Don David, former resident of buried McQueen, Montana

 

We visited with Don David, former resident of McQueen, who was gracious enough to share some of his thoughts on growing up in McQueen and his life.

 

By Abby Peltomaa

 

Cfwep.Org:  Where were your parents born?

 

Don:  My parents were born in Butte.  My grandparents were born in Italy.  I grew up living next door to my mother’s parents, Carlo and Virginia Consoni.  My father’s parents, I didn’t know, as my grandfather, Dominic David, was killed in the mines in 1903. My grandmother, Felicia David, died in 1926 a few months before I was born.

Cfwep.Org:  What did your parents do?

 

My mom, Carolina Consoni, stayed at home and raised us boys.  My dad, Dominic David, was a blacksmith at one of the mines.  When my grandfather was killed, my dad was 14 or 15 years old so he didn’t finish grade school because he had to go to work, his brother and him.  He went to work in a livery stable and that’s where he learned to shoe horses.  Of course then he became a blacksmith and went up to the mines, and he was about the only one there, in the later years, that could shoe a horse. And there were still very few horses in the mines, and so he would go down in the mines and shoe the horses, as well as do regular blacksmith work.  Blacksmiths had charge of the cages, and after my dad became a blacksmith, he would go around the mines and inspect the cages (metal cages were used to lower and raise miners and their supplies).  When he passed away, he was still working and was the number one blacksmith on the hill, seniority wise.

I remember my dad told me about when he was working for this guy who took his family to Yellowstone Park and took my dad with him.  They went in on horse and wagon, and took a month and traveled Yellowstone Park.  They saw things we’ve never seen.  He used to love to go to the Park, all the time.  One time we went in the late 30’s and took all day, and went to Old Faithful and stayed in cabins.  In one cabin, my brother, his friend and I stayed, and we came out of one room and there was a bear in another room.  It finally left.

 

Cfwep.Org:  What was it like growing up in McQueen?

 

Meaderville and McQueen were good places.  McQueen was a really nice place to grow up in, lots of good kids and families.  McQueen was no bigger or smaller than Meaderville.  East Butte was a little smaller.   It was alright to live then.  Everybody was good, we all had a good time.

Our home was at 2010 Leatherwood, across from the Holy Savior church.  The Franklin School was the boundary between McQueen and Meaderville. McQueen had Italians, English, and Austrians, and one French family, the Cotes.  I remember my grandmother, Virginia Consoni, and her friends an Italian woman, a French woman, and an Austrian woman.  None of them could speak English or the other’s languages, but they could get together and talk for hours.  They knew what was going on.

 

Cfwep.Org:  

What was the neighborhood like?

 

 

Lots of kids.  I knew a lot of the kids in McQueen, some of them I didn’t even know their first name; everybody had nicknames and that was the only way you knew them.  We all either went to Franklin School,

which I did, or Holy Savior, and they were both right close to my house.  In the summertime, my best friend – he went to Holy Savior – we were always up on the East Ridge someplace.  Our second playground was Sunshine, or Sunrise – I can’t remember which it was – Mountain.  We spent our days up there just walking; ‘course we knew where all the springs were, all the berries, and it was kind of a fun time. And we always played baseball.  We used the back of my dad’s shed as a backstop.  There was a baseball field in McQueen; the Copper league played there.  That was an official-sized baseball field.

We used to catch the streetcar to the Columbia Gardens and then walk home on Children’s Day.  Thursdays we were always up at the Gardens, all us kids from McQueen. We would take our lunch and take the streetcar, and you’d get up there and eat your lunch so you didn’t have to carry it.  You would save your wax paper and then when you went down the slide, you sat on your wax paper.

The old teachers on the cowboy swings, man they were mean.  ‘Course I don’t think we were the best in the world.  We’d go up and bang the bars and then they’d scream at us, and then we’d go up and slide off.  But you better slide off and run.  Walking up and down that boardwalk was fun.  It was a good place.

The dances were great.  Of course, you always danced with someone you knew from McQueen.  All winter at the Narodni Dom, a lodge building in East Butte, they had a dance there every Sunday night.  All the kids from McQueen, Meaderville, and East Butte would go.  Of course, that’s where we all learned to dance. It was really nice.  Different lodges in Meaderville and McQueen had dances, and of course, that was a night out for everyone.  All the parents would sit around the room and keep an eye on everyone.

