Marcus Daly

by Geraldine Lynch

Born on December 5th 1841, in Derrylea, a townland just outside the town of Ballyjamesduff, Marcus Daly was the youngest of eleven children of a small farming family. It was the pre-Famine era and things were close to desperate. Starvation and disease were rampant. Derrylea is situated on the Granard road out of Ballyjamesduff and this area like vast parts of Cavan saw a mass exodus of its people circa 1847-1855. Age mattered not , only survival and a 15 year old Marcus departed these shores in 1856. He arrived in New York and like most immigrants of the time had few belongings, very little money, education or skills. For the first five years he did odd jobs such as a messenger boy until he had saved up enough money to buy passage to San Francisco via the Isthmus of Panama and then overland by the coast of California where a sister lived.

After moving west Daly worked as a ranch hand, logger and a railroad worker and it was in California where he had his first experience of mining, where he teamed up with another young Irishman named Thomas Murphy. A quick learner Daly found employment in one of the silver mines of the Camstock Lode in Virginia City, Nevada. It was in Nevada that Daly met George Hearst who would become one of his financial backers in years to come.

By 1871, Daly was at Ophir, Utah and became a foreman for the Walker Brothers, a banking and mining syndicate in Salt Lake City. The following year he met his future wife Margaret Evans while he was inspecting a mine at Ophir with Margaret and her father. Margaret lost her balance on an incline and tumbled into Daly’s arms. They were married later that year in one of the Walker Brothers homes in Salt Lake. Margaret was 18 years old and Marcus was 30. The Dalys’ first two children Margaret Augusta (Madge) and Mary (Molly) were born in Ophir, Utah. Marcus Daly became a citizen of the United States.

In 1876 Daly was sent by the Walker Brothers to Butte Mantana to look at the prospects of the silver producing Alice Mine which the Walkers intended buying. He bought the Alice Mine for the company and retained a one fifth interest for himself.

Daly went to Butte to manage the Alice mine but he continued to keep on the lookout for other money making ventures. In 1881 he sold his share in the Alice mine and purchased the Anacando mining claim. The Cavan native bought the Anacanda from Irish born prospector and adventurer Michael Hickey. An American civil war veteran, Hickey was one of the original prospectors who panned rivers and dug up the surface in search of gold and silver. Hickey was one of the first to sink a shallow shaft on Butte Hill and stake a claim, naming his mine The Anaconda, after the description of how General Grants’ forces surrounded Lees troops ‘like a giant Anacanda’ during the American Civil War. But unable to afford the machinery to get below 150ft Hickey was forced to sell to Daly, who bought the mine with the backing of George Hearst and his associates, James Ben Alli Haggin and Lloyd Tevis.

Initially the Anacanda was a silver mine until a huge vein of copper 300 feet deep and 100 feet wide was discovered. Fortunately for Marcus and his friends copper was just coming into use for telegraph wire and electricity. Thomas Edison had just built the world’s first electric power plant in New York city and the use of the telegraph was exploding. Copper was selling for between eighteen and twenty three cents a pound in the early 1880’s but smelting costs were high because the ore had to be shipped to smelters in Swansea, Wales. Daly realised that he was sitting on a high business opportunity if he could reduce the cost of smelting. With the backing of Hearst, Haggin and Tevis, he built a smelter on a site twenty eight miles west of Butte. To accommodate the workers and support his smelter Daly built the town of Anaconda. By 1890, the copper mines were producing over seventeen million dollars worth of copper a year and made Marcus Daly a very rich man.

He was so successful that Anaconda became almost a household word in the United States. Daly purchased coal mines to fuel his finances, bought forests to supply his timber and built power plants to supply the mines. He also established a number of banks, and a newspaper, the influential Anaconda Standard.

He bought land in Bitter Root Valley, Montana and built a mansion in the heart of the valley just outside the town of Hamilton, Montana. By 1889 he had a 22,000 acre ranch on which he had developed a huge agricultural enterprise. Daly in particular was very interested in horses and one of his most prized racehorses was Tommany, one of the most famous in America’s racing history. Daly treated his men better than most other employers. He gave preferential treatment to new arrivals looking for work, allowed ‘the rustling card’ (closed shop) to operate, urged new employees to join the union and allowed union officers and society members access to his mines. He made donations to many causes, including Irish nationalism and also for the building of the parish church in his native parish of Crosserlough.

Marcus Daly died in New York City aged 58 in 1900. When he died he was one of the major figures in American industry and was known as the copper king.

Thousands of people attended his memorial mass in Butte. This obituary from the Buttle Miner read ‘Marcus Daly was a man to remember. He fought his way from dire poverty to fabulous riches. A true empire builder, he was a man of extreme. A friend to his friends, to his enemies remorseless and unforgiving. Daly, a father figure watched over his family, his friends and his employees with a heartfelt benevolence. It must be noted that when he ran the Anacanda Mining Company, he treated his employees better than most corporations of the time. More than any other man he built the Montana mining industry, he was a true son of Ireland, which he never forgot and helped.”

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 2001