One of our fortunate, unexpected, pleasures in the September trip to Montana (thanks to some research ahead of time by Farm Boss) was taking a little side trip to the town or more accurately ghost town of Bannack, Montana.
The energy of Montana is about the wilderness, mountains, rivers, wildlife, and the Old West. The western aspects to it, which are very much alive today, are as much a part of that energy as the scenery, the fishing or the hiking in the mountains among tall trees.
Bannack was supposed to be spelled Bannock, like a Native American tribe of the region, but the government misspelled it and Bannack it remains today. It sits back in the mountains between Wisdom and Dillon as a state park with camping facilities and many of the original buildings open and allowing the tourist to walk through and take photos,
Bannack has an interesting history of which a small guidebook gives a taste as we walked around and in some of its sixty buildings. Sometimes it told who built them or lived there, what their purpose had been even how long they were occupied.
I asked if there are any ghost stories and the ranger on duty had a few including some photos that might make one wonder whether some of the residents never left. (I am in what was a rather fancy hotel for the times in the photo to the left.)
Bannack was a rough mining town and the evidence is still there with some bullet holes in walls.
"I don't know how many deaths have occurred this winter, but that there have not been twice as many is entirely owing to the fact that drunken men do not shoot well. There are times when it really is unsafe to go through the main street, the bullets whiz around so, and no one thinks of punishing a man for shooting another." letter by Mrs. Emily Meredith April 30, 1863The most dramatic story of Bannack has to be the battle between the outlaws calling themselves Innocents and the vigilantes. One of the stories I had heard of for years was of Henry Plummer, who came west as a young man, lived life to the hilt in California, Idaho and finally this part of Montana before he met his end at only 32 just above town on a gallows they say he had ordered built for an earlier hanging. Irony is not uncommon in life.
Plummer qualifies as a romantic anti-hero who killed those who got in his way, who had a rather controversial romance, who became a sheriff supposedly to keep the law but did he keep it? See, that's what makes his story a good one as nobody will ever know that for sure.
What we know is that in 1863, 100 men were killed in these hills-- miners, ranchers, storekeepers, teamsters, basically anybody who had to travel the mountains between Bannack and Virginia City. A band of vigilantes decided someone had to pay for this and put a stop to it through hanging Henry Plummer and those they thought were his cohorts without a trial.
Of course, like any good story, there is controversy over whether they were the actual ones doing the killing and robbing as none of it stopped after Plummer was hanged. Plummer's widow, who was not living in Bannack at the time of his death, said he was innocent, but then what else would she be expected to say?
After the hangings, it appeared the vigilantes were as bad as the Innocents as for several years the killings continued. They would kill who they decided to kill and often leave a warning symbol-- 3-7-77 on a tent to let the miner know his time was up and it was leave or be hung.
The interesting part is those numbers are still is on the arm patch of Montana Highway Patrol today. What do they mean? From what I can tell nobody can say for sure except maybe those original vigilantes. One thing it does mean is -- clean up your act, get out of town, or you're a dead man.
Anyway visiting the town, with the trees turning yellow, a tepee in the campground, and the friendly people who operate the park, was fun, great chance for photos, and educational even if it left a mystery behind that will never be answered. Sounds about like life.
This last photo was taken from the inside of the jailhouse (one Plummer had had built) and the only view some, including probably Plummer himself, had until they either were released or hung.