In episode seven, Frank Little arrives in Butte, Montana where, after 13 days of hell-raising speeches and furious organizing, he’s murdered by unknown assassins. The Death in the West team invades the sixth floor of the Hennessy Building and reports from what was once the nerve center of the Anaconda Company.
In episode six, America dives into WWI and conflicts between workers and their bosses reach a fever pitch across the West. The physical toll of multiple beatings begins to weigh on Frank Little as he travels from Arizona to Chicago and finally to Butte, Montana during the final days of his life.
In episode five, Montana’s Copper Kings do battle in court, the state legislature, the press and even the underground tunnels of Butte’s mines. Frank Little assumes a leadership role during the IWW’s free speech fight in towns across the West.
In episode four, a brazen bombing kills Idaho’s ex-governor, and the ensuing rift in the labor movement puts Frank Little on a collision course with history. Plus, Zach and Leif go 100 feet down a mine called Orphan Girl to see what life was like for Butte, Montana’s underground workers.
In episode three, the DITW team visits a vintage, prohibition-era speakeasy and learns how Butte, Montana’s massive underground copper deposits transformed it from a mining camp to an urbanized center of wealth and power. In Oklahoma, the Little’s family’s dream of homesteading hits rock bottom.
In episode two, the wildest city in the West gives Frank Little a grand funeral, but making the man a martyr leaves his real life largely unexplored. Meanwhile, what do a high-powered corporate attorney, a thuggish police detective and a hook-handed gunman have in common? They’ve all been implicated in Little’s murder over the years.
How do you find a murder site from more than 100 years ago?
When we started digging into the case of lynching of Frank Little, we found there were a lot of misconceptions. A lot of myth, a lot of misremembering. Big, traumatic events induce that. So does time. People who witnessed some of the events surrounding the murder of Little in Butte in 1917 misremember aspects later. And people today, who weren’t there, mistakenly recall what supposedly happened.
People like to look for murder sites, and Frank Little’s is no different. When we decided to go to the site ourselves, we searched around to see if someone had already done the work for us. And we found several posts from folks saying they had found the site. But the photos showed different places. Knowing the rough location of the murder — on the southern edge of town, near Silver Bow Creek), the method (hanging), and that it had something to do with trains, people identified a variety of places: trestles over a creek, a railroad bridge over a highway, and so on.
Confused, we decided to go back to what we knew about the discovery of the body and to use that with some super-detailed archival insurance maps.
Here’s what we know: Charles Holmes found Frank Little when he was walking to work on the morning of August 1. Holmes lived on the south side of Butte and his route was an old wagon road that went north and connected with Alabama Street. The wagon road passed under a trestle of the Milwaukee Railroad. And that’s where Holmes found Frank Little hanging. The police came shortly thereafter, finding the famous warning note tacked on Little’s back. The newspapers even carried a picture of the trestle and a mark where Little had been hanging.
But, alas, in 1980, the Milwaukee Railroad abandoned its Pacific Northwest routes. It yanked up its tracks. Other parts of its railroad infrastructure were destroyed or fell into disrepair. So the trestle where Little was hanged is long gone.
We know the general area: the trestle was located down by the Centennial Brewing Company, which was just north of Silver Bow Creek. But how to find the exact location?
We used a very detailed old map called a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. The maps are extremely detailed because the Sanborn Company was trying to figure out what buildings were at greatest risk of fire. To know that, they had to know all kinds of details. So we found a Sanborn map for Butte from 1916 and studied. It shows, among other things, the boarding house where Frank Little was abducted and the Finnish Hall where he spoke.
It also shows the area around the Centennial Brewery and the Milwaukee Railroad. On that map, you can see a little road that comes up from the south, crosses under the Milwaukee Railroad and continues north to connect with Alabama Road. That must be the road that Holmes walked.
Using some fancy map software, we can also stretch that old Sanborn map to fit roughly onto a current aerial photo map of the area. That gives a sense of where that old road that Holmes walked would have been.
There is a dirt road where the old Milwaukee line used to be, and there is still a bit of the road that Holmes walked on. Where these cross is probably the location of the infamous trestle. This is the area Leif and Zach explored in episode one.
In episode one, we re-open the case of Frank Little, a union organizer whose brutal unsolved murder shocked the nation during the tumultuous summer of 1917. Our team travels to the mining city of Butte, Montana and reconstructs the night of the crime, including using vintage maps to pinpoint the secluded site of Little’s murder.
After two years of interviewing the people closest to the case, visiting the sites and sifting through the archives, season one of Death In The West is (almost) ready. We’re excited to announce episodes will start hitting the airwaves on Sept. 29, 2020. Time to subscribe to the show at iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
On August 1, 1917, a union organizer named Frank Little was abducted and brutally murdered in the wild, high-mountain mining town of Butte, Montana. Though the forces behind the death seemed obvious, no one was ever arrested. The mystery around Little’s killing has swirled for more than 100 years. On season one of Death in the West, we’re reopening the case. Full episodes coming in early 2020.