Decline of the West
While the 19th century saw the buildup of wealth and influence in western Montana, the 20th century brought decline to the mining and logging industries that had fueled early growth.
Butte struggled on until 1955, when open-pit mining began, diminishing overhead and overburden at the same time. The old Butte communities were ripped apart as steam shovels tore into the soil. The huge Berkeley Pit swallowed up Meaderville, which was once a lively Italian neighborhood sitting on a vein of low-grade copper ore. Although Berkeley Pit revived industry in Butte for about 20 years, by the 1980s the Anaconda Company had sold all of its holdings in Butte. A mile high and a mile deep, Butte contained just a century’s worth of riches.
Likewise, centralized ownership and overproduction have crippled the timber-products industry. Huge companies control much of the timber production in Montana and have put local lumber mills and logging companies out of business. Much of the good timber on easily accessible private and state lands has already been harvested. With the old-growth trees gone, local loggers and mills have had to bear the expense of retooling machinery to accommodate smaller trees. Even though the loss of jobs and revenue in logging towns is a result of market forces, environmentalists usually receive the blame.
© W.C. McRae & Judy Jewell from Moon Montana, 7th Edition