There were two great big families in McQueen, the Petritz’s and Antonovich’s.  They had 11 to12 kids in each.  I used to remember on Miner’s Union Day, everyone would go to the Gardens and they would give a prize to the biggest family … but they had to be there.  It was usually who was sick that day in those families who won, but always between the Petritz’s and Antonovich’s.

Most of the people worked in the mines or for the Montana Power, that’s about it.  I remember the Anaconda Company used to use rails instead of tin cans to run the water over (to collect the metals in the water), and they’d get out with their broom and sweep it.  Back then the water would come in and you just sweep the copper off.

McQueen had two grocery stores, Robert’s Store and Sesarini’s, and a couple of bars; of course one became the McQueen Club. The drug store was in Meaderville.  There was a candy store, after the war, and in the back room they had a soda fountain.  As we were growing up, we would go to Tipperary and they had penny candy, and you could get a dish of ice cream.  You’d sit there for an hour picking out your candy, and I don’t think we’d have more than a nickel.

It was a really good place to grow up.

 

Cfwep.Org:  Tell us about your life.

 

I was born in McQueen in April 6, 1926.  My brother, Carl David, was seven years older than me.  He went into the service in ’41 or ’42.  He married while in the service.  When he came home from the war in ’45, he and his wife moved down to the Flats and then later transferred to San Diego.

I didn’t go to high school at all. Back then you did what your father says.  He said he did it to my brother who went right to business college and I had to go, too.  He said that he didn’t like the mines, so you go to school and do something else.  I was 14.  And at 16 I started to work. First at Montana Leather, then at Montana Power, and then went to the service and came back. I got my high school diploma at the business college when I was married and had a couple kids.

I joined the Air Force at 17 and stayed in for two years.  Most kids in McQueen, a lot older than me, went into the service. Of course, my brother was gone right away and the guys his age went, and then guys my age went, and of course, I went, and some stayed in and made a career out of it.

I came home and lived in McQueen again after the war in 1946.  But I wasn’t much cut-out for office work, so I worked for the National Biscuit Company for a while. And then I was a machinist helper on the hill at the Leonard and East Kolusa mines, and got an apprenticeship and served my time up there.  Then I helped build the first part of the (Berkeley) Pit.  I worked on the

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first big crusher and conveyor belts. And then that was over, so they laid us off.   I had to go graveyard shift working in the Pit. And I worked on the belts I just put up. I lasted a week.  I saw the business agent and he told me they were looking for someone at Western Iron Works.  So Monday I went down to Western Iron Works and got a job, and stayed there 30 years until they closed.

Western Iron Works was a good place and job to work at.  They treated us good.  ‘Course we were in the machinist union, the four of us.  There were 18 to 20 boiler makers and foundry workers and truck drivers. We worked on anything.  Big customers were Stauffer and the Smelter.  We went all over in Great Falls and Helena, too.  We replaced things that had burnt out or were wore out.  It was a tough place, as soon as you replaced something it would start to wear out.  The amount of ore and acids were pretty tough on equipment.

And then I got married. I met Betty at the Columbia Gardens at a dance.  I don’t think we missed many of the Sunday night dances up there, before or after we got married.  We dated a year or so, and then we were married in 1947 and were married almost 65 years.  After we married, we moved to the Boulevard area.  We rented a little place; it was in the back of the Ferkovich’s lot.  It was $22.50 for the house and $5 for the garage.  And every year they made wine like the Italians, but they made the white wine.  Mrs. Ferkovich would bring a great big pitcher of cold wine so we could sit there and have a drink.

 

Cfwep.Org:  Do you remember Silver Bow Creek before the Pit started?

 

To walk uptown,you’d have to cross Silver Bow Creek in Meaderville.  All the sewers ran into it, so not the best in the world.  Must have been pretty acidic; we’d put license plates into it and after a couple of days … they’d be gone.

 

Cfwep.Org:  What was the landscape of McQueen when the Pit started expanding? 

