On July 28, 1862, John White made a gold strike at what became known as the Grasshopper Diggings, and soon the nearby boomtown of Bannack was born in southwestern Montana (part of Idaho Territory at the time).
Named for the Bannock Indians, the town saw the “o” inadvertently changed to a second “a” by officials in Washington, D.C.
Miners working for wages in early Bannack earned about $8 per day, but that only got them a pound of chewing tobacco and about a dollar in change.
The peak population of about 5,000 (in town and scattered along the Grasshopper) came in 1863, and in December 1864 Bannack became the first capital of newly established Montana Territory.
Vigilantes hanged Sheriff Henry Plummer and two of his cohorts on January 10, 1864, in so-called Hangman’s Gulch (on Bannack’s north side), because of their alleged involvement with a band of road agents.
By 1865 most of Bannack’s population had shifted to more productive gold camps along Alder Gulch, including booming Virginia City, which became the new territorial capital that February.
Five dredge boats clawed at the gravel and dirt in Grasshopper Creek between 1895 and 1902, going as deep as 40 feet into the creek bed in search of more gold.
The last permanent residents moved away in the 1940s when the Grasshopper was thought to be worked out, but some mining activity continues in the area.
Bannack today is a true ghost town, as well as a state park. The only residents are employees of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
For more information about Bannack, try www.visitmt. com or www.bannack.org or call 406-834-3413.
Originally published in the April 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.