Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Following the Nez Perce Trail and Bannack Ghost Town

From the beginning of our thinking about Montana as a destination for our summer 2016 travels, Bannack State Park was one of the top desired stops.  We have been to other Ghost towns but Bannack is touted as one of the best preserved Ghost Towns in the country.

Located in South West Montana not far from Dillon Montana, it is an easy drive off of I-15.
We came from Darby, Montana coming down Highway 93 which includes a drive through a very scenic mountain pass called Lost Trail Pass.  It was a location of the Lewis and Clark expedition though the exact camp site is not known. 

After turning East onto Highway 43, we stopped at the Big Hole National Battlefield where a battle between the fleeing Nez Perce and the Military charged with moving them to distant reservations, commenced on August 9-10 1877 as part of the Nez Perce War.

Site of the Big Hole Battle

The battle commenced when the 183 soldiers attacked the sleeping Nez Perce killing many while still in their beds, with casualties of approximately 30 soldiers and 70-90 Nez Perce with only perhaps 30 being warriors the rest being woman, children and elderly .   The Nez Perce withdrew after the battle and continued to retreat seeking freedom.

The battle signaled not only a great loss for the Nez Perce but there were for many a realization that their way of life was quickly evaporating and that they would never return to there homeland.  This place forever is a reminder of the lost and the loss of the way of life.

Now they fought for freedom even though in exile.

Though the loss remains with the Nez Perce still, I was impressed by the sentiments expressed on a sign in the visitor center. 

                                                      Lessons for all of us..... still today.

Continuing on in the Big Hole Valley we discover a valley that is labeled not by the names of roads but rather by the name of ranches.  Even the maps list the large ranches that are labeled by the entrance gates.  Ranching is still the main business of the area.

                     Even the maps list the large ranches that are labeled by the entrance gates.

The Big Hole Valley is known as the Land of the 10,000 Hay Stacks.  Before modern equipment, the hay was stacked using the Beaver Slide which hoisted the hay to the top of the hoist then dumping it down into a stack.

Bannack Ghost Town
Beyond the Big Hole Valley is Bannack Ghost Town, a Montana State Park that is dedicated to preserving the first big gold mining claims in Montana. 

Gold was first discovered  on July 28,1862 at Grasshopper Creek, setting off a massive gold rush to southwestern Montana.  The population swelled to over 3,000 by the spring of 1863.  After many boom and bust periods, the town slowly died as the gold was removed.

In Bannack you are free to walk the streets of Bannack and explore the 50 remaining buildings. You will find no cars on the streets only other visitors and maybe a few whispering ghosts. Most of the buildings lack interior furnishing but your imagination fills in the rooms with people and the things they used while living there. 

Miner's Shack
Each building has a story to tell from the decaying buildings to the best preserved.  The wallpaper often visable on the walls, the flooring in many places still in tact.

From to a school and Masonic Temple, and saloon, the framework of the town is visible.


 You can even find yourself belly up to the ole bar

Or in church for a little 'preachin'

Hotel Meade

From simple mining shacks to a five bedroom house,
Cute little houses,  with no two alike....

But very ghost town has its legends and a villain or two, and one of Bannack’s villains was also the sheriff, where it is reported that he lead a gang responsible for up to 100 murders and robbed countless others.  Henry Plummer and two of his deputies were hanged without trial by vigilantes from gallows near the town.
First Territorial jail in Montana

The town began when gold was discovered and it died when gold ran dry.

The fun remains!
 As part of Bannack State Park there is a campground where we stayed the night.  Since we had purchased the Non-Resident Montana Parks pass we were able to stay at the campground for $18.00 which included our $8.00 entrance to Bannack Ghost Town.

Other nearby ghost towns are Virginia City which is more developed and has many commercial activities available  and Nevada City which is made of many buildings that have been moved to the site from around the west.  Bannack is preserved  and without many of the commercial aspects and truly gives visitors a glimpse back into time as it existed during the Gold Rush Days of Montana. 

It may not be the most visited ghost town in Montana.....  But it should be!!


  1. What a great experience. And I prefer Bannack to the towns that have had building moved from other places to build the town back up.

  2. Looks like you guys are having another fun and educational summer trip. We haven't been to Banack but it reminds me of Bodie in CA. Always interesting to think about what life would have been like in a place like that.
    Sad story about the Nez Perce as we've been learning more about them here in Joseph, OR.

  3. Such a terrible thing we did to the Nez Perce. It always makes me sad to think about our policy of genocide against the Native Americans which our government still has not acknowledged and at least apologized for. Love your last picture. Looks like you had fun in the ghost town. I'd never heard of it.