Tuesday, June 6, 2017

BANNACK MONTANA: A TOWN FROZEN IN TIME (LITERALLY IN THE WINTER)



Last month I shared a bit about Virginia City, Montana and its meteoric rise and fall as a great city nestled in the Montana mountains.  However, before there was Virginia City another city was the jewel of Montana built set in a gold rush. 

One side of the street in Bannock, MT (photo from Kirsten Lynn)


Despite all the years I lived in Montana, I never made it to Bannack until last summer, and what a wonder. The town is actually bustling for a ghost town, only now it only bustles from morning until sundown during the summer months. Walking down the streets  and into the many buildings visitors can go back in time to when Bannack was one of biggest and baddest towns in the West. 

More Bannack, MT (photo by Kirsten Lynn)


Bannack was founded in 1862 when John White discovered gold on Grasshopper Creek.  As with most gold strikes, prospectors and businessmen flooded into the area.  By 1864, Bannack was named as the Territorial Capital of Montana.  Bannack didn’t remain the capital for long as it was soon transferred to Virginia City.

Only a year after gold was discovered in Bannack, the prized nuggets were found near Virginia City and many prospectors moved on to the renewed hope of fortune.  However, some stayed on in Bannack trying new mining techniques. 

From 1862 to the 1930s, Bannack continued as a mining town its population fluctuating.  By the 1950s most people had moved on and the mining dwindled to nothing. With the last of the town’s citizens gone, the State of Montana declared Bannack a State Park.  

Bannack, MT school and Masonic Lodge (photo by Kirsten Lynn)


When Bannack and Virginia City were at their zenith, the road between the two towns was the scene of more holdups, robberies, and murders than almost any other comparable stagecoach route. The worst of the outlaw gangs in the area had none other than Bannack’s own sheriff as its leader.
Henry Plummer was born and raised in Maine.  He headed West in 1852 and settled in Nevada City, California.  There he opened a bakery. Well-liked and ambitious, Plummer was elected sheriff in 1856. However, in 1857, Plummer was convicted of second-degree murder for killing an unarmed man. Though he claimed it was in self-defense, he was convicted after witnesses testified he was having an affair with the murdered man’s wife.

After six months in San Quentin prison, Plummer was released. He made good again in Nevada until a shootout in a whorehouse sent him on the run. He hooked up with outlaws traveling through Idaho.  Plummer named his crew, “The Innocents.” Go figure.

 When Plummer arrived in Bannack, Montana in 1862, the people knew nothing of his record. A likable sort of fellow he was able to convince the residents to elect him sheriff in May of 1863. He built his jail to have rings put in the floor so prisoners could not escape by punching holes in the sod roof.  Little did the people of Bannack know Plummer should have been the first resident in his jail, but they did notice he wasn’t able to stop the string of murders and robberies conducted by road agents terrorizing the town.

Bannack Jail (yes that's me behind bars, Kirsten Lynn)


A vigilance committee of nearly 2000 members was created. It didn’t take them long to destroy Plummer’s gang.  Erastus “Red” Yeager revealed Plummer’s complicity right before they hanged him.  On a bitter cold January morning in 1864, the Vigilantes arrested Plummer.  Despite his pleas for his life Plummer was hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for another.  By that spring all of “The Innocents” were dead or departed. 

While certainly one of the more colorful characters, Plummer was just one of many who added to the fascinating history of Bannack.  Today you can visit the old hotel, school, mayor’s house, saloon, and even bachelor’s row among other businesses and homes and truly step back into Montana’s past in its first Capital. 


Kirsten Lynn is a Western and Military Historian. She worked six years with a Navy non-profit and continues to contract with the Marine Corps History Division for certain projects. Making her home where her roots were sewn in Wyoming, Kirsten also works as a local historian. She loves to use the history she has learned and add it to a great love story. She writes stories about men of uncommon valor…women with undaunted courage…love of unwavering devotion …and romance with unending sizzle. When she’s not writing, she finds inspiration in day trips through the Bighorn Mountains, binge reading and watching sappy old movies, or sappy new movies. Housework can always wait.

16 comments:

  1. Oh, how I would love to see that town! When imagining a fictional town for a new story, I try to place stores, etc. in specific places as if they are real. Even these photos help form an image of a real town...love the jailhouse!!! Thanks.

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    1. Bannack was amazing, Celia, it is so well preserved. I have hundreds of pictures so I could recreate it in a story. Thanks for stopping by.

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  2. Very interesting! I knew nothing about the town or the sheriff, but I did know about the rings of thieves that existed, not just there, but throughout the west. Many of these thieves were actually part of a huge network. So I'm wondering if Plummer was part of it. :-)

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    1. From what I've ever read about Plummer is after he left California he got involved with outlaws from Nevada to Idaho before forming his own band "The Innocents." The Vigilantes who eventually captured Plummer are very well known in Montana history. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Kirsten, thanks for telling us about Bannack's colorful history and sharing your photos. Plummer was certainly a trickster, but he paid a high price in the end. The preserved town is amazing. Good for Montana for making it a state park!

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    1. Montana and Wyoming both are known for preserving their ghost towns and all are amazing experiences and great for research. Yes, Plummer definitely paid for his crimes. Thanks for stopping by, Lyn.

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  4. I'd love to visit Bannack, thanks to your post, you rabble rouser, you. I wasn't familiar with it until I read your post. Excellent photos too, thank you.

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    1. Yeah, in every ghost town I tend to get locked up in the jail. Hmmm...past life. :) Anyway, thanks for stopping by, glad you enjoyed the photos.

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  5. I have visited several ghost towns over the years, but never have known of such a well preserved one like Bannack. I too, would love to visit it sometime. Thanks, for posting such an interesting read.

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    1. So glad you enjoyed the post, Cheri. Hope you make it to Bannack. Virginia City in Montana is just as well preserved. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. Wow, now there's a town with a heap of history. It doesn't surprise me that Plummer, a trusted citizen of the town, turned out to be a complete scoundrel. It seems in those old west days, men who were outlaws became lawmen and vice versa. I'd like to figure that out some day. It's not really like things have changed. The former mayor of Charlotte, NC ended up in jail convicted of taking money for favors. He's out of jail now and on a talk radio show espousing political ambitions again. LOL
    Bannock, Montana certainly seems an interesting place to visit. This was a fascinatin' blog, Kirsten.

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    1. Thanks, Sarah. No, it seems the more things change, the more they're the same. :)

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  7. Just curious, how many different jails have you been locked up in ??

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    1. Hmmm...I think Bannack was the third. But they never hold me. :)

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