[ This article was excerpted from the book "Progressive Men of the State of Montana"]
Coming into the world amid stirring times, Peter Breen was born in Johnson county, Kan., on October 5, i860, just after the bloody struggle over slavery in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, which were clamoring for admission into the Union. His father, Lawrence Breen, a native of Ireland, emigrated to America when he was twelve years old, and settled in Vermont and later in New York. From there he removed to Chicago before there was any railroad to that city and later was married in Wisconsin to Miss Kate Dillon, also of Irish birth.
They took up their residence on a Kansas farm and were there during all of the contest there for supremacy between the slavery and anti-slavery forces. Later they removed to Illinois, and when the Civil war broke out the father enlisted as a Union soldier in Company E, Ninety-fifth Illinois Infantry, in which he served with commendablecourage.
Peter Breen was the second of eight children. He received a good common-school education in Illinois and Iowa, and when he was nineteen left his father's home in Iowa, made his way to Colorado, and secured employment at railroading. He was a locomotive fireman for awhile, and then engaged in driving a mule team in themountains. After many months of this service, he went to Leadville, and worked at the smelting furnaces during the winter and prospected during the summer.
In 1884 he went to Couer d'Alene, Idaho, at the height of its gold excitement, but finding the snow too deep for him to profitably work, equipped as he was, he went to Spokane for horses, with which he returned and went to prospecting.
He lost all he had and went to Butte, arriving there June 20, 1884. He worked at the Old Belle smelter until fall when he went to Anaconda and remained during the winter. The next spring he went to the Flathead valley and located several ranches, but soon sold them and returned to Anaconda, where, there and in Jefferson county, he worked at hauling wood and mining. He traveled around Great Falls and located at Wicksin the spring of 1888, working, in the smeher.
From there he went to Elkhorn in 1890, and later to the Cleopatra mine near Butte. In August he located in Butte, pursuing various occupations until 1895. During all this time and throughout all his wanderings he was studying law and looking forward to a professional career. After 1895 he gave his whole attention to this study and with such success that he was admitted to practice in November,1898. He immediately formed a partnership with G. L. Langford, but subsequently dissolved this and formed another with his present partner.
Mr. Breen has been active and forceful in politics and began early to take a leaaing place in his party and to give his talents to the service of hispeople. He represented the Twenty-first district in the second constitutional convention of the state, and was elected as a Democrat to the First and Second state legislatures from Jefferson county.
He is at present a Populist, and as such was elected in 1890 to the office of county attorney of Silver Bow county, the duties of which he is now (1901) discharging with ability and acceptability, being commended for his strict attention to its business and his fairness and skill, by political associates and opponents alike.
Mr. Breen was married March 3, 1897, to Miss Katie Griffin, a native of Independence, Iowa, whose father was one of the early settlers in that locality. In religious faith he is a Roman Catholic, and belongs to the Robert Emmett Literary Society, composed principally of men of that faith. He is also a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen. His prominence in his profession and his firm hold on the confidence and regard of the people are not accidental or the result of adventitious circumstances.
He has gained every foot of his way by merit and persistent and honest labor. The very difficulty with which he secured his legal training has given him a more tenacious grasp of its details than if it had come to him easily, and the exigencies of his adventurous life have strengthened the fibre and multiplied the fertility of his sterling manner.