Sunday, August 22, 2010

August 21 - Bannack

Bannack's history began in July 1862 when gold was discovered along the banks of what is now known as Grasshopper Creek but had previously been named Willard's Creek by Lewis and Clark.  The name of the mining town was supposed to be Bannock after the Bannock Indians, but someone in Washington D.C. spelled Bannock with an O instead of an A after the post office was created and the incorrect spelling stuck.  Bannack, once the capitol of the Territory of Montana, went from a population of 3000 in 1863 to nearly a ghost town by 1938.  Back in the 1940s a group of concerned citizens from Dillon and Bannack organized to preserve the town and today it is a state park and a place NOT to be missed if you are in the area.
See the little building in the back and on the right in the top photo?  Galen is standing in front of a closer view.  This was the first "Governor's Mansion of Montana.  When the Edgertons moved to Bannack they bought a store for $400 and turned it into a house.  Fire destroyed the building in the early 1900s and they used logs salvaged from the fire to built the little sod building.  This was home for governor Edgerton and his wife, Mary, the entire time they lived in Montana, which wasn't very long.  Mary did the best she could to adjust, but she missed her civilized home and friends in Ohio.  A quote from Martha Edgerton Plassman:  "The house was built of logs thrown together in the rudest manner and had a dirt roof that turned to mud in the rain, hail or snow, and trickled through on the occupants.  It was a poor excuse for a house but there was not a better house in town."

 This is the Bannack Historic Masonic Lodge.  It is still active and has members from around the world who help with the preservation of this and other buildings in Bannack.  In 1874 the need for a school was realized and the Masons built the combination Lodge and school.  The first floor of the building was used for a school for over 70 years for K-8 students.  It closed in the 1950s.  Students reported that snow sometimes blew in through cracks in the wall and schoolbooks were rare.

The old jail is on the right and the new and improved jail is on the left.  No one wanted to hang around and guard prisoners instead of out mining for gold so most bad guys went directly to the gallows without spending any time in jail.

Henry Plummer, was elected sheriff of Bannack in May 1863 and ordered the gallows built to hang convicted murderer, John Peter Horan.  Rumor has it that Henry, in addition to being sheriff, was also one of the "Innocents", a group of about 25 men, who over a period of eight months, committed countless robberies and 102 murders.  A Vigilante group was formed in December 1863, and Plummer was hanged by them on January 10, 1864.  At first Plummer pleaded for his life, but then said he was "too wicked to die" and requested a good drop.  He was only 27 years old when he got that good drop.  There is still much controversy over whether or not Henry was really guilty.

This is bachelor's row.  In the first few months after gold was discovered the miners who had rushed to Bannack just slept in bedrolls, tents, wagons, or whatever because they didn't want to take any time away from their mining activities.  But as the weather got colder, they knew they needed better housing so built these small cabins.

This is the Methodist Church of Bannack, built in 1877.  Circuit riders and traveling ministers were the norm for isolated mining towns like Bannack and one of the more famous of these was Brother Van (William Wesley VanOrsdel).  He arrived in Montana in 1872 and was assigned to the district that included Bannack and Virginia City.  When he arrived in Bannack, he found all the gambling houses and bars open on Sunday so he went to one of the bars and announced that he was a minister.  The bartender announced the bar would be closed for one hour giving Brother Van a chance to sing "A Diamond in the Ruff".  He had a wonderful voice and the people, who were starved for entertainment, asked for more.  He continued and the crowd got a good hour of religion.  It was Brother Van who talked the people into building the church.  Galen and I went to a bluegrass gospel concert in the church.  Good concert, but there is no electricity in the building and it was hard to hear the singers.

This is probably the most haunted building in Bannack.  This was the Bessette House and it was sometimes used as a quarantine house during outbreaks of influenza, scarlet fever, diphtheria, and whooping cough.  Some believe the building is haunted by the children who died there.  People have reported the sound of crying babies coming from the house causing it to be known as the "Crying Baby House."

The first time we visited Bannack it was quite early in the season and many of the buildings were locked.  This time we got to go inside quite a few of them.  It is quite moving to walk the streets and think about all the history here.


  1. Thanks once again, Karen, for taking me on your travels. What a pleasant and interesting trip I've had *through your eyes*.

  2. Absolutey fascinating to hear all about Bannack. Thanks for sharing. You are a great travel writer.