Something yellow and timeless glittered in Grasshopper Creek. The discovery put fire in miners’ hearts, and Montana’s first gold rush began in 1862. Bannack burst to life and peaked at 5,000 people.
Gold fever and a population explosion created an ideal environment for crime. Bannack was a frontier town, and there was no established judicial system. Road agents (bandits) flourished. In fact, Bannack’s sheriff, Henry Plummer, was said to secretly lead a gang. Residents formed vigilante groups. The vigilantes of Bannack crossed into infamy when they hanged Henry Plummer. Vigilantes regularly hung their victims without the benefit of a trial.
Unlike most boom towns, Bannack survived for a century. The town went through repeated booms and busts. Improved mining technology, like dredging, was used to wrest more gold from Grasshopper Creek. As the town matured, its lawless character faded. More families made their homes in Bannack, and a church and a brick courthouse (later turned into a hotel) were built.
Yet dreams of gold died in the dust. Bannack declined after World War II, and became a ghost town. Several former residents and various groups concerned with preserving history worked to save Bannack. Eventually, Montana turned the site into a state park.
Bannack State Park: Living History
Today, Bannack is a living ghost town. Homes and businesses from all periods of Bannack’s history are well-preserved. To step into Bannack’s houses is to step into the inner worlds of the people who once lived there. Bannack is a portal back into time. Places I had learned about in history classes came to life as I explored the town.
Bannack is located in a rain shadow – the land is essentially a desert. The lush banks of Grasshopper Creek offer the only reprieve from sagebrush wilderness. The spirit of the Old West is alive and well in this landscape.
I love the photos I took during my Bannack trip, but nothing compares to experiencing the sights yourself. If you find yourself in Big Sky Country – and you have a streak of history buff in you – make sure visit Bannack!