Fourteen-year-old Marcus Daly sat staring into the hearth of his family’s stone cottage in Derrylea, just outside the town of Ballyjamesduff in County Cavan. Closing his eyes he could still imagine his grandfather, who seemed to be 100 years old when Marcus was a boy, sitting across from him by the flicking fire and telling him, "Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin” (There is no fireside like your own fireside). How he felt the weight of those words now, as he stared into their hearth fire. He couldn’t remember that fire ever being out, but now he was looking into it for what he expected would be the last time.

The neighbors had all been over for his “American Wake” the night before, which acknowledged that few who left for America ever saw Ireland again. Marcus rose slowly rose and headed for the door. His father, Luke, and mother, Mary, and several of his ten siblings followed him out the door. The sound of sobs filled the still morning air. By the year 1856, this scene had been playing out in the millions at cottages around Ireland for a decade. Marcus had been a boy during the worst of “The Great Hunger,” and had seen the continuing mass exodus of young men and women to England, America, and Canada. Now it was his turn. There was no place left in Ireland for many of her sons and daughters.

Marcus lingered in his embrace of his mother; her tears wetting his shoulder. With her lips near his ear, she wished him luck, “go n-éirí an bóthar leat.” Then she pulled away and walked back through the cottage door. She could not bear to watch him slowly disappear from her life. Marcus moved down the rugged country road, pausing at the last high ground for his final look back at the cottage. He only looked forward from that day onward, and his mother’s wish for good luck would come true beyond any of her wildest dreams. Few, if any, Irish immigrants would be as successful in “Amerikay” as Marcus Daly.

Marcus was born on December 5, 1841. He walked down the gangway at the port of New York, sometime before his fifteenth birthday. He had next to no money, owned little but the clothes on his back, and had barely any education to speak of. Years of hard work in Ireland provided the one thing young Marcus put to work: muscle. Like many young Irishmen before him, he found work as a stevedore, unloading ships from all over the world.

It was a living, but Marcus looked around New York and saw there many in America were doing far better than just making a living. Hearing the stories of men striking it rich finding gold in California, he saved as much money as he could for several years and in early 1861 booked passage on a clipper ship. His timing was excellent, as he departed just weeks before the Civil War began, though there is no indication that was a factor in his decision.

Daly’s trip by boat went first to Panama and across the isthmus by the recently constructed railroad to the west coast. One can only imagine how the country boy from Cavan must have marveled at the sights he saw in the jungles of Panama during that trip and been amazed that any place could be that hot.

Daly arrived in San Franciso sometime in the summer of 1861. The now 19-year-old had a married sister, now Ann O’Farrell, to help him adapt to this new world. The gold rush of ’49 was long over. It was a bustling town where he was easily able to find work, but he was looking for more. He soon made a friend who would help change his life. Thomas Murray, a fellow Irishman, befriended Daly and led him to travel to Calaveras County to try his hand a placer mining for gold. He would never again be anything but a miner.

While others might have just gotten jobs to work other men’s claims, or tried sluicing some small claim and hoped for luck to get rich, Daly was studying every aspect of mining. He moved on from Calaveras to Grass Valley and then to Virginia City in the Nevada territory in 1865.

The Comstock Lode had turned Virginia City into the silver capital of the country. It was in Nevada and then later Utah that Daly would make the personal connections that would lead to later successes. One notable acquaintance he made in Virginia City, though it was not one of the ones that advanced his mining career, was the famous writer Mark Twain, then working as a reporter on the “Enterprise.” He got to know him so well that one night he and his friends played a trick on him by setting up a fake “hold up” on Twain as he walking home.

Another friend he made there was the owner of the mine he worked in, John Mackay. Mackay was impressed with the young Irishman and promoted him to the foreman of his mine. His rise to the top had begun. In 1869 Daly moved on to two other booming mining areas in Nevada, White Pines, and Mineral Hill. His ability to manage a mining operation was becoming known by many of the leaders in the industry. The Walker Brothers hired him to develop their Emma silver mine in Alta, Utah in 1870.

While supervising various Waker mines in Utah, Daly was able to stake the first claim of his own, the Zella mine. The Walkers also took advantage of Daly’s growing talent for recognizing where mining prospects were good. It was during one of those prospecting trips in 1872 that he met 18-year-old Margaret Evans, daughter of a mine owner, and his future wife. She literally fell into his arms in their first meeting, when she slipped while accompanying him on a mine inspection. They were married later that year. They would have five children.

