We share Montana's story through our resources: art, books, artifacts, photos, and even buildings we've helped preserve.
Bannack epitomizes the tough, primitive towns that sprang up with gold discoveries. Its story also illustrates a century of survival, through boom and bust periods associated with resource extraction and technological advances. On July 28, 1862, prospectors John White and company made a lucky strike, triggering Montana’s first major gold rush.
Miners—many from Idaho’s crowded Salmon River diggings—swarmed over the Continental Divide. By spring 1863, Bannack had 3,000 inhabitants. The town saw six vigilante hangings, including that of its infamous sheriff, Henry Plummer. Briefly designated capital of the new Montana Territory in 1864, the first legislature met here in a crude log cabin. While other gold strikes stole Bannack’s initial population, the town rebounded in the 1870s and served as the Beaverhead County seat until 1881. The Masonic Lodge Hall/School (1874), Methodist Church (1877), and the Hotel Meade built as the Beaverhead County courthouse (1875) reflect this period. Evidence of hydraulic, dredge, and hard rock mining interrupt the landscape.
Montana’s first quartz claims initiated hard rock mining here in 1862 and stamp mills soon operated alongside placer mining. Changing technologies produced new boom periods and other changes to Bannack. Electrification of the mines in 1930 brought electricity to the town. Despite its varied fortunes, the community held together while local mills operated sporadically until World War II.
The State of Montana acquired most of the town in 1954, and a few residents remained until the early 1970s. Bannack features multi-period buildings spanning the primitive 1860s, urbanized 1870s-1880s, and early twentieth century. In 1961, Bannack earned status as a National Historic Landmark.
Cover photo credit: Nikolay Makarov via wikimedia