Pioneer 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 Bridges.

     William 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

When the 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.

     Before reaching 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.

Typical Frontiersman

“Always a 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 character.”

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 Bridges.


The Anaconda Standard
Anaconda, Montana
April 19, 1919