Jim Murray’s rise to great wealth began high in the Rocky Mountains in the small town of Pioneer, Montana. There he hit his first big strike, hired others to work his claims, and earned a reputation as someone who “couldn’t be bluffed, wouldn’t be cheated, and didn’t scare at anything.” He parlayed his mining wealth into banks, theaters, resorts, waterworks and commercial properties from Seattle to San Diego. In western business circles, it was believed his ready cash was second only to W.A. Clark. Where Murray shared no peers, however, was in his decidedly radical politics. From the Irish Land League protests of the 1880’s through the Easter Rising of 1916, he supported the violent overthrow of Britain’s rule in his homeland. Hoping for the Crown’s defeat in World War I, Murray’s extremism reached its peak when future World War II General Omar Bradley was dispatched to Butte, Montana to stop Murray’s network of “Sinn Féiners” from impeding the supply of copper to Britain’s war machine.
Told for the first time, this is the unvarnished story of Murray’s rise to great wealth and power, and the flamboyant cast of friends and family that endured his violent mood swings and his eccentric generosities. Farley relates the entirety of Murray’s audacious life: ruling over mining camps in Montana, dining with Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell in New York, showering the Monterey art colony with patronage, and propelling a loyal nephew to the top of a radical Irish-American organization with 60,000 members. His story concludes with the bitter fight over his massive estate, involving twenty-six relatives, nine years of court battles, and headline coverage by newspapers throughout the West. This is the tale of a western iconoclast, a pioneering and dominating spirit, more comfortable in saloons than board rooms, who fought for wealth and mother country to his last breath.
What others are saying…
“Jim Murray deserved a biography. I think he would have loved this one. It’s honest and it’s thorough, just as—in his own strange way—Jim Murray was. I’ve been at this business for more than fifty years. I have never met a more enterprising and a more tireless researcher than Bill Farley. This is historical detective work of the first order… And it tells a fascinating story about Butte and about the characters who made it: Jim Murray and his friends, Fat Jack Jones, John Maguire, and hundreds more.”
David M. Emmons, author of The Butte Irish (excerpt from foreword)
“From scratching for a living in the California gold rush to multi-millionaire status. This is the remarkable story—deftly handled—of a sometimes inspiring but often roguish Irishman who managed not to forget who, and what, he came from. By introducing us to James Murray, his puckish, resourceful and courageous ancestor, Bill Farley has faithfully and skillfully added to the canon of Irish contributions to the history of the American West.”
Myles Dungan, author of How the Irish Won the West
“Farley has great affection for his principal subject, which makes for enjoyable, effortless reading….One wonders why Murray has not already been the subject of a Hollywood blockbuster.”
Aaron Parrett, Montana the Magazine of Western History
“Author Bill Farley offers a fascinating look at James A. Murray, a largely unheralded early Montana magnate, who had a reputation even as a child as “both troublemaker and saint…Farley fleshes out the Irishman through years of research and skillful writing, making every effort to give an accurate sense of this iconoclastic buccaneer and accomplished capitalist.”
CK Willis, Lively Times
“Considered to be one of the most influential people in San Diego, Ed Fletcher (1872-1955) spun many tales that still dominate the City’s land development and water historiography. His embellished accounts of his own role in the Cuyamaca Water Company obscure a number of colorful episodes in San Diego’s history. This article revisits Fletcher’s life and times, highlighting stories about the “Bonanza King” James A. Murray (1840-1921); the accidental naming of Lake Murray; and a yacht club at Pebble Beach paid for, albeit indirectly, by San Diego county ratepayers.”
Last month I travelled to Monterey, California to tie up loose ends on research for my biography of James A. Murray. I knew several things about Murray’s life in Monterey prior to my trip. He moved there in 1904, at age 64, eight years into his second marriage. He purchased the Tevis Estate from David Jacks, and was likely the home’s first permanent occupant. The home remained in the Murray family until it was demolished in the 1940’s to make way for the expansion of Cannery Row. Murray died in the home in 1921 and the battle for his estate played out in the Monterey Superior Court. Today, a portion of the residence (the horse stables and corral) is the site of the Monterey Bay Plaza & Spa. Five other buildings occupy the site as well. The Monterey Bay Inn sits on the location of his main residence. During the seventeen-year period that Murray called Monterey his home, he commissioned a monument to mark the location of Junipero Serra’s first mass, purchased a Leon Trousset painting of the same event, found work for a dear friend (John Maguire) at the Monterey Cypress newspaper, buried that friend at the San Carlos cemetery, commissioned a monument to mark his friend’s grave, and loaned money to several Monterey residents, including artist Charles Rollo Peters. Murray’s wife remained in Monterey after his death, as did her son by another marriage, Stuart Haldorn, and his wife Enid Gregg.
