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Frank Little, 38
Butte, Montana
August 01, 1917

Last updated: 8 months ago

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The murderers parked in front of 316 North Wyoming Street shortly after 3am. One stayed by the car while the others – six of them, all masked – entered the boarding house. They roused the owner, a woman named Nora Byrne. “We want Frank Little,” they said. Terrified, she directed them to room 32. They kicked in the door.

Their quarry, a slender, dark-haired man, had been sleeping. They hauled him out in his underwear, giving him no time to dress or grab his crutches, and bundled him in the car. They drove a short distance, stopped, tied him to the rear bumper and dragged him over the street’s granite blocks.

Out on the Milwaukee bridge, just outside town, they beat him. Then they attached a rope to a railway trestle and strung him up. “Cause of death: strangulation by hanging,” said the coroner’s report   So ended the short, eventful life of Frank Little, labour leader, strike organiser and anti-war protester, in Butte, Montana, on 1 August 1917. A crippled, one-eyed, itinerant activist, he took on a giant corporation, and the US government, and lost. A century later the mystery remains: who killed him? The murderers were never identified. There are other puzzles. Was Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon, involved? What did the number 3-7-77, pinned to Little’s body, mean?

As the US lurches towards the most toxic presidential election in living memory perhaps the most intriguing question is this: did the lynching help pave the way for Donald Trump?

That is a heavy historical load for an all but forgotten figure. In Butte there is no statue or street named in Little’s memory, not even a mention of him at the town’s World Museum of Mining, just a few miles from the scene of his kidnapping. He lies in the pauper’s section of the Mountain View cemetery.

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