In July of 1862, John White discovered placer gold in Grasshopper Creek.
It was the first major gold discovery in Montana and sparked the Montana Gold Rush of the 1860’s.
Even though the Civil War was going on, as news of the discovery spread, thousands of prospectors headed to the area in search of their fortune.
It would not be long before the population of Bannack swelled to 3,000 people, making it one of the largest settlements in the region at that time.
Initially, placer mining was the primary method used in Bannack. Miners would extract gold from the creek beds and nearby streams using pans, rockers, and sluice boxes. As the easy-to-reach placer gold diminished, more advanced mining techniques such as hydraulic mining and hard rock mining were employed to extract gold from quartz veins.
Bannack served as a typical mining camp during the gold rush era. It had various structures, including saloons, general stores, boarding houses, hotels, and more. The town’s growth and prosperity were driven by the influx of miners and the businesses that catered to their needs.
Bannack briefly served as the capital of the Montana Territory from 1864 to 1865 before the capital was moved to Virginia City. The town’s status as the territorial capital brought additional prominence and economic activity to Bannack during that time.
The gold rush in Bannack began to decline in the late 1860s as the easily accessible gold deposits were depleted. Many miners moved on to new gold strikes, such as those in Virginia City and Helena, leading to a gradual decline in Bannack’s population and economic activity.
Bannack State Park
Today, Bannack State Park preserves the once-thriving mining town and showcases the original buildings and structures that date back to the 19th century.
Bannack is now a ghost town, characterized by its well-preserved buildings and artifacts. Visitors can explore over 60 structures, including houses, saloons, a schoolhouse, a church, a hotel, and a courthouse. Many of the buildings contain period furnishings, offering a fascinating look into the past.
Bannack State Park offers guided tours to enhance visitors’ experience and understanding of the site’s history. Park rangers provide informative tours, sharing stories about the town, its residents, and the events that unfolded during the gold rush era.
Apart from exploring the historical buildings, visitors can engage in various activities at the park. Gold panning is a popular activity, allowing visitors to try their hand at searching for gold in Grasshopper Creek. Camping, picnicking, and hiking are also available within the park’s scenic surroundings.
Each year, Bannack State Park hosts a special event called “Bannack Days.” During this event, typically held in July, the park comes alive with historical reenactments, demonstrations, and festivities. Visitors can witness blacksmithing, candle-making, gold panning, and other activities that bring the town’s history to life.
Bannack State Park is nestled in a picturesque setting, surrounded by rolling hills, open grasslands, and mountain vistas. The park offers opportunities for wildlife viewing, birdwatching, and photography, with trails that allow visitors to explore the scenic beauty of the area.
Visitor Center and Museum
The park features a visitor center and a museum that provide additional information about the history of Bannack and the gold rush era. The museum displays artifacts, photographs, and exhibits that further enrich visitors’ understanding of the town’s past.
Bannack State Park offers a unique and immersive experience for history enthusiasts, outdoor lovers, and those seeking to explore Montana’s rich gold rush heritage. It provides an opportunity to step back in time and discover the stories and remnants of a bygone era in the American West.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website with detailed information about Bannack State Park, the resources, activities and fees.
Montana State Parks website with details concerning making reservations.
Montana Office of Tourism information on Bannack State Park.