My primary research objective on this trip was to define the relationship between Murray and Charles Rollo Peters. My secondary objective was very broad. I wanted to find any other information that would further define Murray’s role in Monterey’s early history. My advance work for the trip was aided by James Perry at the Monterey County Historical Society and Dennis Copeland at the City Library. Perry pulled the case numbers I needed to look up court records involving Murray – two of which involved Peters. Copeland pulled a glass negative of the Trousset painting that I could examine to determine if Murray’s version was the same one that now hangs in the Carmel Mission. My plan was to review the cases at the Superior Court, see if the negative matched the Trousset painting at the Carmel Mission and then spend time looking though reels of local newspapers at the City Library. My time flipping through the newspapers was just a hunt for random stories.
My time at the court went very quickly. The lawsuits between Murray and Peters were very revealing. Murray lent Peters a total of $15,000 in two loans between 1906 and 1907. This was a significant amount of money in that time period. It would take a blue collar worker 30 years to earn that amount, and a white collar worker ten. Both loans were secured against his estate (Peters’ Gate). This was at a time of lavish spending for Peters. He took in artists after the 1906 earthquake and opened a gallery at the Del Monte hotel. Both notes were due within one year, but as with many of his charitable loans, Murray did not make any effort to collect. When Murray died, he held over 50 uncollected private loans to individuals totaling over $1.25 million. Many were worthless and of a similar age to Peters’ notes. It seems he only moved to collect on these private loans if he felt slighted.
It appears Murray’s lawsuits were prompted because Peters sold his estate (Murray’s collateral) between 1909 and 1910, and did not use the any of the proceeds to repay Murray. This likely irritated Murray, so he foreclosed on the new property owner to assert his right to title. It appears he won his effort to gain title to the property, as new owner entered into a mortgage with Murray. Whether any money exchanged hands for the clouded title is unclear. Murray probably did not receive much, but the foreclosure process allowed him to go after Peters for some compensation. The court records indicate Peters was forced to sell two paintings hanging at the St. Francis hotel in San Francisco to make at least a symbolic payment to Murray. Paintings by established California artists at that time sold for $50 to $500.
The lawsuit with Hugh Porter revealed that Murray started the Monterey Cypress newspaper in 1907 and lent Porter, the paper’s editor, half of the start-up money to be a partner in the business. Murray did this with a lot of people to avoid paying them a salary – instead, his partners worked for free and had to make sufficient profit to pay off Murray’s loan. In this case, Porter also had to make sure he could pay John Maguire’s salary as associate editor. Murray also owned newspapers in Pocatello, Idaho and Livingston, Montana where he had business interests. He also invested heavily in the radical Butte Bulletin.
When I visited the City Library I discovered that in the week prior, the library has just transitioned all of their microfilm roles to an on-line platform. I searched the database very quickly and found a great article on (new-to-me) renovations at the Carmel Mission funded by Murray in 1908. This work was completed shortly before the installation of his Serra Monument. I then spent some time in the California Room browsing through file cabinets and shelves. I found some good articles on Charles Rollo Peters to provide context for Murray’s loans and the disposition of Peters’ Gate. The image of Murray’s Trousset was out for scanning, so Dennis arranged to send me a copy via email later in the week.
I accomplished all of the goals I set for the trip, so I shortened my stay in Monterey and booked a room near U.C. Berkeley. I wanted to check out the Douglas Tilden papers to see if there were any mention of the base reliefs he prepared for the Serra Monument Murray commissioned at the Lower Presidio Historic Park. As I left town the next day for Berkeley, I stopped by the Carmel Mission to see if any of the work Murray commissioned still existed. The curator, Jewel Gentry, was kind enough to give me a tour of the mission. It appeared to me that only the work Murray did with the stairways remained. My last stops before leaving the area were the Monterey County Historical Society and the County Recorder. At the society office I had a chance to brief Perry on what I had found, and at the Recorder’s Office I found several new-to-me property documents that enlarged the footprint of Murray’s ocean front mansion.
My trip to Berkeley the next day only provided a couple bits of new information, but reading Tilden’s papers was a very moving experience. With a few extra hours I had, I made another unplanned trip to Mission Delores to see a bronze casting of the Tilden base relief that was part of Murray’s Serra monument.