(Left: Margaret Daly)

That summer Daly met George Hearst near Lake Flat, Utah. Hearst and his partners James Ben, Ali Haggin, and Lloyd Tevis, were co-owners of the Ophir Mining Company. Daly had suggested to the Walker’s that they buy a mine he had looked at, the Ontario Mine near Park City, but they had rejected the idea. He told Hearst about it and suggested he might want to check it out. Hearst did and bought it. Over the next decade, they would pull 17 million dollars worth of silver out of that mine.

Hearst would become a mining legend of the west. His son was a publishing legend, William Randolph Hearst. Daly had made a very valuable friend with that tip to Hearst and his partners, who would be key players in Daly’s future.

In 1875, the Walker brothers sent Daly on the trip that would eventually transform him from a fairly successful mining employee to a captain of industry. He was sent to check out a mine in Butte, in the Montana territory. He arrived in August 1876, two months after Custer died at the Little Bighorn just three hundred miles from Butte. Daly bought the Walker brothers a stake in the Alice silver mine. The Butte newspaper, “The Miner,” called Daly, “the best miner who has ever been in Montana and with abundant means will develop the property” on September 29.

(Right: George Hearst)

This time Daly was given a percentage of the mine in addition to his salary. By late 1877, Daly had brought his wife and two daughters, Margaret and Mary, to live in Butte. He was making the Alice a success and with it the town of Butte. In March “The Miner” wrote, “When the better days of Montana are written up, let due honor and credit be given to Marcus Daly.” Had they known what was to come, they would have been far more effusive.

While silver continued to be mined very successfully in the Butte area, in the late 1870s, Daly began to take in interests in the green outcroppings he saw all around Butte. Asking around, he found that Butte Hill was a mountain of copper. Silver was much more valuable, and no one was smelting copper in the area, so there it sat.

In early 1880 Daly took a huge gamble and sold his share of the Alice mine to the Walker brothers for $100,000. With that money, he bought a third interest in another silver mine, along with fellow Irishman Michael Hickey and Charles Larabie. Daly chose the name, it was one that one day be known around the world. He named it the Anaconda Mine, after Horace Greely’s description of McClellan’s army surround Lee’s army “like a giant anaconda” during the war. The mine would prove far more successful than McClellan was in “surrounding” Lee, and would one day be known around the world. They soon had a decent amount of silver coming out of it, but he was also interested in the signs of copper. In June he bought out Hickey and Larabie.

The invention of the telephone and advances in electric lighting were about to make copper far more valuable than it had been. Daly knew he didn’t have the financial resources needed to fully exploit the bonanza he believed he was sitting on. When his former partners, the Walker brothers, turned him down, he tried Hearst and his partners, J.B. Haggin, and Lloyd Tevis. Perhaps feeling they owed him a favor, they gave him his financing.

(Left: The Anaconda Mine.)

For a time the Anaconda was a successful silver mine, but as they dug deeper the silver began to peter out. He was in danger of going bust, but Daly was looking for more than silver. If he didn’t find either more silver or a vein of copper soon they might be done.

Daly was not the kind of owner who sat in an office waiting for reports. He had been a working miner and he had no problem being down in “the hole” rubbing elbows with his miners. One day in early 1882 he was in the mine and had them start a crosscut. After blasting away some rock he picked up a piece of rock and examined it. Looking at his mine foreman, Mike Carroll, he cried out, “LOOK, LOOK, MIKE, WE’VE GOT IT!” It was a huge vein of copper.

Daly had a shocking dream, to make Butte the copper capital of the world, but now he needed huge money to make it come true. He temporarily shut down the Anaconda and got Hearst and Haggin to come to Butte to hear his plan. Standing together on Butte Hill, looking down on the town, Daly began to lay out his plan to the two men he hoped would make it possible.

(Right: Some 19th-century Butte miners.)

He wanted to buy up all of Butte Hill, whose core was, he believed, wholly copper. And he wanted to build a gigantic copper smelter near Butte and send men to the world’s best smelters in Wales to learn how to operate it. Then he wanted to staff it with men brought in from Wales and to perhaps build a railroad to connect his mines to the smelter. Until all that was completed, he said, they could already be profitable by shipping ore by rail to San Francisco then on to Wales for smelting. All that came out of the mind of a man born to extreme poverty and had virtually no formal education.

