William Thompson, a Pioneer of the State
and One of Butte’s Prominent Citizens, Dead


One of the First to Engage in the Sawmill Business, Which He Afterward 
Developed to a Great Industry—Had Been Trusted by the People With Public Office, 
and Was Prominent in Secret and Fraternal Orders.  

     Old residents of Helena regretted yesterday to hear of the death of William Thompson, which occurred at Butte Tuesday night.  Mr. Thompson was one of the pioneers of the state, and had an extensive acquaintance which was not confined to any particular section of Montana.

     Mr. Thompson was 68 years of age, but had always enjoyed excellent health, and his death came as a shock to his family and friends. Last Saturday afternoon he suffered a paralytic stroke.  His right side was paralyzed and he lost the power of speech. Everything that medical science could do was done, but he never rallied and the end came at midnight Tuesday.
     Mr. Thompson was prominent not only in business life in Montana, but in political circles as well. While he led an active life, his happiest moments were those he spent in the midst of his family. His wife died about four years ago and since then he had made his home with one of his sons. While he took much interest in politics and businesses, these callings never kept him away from home after the early hours of night.

     Mr. Thompson went to Butte from Madison County in the early ‘80s and established a lumber yard there. He had saw mills in many parts of the state, but of late years he began to concentrate his commercial interests so as to direct them from one office in Butte.  He owned mines in Madison County and in Arizona, but his chief interest was the investment company in Butte. He was considered one of Butte’s very wealthy men.

     Mr. Thompson stood high in the Masonic lodge, having taken all Scottish and York rites, the 32nd degree of Scottish rite, Knights Templar, and Shrine. He was a member of Butte Lodge No. 22, A.F. and A.M.; Deer Lodge Chapter No. 3, Royal Arch Masons; Montana Commandery No. 3, Knights Templar; Butte consistory Scottish Rite Masons and Algeria Temple A. and A., Order Nobles of Mystic Shrine.

     Mr. Thompson was born at Coburg, Ontario, Canada, March 1, 1838. There he lived until he was 15 years old, receiving his education in the public schools. The father having died, Mrs. Thompson moved with her children to the United States, locating in Detroit, Mich., in 1853, where William learned the cabinet and carpenter trades. At the age of 18 he set out to carve his own fortune, and proceeded to La Crosse, Wis., going from there to High Forest, Minn, This was in 1856, and High Forest was then a frontier settlement. He saved a little money by working at his trade and in 1859 pushed farther west in company with Hon. Moses Armstrong, afterward delegate to congress from Dakota. They crossed the Dakota plains by way of New Ulm, Lake Benton, Pipestone Quarry and Sioux Falls to Yankton, on the Missouri River, then the extreme frontier in the northwest, arriving in the fall of 1859. In August of 1862 the Sioux Indians took to the war path and the massacre at New Ulm and the outrages committed elsewhere by them created considerable alarm at Yankton. The settlers gathered at the later place and prepared for war.  A militia company was organized, of which young Thompson was a member, for home protection, but fortunately active service was not required.

     Thompson had at that time the contract for the erection of the capitol building, or the one that was to serve as such, for the territory of Dakota, of which, Yankton was then the capitol. His material was all on the ground and in the war emergency it was appropriated and used to build barracks for protection against the expected hostiles.

     In the fall of 1861 a party came down the Missouri in mackinaws from Fort Benton, then the headquarters of the American Fur company in the northwest. They stopped at Yankton and exhibited a considerable quantity of gold, which they said came from the mountains south of Fort Benton. The next spring, 1862, a small party from St. Louis and other cities went up the river on a steamboat to Benton in search of treasure, and from that point penetrated the mountains. Among the party were two brothers named Hulbert. They got as far a Prickly Pear Valley, near where Helena now stands, and found some gold near Montana City, being undoubtedly the first discoveries of those diggings which afterwards proved rich and extensive.

     During all these years on the frontier, Mr. Thompson stuck tenaciously to his trade and did not vary the rule even in Alder Gulch, where nearly everyone else was expecting to dig a fortune out of the ground in a short time. He took his kit of tools along with him and found them of great service, The first winter, while the people at the camp were idly waiting for the mining season to open, Thompson was diligently at work making doors, frames, sashes, etc., the material for which he hewed out of pine trees, and earned easily from $10 to $15 a day. He subsequently formed a partnership for the building business with Mr. Griffith. They built nearly all of the first houses in Virginia City, among them one which was in an unfinished condition, being used by the vigilantes as a convenient gallows on which to hand Boon, Helm, Jack Gallagher, Frank Parish, Hxxx Lyon and “Club Foot George,” desperadoes. This occurred in the month of January, 1864. The following spring Mr. Thompson and his partner purchased claim No. 2, above Fairweather’s discovery, from James Fergus and worked it that season. In the fall of the same year he organized a party of 168 men, who wanted to return to the states, and piloted them down the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers in mackinaws, charging each man $25 for the trip. Mr. Thompson returned to Montana the following spring, 1865, by steamboat up the Missouri river to Fort Benton, from there going direct to Virginia City, by way of Helena.

     In 1866 the firm of Thompson & Griffiths commenced operation in Helena, erecting the King, Gillett, Taylor and Thompson and several other blocks. Those contracts were to the amount of $75,000. As early as 1868 Mr. Thompson purchased and operated a steam sawmill near Virginia City, and continued in the business until a few years ago. He owned sawmills in Madison, Beaverhead, Deer Lodge, Missoula and Silver Bow counties.

     Mr. Thompson served in the city council of Virginia City in 1873-4 and afterwards represented Silver Bow county in three different sessions of the legislature, in the territorial house of representative of the Fifteenth session, in the territorial council of the Sixteenth legislature and in the office of representative at the first session under the new state government. He was mayor of Butte from 1895 to 1897. Mr. Thompson was married to Annie, daughter of Maj. And Mrs. J. R. Boyce Sr., in Virginia City, in 1867. There were five children born to Mr. and Mrs. Thompson.

Date: Thursday, May 17, 1900
Helena Independent (Helena, Montana)  
LXVII  Issue: 137  Page: 5

Date: Thursday, May 17, 1900  
Butte Weekly Miner (Butte, Montana)  
Volume: XXI  Issue: 19  Page: 8


Date: Friday, May 18, 1900  
Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana)  
XI  Issue: 252  Page: 6

Date: Saturday, May 19, 1900  
Paper: Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana)  
Volume: XI  Issue: 253  Page: 7