On July 28, 1862, John White and other members of the “Pikes Peakers” discovered gold in the creek waters where Bannack stands today. It was the beginning for both Bannack and the State of Montana, considered one of the last frontiers. The creek was originally named Willard Creek by the Lewis and Clark Expedition when they came through in 1805. But, due to the large grasshopper population in 1862, it was renamed Grasshopper Creek.
The Colorado prospectors filed one of the first gold claims in what was Idaho Territory at the time and would later become Montana. News of the strike traveled fast and led to the greatest rush to the West since the California Gold Rush in 1848. A mining camp was quickly built, literally springing up overnight. Most of the miners lived in tents, caves, dugouts, shanties, huts, and wagons.
Word spread quickly that Bannack’s gold was unlike other gold. Grasshopper Creek’s gold was 99-99.5% pure, compared to most gold at 95% and miners continued to flood the area. Bannack quickly became known as the New Eldorado of the North and by October the camp was called home to more than 400 prospectors.
The people who rushed to Bannack were not only miners, they also included many deserters of the Civil War, outlaws and businessmen intent on profiting from the many newcomers. These early settlers arrived by wagon, stagecoach, horse back, steamboat, and even by foot, in search of their fortunes. Not anticipating the harsh Montana winter, many came ill-prepared and lacking supplies, creating a great hardship for these early pioneers.
By the 1930’s the businesses and social community had left Bannack and very few people remained. By the 1940’s there would be so few students that the school would have to close and Bannack became a ghost town.1
Every year the ghost town of Bannack, Montana comes to life! Bannack Days, with historic displays, activities and events, is held the third weekend in July each year. During these two days of the year you can almost picture what it was like to be living there as the town comes alive once again with shoot outs in the street and people re-enacting the time period when Bannack was thriving. This was our second year to be invited to bring our stagecoach and conduct a live stagecoach robbery. Can the drivers and riders of the stagecoach fight them off or will they lose the best gold in the country?
There were few who could resist a ride back in time. People were lined up throughout the day to have a small taste of what it may have been like to travel the dusty trails of the Wild West in a “real stagecoach”. Maybe you can come join us next year and take a ride back in time when the west was still wild. We would love to see you there!
1 Information about the history of Bannack, Montana was provided by Legends of America, “Montana Legends: Bannack – Gold to Dust”; legendsofamerica.com/mt-bannack.html.