By Kevin S. Giles
Newsboys once commanded the streets of uptown Butte, Montana, fighting each other for turf but uniting against newspaper publishers.
Hundreds of newsboys competed for prime selling spots: bars, the miners’ pay office, sections of the extensive red light district, card rooms and mine gates, streetcar stops, ballparks, churches and theaters, and anywhere else where large crowds might gather.
They bought newspapers at a wholesale price, sometimes two copies for a nickel, and then sold them for a nickel apiece to make a 100 percent profit.Take me to Kevin's books: One Woman Against War, Summer of the Black Chevy, Jerry's Riot
In Butte’s early years, newspaper offices dotted the extensive business district. Cries of, “Paper, mister?” could be heard on every street corner. They sold the Standard, the Butte Miner, the Inter-Mountain, the Daily Bulletin, the Butte Daily Post, the Appeal to Reason, the Montana Socialist and others.
In a city where unions ruled commerce, newsboys virtually controlled the flow of news from press to public. When publishers didn’t honor agreements, or tried to sell papers at cheaper rates through other people, newsboys would strike. With strikes came ugly tactics. Newsboys chased and often attacked anybody trying to replace them. They burned newspapers and threw them into the wind, scattering them across uptown Butte.
A spontaneous strike by newsboys on Jan. 5, 1914, led to a near-riot at the offices of the Daily Post at 26 West Granite. Police and fire departments were summoned to restore order. Striking newsboys accosted home delivery carriers, sellers and even customers. In one instance, 200 newsboys chased a carrier from the Post to the corner of Park and Arizona several blocks to the east, where they caught him and destroyed his papers.
The Butte Newsboys Club wielded considerable influence. Unlike most organizations in Butte, the club grew not from labor unions but from the hearts of local businessmen who wanted to provide social and educational opportunities for the boys.
Founded in 1903 by civic leaders such as J.R. Wharton, manager of the Butte Electric Railway, the club offered weekend and evening activities such as lectures, music and meals, and once claimed as many as 300 members. The club also represented newsboys in their business affairs with local publishing companies.
Newsboys partook in an annual picnic at Washoe Park in Anaconda, Montana, making the 25-mile journey on a chartered train. It was a rowdy affair, involving fistfights between the Butte boys and their Anaconda counterparts. Often the train departed Anaconda in a rain of rocks, adding the inevitable cost of replacing broken windows to the picnic bill.
Butte’s newsboys held so much sway that they managed to attract “Noodles” Fagan, Brooklyn’s most famous newsboy, who spoke to a packed house at the Majestic Theatre on West Broadway. Fagan had become a legend in working for social betterment in his neighborhood slums.
Butte’s newsboys, tough and raucous as any in America, cheered their hero.
Kevin S. Giles is an American journalist and author whose books are set in his native western Montana. He will publish a new and expanded edition of his biography of Jeannette Rankin in the fall of 2016. Two of his books take place in his hometown of Deer Lodge: a novel, “Summer of the Black Chevy” (2015) and the nonfiction work, “Jerry’s Riot: The True Story of Montana’s 1959 Prison Disturbance.” (2005)