Bannack, Montana

DSC_0006 copy.jpgBannack is a ghost town located in Hangman’s Gulch on the banks of Grasshopper Creek in southwestern Montana. It emerged as a mining camp during the 1862 gold rush when John White and a group of miners called “Pike Peakers” discovered gold on the banks of a creek on July 28, 1862. They named the creek Grasshopper Creek due to the abundance of grasshoppers which inhabited the bushy banks of it. John White and his fellow prospectors did not know that Lewis and Clark had already given the name Willard Creek to the stream. Rumors about the new gold discovery spread quickly and miners flooded the area. In the fall of 1862 there were about 400 prospectors working on their stakes, washing and panning gold in the creek. By the spring of the next year the population grew to 3,000 people.

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The name of the mining camp, Bannack, came from the local Indian tribe Banate, who lived close to the area. Their favorite dessert was camas root cake. The Scotch name for the cake was Bannock, which means “a cake cooked over an open fire.” White settlers called the Indian tribe the Bannocks and the name stuck. On November 21, 1863 the town of Bannock was founded when the Post Office was opened. The name was submitted to Washington D.C. but Government officials misspelled the name of the town, changing O to A.

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Miners and prospectors, hungry for gold, rushed to Bannack in 1862 in the middle of the Civil War. There were people from all over the world and from all walks of life: merchants and freight movers, stage coach managers and doctors, lawyers and pharmacists, carpenters and blacksmiths, outlaws and deserters, Unionists and Secessionists, saloonkeepers, prostitutes, and dance hall girls.

Dance hall girls who were entertainers were not necessarily prostitutes. They were called Hurdy Gurdy girls after the name of an old musical instrument, which was played to accompany their dances in saloons. Hurdy Gurdy girls, shopkeepers, innkeepers, livery keepers and saloonkeepers preferred to mine the miners, which was more profitable than washing for gold in the cold water of the Grasshopper creek. Everything had to be paid in gold. Greenbacks, the Union bills, and greybacks, Confederate currency, were not accepted because nobody knew who would win the war and which currency would be legitimate afterwards.

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The Old West’s colorful and violent history is encompassed and kept alive in this ghost town. The town has a few tents and about 60 preserved houses, which line the main street. Besides residential houses and log cabins, there are the following buildings: a Methodist Church, a two story building with a school on the first floor and a Masonic Lodge on the second, the Mead hotel, a carpenter shop, a mercantile shop, a doctor’s office, a saloon, a blacksmith tent, a dressmaking shop, a pharmacy and a boarding house.

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There are also two log jails next to each other with a view of the gallows from a barred window.

There is a livery and Bachelor’s Row, consisting of flimsy shacks and shanties. These were built to accommodate 3-4 miners. Each shack had bunk beds, a shelf to keep dishes and personal belongings, a tiny table, and a chair. There was an outhouse just behind the shacks. Miners, who struck gold, could afford to rent a bed in Bachelor’s Row or the Boarding House.

However, it was considered almost a luxury compared to a tent or a wikiup, made of tree branches. Sometimes the whole family lived in the wagon by which they reached Bannack. Miners, upon arrival to Bannack, staked their claims and immediately began mining. Most of the prospectors did not have time to build a decent cabin or a house for the first year. If they able to wash enough gold to pay rent for a boarding house or build a log cabin they could move to a more comfortable living and move their families to Bannack.

Bannack used to be a lively mining town. When a visitor walks down the uninhabited street and walk into empty houses, there is a mixed feeling of sadness and abandonment. Public buildings such as the school house, the church and different shops are like museums and are fun to go inside and research. However, residential houses have that eerie and ghostly atmosphere which might make you feel like an intruder who came without permission into somebody’s life. It’s like spirits of the former residents surround a visitor and you can feel their incorporeal presence. The empty space inside these houses is dense with something immaterial. They watch you but can’t ask. So these residential houses don’t feel abandoned. They are inhabited by the souls of their previous owners.

However, twice a year Bannack turns into a lively history museum. During the third weekend of July, Bannack State Park holds Bannack Daysand visitors can enjoy tours, try gold panning, and watch shoot outs and stage coach holdups. There are also different workshops, food, music, and entertainment.

In the end of the third week of September there is the Living History Days event.

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There are also Ghost Walks in the end of October just before Halloween, which take place in the evening, under the stars. If you have never believed in ghosts, you can challenge your prospective on this matter by going on one of these tours.

Have you ever visited ghost towns or had any encounters with ghosts?
You are welcome to share your story in the comments.

Resources used.

Vigilante Days and Ways. Nathaniel Pitt Langford.


    • I just uderestimated how cold it can be in Montana, but we had a chance to get warm at a campfire next to the stable, in a boarding house and in a mercantile store thanks to the volunteers of the Bannack Association.


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