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Traveling Southwest Montana

March 30th, 2022

Southwest Montana is not about the glamour of National Parks, its more about ghost towns of days gone by from the mining days of the late 1800′s. These miners were more interested in extracting riches from below the ground than building structures to withstand time; however, remnants still stand today, giving us a glimpse back in time to the miner’s dreams of striking it rich or the saloon girl’s hopes for better days. Now the remaining buildings and mines in these towns tells a story and holds a place in Montana’s history.

Garnet ghost town high in the Garnet Mountain Range is Montana’s most intact ghost town where in the 1860′s gold-bearing quartz was discovered. Being in such a remote place, the miners faced many challenges without the use of heavy equipment. Even getting there today, using the route the miners took can be on the challenging side, for the Cave Gulch road is a steep one-lane bumpy dirt road up the side of the mountain with switchbacks; however, the beautiful scenery of the valley below makes the drive worthwhile.

In 1862 gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek; as a result, the town of Bannack was founded. As the word spread miners and businessmen flocked to the town site hoping to strike it rich. Due to the growth and sudden wealth, Bannack was named the first Territorial Capital of Montana in 1864; however, a short time later the capital was moved to Virginia City. From the 1860′s to the 1930′s Bannack thrived as a mining town, by 1950 most people had left, leaving Bannack a ghost town with over 60 structures from the late 1800′s for future generations to see what a gold-miners’ life was like.

The deepest pride and affection for Virginia City, the most colorful pioneer mining camp with dramatic tales of the early days that ever existed is shared by all of Montana. The area was so rich in gold that small communities sprang up everywhere with Virginia City and Nevada City being the main hubs for trade. For ten years from 1865 to 1875 the town of Virginia City was named the Territorial Capital of Montana, but like most things, the gold ran out leaving just enough to keep the homes and business occupied; as a result, the town froze in time as an old west Victorian town. Today Virginia City and the surrounding area is rich with natural beauty, recreation and history.

Montana’s history isn’t all about fame and fortune, a form of justice had to be upheld for the bands of outlaws which roamed early Montana Territory leaving a trail of destruction. On July 2, 1871 the stout iron bars slammed shut for the first time in Montana’s Territorial Prison in Deer Lodge, now the Old Prison Museum displays a chilling glimpse of what life was like from behind bars, a sentinel of law enforcement dedicated to justice. Behind the turreted stone towers and iron gates is the intimidating main cell block, built by prisoners using 1.2 million self-made bricks. Walking the isles in the cell block with the slide bar cells and black box used for maximum security will send chills down one’s spine.

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