Helena  first overtook Virginia City in 1875, when voters chose it to be the territorial capital. The real battle began when Montana was recognized as a state in 1889. The feud between Copper Kings Marcus Daly and William Clark ricocheted across the state. What had been a grudge match of political influence became war as each backed a different city to be capital of the new state of Montana in a statewide election in 1894.
While each of the industrialists had solid power bases in Butte , the wrangle involved Anaconda , the city that Daly had built, and the established capital of Helena, where Clark had major mining investments.
The attack politicians of our time could take lessons from the acrimonious battles of the Copper Kings. Each man controlled newspapers; each shamelessly bought and influenced votes. (“It came through the transom” is an expression still used in Montana to explain a windfall gift from a patron.) In the end, Helena only just won the statewide vote, retaining its hold as the capital.
Helena continued to hold sway over the rich and powerful during the late 1890s and early years of the 1900s, as is witnessed by its elaborate architecture of the period. Be they ranchers, miners, or tradesmen, the rich from across the state hadn’t “arrived” until they had engaged in the mansion-building competition that thrived on the west side of Last Chance Gulch .
The concentration of wealth in Helena is legendary. In the late 1880s there were more millionaires in Helena per capita than anywhere else in the nation.