With my new research I have a fuller picture of Murray’s role in Monterey’s historic preservation, the lengths he went for his good friend John Maguire, and the secret role he played in funding the area’s artist colony. It also came clear to me just how much influence the mission architecture influenced his other projects. Two resorts that he developed in Montana reflected this influence. Monterey was fortunate that they were able to experience the best of Murray’s personality. Most places where he did business were not so fortunate.
Now back to writing the biography of my complicated relative……
I learned yesterday that my most recent paper has been accepted for the Mid-Atlantic regional meeting of the American Conference for Irish Studies. The conference is being held at the Glucksman Ireland House on the campus of New York University. NYU has an outstanding Irish Studies program and it is exciting to be on their campus for this conference. Below is a description of my paper:
The Butte Bulletin: Ireland’s Voice in the Western Labor Camps
The Butte Bulletin held the largest circulation and reach of any paper in Montana between 1918 and 1921 – a period rife with labor unrest and a time when entire communities were shackled by martial law. At the center of the conflict was the State’s rich deposits of copper and the corporations that mined, processed and transported the precious metals to munition companies arming America’s allies. The Butte Bulletin was labor’s organ during this tumultuous time, reaching mining and timber camps throughout the West – but it also held an equally radical pro-Irish agenda, a focus that has been given little attention by historians. Past research into the paper’s origins and operations has focused on ties to the IWW and Communist Party, and the intense focus of the Military Intelligence Division on the paper’s seditious editors. In this paper I look specifically at the Irish roots of the paper’s start-up. Two of the principal promoters of the paper were James A. Murray and his nephew, NYU alum James E. Murray. My recent article in Montana: The Magazine of Western History, titled “Rocky Mountain Radicals; Copper King James A. Murray and U.S Senator James E. Murray, and Seventy-Eight Years of Montana Politics, 1883-1961” provides a political biography of the pair, and reveals their role with the Butte Bulletin. Here, I delve further into other Irish connections to the paper, and consider the influence the paper had in promoting Ireland’s cause during the final push for freedom.
Efforts to restore the badly deteriorated Carmel Mission started in the 1880’s with the construction of a new roof. Murray’s work was the next significant improvement to the mission and coincided with his dedication of a monument to mark the location of Father Serra’s first mass. Here is an article, published in Murray’s newspaper, detailing the scope of his contribution to the church:
Restoring of Church Floor
Carmel Mission Is Like When Indians Attended There
Monterey Daily Cypress, March 29, 1908
The work of restoring the floor of Carmel Mission, undertaken by James A. Murray of this city has been completed. As it is now the lower part of the church is almost the same as when thousands of Indians went there to attend services.
A cement floor has been laid all over the church, which is 49×125 feet. The floor is laid in diagonal blocks and is colored red to represent the old mission tiling. A new floor has also been placed in the chapel and sachristy (sic).
Inside the chancel the floor was laid with old tile which remained unbroken on a bed of cement.
The tombs of Junipero Serra and the several of his fellow priests were raised and the old stones that covered them replaced. Leading to the altar massive cement steps have been built.
The old stone stairway leading up to the little pulpit has been repaired with the identical stone that the builders of the Mission used. Stone for the purpose was quarried on the Gregg Ranch a couple miles away and brought to the the church and cut. It would take an expert to determine whether the steps had been repaired.
The stairway leading up to the old belfry tower, which was built of chalk rock, has been repaired with the same material.
For about four months this work of restoration has been going on under the direction of Charles W. Meader. Instructions from Mr. Murray were to replace the work as nearly as possible to the original, and this has been carefully done. Over 5000 square feet of cement work has benn (sic) laid.
The diagram below shows the likely location of the restoration work. Meader, the project manager, was the son of another well known Montana pioneer, Charles T. Meader. After Murray’s work, the next significant renovations were conducted by Harry Downie after 1920 – much of which replaced Murray’s work. The stairwork completed to the small pulpit and the outside stair to the belfry are likely remains of Murray’s contribution at the mission. His monument marking the location of Serra’s first mass still stands in the Lower Presidio Historic Park.
After two days researching documents in Monterey, I moved north and spent a day at the Bancroft Library on the U.C. Berkeley campus. There I reviewed the papers of famed sculptor Douglas Tilden. My subject, James A. Murray, commissioned two base reliefs from
Tilden in 1904. Both adorn the monument Murray placed at the spot of Father Serra’s first mass in Monterey, California. One is a profile of Serra and the other a likeness of Mission Carmel. I quickly realized that I would not find anything of significance relating to Murray’s monument, but left with several hours of spare time on my hands, I started reading through random letters in the collection. I’m glad I did.
