With 3800 ghost towns in the entirety of the US, it’s a bit of an ambitious task should one decide to explore them all. Once the capital of Montana, Bannack now lists number 9 on the American Ghost Town website – no wonder Hollywood keeps releasing one small town horror show after the other, they’ve got too many of them!
Bannack was named after the indigenous tribe of the area, the Bannock people.
Bannack the Bandit-Hole
Bannack now hosts a population of naught to twelve. It was once the biggest gold mining city in the US – the gold rush of the 1800s found the swarm directing its attention here after people discovered a ninety-nine percent pure form of the mineral. Ten thousand populated the city at its peak, and although the town was relatively remote, it attracted men of all professions – including those not very friendly with the law.
Gaining a reputation for gold and robbers – the two do seem to go hand in hand – a sheriff was sent to the town, who also quickly gained a notorious name for himself. Henry Plummer was rumored to have one of the largest gangs in the area, with information on the gold being transported and stored. Stories circulating about him involved murder, theft, and multiple kinds of crime, and desperate times called for intense measures taken by the residents of the town. One of the most famous landmarks of Bannack is the gallows, where the sheriff was eventually hanged.
Bannack was nothing less of a stereotypical Texan movie. May of 1863 saw a major gold discovery eighty miles east of the town, and soon people began making the move. Alder Gulch, the new gold mine, is now Virginia City. The capital of the state moved on from Bannack, and slowly the town lost its color.
Buildings in Bannack
Due to the influx of people, Bannock quickly saw young families in need of facilities. The town was recognized as a territory, and the fourteen-mile city soon opened schools, churches, a courthouse, and markets. Although they were very quickly deserted, they still exist and are open for paranormal – and normal – exploration. In the 1870s, when residents began leaving the city, the Montana State Department realized the need to preserve the buildings in the area for continued habitation. The architecture of the town is far from disappointing.
Beaverhead County Courthouse
The architecture of the Bannack area is very typically American – the courthouse boasts a Federal-style building. With wooden porch rails worn out over the years complementing the faded red brick, one can imagine it being in use during the time Bannack was a living town. The chipped paint on the single-hung windows makes one feel like they’ve been transported back in time to the olden days, as this courthouse has now been converted into Hotel Meade, and is regularly preserved as part of Bannack State Park.
There is a vast park open to visitors from May to September every year. The park is situated at an elevation of 5800 feet and constitutes an area of 1154 acres. Fishing and other activities are available for recreational purposes.
The Methodist Church in the town is a great example of the architecture of Bannack. The Prairie Wind style is the aesthetic for most of the buildings there, with weathered wooden siding greeting tourists and horror-story enthusiasts. The Governor’s “Mansion” has been restored by the authorities, as have the other dwelling places. Visiting the town is like a flash from the past – most buildings do not need any permit to be explored and are open year-round.
The white paneled lodge was built when the miners who had settled in Bannack began having children, hoping to settle down when they had enough gold to last them a while. The Masonic Lodge hosted classes for a good seventy years, playing an important role in the flourishing city. The broken pediment helps direct the eye to the center of the symmetrical front, to the white door that lets one inside.
The building looks more likely to host a small-town show about children in a parallel universe than children going to school, but maybe there is something to be said about the advancement of architectural style in reference to the progression of American media about it.
Bannack continued to be important for miners, especially when the town hosted its first successful gold dredging operation in 1895. The dredging continued till the year 1902, when eventually the town’s resources were too depleted for the miners to continue working there. A town more than one hundred years old, it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1962, when it celebrated its one-hundredth birthday.
Today Bannack begs for more attention by the public, so as to not be forgotten forever.
Legendsofamerica.com. 2020. Bannack, Montana – Gold to Ghost – Legends of America. [online] Available at: <https://www.legendsofamerica.com/mt-bannack/>
Western Mining History. n.d. Bannack Montana. [online] Available at: <https://westernmininghistory.com/towns/montana/bannack/>
The Library of Congress. n.d. Bannack, Montana. Bannack is now a ghost town of about twelve population, but it was once one of the early mining camps of Montana, and the first capitol of the state. [online] Available at: <https://www.loc.gov/item/2017815008/>
BrodWater, M., 2008. Bannack full of history, stories, buildings. [online] Spokesman.com. Available at: <https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2008/jan/26/bannack-full-of-history-stories-buildings/>
Shelden, J., n.d. Bannack State Park Project – Prairie Wind Architecture. [online] Prairiewindarch.com. Available at: <http://www.prairiewindarch.com/bannack.htm>