Archive for September, 2012

Goin’ to Jackson, uhhhh, Bannack, and we’re….

September 1, 2012

We made a trip to Jackson a couple of weeks ago. Jackson, Montana, that is. My brother, Eric, talked us into it.

“There’s a hot springs there.” He told us. “Plus some really interesting historical landmarks to explore nearby.” We invited him to come along with us – and left him in charge of planning the agenda.

“No death marches.” We told him. (You have to bind Eric to this ultimatum every time you agree to spend more than half a day in the outdoors with him.)

We booked two nights at the Jackson Lodge – where they have a pool fed by a natural hot springs.

David, Eric, Megan and I hit the road in Idaho Falls for the 3-hour drive to Jackson. It was pretty smokey due to fires raging to the east – over by Salmon, Idaho.

But still a beautiful drive.

About 40 miles outside of Jackson we pull into our first destination- Bannack, Montana. Population: Zero. (It’s a ghost town.) But back in the day (1864) it was the first Territorial Capital of Montana. I could write two pages about its rich history, but in a nutshell:

Bannack was founded in 1862 when John White discovered gold on Grasshopper Creek. Grasshopper Creek’s gold was 99-99.5% pure, compared to most gold at 95%, attracting miners, businessmen, deserters of the Civil War, and outlaws, hoping to strike it rich. In 1864 Bannack became the first Territorial Capital of Montana.

Meanwhile, in 1863, gold was discovered about 80 miles east near Virginia City. Many prospectors fled Bannack in hopes of finding the mother lode in Virginia City. The Territorial Capital moved to Virginia City too. However, some people stayed in Bannack and explored the use of further mining techniques.

At its peak, Bannack had a population of about ten thousand. Extremely remote, it was connected to the rest of the world only by the Montana Trail. There were three hotels, three bakeries, three blacksmith shops, two stables, two meat markets, a grocery store, a restaurant, a brewery, a billiard hall, and four saloons.

This link: mt-bannack.html fleshes out many details about Bannack, one of the most lawless ‘wild west’ towns in America’s history, home of ‘soiled doves’ (prostitutes) – where it’s own sheriff (Henry Plummer) was hung on the gallows by vigilantes, going after the “Innocents” (road agents with inside information robbing travelers between Bannack and Virginia City of their gold. About a hundred men were murdered in 1863 alone). Vigilantes hung 24 men (although it became questionable as to whether the vigilantes were, themselves, robbing and murdering travelers).

From the late 1860’s to the 1930’s, Bannack continued as a mining town with a fluctuating population. By the 1950’s most folks had moved on. At that point the State of Montana declared Bannack a State Park. The last residents left in the 1970s.

Today, over sixty structures remain standing, most of which can be explored.

Which is what we’re doing now on our way to Jackson. We have just pulled into the parking area.

“Bingo!” Megan has a quick eye for it. A yellow car. That’s the game we play whenever we are driving. Or parking. Or whatever. As soon as you spot the slightest sliver of a yellow car you yell “Bingo!’ and the first person to yell “Bingo!” over the sighting of a ‘bingo’ wins.

A ‘Bingo!” in the parking lot at Bannack

“You win, Megan.”

I snapped a few photos of Bannack with my i-Phone.

Main Street ahead!:

The original Beaverhead County courthouse:

that later became the Hotel Meade. Entering the front foyer now:

Back onto the front porch:

Across the street is the Schoolhouse and Masonic Lodge (upstairs):

Grades 1-12:

Walking north through the edge of town toward the gallows now –

alongside the Meade Hotel

toward ‘bachelor row.’

What luxury! An outhouse!

Yeah, like that’s going to impress a woman (in light of seven months of winter- tromping out there to answer nature’s call in minus-40 temps and 6′ of snow?).

At the gallows now.

“They didn’t knock a stand out from under you. You just sat there and they lifted you up off the seat, and you hoped they had the rope tight and snapped your neck…” David explains.


The Bannack jail:

Megan and David are incarcerated.

Walking into town again,

through the back door of Skinner’s Saloon:

Where the “Innocents” hung out. (“Nice people did not wander into Skinner’s”)
In 1869, after the Road Agents’ reign had ended, Skinner’s Saloon became a mercantile

and remained so for nearly 60 years.

In the hill south of town sits Hendrick’s Mill.

We’re driving toward Jackson now. We’re coming into Jackson …

yes, we are…

What’s the population? Unincorporated. Uh… looks a lot like Bannack.

There’s the lodge…

the Mercantile:

a couple of really old deserted log cabins behind the lodge:

a barn …

and a few houses.

Maybe 35 people live here?

Thank goodness the lodge has a natural springs pool, bar, and food.

I snap a photo of David and Eric at dinner.

“How is it that you two are wearing matching yellow t-shirts?”

Megan and I are out on a walk in Jackson, Montana, with the “Bingo-bros”- in their matching ‘bingo’ yellow t-shirts.

Except, Eric has some strange and demented-looking person plastered all over the front of his shirt.

“Who is that, Eric?”

“Hunter S. Thompson.”

“Didn’t he kill himself? With a gun? Blew himself in the head or something?”


Well, that about puts a wrap on our day. Even though we were confronted with a ghost town, the gallows, another near-ghost town, and Eric’s demented t-shirt, at least we were spared a death march.