1881.This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
On July 28, 1862,
John White and other members of the "Pikes Peakers” discovered
gold in the creek waters where Bannack stands today. It was the
beginning for both Bannack and the State of
considered one of the last frontiers. The creek was
originally named Willard Creek by the
Lewis and Clark
they came through in 1805. But, due to the large grasshopper population
in 1862, it was renamed Grasshopper Creek.
prospectors filed one of the first gold claims in what was
Territory at the time and, would later become
News of the strike traveled fast and led
to the greatest rush to the West since the
Rush in 1848. A mining camp was quickly built, literally
springing up overnight. Most of the miners lived in tents, caves,
dugouts, shanties, huts, and wagons.
Word spread quickly
that Bannack’s gold was unlike other gold. Grasshopper Creek’s gold
was 99-99.5% pure, compared to most gold at 95% and miners continued
to flood the area. Bannack quickly became known as the
New Eldorado of the North and by October the camp was called home to
more than 400 prospectors.
The people who
rushed to Bannack were not only miners, they also included many
deserters of the
Civil War, outlaws and businessmen intent on
profiting from the many newcomers. These early settlers arrived by
wagon, stagecoach, horse back, steamboat, and even by foot, in search
of their fortunes. Not anticipating the harsh
Montana winter, many came
ill-prepared and lacking supplies, creating a great hardship for these
As in most mining
towns Bannack’s population consisted of mostly men, with the exception
saloon girls and "painted
ladies." For the few wives living in camp, dances were their
only social activity and relief from household duties.
By 1863, the settlement had gained some
3,000 residents and applied to the U.S. Government for the name of
Bannock, named for the neighboring
Indians. However, Washington
goofed it up, spelling the name with an "a” – Bannack, which it
retains to this day.
In addition to its reputation for gold, Bannack also
quickly gained a reputation for lawlessness. The roads in and out of
town were home to dozens of road agents, and killings were frequent. In January, 1863,
Plummer arrived in Bannack and just months later was elected sheriff
in hopes that he might bring some peace to the lawless settlement.
What was not known by the
citizens of Bannack, was that
later be suspected of being the the leader of the largest gang of the area road agents.
This group of bandits referred to themselves as
the "Innocents” and grew to include more than 100 men. According to
accusers, his contacts as
sheriff gave him knowledge of when people were transporting their gold,
which he would pass on to his gang.
In May, 1863 a group of miners discovered gold
in Alder Gulch, about eighty miles to the east of Bannack. When they took
their gold to Bannack to buy supplies word soon
leaked out and many of the area prospectors headed to Alder Gulch, which
would soon become the thriving settlement of