Feature Article: Bannack State Park
Article 1: This Date in History: May 25, 1808
Article 2: Create Your ULTIMATE Memorial Day Getaway!
Article 3: Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site
Bannack State Park
5 miles south of Dillon on 1-15, then 21 miles west on Secondary 278, then 4 miles south on county road. 406-834-3413
Bannack was the site of the state’s first big gold strike in 1862 and the birthplace of Montana’s government. Gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek on July 28, 1862. This strike set off a massive gold rush that swelled Bannack’s population to over 3,000 by 1863. The remnants of over 60 buildings show the extent of development reached during the town’s zenith. When the gold ran out, the town died.
Montana’s first territorial capital, was the site of many “firsts” in the state’s history. Bannack had the first jail, hotel, chartered Masonic Lodge, hard rock mine, electric gold dredge, quartz stamp mill, and commercial sawmill. Bannack’s two jails, built from hand-hewn logs, tell the story of the lawlessness that terrorized Grasshopper Gulch and the road to Virginia City. Road Agent’s Rock, just a few miles from Bannack, was the lookout point for an organized gang of road agents, toughs, robbers, and murders. The infamous sheriff of Bannack, Henry Plummer, was secretly the leader of this gang called “The Innocents.” The gang is said to have murdered over 102 men and robbed countless others during the eight months that Plummer served as sheriff. Many of their escapades were planned in Skinner’s Saloon, which still stands in Bannack today. It could not last. Bannack’s lawabiding citizens rose up and organized a vigilance group. In conjunction with a similar group in Virginia City, they quickly hunted down 28 of the “Innocents,” including Henry Plummer, and hanged them on the gallows Plummer had just built.
“The Toughest Town in The West” soon grew quiet due to the reign of the vigilantes and a population of transient gold seekers that left to follow better gold strikes. However, gold mining activity continued for many years. The reputation of Bannack lives on today in Western history and fiction, forming the basis of many Western novels and movies. Many actors in the drama of earlyday Bannack went on to play key roles in Montana history. The mines and placer diggings are quiet now, but the streets of Bannack still echo with the footsteps of those who seek the rich lode of Western history that Bannack hoards like the gold once hidden in its hills and creeks. Over 50 buildings remain at Bannack today, each one with a story to tell…from tumble-down, one-room bachelor cabins to the once-stately Hotel Meade. The diggin’s are quiet now, but the streets still ring with the footsteps of those seeking the rich lode of Western history that Bannack hoards like the gold once hidden in its hills…a moment in time for modern-day visitors to discover and enjoy.
Walk the deserted streets of Bannack, and discover for yourself the way the West really was. Bannack is one of the best preserved of all of Montana’s ghost towns. Bannack is unique…preserved rather than restored… protected rather than exploited.
Reprinted from a Bannack State Park brochure and “The Ultimate Montana Atlas and Travel Encyclopedia.”
This Date in History: May 25, 1808
Colter’s Run for Life
Although this event’s exact date and month remain veiled in mystery, it is known that spring of 1808 holds the infamous story of one of the West’s most famous explorers. On that fateful day in 1808, former Lewis and Clark expedition members, John Colter and John Potts, were trapping beaver on the Jefferson River near Three Forks when a warring band of Blackfeet surprised the two white explorers. In a panic, Potts shot and killed one of the warriors. The Blackfeet were instantly enraged and pumped Potts full of arrows. Watching his friend and business partner die before him, Colter knew his own life might be nearing its end. Although the warriors could have treated Colter to the same fate, they decided to strip Colter naked and give him a headstart as he raced for his life. Colter’s speed was an asset, and he quickly outran all but one of the ensuing warriors. In an act of sheer desperation, Colter turned around on his pursuer, speared him, and then began racing for his life again. Fortunately for Colter, he located some underbrush on the nearby river and concealed himself while the angry Blackfeet desperately searched for him. After the Blackfeet finally gave up their search, the still naked Colter walked over 250 miles through Gallatin Valley and across the Bridger Mountains. Finally, after days of running, the sunburned, starving, and injured Colter found safety at Fort Lisa on the mouth of the Big Horn River.
Create Your ULTIMATE Memorial Day Getaway!
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For those seeking a longer getaway, order your copy of the best-selling The Ultimate Wyoming Atlas and Travel Encyclopedia. The book features the same format as our Montana travel guide and is packed with enough information to keep you busy on Memorial Day weekend for decades to come!
Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site
Western edge of Deer Lodge. 406-849-2070.
This ranch was originally settled by Johnny Grant, the proprietor of a local trading post, in 1862. Four years later he sold his holdings to a hardworking German named Conrad Kohrs. The ranch grew to become Montana’s largest ranch boasting more than 10 million acres. Each year between 8,000 and 10,000 head were shipped to market. At one time cattle with the GK brand could be found grazing on open range from the Canadian border to Colorado.
A stroll through the ranch gives you a small feel for what life was like on a frontier ranch in the open range days. Everything here is authentic to the site. Today it is a dynamic living museum with cattle, horses, and chickens. Take the self-guided tour through bunkhouse row, the blacksmith shop, the tack room, the carriage barn and other buildings. There are 90 historic structures in all, and 37,000 artifacts covering 130 years of ranch history. Nowhere is the life of a cowboy preserved so well. There is a visitor center, and the Cottonwood Creek Nature Trail combines a short walk with information about ranching, cattle grazing, and ecosystems. The park is open daily from April through September from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. It’s open the rest of the year with reduced hours. There is a modest admission charge.