Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Bannack, Montana - September 2018

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The Grand Adventure - Summer 2018 - Part Five

Bannack Stole Our Hearts & Why Am I Not A Montanan?

We drove the back roads from Grant, MT and arrived at the campground at Bannack State Park in the mid afternoon on Friday of Labor Day Weekend. We had made reservations a few days prior and noted there were several sites still open, so we were unconcerned about this being a holiday weekend. Besides, everyone was talking about the big county fair in nearby Dillon and how it was the last rodeo of the season in Montana. Everybody would be there.

The campground was a pleasant setting along Grasshopper Creek, just west of the historic ghost town. The sites were dirt, and fairly basic.

Other campers trickled in as the afternoon waned. Our entertainment was watching the camp host help shoehorn huge fifth wheels and trailers into the small sites. One fifth wheel took several attempts at getting it into place. At one point I was sure the owner was going to push it into place with the truck's back bumper. To everyone's horror, this maneuver was to position the huge generator in the pickup bed close to the mansion on wheels. It took three pulls to start. Bubba and his brother had power.

Entertainment was now watching groups of other campers wander over to the campground signage to reread the "Quiet Time" regulations.

Bubba had read it too. The roar sputtered to silence precisely at ten pm. A loud round of applause erupted across the campground.

This was almost the highlight of campground life in Bannack. Sometime if you are with us at a lonely campsite and it it is night and the time for stories, ask to hear the one about the woman in the black evening dress..................

Bannack was the site of the first gold strike in Montana.

More than a decade after the California Gold Rush that brought so many immigrants westward, later strikes such as Bannack and Alder Gulch in Montana, brought many in from established gold camps across the West, such as California's Motherlode, Nevada's Comstock, Colorado's Pikes Peak. Included in this group was an ex city marshal from Nevada City, California named Henry Plummer. While serving as marshal in Nevada City, Plummer was convicted of murdering  a woman's estranged husband. It was the kind of story that gets people talking. Yes, she was a beautiful young woman. Henry's health did not fare well in San Quentin Prison.  The prison doctor was sure Henry would not live and asked the governor of California to pardon Plummer. It was granted and he was released. Plummer's health immediately improved.

Henry Plummer ended up in Bannack. He was elected Sheriff. Several men that Plummer met in San Quentin also arrived in Montana. Coincidence?

What does this have to do with our visit to Bannack? I was searching for answers. I wanted to find out if the history that occurred here could be the answer to my question, "Why am I not a Montanan?"

We explored and wandered about in Bannack Friday and all day Saturday. It is a beautiful and fascinating place. In contrast to Bodie, where most of the buildings are closed to entry, most buildings in Bannack are open to explore inside.

I loved the perspective of the old windows. Could looking through the old glass offer that glimpse back in time?

The two story brick building that is the Hotel Meade is a gem.

It was in the Hotel Meade where we had a close encounter with a selfie.

Bannack stole our hearts. We sensed this was the beginning of a love affair with this old town.

Apparently this was not the case with my great great grandfather Sam when he came to the southwest Montana gold towns in 1864. He did not stay. He turned back around and returned to Iowa City. If he had stayed and moved his family here, I would now be a native Montanan. Why did he not stay? Perhaps walking these old streets of Bannack would provide me with an answer.

Maybe I could find an answer inside Skinner's Saloon.

Adorning the east wall were stories right out of Thomas Dimsdale's book, "The Vigilantes of Montana".

After a series of robberies by "Road Agents" of successful miners and businessmen heading back home loaded with gold dust, along with assorted killings, and other violence, the leading citizens of Montana took what they saw as justice into their own hands. The defining moment was the hanging of Sheriff Plummer from his own gallows in Bannack.

Dimsdale's book was written soon after the events and can be viewed as history written by the winners. I am currently reading a much more well rounded account, "A Decent Orderly Lynching: The Montana Vigilantes".

I highly recommend this book if you have an interest in the history of the West.

By any telling, these were ugly times. Was this the reason great great grandpa Sam turned around and went home?  Was he repulsed by the lawlessness and vigilante justice? Or perhaps were there other reasons?

With all these dark thoughts of lynchings, shootings, and such, we figured it was time to visit the cemetery. Note: Plummer was buried in an unmarked grave that is lost to time.

Great great grandpa Sam was a 45 year old man who left Iowa City for California but got turned toward southwest Montana with talk on the overland trail of the new gold strikes there. Was he looking for riches? Maybe, but it was evident he was looking for a new place to move his family, a family he had left waiting in Iowa. I do not know why Sam decided not to stay. It also could have been that the Civil War still raged. Sam was a Lincoln Republican and a Unionist. His oldest son, my great grandfather, was about to enlist in the Union Army. This area was divided, with many vocal southern sympathizers.

After being gone for six months, Sam returned to Iowa only to leave again on a quick trip down to Fort Leavenworth. My aunt told me the story that he hated the Kansas wind. Kansas was out.  In the spring of 1865 he moved the family to Richland County, Wisconsin and cleared land to farm. My family set down deep roots there and thus, I am a native of Wisconsin.

So why am I not a Montanan? My gut feeling is the answer is simple. I suspect that Sam did not like the unfamiliar arid land of the West. On his moves ever westward, he had cleared land and had farms in Ohio and in Michigan. In 1856 he moved the family to Iowa where he farmed and worked in the teamster business. In Wisconsin, I suspect, he found land he knew and land that was not dependent on irrigation.

We loved Bannack. Bannack stole our hearts. We wandered the area in the cool evenings and thoroughly enjoyed our visit here. Saturday night was a special treat - a date night for us. The movie started at seven pm in the church.

Far Horizons is an absolute abomination of history. The acting is awful. Its representation of Lewis, Clark, and Sacajawea is deplorable. All that aside, as an insight into how Hollywood turns history into entertainment, it made for a great date night in Bannack. After the movie, we wandered down dark Main Street on our walk back to the campground. I was the dashing Charleston Heston playing Captain Clark and on my arm was the beautiful Donna Reed as Sacajawea.  Ah, Hollywood.

Bannack is wonderful. Go to Bannack.

If you are interested in seeing more of my photos of Bannack, they can be found here -

Bannack, Montana - September 2018

We woke early Sunday morning and quietly prepared to leave. Our travels took us across the Centennial Valley and over Red Rock Pass. We were on our way to Yellowstone National Park.


  1. Your photography just keeps getting better and better. Like a virtual field trip for me. Now Bannack is on my bucket list. So glad you guys are getting a chance to wander further afield.

    1. Brenda, thanks so much for your kind comment! Do visit Bannack.

  2. Just skimmed over this.Will spend more time later.
    What a great story of this town.I think we have been through there a couple times,will have to check
    our journal.
    Thanks for the fantastic photos and story.

  3. On further checking we have not been to Bannack.Thanks for taking us there.
    I was thinking it was over along the Madison Rv area
    near the other mining towns Nevada City/Sliver City?

    1. Frank, the two towns in Alder Gulch - mentioned above - are Virginia City and Alder Gulch. These towns are seventy miles from Bannack. Many of the stage coach hold ups were on the route between Alder Gulch and Bannack. I expect you visited Virginia City and Nevada City. They are only a couple miles apart and well worth visiting.

  4. These photos are exquisite! I love the perspective through the windows. Looks like a very interesting town!