Briefly Noted: ‘Hell With the Lid Off, Butte Montana’

I changed planes several times in Butte. Unfortunately, all the old-time fun portrayed by Horace Smith in this on-the-scene 1890s book was long gone.

From the Publisher

Hell With the Lid Off: Butte, Montana is the lost manuscript of Horace ‘Bert’ Smith, who arrived in the West as a teetotaling 21-year-old adventure-seeking reporter. He later went on to publishing successes in New York as part of a salon that included Zane Grey and Upton Sinclair. With his reporter’s eye and access to characters on both sides of the law, Smith chronicles wild times, terrible tragedies and sudden millionaires on ‘the richest hill on earth’. His granddaughter, Melissa Smith FitzGerald, discovered the manuscript that Smith was finishing and trying to sell to Hollywood when he died suddenly in 1936.

Reviewer’s Comment

“Horace Herbert Smith takes you to Butte, Montana, in its copper-mining heyday to experience that brawling, big-hearted time. In a series of vivid snapshots Smith, a Butte newspaperman, describes the 1890s when, as he writes, life there “was fast and fun.” Smith died before he could publish his absorbing and entertaining memoir detailing daytime gun battles and a sermonizing standoff, the high life and labor strife, scoundrels and bullwhackers and still-breathing corpses, with a cast of real-life characters so colorful as to make fiction writers despair. Fortunately for the reader, Smith’s manuscript is finally seeing print. It’s a rare treat.” – Gwen Florio

Looks like a winner for fans of the old west. The catchy title gives you an apt clue about the town in those days.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the contemporary fantasy “The Sun Singer” set in Montana’s mountains.