Hearst and Haggin were awestruck by the sheer audacity of what they had just heard. Hearst was a bit more in awe than Haggin. When the two men had composed themselves enough to speak, it was clear that for Hearst it was a bridge too far, he just saw too many ways, and justifiably, that it could turn into a bottomless money pit. But luckily for Daly, Haggin was a man with both vision and the heart of a gambler, and, more importantly, the extreme wealth to indulge them. After a good deal of back and forth, Haggin said, “George, I think we had better go along with Mr. Daly.” The three men shook hands, and one of the most famous firms in US history was born: the Anaconda Company.

The shutting down of the Anaconda mine had caused a drop in confidence in the value of the ground around it. Daly had agents buy up all the mines around it at bargain-basement prices. Now owning all of Butte Hill, he reopened the Anaconda. He was now “all in” on the project, having invested all of the $100,000 he got from his portion of the Alice.

(Left: A drawing of the young Marcus Daly.)

Daly was soon forced to travel to San Francisco and ask for more money from Hearst and his associates. Once again, when it looked like they would refuse and he would be bankrupt, Haggin championed his cause. Haggin handed Daly a signed blank check; literally a book of them. It would be one of the best decisions Haggin ever made.

With his financing secure, Daly set to work spending it. He couldn’t build his smelter in Butte, as it required huge amounts of water. He decided on a spot near Warm Springs Creek, 26 miles from Butte, and began building it in May 1883. The town that grew up around it would be named Anaconda. By the end of the summer, 1500 people were living there. The Anaconda Company made a 1.7 million dollar profit in 1883 and now the Utah and Northern Railroad was building a line from Anaconda to connect with the mainline in Butte. The crazy vision Daly had laid out to Hearst and Haggin was coming to pass.

In the fall of 1885, the huge smelter at Anaconda, know as the “Upper Works,” began to turn out refined copper. In the summer of 1886, Butte’s copper mining rivals in the Lake Superior mines slashed prices, and the market was depressed. Daly closed down his smelter that winter, nearly causing panic in Butte. But he spent the winter making improvements that allowed him to more easily compete with his Lake Superior rivals in the spring of 1887. Later that year he started building another smelter, the “Lower Works.” He had spent 15 million of other people’s dollars on his vision, and things were working out so far, but it could easily fall apart at any moment.

In 1889 two events occurred that very nearly destroyed everything he had been building. The first disaster involved a scheme hatched in Europe to corner the copper market. Daly was very skeptical of this syndicate, but he was barely educated and his expertise was all in mining. Haggin was the financial expert and the big money behind the Anaconda company so he got them into it. His faith in Daly had birthed the Anaconda Company; now his miscalculation nearly brought about its death.

(Right: Ali Haggin)

In March it all fell apart and the price of copper plunged. The company barely avoided bankruptcy. Then in May, with the new Lower Works smelter nearly done, a fire destroyed it. It was “the most disgusting wreck I ever looked upon,” Daly said. Some men might have fallen into a depression over such losses. Daly pushed ahead, rebuilding the smelter of inflammable metal, completing it in September.

Another important event during this same period got Daly involved in one of the most famous feuds in Montana history. In the 1888 election for the territory’s delegate to Congress Daly made a last-minute decision to drop his support of the Democrat, William Clark, in favor of the Republican, Thomas Carter. One theory is that it was a pragmatic decision, not a personal one, based on the likelihood of the Republican, Harrison, winning the presidential election. Daly felt Carter could help the territory more in that case. Clark, however, felt betrayed and took it very personally. Their relationship would remain contentious until Daly died.

The victory of Harrison, however, was not that foreseeable. He actually lost the popular vote. The other origin theory for the feud is that this was an extension of the traditional orange vs green Irish conflict. Both Clark and Carter had Irish ancestry, but Clark’s was Ulster Protestant while Carter’s was Irish Catholic. Daly was a proud Irishman and definitely an Irish nationalist. He was a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and possibly Clan na Gael and a regular reader of the “Irish World” nationalist newspaper. Daly even closed his operations each year in observance of Robert Emmet’s birthday.

(Left: William Clark)

In 1886, when Michael Davitt spoke about Irish home rule in Butte, he stayed with Daly. One incident during the campaign that could have soured Daly on Clark was an attack on Patrick Ford, the editor of the “Irish World.” It was a mistake that may have been fatal to his candidacy. So Daly’s choice of Carter over Clark possibly had its origins in his Irish roots. Whatever the cause Clark, who was also rich and powerful, was a formidable enemy to make. Clark and Daly were by then often referred to as the Copper Kings.

