Butte, Montana – The Cabbage Patch

Butte’s forgotten ghetto

Butte is a consolidated city county and the county seat of Silver Bow County, Montana, United States. Established in 1864 as a mining camp in the northern Rocky Mountains on the Continental Divide, Butte experienced rapid development in the late-nineteenth century and was Montana’s first major industrial city. In its heyday, it was one of the largest copper boomtowns in the American West.

Butte, Montana is most often referred to as “The Richest Hill on Earth.” This name was given to the area by Marcus Daly, one of the infamous Copper Kings, who had the vision to establish a smelter larger than any in the area had built as the Anaconda Copper Mine and Smelter. Thousands of miners were attracted to the area and with such a large population there was no shortage of nefarious activity occurring throughout the city. The alcohol flowed and Butte’s red light district was booming. The town was described as smoke-ridden and sulfurous.

The Cabbage Patch was a shanty town of the 1800s in Butte. The “Patch” was home to bootleggers, drunks, prostitutes, poor families, newly arrived immigrants, widows with children, criminals, and other down-on-their-luck residents. The name Cabbage Patch originated from the predominant diet of its inhabitants, cheap cabbage.

The Cabbage Patch was a rough-and-tumble neighborhood of about 250 hardscrabble shacks most with dirt floors, There was no running water and sewage ran through the community. No city in Montana had such a vast gulf between rich and poor than Butte. Home to millionaires and paupers, it was a city of contrast. Between 1880 and 1940, the Cabbage Patch saw at least 20 murders and countless other crimes such as thefts, arsons, gang heists, and other misdeeds that helped Butte earn its reputation as one of the darkest corners in all of Montana.

There was a tremendous amount of crime, gangs, and drug problems. With the drinking, shooting, and stealing, it was a rough place to call home. Many had migrated here from other countries and it was so transient that it was hard to know how many people lived there. A lot of folks in the Patch suffered from mental illness. Criminals on the run from police would always lay low in the Patch.

There were also just the poor families trying to survive and they did their best to take care of their children and watch out for each other. Now the Cabbage Patch is gone, most of it turned into low-income apartments. A small section of the old shacks has been preserved as a remembrance of the hard times there.

There are areas that are considered haunted. One of the shacks has a ghost there named Tess. She seems to reach out to others, primarily to young mothers and children. Visitors o the shack bring her dresses and the children draw pictures of her. They bring her cupcakes and dolls.

There has been a historical account written about the Cabbage Patch of Butte. Great Falls journalist and writer Jake Sorich explores this fascinating neighborhood in his debut book by digging through newspaper archives and speaking to people who lived in the Patch or had direct relatives who lived and worked there. Some of the characters mentioned include Jimmy July, the only naturalized Chinese citizen in Montana in the late 1800s;

Mexicali Rose, the so-called “Queen of the Cabbage Patch”; and Pete O’Hara, the “King of the Cabbage Patch,” whose house was known by authorities as the place where there would be at least one shooting per week for a brief period in the 1920s before it eventually was torn down. The book also details some of the Cabbage Patch’s heroes,

such as standout football star Joe Tomich, who went on to have a stellar collegiate career at Oregon State University, famed boxer Dixie LaHood, and vaudeville Broadway star-turned-movie-actor Josip Elic (also known in Butte as Joseph Elich). His most notable movie role was starring as Bancini in the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” But after 1940, the Cabbage Patch came down and was gone forever. What happened? Where did the residents go? What led to this shift in the Butte slum’s landscape?

I learned about the Cabbage Patch by watching the Travel Channel’s TV series “Ghosts of Devil’s Perch”. It is about a paranormal investigation of Butte, Montana initiated by city officials. One of the episodes has them dealing with hauntings in the “Patch”.

Further Reading


Visit Southwest Montana
Lively Times
NBC Montana

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: