Over 50 buildings remain at Bannack today. Each one with a story to tell. Join us as we take you through a photo tour and explore the rich and colorful history of Bannack. When you’re ready to see the whole town site, come visit Bannack!
We start our journey at the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is open seven days a week from ten in the morning to six at night during the summer. It is closed in the winter months, usually from the middle of October through the middle of May.
Inside the Visitor Center you will find a variety of books and other interpretive materials. There is also a video room with an assortment of videos to help you better understand Bannack and the surrounding area. A restroom is located inside for your convenience. Cold drinks, candy, and other snacks are also available for purchase.
The assay office was one of the first buildings in Bannack. The assay office was the place the miners could go to have their raw gold analyzed, its weight and value assessed. Bannack’s gold was very unique. While most gold is 95 percent pure, Bannack’s gold was found to be 99 to 99.5 percent pure. Most services were paid for in gold. Scales and measures could be found in every establishment and greenbacks were rarely seen. This building was also the location for the Oliver Stage Station, and as gold mining declined it was also used as a drug store and butcher shop.
The gallows were ordered constructed by Henry Plummer, lawman and outlaw of Bannack. John Peter Horan, R.C. Rawley, Ned Ray, Buck Stinson, and Henry Plummer were the only men hanged on the gallows. Justice was often swift in the early mining towns. On January 10, 1864, several of the Vigilantes from Virginia City arrived in Bannack. They had recently captured and hung Red Yeager and others. Before Yeager was hung he confessed and implicated Plummer as the leader of the “Innocents.” The Vigilantes from Virginia City, along with Vigilantes from Bannack decided they must capture Mr. Plummer and his associates, Ned Ray and Buck Stinson. They planned to apprehend and hang them the next day but received word that three fresh horses had been brought into town. Afraid that the leader of the Road Agents was about to escape, they decided to act immediately. They proceeded in the regimented military fashion and captured all three of the men. Not a shot was fired. On that cold January evening, just about dark the three men were marched up to the gallows. All three were lifted up and dropped to their death. Henry Plummer, after pleading his innocence, begged the Vigilantes to “please give me a good drop.”
In 1864 when the First Legislative Session was held here, Bannack was named the County Seat of Beaverhead County. In 1875 this impressive brick building was built as the first Beaverhead County Courthouse, but by 1881 the gold rush to Montana was history. Stock raising and agriculture were displacing mining as the main industries in Beaverhead County. Bannack was evolving into a humdrum settlement. Dillon, twenty-five miles to the east, on the other hand, was emerging as a bustling metropolis of about 800 people. The Utah and Northern Railroad had established a terminus in Dillon and it was evolving into a flourishing freighting center.
The citizens of Bannack fought to keep the county seat, but in February of 1881 the Territorial Legislature called for a special election in Beaverhead County to vote on moving the county seat to Dillon. After a venomous battle, Bannack lost the bid and the county seat was moved to Dillon.
The large brick building remained empty until about 1890 when it was purchased by Dr. John Christian Meade for $1,250. Dr. Meade remodeled and turned the building into a plush hotel. It became the center of Bannack social activity and temporary home of many Montana travelers. A large kitchen, dining room and living quarters were added to the back of the hotel. The dining room was filled with tables to seat four or six and could be rearranged for larger parties. Beautiful white linens graced the tables along with fine china. Hotel Meade remained open for business for many years, abandoned at times only to reopen to meet the needs of Bannack each time mining activity in the area revived. The hotel operated off and on until the 1940’s.
The old cemetery, located on a hill above Bannack, just east of the gallows, has not been used for many years. The crumbling stones and other crude markers silently tell the tales of love and woe. Whether accidental, natural or intentional, death claimed the lives of young and old alike. Residents from every walk of life were brought together in one final resting place. Even though most of the grave markers are gone, the Old Bannack Cemetery is a testament to the harsh reality of life in a frontier town. This cemetery was used from 1862, which was when Bannack was founded, up until about 1880.
In approximately 1876 the residents of Bannack started using another cemetery. It is located just outside the park entrance, off the county road coming into the park. Over sixty marked graves offer an insight into Bannack’s past. It is a very worthwhile stop.
Located directly west of the church, the Roe/Graves house was built by William Roe in 1866 or 1867. It was the first frame house built in Bannack. William Roe was one of the first of many to become rich in Bannack. He arrived in Bannack in 1862, and even though he filed one of the first claims in the new mining town, his interests turned to freighting, merchandising, and banking. He and his brother, Isaac, opened a general store and meat market and soon after that licensed a banking business to buy gold. He was one of the Vigilantes to capture Plummer, Stinson, and Ray the night they were hanged. He later moved to Dillon and was one of the incorporators of the State Bank in 1899.
The home was later acquired by F.L. Graves directly after he developed the first electric dredge. Upon the launch of the electric dredge by Mr. Graves, he was honored with some very elaborate gifts. He was awarded an ebony-headed cane and a solid gold watch. Instead of the usual numbers around the dial, F. Louis. Graves, was engraved around the dial with the F. representing the numeral 12 and the G representing the numeral 6. The house was owned and occupied by the Graves family up until its acquisition by the park.
Built in 1877, the Methodist Church was the first building in Bannack built exclusively for the purpose of worship. Throughout Bannack’s history, the women often remarked in their letters and diaries “of the lack of a proper place to worship.” Religion played an important part in the lives of the first “respectable” women to come to this little mining town and no doubt had a lot to do with their tolerance of life here. However, not having a place to hold regular meetings was always a problem. Mary Edgerton is said to have carried with her across the plains a letter from her minister stating that she was “a member in full and regular standing” in her church in Tallmadge and recommended her “to any church of Christ, wherever her lot may be cast.” Circuit riders became the norm for the isolated towns like Bannack. One of the more famous ones to come to Bannack and have a significant impact was William Van Orsdel, fondly remembered as “Brother Van.”
Brother Van arrived in Bannack at the peak of the mining activity. He found all the gambling houses and bars open on Sunday. Stepping up to the bar, he announced himself as a minister. The bartender whistled the crowd to quietness and informed them that the bar would be closed for “one hour.” Brother Van had his chance and in his marvelous singing voice sang a popular song of that Day, “A Diamond in the Rough.” The crowd, hungry for entertainment, asked for more. Brother Van, continued and the crowd got a good hours worth of religion.In August of 1877, Bannack had a major Indian scare. Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Indians had just defeated General Gibbon at the bloody Battle of the Big Hole. Word reached the isolated little community that the Indians were on the rampage and headed straight for Bannack. People from around the area gathered in Bannack to seek protection. Two lookouts were built on the highest points of the hills on either side of Hangman’s Gulch for early warning. In case of a siege, the local water supply was barricaded. The women and children were gathered in the brick fortress, The Hotel Meade. Some stories tell of hiding the children in the safes located inside the hotel. Although the Indians killed four settlers in Horse Prairie, they never came close to Bannack. The bodies of the settlers were brought to town and buried by Brother Van Orsdel.
After it was apparent that the town was safe from attack, Brother Van, being the promoter that he was, took advantage of the large number of settlers in town and talked them into building the first real church in Bannack.
Hendricks Mill sleeps just south of the town, Bannack. At one point, a crushing mill stood just behind the cyanide mill that is pictured. The assay office has the red roof. The assay office is where samples of gold ore would be taken to be tested for their content. If the gold ore was bearing enough gold, then the miners would drill into the earth in that spot. The ore was then brought to the crushing mill. After crushing, the ore was usually shipped to be smelted in East Helena. However, when the cyanide mill was operating, the ore would be processed locally.
Join us on a Mill Tour when you visit Bannack!
This house had many personalities over the years. It served initially as the Brown Bakery and Saloon, home of an infamous pie eating contest. Fate turned for the pie eaters when tin plates were strategically placed between the pies. Instead of a warm cherry delight, they took a not so tasty bite of metal. The building switched hands and was the Gauthier Boarding house for several years until the Casey Family acquired the home.
Finally, the Ovitts were the last occupants of this building. Mabel Ovitt, the proprietor, raised all her children here. Mrs. Ovitt was also the author of the book Golden Treasure. In the front of her home, she offered many precious stones and rocks for sale. Mabel was one of the last citizens of Bannack.
This two-story building was acquired by the Gibson family in 1890. It served as a rooming house for prospectors in from the diggings and was also used as a temporary school house in the 1940’s. The building was called the Montana Hotel in the late 1860’s.
School & Lodge
Masonry, or Freemasonry as it is more properly called, is an international fraternity, whose origins go back to the builders of those remarkable structures created in the Gothic style of architecture during the Middle Ages in Europe and England.
The Masons were organized into lodges and used signs, symbols and passwords. They were also separated into different grades, or degrees of skills, with the Master Mason being the highest, similar to a contractor or architect today.
As Gothic architecture waned, the lodges began to take members who were not actually builders, but who would be a credit to the organizations. They were called “Accepted Masons.”
Masonry, although it stresses morality and has religious overtones, is not a religion. It accepts men of all faiths and creeds. Masonry calls itself “that religion in which all men agree”–and requires its members to have but three beliefs:
- Belief in a supreme being.
- Recognition of the Brotherhood of man.
- Belief in the Immortality of the soul.
The Masonic emblem, “The Square and Compass,” located above the windows on the second floor, was carved from hardwood for the front of the building when it was built in 1874. Mrs. A.F. Graeter donated her hickory breadboard to be used to mount the emblem. The building was built for a cost of $1,500. In comparison, the brick courthouse, across the street, was built for a cost of $14,000 just one year later.The first public school in Bannack was conducted by Lucia Darling, niece of Chief Justice Sydney Edgerton. The first classes were held in the living room of the Edgerton’s home in the fall of 1863. Less than a dozen students attended those first classes. In the summer of 1864 the numbers had increased dramatically. A crude log cabin was built to serve as Lucia Darling’s school house.
In 1874, realizing the need for a school, Bannack Masonic Lodge No. 16 built the combination lodge and school house. Classes were held in this building for nearly 70 years. The school finally closed in 1951 as a result of too few students. Over the years classes were held in various other buildings in town. The Gibson House, next door, the Road Agents Store, across the street, and the church all served as temporary “school rooms.” Students who remember the early years of schooling in Bannack recall snow blowing in through the cracks between the wallboards. School books were rare and usually consisted of only what the families brought with them.
Sydney Edgerton arrived in Bannack in September of 1863. Mary, his wife, and their four children: Martha, 13; Wright, 10; Sidney, 7; and Pauline, 5; made the 2,500 mile journey to the goldfields of Idaho. From the letters written by Mary Edgerton to her family after her arrival in Bannack, it was apparent that she desperately missed her family in Ohio. Lucia Darling, Edgerton’s niece, traveled to Bannack with the family and became the first public teacher in Bannack in the late fall of 1863.
Edgerton realized he would not be moving on to Lewiston, as planned. So, he set out to find a home for his family. With miners already moving on to the discoveries in the Alder Gulch region, cabins were to be had in Bannack. Mr. Edgerton was able to buy a building that had been used as a store. He purchased it at a sheriff’s sale for $400. The original structure had one room with a kitchen added on and was located where the remnants are today. Fire destroyed the “mansion” in the early 1900’s, but the small sod-roofed structure in the back is said to have been built from the logs that were salvaged from the original building. The Edgerton’s lived in this home for the entire time they were in Bannack. Mrs. Edgerton did the best she could under the circumstances to beautify the house. She covered the walls with sheets, but did not have enough for the other rooms. The front room served as a combination living room and bedroom. The corner was curtained off for Mr. Edgerton to use as his office.