One of the reason’s Daly had such great political influence in the state was the fact that his mining operations were in large part manned by Irishmen, and many would vote the way he asked them to. He had given Irishmen preference in his hiring and after that, chain-migration did the rest. They wrote back to Ireland and thousands more followed, mainly from the counties of Cork, Waterford, and Kerry, where hard rock mining was prevalent. It was said that they were told, “Now don't forget; when you get to the new world, don't stop in America. You go straight to Butte!”

Another Daly legacy to Butte’s, in addition to the large Irish population, was one of the most luxurious hotels west of the Mississippi and east of San Franciso, the Montana Hotel in Anaconda. It was finished in 1888, shortly before Montana was granted statehood. It was full of chandeliers and had a mahogany bar and floors.

(Right: The Montana Hotel)

Daly had worked hard and now he wanted to start enjoying his money. He began buying and breeding racehorses at his Bitterroot Stock Farm in Hamilton, where he also built a huge ranch home. He also started a newspaper, “The Anaconda Standard.” He was also now invested in nearly every enterprise in the state, banking, electric plants, and many other businesses. When he had problems with railroad freight rates, he built is own rail line from his mines to Anaconda,

His paper and “The Miner,” in Butte, which took Clark’s side in their feud, would battle it out for years. “The Anaconda Standard” would continue to publish until 1970. Decades after Daly passed away, his Anaconda Company would own most of the major newspapers in the state, giving it enormous political power.

(Left: An issue of the Anaconda Standard from 1903 commemorating St. Patrick's Day. It was one of the first papers in the west that could print in color.)

Though Daly became a leader of the Democratic Party in Montana in the 1890s, and Clark was also a Democrat, they continued to clash. Their next bout was over the location of the capital of the new state. Daly, unsurprisingly, championed the cause of his own town of Anaconda. Clark, meanwhile, supported the cause of Helena, which had been the territorial capital. Helena polled 1st and Anaconda 2nd in the runoff involving six towns in 1892, setting up a runoff between them in 1894.

In the midst of that fight, the two men battled it out over a political position again, this time to replace Republican Wilbur Sanders, who had been one of Montana’s first Senators. Though their original conflict may or may not have been personal for Daly, now it was. He supported William Dixon for the seat and let it be known that if there were to be a compromise candidate, he would support any Democrat but Clark. In the end, the legislature deadlocked and both Dixon and Clark were denied the seat.

Clark would turn the tables on Daly in 1894, however. Republican-controlled papers around the state attacked Daly unmercifully, insisting he would make immense profits if Anaconda won the state capital election. They called him “The Irish Shylock of Anaconda”, managing to combine bigotry against two groups in one stroke, and sometimes “King Marco.” Both Clark and Daly spent heavily, with Daly possibly spending well over a million dollars. Helena won the election for state capital by less than 2,000 votes. A gloating Clark called it a “crushing Waterloo” for Daly. It was surely one of the worst defeats of his life.

While all his battles with Clark went on in the ‘90s, the joy of his life was his horse breeding and racing. He built racetracks in both Butte and Anaconda and raced his horses there often. He would even give his miners the day off with pay on race days.

(Right: One of Daly's greatest racehorses, Tammany.)

Unlike many captains of industry at the time, Daly understood exactly what their lives were like. In growing up he may have heard the old Irish saying, “Ní thuigheann an sách an seang” (The well-fed do not understand the lean.) Daly might have been “well-fed” by the 1890s but had experienced many “lean” years in his life.

Daily’s rider's racing colors were copper and green, combining his origins and his business life. Perhaps Daly’s greatest horse was a colt he named Tammany. In 1893 Tammany won a famous match race against another great horse of that time, Lamplighter. Daly had a wood inlay portrait of Tammany put into the floor of the bar in the Montana Hotel. It was said he always walked around it, never on it. Another of his horses, Scottish Chieftan, remains the only Montana bred horse to win the Belmont Stakes in New York. One horseman of the time said, “Marcus Daly was one of the best judges of either a thoroughbred, especially if English, or trotting pedigree, I ever knew.”

In 1899, Clark finally secured his long-sought Senate seat. Daly was in New York during the whole time and told someone, “I am through with that,” though his agents in Montana still worked against Clark. Clark did not have long to gloat, however. His extensive bribery of state legislators was soon discovered and he was forced to resign.

(Left: Anaconda race track)

In April of that year, the Anaconda Compay was incorporated as the Amalgamated Copper Company with Daly as president, a deal that was said to be worth $39,000,000 for him. He leased a home on 5th Avenue in New York that was built by William Waldorf Astor. Cornelious Vanderbilt was one of his neighbors. The County Cavan farmboy had come a long, long way.