 

Don: Area quality didn’t go down when they started mining, it was just a part of Butte.  There were just more haul roads for the Pit back then.  After the Pit got close enough, most people got moved and got fairly good deals, whether trading or being bought out.   There was a lot to be said about living next door to someone for 40 years and then pretty soon you’re living next door to somebody else. I wouldn’t say bad feelings, but say that’s too bad you know. I sure miss that (the neighborhoods).

 

Cfwep.Org:  When the company was buying houses, how did people in the McQueen neighborhood feel about it?

 

Don:  I don’t think they felt too bad, really. They (the Company) would just go around town and ask.  People would just go down and find a home and say, “trade ya’s,” and they’d just trade houses. You pick one house and you’d have to bargain.  I don’t think they did too bad.  They got some really nice houses.   They would either buy houses or trade.  People in Meaderville didn’t own the land, however, the Anaconda Company did.  But the people in McQueen owned the land.

 

Cfwep.Org:  What was it like when everyone started moving out of McQueen?  

 

Families were still pretty close when they moved from McQueen and Meaderville. They all brought houses, Meaderville especially, and went up the McGlone Heights and just put houses in line, and probably lived next door to the people they did before.

Mom had a stroke when she was living in McQueen before Dad passed away in 1957.  My uncle, John Consoni, lived next door where my grandparents used to live.  He tore that house down and built a small house for him to live in.  When my dad passed away, my mother moved into that house and my uncle took care of her.  He had a claim a long time ago that had manganese and it did pretty well.  It took care of my mother and everything else, and him.  The Anaconda Company bought our house and then it was gone.  The Company tore ours down, but moved my uncle’s.  We rented my uncle’s for a while when mother was in the rest home.  They tore down our house later then 1957.   But they didn’t tear down the Franklin and Holy Savior Schools, they just buried them.  There were still people living in Meaderville and McQueen then.

You can still see trees and part of McQueen.  A long time ago, I needed dirt and my dad had had a big garden.  He built an enclosure to keep out mine waste; he had quite a garden.  I still knew where it was.  I asked the mine first to go to my folks’ garden, so they said sure, and I got two to three loads of black dirt and brought it to the house. And when I was going through the dirt, I found an arrowhead from the Indians that were around here.  I don’t remember the Indians, but my mother and her mother remember them.  There were tribes here then.  One of the last Indian wars here was over the rights to the garbage dump.

Slowly everyone moved out of McQueen.  There were lots of people still living there in ‘47.  When most people moved out of McQueen, and after mom moved out, and of course, the house was vacant, and a lot of houses were vacant and some people lived there, people started coming and stealing everything.   And in fact, one guy was bitching he was watering his lawn and they stole the hose!

This fella lived across the street from my folks.  He says,  “you know people are stealing stuff.”  He says,  “you know with your mom’s house, why don’t you put the porch light on, so they’ll think someone is there.”  I said, “that’s a good idea.”  I left the porch light on and within a week, they stole the storm door because they had light to see!  Oh well.

 

Cfwep.Org:  Do you remember when the Holy Savior and Franklin Schools were buried?

 

I thought it was too bad. And I could see there was so much – of course I didn’t appreciate it at the time – of the beautiful work they had in the church and school.  The trim in the school was so beautiful.  They didn’t want to monitor who went in, so they didn’t let anyone in and so they buried it.  They couldn’t have moved it.  Same with the church, too.  Anaconda Company engineering department used it for a while.  I used to go in there and they showed me where they put so many files in there -  the floor was sinking.  Nothing from church was left in there and they got their stuff out … and buried it.

I remember when they put the bell up at the church.  It was in its own building; it was like a silo with a big bell on top.  We were watching it and they finally got it up and they were ringing it for the first time. And we were there helping them, and they pulled the rope way down and I jumped up and grabbed the rope and went way up.  That didn’t last too long.

 

Cfwep.Org:  What do you think about the restoration and the clean up of Butte?

Don:  I guess it’s alright; they should, it’s taken them a long time.  We got some nice parks that we’ve never had.  You know the way of life has changed; people like to move around and exercise and walk and run, and we have so many nice trails for those people.  It’s alright and Anaconda is getting it, too – cleaned up.  Its progress. You dig a big hole in the ground and something’s gotta happen, it’s gotta go someplace.

 

 

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