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It was late July in 1862 when John White and the Pikes Peakers discovered gold in Grasshopper Creek near Bannack. That day started a rush that would last off and on until the 1930s. The chance to earn a few bucks brought prospectors and businessmen from all around the area. Bannack’s story is an intriguing one and the town still entertains visitors since becoming a state park in the 1950s.
Within a year of discovering gold, Bannack was bustling with a few thousand residents. This prompted the town to apply to the U.S. Government for the name of “Bannock” (neighboring Indians). Washington however, made an error and forever changed the name to Bannack with an A. In 1864, Bannack was named the first Territorial Capital of Montana. This was short lived as it was moved not long after to Virginia City. Many people moved along with the capital, to Virginia City where gold was also discovered. Some however remained to give Bannack a fair shake.
With gold as pure as 99.5%, Bannack had a lot to offer. Local men found entertainment through the saloons and painted ladies. As the town grew, so did the main street with 3 hotels, 3 bakeries, 3 blacksmith shops, 2 stables, a grocery store, a restaurant, a billiard hall and of course, the 4 saloons.
But, as the population grew, so did the violence and bandits. In 1863, Henry Plummer arrived in town and appeared to be the solution to their problems. The smooth talker was elected sheriff of Bannack just a few months later. It was soon discovered that Henry probably didn’t come with the best of intentions. He was accused of being the leader of a local gang called ‘The Innocents”. The Innocents were held responsible for over 100 murders in Utah, Idaho and Montana. The town was divided on Plummer’s guilt but on January 10th of 1864, he was hanged at the gallows for his crimes by The Montana Vigilantes; the new lawmakers in town. The Vigilantes continued to reign over the mining districts for the next three years.
In 1874, the Bannack Masonic Lodge was built. The lodge was housed upstairs while the downstairs was used as a school for the town. In 1875, the Beaverhead County Courthouse was built; this would close for almost ten years when the county seat was moved to Dillon, Montana. Dr. John Meade reopened the building as a plush hotel in 1890. Gold production continued to slow down and by the 1930s, most of the town’s businesses had closed. In 1940, the school closed due to lack of enrollment. In 1954, the Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks saved the deteriorating town and named it a state park. It is still preserved today with over 60 structures just waiting to be explored.