Daly was living among the super-rich now, but he remembered where he came from or how hard life was for some. After he’d become wealthy he once heard the widow and family of a man named Quinn, who had once loaned Daly money when he was desperate for it, were impoverished. He arranged financial support for her for life, telling her it was part of a nonexistent “deal” he’d made with her deceased husband.

He returned to Derrylea, where he was now a celebrated “local boy who made good,” at least once in his later life. His family was not there anymore, only because he had brought them all to America to share in his good fortune.

(Right: St. Mary's Church in Crosserlough.)

One day there among a crowd of well-wishers was old John Cummings, whose pigs he once tended. The old man reminded him he’d once done that, perhaps thinking to deflate the “Yank” millionaire a bit. But Daly merely shook the old man’s hand warmly and said, with that dry brand of humor the Irish are known for, “Indeed I do, John. And didn’t I do it well!” The locals chuckled and smiled at each other knowingly. Sure and wasn’t Marcus still one of them after all? He also sent home money to help build the parish church, St. Mary’s in Crosserlough.

In the summer of 1900, Daly returned from one of his trips to Europe a very ill man. For several years he’d been suffering from heart problems. He was put to bed in a room at the Netherlands Hotel. He would not leave it alive. On November 12, the 58-year-old Marcus Daly, the Copper King, saw his last sunrise and passed away at 11 am. He was entombed at a huge mausoleum in Greenwood Cemetery in New York.

(Left: The elder Marcus Daly)

Two months later his 185 Bitterroot Stock Farm racehorses were auctioned off for $405,525. In September 1907 a statue of Daly, the last work done by the famous Irish-born sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens, was unveiled in front of the post office on Main Street in Butte. It was moved to the entrance of Montana Tech in 1941. The mining company he started finally closed in 1980.

Newspapers around the nation eulogized him. The New York Journal said that “there is not a man who can step into,” his shoes. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer said that of all the great mining men of the west, “none of them has been quite what Marcus Daly has been.”

(Below: Daly's mausoleum in Greenwood Cemetery.)

As rich as he became, Daly never forgot his Irish roots. His success was shared with his large Irish family and with the thousands of Irish immigrants. The work was hard and dangerous but he also paid them more than they were likely to make anywhere else. In 1900 over a third of Butte’s population was Irish, making it possibly the most Irish town in the country and that was surely his doing. To this day, Butte has one of the highest percentages of people with Irish ancestry west of the Mississippi. The phonebook includes about 100 Sullivan families, 43 listings for Sheas, and 32 O'Neills.

The King from Cavan was truly an extraordinary man who left his mark on his adopted nation and the world and improved the lives of an untold number of his countrymen and their descendants over the last hundred and forty years. There are few “rags to riches” stories that can rival that of Marcus Daly, who was barely a teenager when he first set foot in America. For few were as poor as the tenant farmers of Ireland, and few ever became as rich as this “Copper King.”


“Anaconda: Life Of Marcus Daly, The Copper King” by H. Minar Shoebotham

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(Right: The unveiling of the Marcus Daly statue.)

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Tags: American West, Butte, Cavan, Marcus Daly, Montana, copper, mining

Comment by Joe Gannon on November 29, 2020 at 11:50pm

The bar of Daly's "Montana Hotel."

Comment by Joe Gannon on November 30, 2020 at 12:05am

Sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Butte's statue of Marcus Daly was originally unveiled September 2, 1907 in the center of Main Street, between Copper and Gagnon Streets, most likely in front of the old Federal Building, today known as the Mike Mansfield Federal Building and the United States Courthouse. The statue was moved to its present location at the entrance to the Montana Tech campus on June 25, 1941.

Comment by Joe Gannon on December 4, 2020 at 3:37pm

The people of Anaconda continue to try to save Daly's Montana Hotel, which is now just 2 stories high. From the Revitalizing Montana's Rural Heritage website: 

Copper King Marcus Daly hired Chicago architect W.W. Boyington to design the Montana Hotel, in part because he believed a luxury hotel would strengthen Anaconda’s bid to become the Montana state capital. The four-story, 185-room hotel featured French Renaissance and Romanesque details, including two dramatic turrets, which were removed (along with the top two floors) in the 1970s. Though Helena ultimately became the capital the hotel remained the pride of Anaconda, and the community has rallied to save the building.


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