Bannack is a ghost town with over 60 historical structures still standing, most of which you can explore. Now known as Bannack State Park, it only costs $5 per parking space to walk around the abandoned town, and they offer brochures that explain the history of each building as you go, should you desire one.
The city of Bannack was founded in 1862 and was the site of major gold mining operations. The town was named after the local tribe, the Bannack Indians, and was the first capitol of the Montana Territory even though it was remote and connected to the rest of the world only by one road; the Montana Trail. At it’s busiest Bannack had a population of around 10,000 people. There were three hotels, three bakeries, three blacksmith shops, two stables, two meat markets, a grocery store, a restaurant, a brewery, a billiard hall, and four saloons in those days. But as all good things, the gold had to come to an end. The population of Bannack began to quickly drop, and in the 1970s the last of the residents left the area turning it into a ghost town.
Today the town includes a hotel, jail, school, masonic hall, store, saloon, church, residential housing, and more. There are even remnants of the gold mining that took part here as much of the equipment was left behind. It’s quite intriguing to walk around and imagine what it must have been like to live in the area while it was full of life. The chalk boards at the school have lessons written on them and the church seems ready for it’s next sermon; as if the town isn’t really dead. Then you take a walk through some of the more decrepit residential homes, or the worn out jail house and remember you are indeed walking around a ghost town.
But the town itself is not the most interesting part of this trip, it’s the history behind it. Some truly colorful individuals called this place home at one point, and their stories are still told at Bannack. My favorite is about the town sheriff, Henry Plummer.
Before Henry Plummer there was no jail. The townsfolk would tie or chain criminals to the ground outside as punishment. It wasn’t until Plummer became sheriff and built a jail that the people of Bannack had an official place to house those who’d broken the law. Ironically, the jail eventually held Plummer and his two deputies before they were hung at the crude gallows without trial. The charges? Plummer was accused of secretly leading a ruthless gang with eight historically documented murders although early accounts claim the gang was responsible for over a hundred murders in the area.
There are other individual stories told at the ghost town, all of them as curious as the one before. It’s a fun, educational, slightly morbid, way to spend the day and doesn’t break the bank. Bannack State Park was a great experience and I’m glad I decided to stop in.
🌎: 721 Bannack Rd, Dillon, MT 59725
📞: (406) 834-3413