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Montana ghost town reveals rowdy history for visitors

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

At one time hosting 10,000 hungry gold prospectors, Bannack, Montana is now a ghostly shell of its Wild West past. Still open to tourists, history buffs as a national park, Bannack is testament to a time in the American past where promises to get-rich-quick drove western expansion and growth.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Founded in 1862 as the first territorial capital of Montana, the ghost town still boasts 60 structures, all of which can be explored by history lovers today.

Built along the banks of Grasshopper Creek, Bannack's Main Street had three hotels, three bakeries, three blacksmith shops, two stables, a grocery store, a restaurant, a billiard hall and of course, four saloons at its peak.

Prospectors led by John White discovered gold in the creek where Bannack stands today, on July 28th, 1862. Originally named Willard Creek by the historic continental expedition of Lewis and Clark in 1805, the large insect population led to its renaming when the first gold hunters arrived.

Cries of "gold in them thar hills" spread fast across the western frontier. Both Montana and Bannack witnessed the greatest gold rush since California in 1848.

The gold found in Bannack was highly prized. Most gold is 95 percent pure, the nuggets found along the creek at Bannack were found to be 99.5 percent pure, a phenomenal level of quality.

As the town sprang up around the gold, prospectors needed entertainment which came in the form of bars and notorious saloon girls. Bannack's population had grown to 3,000 in the space of a year and the residents applied to the U.S. Government for official recognition.

Originally wanting to name the town Bannock, after the neighboring Native American people, Washington apparently made a mistake and changed the "O" to an "A" - which remained to this day.

Bannack developed a reputation for lawlessness, and the roads in and out of the town along the Montana Trail crawled with bandits. The situation spiraled out of control to the point that in January 1863, the town hired a man named Henry Plummer as sheriff.

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In a bizarre twist of fate, it was later learned that Plummer was secretly in charge of a particularly ruthless posse. Some stories link Plummer and his men for the murders of over one hundred people around Montana, Idaho and Utah.

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Both Plummer and his two deputies were hanged without trial on January 10th, 1864 and a number of his associates and friends were lynched or banished under threat of death should they ever return.

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After the title of territorial capital was taken away in 1866 by Virginia City, Bannack's population slowly started to shrink. By 1870, the gold started to dry up and by 1874, the population had fallen to a few hundred.

Realizing the need to halt the decline, a school was built and in 1875, the Beaverhead County Courthouse was erected. Both remain extant today.

Bannack's steady decline continued until 1940, when the school closed and Bannack officially became a ghost town.

Its place in Montana's history was not forgotten though and in 1954, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks declared the town a state park.

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