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Ghosts of the Past

October may traditionally be the season of ghosts, but Montana’s landscape is lined with ghosts year-round. Echoes of old pioneer dreams, mining failures and successes, and vigilante justice permeate the state as outcroppings of buildings once home to bustling workers and families are scattered across the mountains and plains. Although some of Montana’s earliest towns have withered into nothing with the hands of time, many of the Treasure State’s earliest settlements remain standing, abandoned, a visual reminder of the state’s hearty ancestors. The following are just a smattering of the hundreds of ghost towns found throughout Montana.

Wickes Ghost Camp
I-15, 20 miles south of Helena.

Remains of huge smelters and refineries are all that are left in the ghost town of Wickes. Once a thriving mining town that produced $50,000,000 in gold and silver before operations ceased in the early 1890s. Folks continued to live there for a number of years, until most of the town was destroyed by fire. The road to Wickes is easily traveled by car. Also nearby is the Alta Mine and the Corbin camp.

Diamond City
Diamond City, which emerged in Confederate Gulch on the east side of present day Canyon Ferry Lake, was the hub of the area’s gold activity and became one of Montana Territory’s most populated early communities. Its population once reached more than 10,000 but dwindled to 255 by 1870. Eventually it slid into obscurity leaving barely a trace. Placer gold, remarkable for its incredible wealth, was discovered in the area by two former Confederate soldiers. The gravels here were among the richest washed anywhere in the world. Single pans were said to contain more than $1,000 of gold at a time when gold’s worth was $20 an ounce. Most remarkable was that these gravels existed within only a two-acre area which by its end yielded over $16 million (over two and a half tons) of gold in 1860s standards of money. Weekend prospectors and some commercial placer miners still work the same areas in hopes of hitting paydirt.

Just like the ghost towns created by the gold rush era, evidence of much earlier activities can be found at various locations throughout the area. Ancient tepee rings, campsites, underground ovens, arrow heads and spear heads have been found throughout the region, some of which have been calculated to be 10,000 years old. A collection of such artifacts is displayed at the Broadwater County Museum in Townsend.

Silver Bow
15 miles south of Butte on Rte. 2

Also known as Highland City, many of the several hundred miners cabins that were built still exist near the graveyard. The city once had a fierce reputation for wild gun play and rich with gold during its boom years between 1865 and 1875. The site is accessible on a good Forest Service logging road.

Nevada City
A celebrated ghost town, Nevada City recreates the mining era so authentically that it has been filmed in western movies such as Little Big Man and Return to Lonesome Dove. Buildings include five streets of shops, homes, a schoolhouse, and Chinatown. The most popular exhibition is the Music Hall which contains one of the world’s largest collections of mechanical music machines.

Bearmouth Ghost Town
I-90 between Clinton and Drummond

Bearmouth was a stopover point for stage coaches and depended on the survival of other towns that were mining camps. Coaches traveled old Mullan Road between Fort Benton, Montana and Walla Walla, Washington. When the nearby mining camps of Garnet and Beartown died, so did Bearmouth. The beautiful Inn that provided accommodations for travelers still stands. Also nearby is the ghost camp of Coloma, that lasted until the 1930s and a few other standing buildings.

Partially reprinted from the Ultimate Montana Atlas and Travel Encyclopedia

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