“The missing aren’t missing, they’re only departed; All minds keep all thoughts – so like gold – closely guarded.” – Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society
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Bannack, MT – Ghost towns in America number in the thousands, with a couple being particularly eerie. A number of them also spent their lives as mining towns, giving way to populations of residents who were hard at work while searching for a better life. However, few are as spooky and notorious as the infamous mining settlement of Bannack. And we, your travel maniacs at Hop America, sure do love spooky and spine chilling.
An Honest Mistake Can Often Result In Something Unexpected
Bannack today stands at the creek waters where in 1862 John White and other members of the “Pikes Peakers” discovered gold. At the time, the State of Montana was considered one of the last frontiers, and the same was later said of Bannack. The Colorado prospectors filed one of the first gold claims in what was Idaho Territory at the time and would later become Montana. Of course, news traveled fast and resulted in the greatest rush to the West since 1848 and the California Gold Rush. A mining camp sprung overnight, with miners living in wagons, huts, caves, shanties, dugouts, caves and tents.
There were some 3,000 steady residents in town by 1863, which was enough for the settlement to apply to the U.S. Government for the name of Bannock, after the neighboring Indians. Washington, however, goofed it up and spelled the name with an “a” – Bannack. Oddly enough, the town retained the misspelled name to this very day.
Bannack, MT – Suffered The Fate Of Many Mining Towns Before It
The rush was so great that, by the fall of 1864, almost ten thousand people crowded along the area hillsides, living in lean-tos, shacks, tents and other forms of sturdier housing. In fact, settlements were so scattered and numerous that many called the area the “fourteen-mile city.” However, the gold was already getting harder to find for these thousands of people. By 1866, Virginia City in Alder Gulch was large enough to take the title of territorial capital from Bannack, where it remained until 1877 before permanently moving to Helena.
By 1870, there were no more easy diggings and in within just a couple of years, the population of Bannack shrank to just a few hundred. Later on, during the 1930’s, even the social community and businesses had left Bannack and very few people remained. In fact, there would be so few students by the 1940’s that the school would have to close. This is when Bannack is considered to have become an official ghost town.
Sounds Funny…Until It Actually Happens To You
Luckily, in 1954, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks made Bannack into a state park and saved it from vandalism and the elements. It is because of this fact alone that one of the most famous ghost towns in the country still survives to this day. More than sixty structures still remain standing in the town, the majority of which can be explored. If you’re interested in re-living the American West, you’ll be able to do so in Bannack. This because the staff choose to preserve rather than restore the buildings in this ghost town.
And maybe because there’s just something exhilarating in telling ghost stories about dead miners by the campfire and then hearing the sounds of pickaxes echoing through the night. We don’t know. But, either way, we love Bannack for the unique vibe and awesome historical window into the past it provides. (Okay, we admit – we also love the whole spooky side of things.)