March 31, 2021

From Gold to Ghosts - Montana's First Territorial Capital

About the Photo

It's 1862, the news is spreading fast. A mining claim has been filed; there is gold at Grasshopper Creek. Word was that the gold at Grasshopper Creek was unique, 99-99.5% pure gold.

The small mining camp, Grasshopper Diggins, watched as their population grew from 400 that autumn to over 3,000 by the following spring.*

Willard's Creek as named by Lewis and Clark was known as Grasshopper Creek.

The camp was re-named, and life in Bannack was bustling. Bannack soon became Montana's Territorial Capital**and boasted shops, services, social venues, and a stagecoach.

Predictably, the criminal element moved in and became known for its lawlessness. Bannack was a harsh place to live until 1862 when a group of miners established The Miners Court. The court has been described as bringing simple but just laws to the land. Criminals were banished or hung from the gallows that are still standing.

The beginning of the end of Bannack came with the start of WWII when non-essential gold mining was prohibited. It didn't take long for the population to begin dwindling. By the end of the war, gold was not worth much, so those still there began packing up. By 1950, Bannack had become a ghost town with just a handful of residents left, the last ones going in the 1970's.

What remains, however, is a fascinating place to visit.

The first Governor's "mansion" is here, along with numerous private residences, a church, hotel, saloons, shops, and a school shared with the Masonic Lodge. You can also visit the jailhouse, gallows, and the graveyard.

My favorite is the Hotel Meade, which was previously the County Courthouse.

Bannack is now a part of Montana State Parks Foundation and is located in Dillon, Montana. It's a bit off the beaten track but worth the extra miles.

Here's a few more things we saw while in town.

Methodist Church


Masonic Lodge/Schoolhouse

Private Residence

* The peak population was at 10,000 in 1864. **the capital was moved to Virginia City in 1865.

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