My fascination with all things old did not originate this year, but as a little tyke. I can remember being overjoyed to go to Virginia City, MT, a ghost town we visited every year due to its proximity to our home in Big Sky. The candy shop, old buildings, and rotting jail fascinated me, and still does. Every time I go to a ghost town, I get a mind picture: vigilantes running wild with their stallions and steely faces. I can hear the saloon door slam. The sound of children screaming in back porches. Women cowering from the “Wild West” of it all inside their parlors.
This year, we traveled further afield, exploring other ghost towns around Montana. First, we visited Bannack, MT, a town in the southwest corner of Montana that was the capital of the territory from 1862 to 1864. We visited during “Bannack Days”, a celebration with period clothes, activities, events (think shoot out), and food.
Named after the Bannock Indians, the town was a gold-mining town (different towns have different rocks containing various metals and stones). The town included a hotel, saloons, surveyors, barber shops, doctor, stores, homes, jail, etc.
Famous vigilante Henry Plummer (who was hung in Virginia City) was the sheriff on Bannack for a time, until he was caught and hung.
Elkhorn and Marysville
A few weeks later, we drove up to Helena, the current capital of Montana, and spent the night. During our time there, we saw two ghost towns: Elkhorn and Marysville, both of which I consider to be half-ghost towns because they are still inhabited today.
In the 1880s, $14 million dollars of silver was found in Elkhorn. As it is still inhabited, we could only go into two buildings: the Elkhorn fraternity hall and the saloon.
Driving down the dusty town roads, we made our way up to the cemetery, which had a lot of children’s graves from a diphtheria epidemic in 1889. The graveyard was fascinating, as it still had a lot of wooden graves as well as graves as new as 2015.
Marysville was a bust. From looking at pictures, I can tell that there has been a lot of new development since 1974, which takes away from the ghost-yness of the town. At it’s height, 4,000 people lived in the town.
The mine, the Drumlummon, was named after the hometown of it’s found, Tommy Cruise. As a mine, the Drumlummon, which is one of my new favorite words, had millions of dollars of gold. Now, there’s even an effort to get more gold and silver out of the remaining veins in the mine. Here’s a New York Times article about it: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/us/02marysville.html and a photo gallery: https://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2010/05/01/us/20100502-MARYSVILLE.html?action=click&contentCollection=U.S.&module=RelatedCoverage®ion=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article.
Montana State Orphanage
While it’s not a ghost town, I’ve driven past the old Montana State Orphanage for years, and finally, the gates were open this year (it’s being sold)! Walking on the premises, I could feel the eeriness of it.
Open between 1894 and 1975, many of the children living at the orphanage were not full orphans, but only had one parent who was unable to support them.
Just now, I was reading about town women, Emma Ingalls and Maggie Hathaway, who were the first two women elected to the Montana legislature in 1917 (the same year Montana sent Jeanette Rankin to the United States House as the first woman in Congress ever). These two women were champions of the disenfranchised and created pensions for mothers, so that they could support their children alone (and so that the children wouldn’t have to go to the orphanage).
For me, the fascinating part of ghost towns is that they can come alive. The land is still living. People still crave shininess. In each of these towns, I could see how the town’s had held living, breathing things. History is still alive even if ghosts roam.