Bannack - An afternoon stroll through the past

By: 
Hunter D’Antuono
Yellowstone Newspapers
Bannack School House and Masonic Lodge is one of the ghost town’s more popular buildings.
Bannack’s former court house and Hotel Meade are pictured through the window of another structure across the street.
A modest cabin is pictured beneath a cottonwood tree off the main drag of Bannack ghost town.
The interior of one more the more rundown of Bannack’s cabin’s is pictured.
A variety of wall paper still clings to the inside of many of the buildings at Bannack.

Be a history buff, a ghost hunter or someone who simply appreciates the aesthetic of old stuff, Bannack, Montana’s premiere ghost town, is a worthy addition to any weekend warriors’ summer road trip list.

During a visit to Dillon, my girlfriend and I decided to swing by the eerily well-preserved 19th century settlement. I had never been and Danielle had last visited when she was 7. As a state park, there’s no admission fee for drivers with Montana plates, and the site is open year-round.
A beautiful blue sky accented with puffy clouds made for a particularly photogenic backdrop for our stroll through the past on Saturday.
The authentic scene was periodically jerked back into the 21st century by the high-pitched, grating giggles of an unlikely yoga-pants-wearing bachelorette party – their inane chatter echoing across the site from inside the bigger buildings. They even went to so far as to belt out a rendition of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” from inside Bannack’s most recognizable building, the school house, where the secretive international fraternity known as the Freemasons still meet on the second floor.
The volume of the girl’s impromptu choir sounded especially pleasant after our long night out at Dillon’s Beaverhead Brewing Company and the Metlen Hotel Bar. For a town where trucker caps and ten gallon hats top every head in the bar on a Friday night, the Metlen’s DJ had a surprising good line-up of hip-hop music for the dance floor.
We did our best to explore the points of the town furthest from the babbling group of ladies throughout the afternoon.
Bannack epitomizes the classic vision of the “Wild West.” Corruption and vigilante justice were rampant.
Even Bannack’s Sheriff Henry Plummer would eventually swing from the very gallows he ordered built.
During his time in Bannack, legend has it Plummer organized a notorious road gang, dubbed the “Innocents” who committed countless highway robberies and may have killed up to 112 prospectors between Bannack and Virginia City in an eight-month period.
Like many 19th century Western towns, Bannack sprang up with the discovery of gold. Prospectors flocked to the banks of Grasshopper Creek, which bends lazily around the outskirts of town. Established in the summer of 1862, the town served briefly as the first capital of the Montana Territory before the capital was moved to Virginia City a few years later, before being moved once more to Helena in 1875.
About 400-500 people lived through Bannack’s first winter, of which only about 30-35 were considered “respectable” women. By spring, the population swelled to 3,000.
But by the 1940s, the population began to dwindle with the gold. By the late 1940s most people had moved away and the school, post office and grocery store all closed. The land and its buildings were eventually purchased by the Beaverhead County Museum Association and in 1954, the association donated the property to the state for the enjoyment and education of the public.

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