Bannack Ghost Town -
Bannack State Park is in the Bitterroot Range, which is located in the southwestern tip of Montana, about 25.54 miles southwest of Dillon, about 23.8 miles off main I-15 highway, way out in the middle of the countryside. The town itself, Bannack, is situated near Grasshopper Creek, which is where gold was first discovered.
Bannack State Park
Mailing Address: The Bannack Association, P.O. Box 1426, Dillon, Montana 59725
"Bannack is not a dead Ghost Town, but a living classroom. For future generations to understand how far and from where we have come. We must recall our past, both the good and the bad." - Stan Smith.
This interesting old Ghost town, Bannack, has about 20 buildings and points of interest preserved and stabilized, but not renovated, which are located on the main street. You can buy an informative self tour guide brochure for only $2.00 upon arriving at the State Park Visitor's Center, a valuable resource. Each building/item of interest corresponds to a number in the brochure, which tells about its history. There are nice raised wooden plank sidewalks to walk down the main street and look at the buildings. The visitor can walk right in each house and building to get a better look. In some houses and the Meade Hotel, one can go upstairs as well.
While there isn't much inside some of the buildings but basic walls and floors and a hint of what used to be there, other buildings like the combination Mason/school house building have some of the furniture on display that was used when people lived here. A building that is still used for community events is the old Methodist Church, built in 1877, which was never left to ruin. Concerts, speakers can book the building and hold forth. It is well taken care of and the inside looks like a regular, modern building, with wooden benches to sit on. Brother Van, who used his people skills and acted on the right opportunity to get the church built, would be very pleased.
When gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek by John White and fellow members of the Colorado Pikes Peakers, the beginnings of Bannack was started in 1862. By the Spring of 1863, there were nearly 3,000 people, on its way to becoming a thriving city. The town of Bannack became official by November 1863, when the Post Office was established and its name was registered with Washington D.C.
The area was growing so fast, that Territorial officials could do little to establish effective government, ways to solve disagreements among people or even ways to deal with outlaws with nasty attitudes toward others. During 1863, while Bannack did have Chief Justice Sidney Edgerton living with them, he had no way of backing up local authorities because there were no federal marshals to back up the law.
To avoid trouble among the minors, the minors organized and formed an organization to police themselves, called Miners Court, who set up very simple, absolutely just laws concerning claims, which stopped a lot of trouble which happened in other towns; People being killed over mine claims.
Because of the booming growth and wealth made in Bannack, the town was named the County Seat of Beaverhead County. By 1881, the gold rush was over, and Bannack became a ho hum settlement. Eventually the County Seat was switched to Dillon.
Bannack's economy was based mostly on the mines. Throughout the years, the town shrank in population, as the production in the mines slowed down. Finally, the town closed down around 1940, when the mines closed for good. As soon as the last people left the town in the late '40s, concerned people in both Dillon and in the Bannack area worked hard to be able to buy the town, with the help of the courts who ordered the mining company to put the area up for auction in 1954. However as early as 1947, A group of people from Western Montana began to stabilize the important buildings along main street.
1) The Hotel Meade
This fine, solid, impressive two story brick building was well constructed in 1875, to be used as the first Beaverhead County Courthouse, because the town of Bannack at that time was chosen to be the County Seat. Unfortunately for the town of Bannack, the county seat was moved to Dillon in 1881, because Dillon was a growing city, becoming a "flourishing freight center." This building stood vacant until 1890, when the enterprising Dr. John Singleton Mead bought the building, did some remodeling and turned the place into a plush hotel.
The Meade Hotel became the center of the town's social activity, bringing a sense of civility to the community, as well as providing a place to stay for visiting people who needed a temporary home. The hotel was host to major social events, and receptions. To accommodate the growing clientele, a large kitchen, a dining room and living quarters were added on to the back of the building.
The large, main dining room was filled with tables, which seated 4 to 6 people, which could be moved and rearranged for larger parties. Beautiful, finely made white linens and lovely china were the norm, always used for the customer's dining experience.
Sometime during its long history, the building was also used as a makeshift hospital at times when needed.
The hotel was open and busy in the years the mines were open, and closed the years when the mines weren't in operation. The Hotel Meade closed for good in the 1940s when people left the town for good.
