Denver, Colo., - On the fateful
voyage that embarked from Southampton and
never made it to New York City, a passenger
on the RMS Titanic named Major Archibald
Willingham Butt was tasked with a special
He was to carry a letter from Pope Pius X
and personally deliver it to United States
president William H. Taft.
But the 45-year-old major perished along
with more than 1500 other passengers the
night of April 15, with the contents of the
letter never to be known.
Born in 1865 in Augusta, Georgia, Major
Butt began a career in journalism after
graduating from the University of the South,
in Sewanee, Tennessee. He later worked as
first secretary of the United States Embassy
in Mexico. During the Spanish-American war,
he joined the army and was later appointed
in 1908 by Theodore Roosevelt as his
military aid. When President Taft was
elected, Major Butt was kept on staff and
promoted to the rank of major in 1911.
By the next year, his health began to
deteriorate – some speculating that this was
due to him wanting to stay neutral and
supportive amid tense political rivalry
between Taft and Roosevelt, the latter of
whom was planning a re-election campaign.
On a leave of absence, Major Butt
embarked on a six-week tour of Europe in
March of 1912 with his friend, artist
Francis Millet. President Taft gave the
major a letter to deliver to Pius X while in
Rome, which he did on March 21. In return,
Pius X gave him a letter to deliver to the
president, according to the U.K. National
The major boarded the RMS Titanic in
Southampton on April 12.
When the ship struck an iceberg in the
waters of the Atlantic on the evening of
April 15, he was seen in the smoking room,
playing cards with Millett, the two
ostensibly making no attempt to save
themselves. Other sources, however, report
According to Biography.com, The New York
Times reported survivor Renee Harris as
saying that he helped the sailors place
women and children safely into lifeboats –
even threatening bodily harm to any man who
tried to circumvent the process.
“Women will be attended to first or I'll
break every...bone in your body,” he told
one such unfortunate gentleman, according to
Harris. The major helped “frightened people
so wonderfully, tenderly, and yet with such
cool and manly firmness. He was a soldier to
the last,” Harris reportedly said.