.
Dashiell Hammett: The enigmatic crime fiction pioneer, once a private detective himself, claims murder plotters offered him cash to kill Little. Butte’s labor wars later inspire Hammett’s landmark first novel, Red Harvest.
Roy Alley: Silky, mustachioed, and omnipresent, Alley served the mighty Anaconda Copper Mining Company as its chief lawyer in Butte. But did he also direct an army of thugs?
Jeanette Rankin: The first woman ever elected to the US Congress tried to intervene in the chaos engulfing Butte in 1917.
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn: Renowned in song as “The Rebel Girl,” Flynn instigated free-speech protests across the West with Little’s help.
Bill Dunne: The two-fisted editor of Butte’s left-wing newspaper, Dunne wrote stories with a gun in his lap. (Eventually, Stalin tapped him to lead the US Communist Party.) Did he reveal the true identities of Frank Little’s killers?
“Big” Bill Haywood: The leader of the Industrial Workers of the World was known for both radical politics and incendiary rhetoric. Did Little’s rise within the union challenge his power?
The Copper Kings: Isolated Butte became an unlikely stage for America’s most ambitious capitalists. You can’t understand Little’s story without understanding the power wielded by the city’s industrial elite.
Marcus Daly: The genial Irish mining genius was the first to grasp Butte’s potential.
William Clark: His ambition (and copper fortune) fueled some of America’s most egregious political scandals.
F. Augustus Heinze: This brilliant engineer took on Butte’s most powerful interests—ultimately sparking a national economic crisis.
The Copper Kings’ machinations set the stage for the rise of the Anaconda Copper Mining Company: for a time, one of the world’s biggest and most powerful corporations. It was headed by John D. Ryan, a brilliant, determined and often ruthless president.
The Cops: Butte’s police department was infamously corrupt. Meet the city’s “finest”:
Ed Morrissey: What was the role of Butte’s brutal, boozy top detective?
Phillip Prlja: Did this prominent motorcycle cop go rogue?
Jere “The Wise” Murphy: They said Butte’s police chief knew what everyone in town ate for breakfast. What did he see, hear, and do on August 1, 1917?
Billy Oates: Some say this hook-handed Company enforcer literally left his mark at the crime scene.
Burton K. Wheeler: An idealistic young US attorney (and future Senator), Wheeler refused the Company’s demands to arrest Little. Later, he proposed his own startling theory of the crime.