of Montana Mining Camps and Active in the Development of Butte—Four
Square and Typical of the “Old West”—Among the Few Survivors of
a Vanishing type—End Comes to William Owsley at His Home Near Twin
Owsley, pioneer of 1864 in the state, early plainsman and placer
miner, one of the fathers of Butte and for two terms mayor of the
city, has “gone west.”
Word was received in Butte early yesterday morning that William
Owsley had died at his ranch home near Twin Bridges during the night.
For more than 54 year he was a familiar figure around the state, and
no pioneer citizen was better known, or more universally loved and
respected. Typically of the early-day type of Montana, Bill Owsley, as
he was generally known, represented the old order of the state’s
citizenship and passes with the old conditions. When he first came to
Montana he landed at Silver Bow, which was at that time one of the
thriving placer camps of the state. At the time the Highland placers
were discovered Owsley, who was a powerful young man physically, was
one of the active operators there and at Silver Bow.
When Butte started he acquired a holding of surface ground
which afterward became what is now the heart of Butte and it was from
his real estate holdings and operations that he amassed the large
fortune which comprised his estate at the time of his death.
Finest in the West
Owsley block at the corner of Main and Park streets was built it was
the finest structure in Montana and one of the finest in the West. At
the time of his death he held the distinction of being the oldest
living ex-mayor of Butte and it was during his term of office that the
first city hall, which was located on West Broadway adjoining the
Renshaw hall, was built.
Silver Bow in 1864 “Big Bill” Owsley had already had a varied and
remarkable series of experiences as an Indian fighter and adventurer.
He was at Bannack and Virginia City and, in fact, was in attendance at
almost every new excitement that happened during those strenuous days.
The records of the pioneer association have identified his activities
with those of a score of localities in the formative periods of
Montana and almost every living member of the association can relate
personal experiences where he was a prominent participant.
Gen. Charles H.
Warren, who had known him ever since he arrived at Silver Bow in 1864,
pays a warm tribute to the personal characteristics of “Bill”
Owsley covering an acquaintance and intimate friendship of 54 years.
square shooter and an indefatigable worker,” said General Warren,
“he was nevertheless the bighearted, free-handed spender and a
typical frontiersman. He was a hell-roaring democrat always and as
square as a die in all his business relations. He had paid more
interest and given away or been trimmed out of more fortunes than any
man in the state, and yet he managed to hold on to a large sized
fortune and was in a fair way to realize a great return from his
recent Carey act venture in the southern part of Idaho, in which he
has been interested for some years. Liberal to a fault, but a good
aggressive scrapper when the time and placed called for it. Bill
Owsley lived to the limit of the intensities of his time and day in
the state. A good poker player, a clean trader, all his life, and a
true son of the adopted West, where he matured to early manhood. Bill
Owsley’s death leaves another vacancy in the ranks of the pioneers
that he had filled with a peculiarly Montanan faculty and
Started for Idaho
At the early age
of 18, William Owsley left his home near St. Joseph, Mo., in the year
1860, and joined an expedition headed for the gold fields of Idaho.
After an adventurous trip through the hostile Indian country the
expedition reached a point north of the present site of Salt Lake
without great disaster.
In 1882 Mr. Owsley, then one of the city’s most substantial
residents, was elected mayor. He was a democrat, but he didn’t care
anything for office. He retired from the office of mayor in May, 1883,
after serving two terms of one year each.
Mr. Owsley in
November, 1869 married Miss Kate Van Ettin of New York. His wife died
and some years afterward he married Miss Bertha Pease, daughter of Dr.
Pease of Twin Bridges, a pioneer of the Madison valley. Their only
child, Merritt, is married and lives in Idaho.
About 10 years ago
Mr. Owsley became identified with a Carey act irrigation project, near
Hamer, Idaho. This became known as the Owsley project. With him in
this enterprise were several Butte men. Later he acquired valuable
farming lands in that section and lived there several years, returning
to Montana last fall and moving to his farm near Twin Bridges, where
he spent the winter.
Speaking of Mr.
Owsley yesterday an old-time friend said: “Bill Owsley’s word was
a good as any man’s bond. What he said he would do, he invariable
did. He was on the square in everything.”
Among the kinsmen
left to mourn the dead pioneer in Butte are a nephew, William Owsley,
foreman of the Pennsylvania mine, and Miss Owsley, a teacher at the
junior high school. Other members of the family live at or near Twin
April 19, 1919