I have a strong affection for my hometown of Butte, Montana, a mining town with a rich history. As a natural listener and a therapist, I’ve witnessed amazing generosity and courage in others. I first witnessed this in the people of Butte. As a child, teen, and young adult I also witnessed multiple tragedies and incredible resilience in overcoming these tragedies. It made me think about how a town affects us, especially a town as diverse and wild as Butte, Montana. In writing Copper Sky I attempted to capture the town’s kindness, bold spirit, heartbreak, and amazing courage and compassion.
The White Dog
I have always loved dogs. Huskies are my breed. Every dog I’ve had as adult has either been a husky, malamute, or a stray who lived with a husky or malamute. Consequently, writing the four small parts from the dog’s point of view was easy for me. Both the white dog and the wolf dog in Copper Sky are attempts to give the reader a view of the town. I thought of both dogs as “the town’s dog”, and as a sort of enduring spirit of the town. As it turns out, there was actually a town’s dog that the people of Butte took care of and memorialized with a sculpture. You can read about Auditor here: http://www.ohmidog.com/2010/11/02/surviving-butte-the-story-of-the-auditor/
I didn’t know about Auditor when I wrote Copper Sky. I learned about him after he died. I was at my father’s house in Butte and noticed an article about him in the Montana Standard, the Butte paper. Granted, he’s not a wolf dog, or any version of husky, but he definitely represents the town’s spirit: lovable, resilient, and bold.
Butte has had multiple mining accidents as well as frequent fires. People died all the time. Mining is a dangerous occupation. Copper Camp, a book compiled by Workers of the Writers’ Program in the State of Montana and published in 1943, states that the accidents probably created 50-100 widows a year. In 1889 fire broke out in the Anaconda Mine shaft killing 6 men. A fire in the Silver Bow mine in 1893 killed 9 men. In 1911 the mine cage dropped from the surface to the sump in the Leonard mine, some 1500 feet, killing five men. Later that year, before the introduction of child-labor laws, 6 boys were killed in a tragic accident in the Black Rock Mine. In 1917, the year that Copper Sky primarily takes place in, fire broke out in the shaft of the Speculator Mine, killing 168 men. The people of Butte of learned to grieve, comfort, and understand. They have learned to be strong, to fight for justice, to carry on. It is this strength that I hoped to portray in Copper Sky.
Men were not the only ones to die. Women also fell prey to misfortune. They were victims of violence, oppression, and sickness. In 1918 the Spanish Flu killed 1000 people in Butte. As I wrote Copper Sky I wondered about the motherless children. How did the people of town manage so many orphans? And what was the effect of such loss on the children? As a therapist I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the many ways trauma affects our lives. In Copper Sky I explore, not just the effects of our own traumas, but effects of the traumas of our parents, the traumas of a town, traumas that happened before we were even born. I couldn’t help but wonder if the people of Butte had absorbed this ability to deal compassionately with tragedy simply by growing up in a town like Butte.