2) Chrismans' Store
History: This building housed a general store and had offices in the back used by the notorious Henry Plummer. The store was a natural draw for the male population of the town and a lot of male bonding happened here, as the men gathered to buy various supplies needed. Men in the family during the 19th century era did the shopping. The place acted as the town's informal "news bureau, university and a social settlement". The fireplace provided a warm area for conversation about various topics of interest, as well as share what was going on in their lives and their town.
3) The Bessette House - 4200 Bannack Road
History: This house was the home of long time Bannack resident, Abed "Amity" Bessette who was one of the original Vigilantes who stopped the murderous practices of Plummer's gang. During his entire lifetime spent in Bannack, he was a stockman who raised sheep, and at one time owned the famous Bank Exchange Saloon and the Hotel Meade. He died in Bannack in 1919.
Being a citizen who cared about the town, he let his house become an official house of quarantine when the deadly epidemics of typhoid, diphtheria and other killer diseases swept through town, killing the vulnerable, especially the young and old. People who were ill stayed here until they recovered or died.
4) The sad tale of Henry Powell/Sheriff/Thief/Killer/Victim of mob justice?
History: Henry Powell was an east coast transplant, the son of a sea captain, who came to Bannack after a 6 month stay in San Quentin Prison for killing his girl friend's husband, and after other incidents of killing and thievery he was involved in after his release from "stir."
He didn't start out that way when he came to Nevada City. He worked hard in a bakery, earned enough money to buy a ranch from his mining claim and was well liked and admired. At the age of 24, he was elected Sheriff and did such a good job that he was reelected in 1857.
His troubles began when he took something he wasn't entitled to; another man's wife. He wound up having a duel with the irate man and killed him. He was convicted and sent to San Quentin on a ten year sentence. However, the good people petitioned for his release, saying it was self-defense. Because of this petition and the fact that he had TB, he was released after 6 months, a changed man. Prison life was a brutal experience, which didn't act as a deterrent for him.
After this, Henry Powell acted on the worst parts of his character and decided that stealing from others was the best way to make a living when he was released early. He blew what money he had left and stated his life in crime, by joining a gang, robbing stage coaches; the first of many he would join. While in San Quentin, he made some unsavory friends, one of whom he met up with much later in 1862 while hiding from justice in Idaho. In January 1863, he appeared in Bannack, and won over the people there with his charm and personality. The Miner's Court trusted him and elected him Sheriff Henry Powell, who took advantage of his position, working both sides of the law.
While acting the lawman on the job, it is said that he and his posse of about 25 unsavory individuals, called The Innocents, terrorized the gold camps, robbing and murdering in cold blood 102 people, along with his old prison buddy. It wouldn't be hard to recruit them. In this growing mining town all kinds of men came to try their luck. Along side the honest hardworking fair men, who formed the Miner's Court, there were the other types not so nice: "Civil War deserters from both sides, river pirates, professional gamblers, outlaws and villains."
YIKES! People in the town put two and two together and figured out that the evidence pointed to Henry Banner being involved with these vicious thugs. Something had to be done to stop the killing. On December 23, 1863 the first Vigilante Committee was organized, forming a posse of men from Virginia City and Bannack. The executive officer was James Williams. By the end of January, they had hunted down and hung on the spot 24 of the robbers. They also hung Henry Plummer from the gallows on the hill just above Bannack, along with two deputies one night because it was feared that Plummer had gotten wind that his cover was blown. Henry Plummer was buried in a box in hangman's gulch at the age of 27!
This quick form of justice was thought necessary at the time because they had no help from government, and people were being viciously murdered and robbed. Other historians aren't so sure that Henry Plummer was involved; the evidence is sketchy they say and wouldn't hold up in today's court. They further theorize that perhaps that some on the Vigilante Committee were the culprits. There is no evidence of that either. However, if one looks at Plummer's history of crime before he came to Bannack, he was involved with robbing others and even killed a few people along the way. It isn't hard to believe that he did what he was accused of, being the mastermind behind the killings and robberies.
After the demise of The Innocents, the robberies continued for a little while by other gangs, until a stronger arm of the law eventually came in to control it. However, in 1867, the Vigilantes living in Bannack, were told by the people of Bannack to stop hanging people; that this wasn't going to be tolerated either, so it stopped.
1) The entity of the infamous Henry Powell haunts the various buildings in Bannack, especially his favorite places, like Skinner Saloon, a favorite hangout of Powell and his "road agents." He probably visits Chrismans' Store as well.
Various photos and actual sightings of apparitions by the living point to the existence of entities who still hang around here.
Visit the Meade Hotel which is also located in Bannack.