After reviewing several folders, I was struck by the heartbreak and hardship in Tilden’s life. Before Tilden garnered great success in his late thirties, his collection of papers includes terse correspondence from bill collectors, associates in desperate straits pleading for payment from Tilden, and even Alexander Graham Bell’s handwritten note expressing regret he could not afford to buy any of Tilden’s wares. I approximate that half of Tilden’s professional arc was a flat line of despair and agony. Adding to his hardship was a hearing impairment that rendered his world silent.
I wondered why Tilden held on to these reminders of suffering, and then it occurred to me I had seen this before. I’ve reviewed the papers of two other individuals at University archives and both of them, despite having a public perception of great success, also left a trail of papers documenting the darkest days of their careers. In the biographies that treat their lives you might read that they experienced early hardships, but in their papers – in their own hand and those of others – you feel excruciating pain. Willis Polk, who went on to become a noted architect, wrote Tilden a note on a small piece paper in the late 1890’s pleading for a payment of a few dollars. Family members had taken ill and he desperately needed payment to take care of their medical needs. Tilden saved none of his responses, but three additional notes from Polk over six months, each escalating in desperation, indicate that Tilden could not make ends meet. In the other papers I reviewed, those of Ed Fletcher and Frank Brown, I also read desperate pleas from men, all whom showed a strong public face, needing money to take care of their wives, children and parents.
So despite coming away empty in new facts, I did gain additional perspective on the wreckage caused by subject’s like mine, when they leverage desperation to meet their business goals. Perhaps this is the reason, in part or in whole, that my three left their papers for others to see.
If you have a historical figure of interest I strongly encourage you to see if they, or their partners, donated papers to archives. If they did, they left a trail for you to follow to gain additional perspective on their lives, and their interactions with others. Seeing for yourself, the steadiness of their hand, their choice of stationary, and most importantly their own words, will give you valuable insights that even the best biographer is want to capture. It will be worth the trip.
Picture in banner: Tilden’s Mechanic sculpture amidst the ruins of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
I’m travelling to Monterey this week to look through court records from the early 1900’s involving James A. Murray’s lawsuits against famed artist Charles Rollo Peters. It appears Murray held a substantial mortgage against Peter’s Gate, the artist’s popular retreat. Hopefully the court records and local newspaper accounts of the trial will review the nature of thier partnership. I’m hoping there is more to the story than Murray’s typical loan sharking practices. This is the last loose end in my research on Murray’s activities in Monterey.
New in the Spring edition of Montana: The Magazine of Western History
The labor movement in the Gilded Age and New Deal era found an unlikely pair of allies in a wealthy miner and his nephew.
James A. Murray started his business empire with a few dollars in his pocket in 1863 prospecting in Rocky Mountain mining camps along Mullan Road. Over the next fifty-eight years he built a fortune that today would exceed $2.0 billion and stretched from Seattle to San Diego, and from San Francisco to Wyoming. Murray was a staunch advocate for labor and never stopped supporting their cause as anti-union corporations enveloped the American West. He funded a radical pro-labor newspaper affiliated with the Wobblies during the height of labor strife in World War I, and extended his radical legacy with a significant bequest to his equally radical nephew, future U.S. Senator James E. Murray. The younger Murray rose to the top of Eamon de Valera’s support group in the U.S. and became the Senate’s strongest proponent of labor and progressive politics from the New Deal Era until the dawn of the Civil Rights movement.
The story of the radical Murray family is told in depth for the first time in a beautifully illustrated twenty-page article in the Spring 2016 Edition of Montana: The Magazine of Western History. Copies of the Spring edition can be purchased individually from the Montana Historical Society. The publication is also available in over 700 libraries across the globe. Find a copy near you on the World Catalog.
Coming next year: The biography of radical Copper King James A. Murray will be published by Montana Press Publishing Company in the Fall of 2017.
Signed on today with Mountain Press Publishing Co to publish the biography of James A. Murray, a radical Western millionaire.
Murray built his fortune alone and unaided. The Irish immigrant was a fervent supporter of labor and Irish Nationalism, and fought at every turn against corporate capitalism. He operated his business empire, stretching from Seattle to San Diego and east to Colorado, out of saloons and hotel lobbies. He dined with hack drivers and prostitutes in Rocky Mountain mining camps, and Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell in New York City. During the Gilded Age he owned the most magnificent home on the California Coast and a five star resort at the edge of Yellowstone Park.