If her Irish immigrant “Papa” hadn’t been the watchman of the Lexington Mine in Butte, Montana, Sarah McNelis might not have written this thoroughly researched and engaging book.
In 1947, in the final lines of the introduction to her master’s thesis, Sarah McNelis described telegrams, business and personal letters all jumbled together with other papers in a room at the watchman’s house where she was living. Because some of the trash belonged to F. Augustus Heinze, one of the three great Copper Kings, it was worth saving. She used those documents and deep research to write her thesis on Heinze, and she hoped her carefully documented study would become a book.
Many factors obscured that dream, and Sarah went on to become a schoolteacher and historian. In 1968 she received a letter from K. Ross Toole, still considered by many to be the preeminent Montana historian, who said the University of Montana history department, of which he was chairman, had a modest grant to publish “valuable unpublished works in Montana and regional history.” Toole asked if Sarah would consider having the University of Montana publish her “Biography of F. Augustus Heinze” because “it is an outstanding manuscript.”
In the afterword, “The Watchman’s Daughter,” journalist and historian Zena Beth McGlashan explores the many aspects of how this book came to be, including how preeminent Montana historian K. Ross Toole chose McNelis’ work to be the first book published by the University of Montana Press.