Bit O’ History: MT’s First Jail

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Recently we explored some notable Montana movies, now let’s explore a bit of Montana’s rich history! Nestled in the former ghost town of Bannack, Montana is quite the historical treasure!

END OF THE GOLD RUSH

Founded in 1862, Bannack was populated by around 10,000 settlers after a great gold rush. When business was booming, there were 3 hotels, 3 bakeries, 3 forges, 2 stables, 2 meat markets, 1 restaurant, 1 grocery store, 1 brewery, 1 billiard room and 4 saloons. Most businesses were built with logs, but a few had a false facade for decoration. The only way in or out was via the Montana Trail.

After the gold rush ended, the population of this small town dwindled, mostly maintained by miners. In the 1970s, the rest of this population disappeared, leaving only the historic bones of the ghost town we know today. Now it is officially protected and declared a state park; This guarantees the preservation of such a fascinating historical city! Bannack is in what we now call Beaverhead County and is closest to the charming town of Dillon.

There’s a bit of a spooky story when it comes to this charming little ghost town. On January 11, 1864, a violent event shook the calm waters of Bannack. The 27-year-old sheriff, Henry Plummer, had been hanged by a gang of vigilantes. In a whiff of poetic irony, on the same gallows he had built for a horse thief to meet his maker.

MONTANA’S FIRST PRISONS

Bannack is famous for hosting the first prison ever built in Montana. These prisons are modest compared to the ethically questionable industrial model jails and prisons we see today. They were two modest huts, one with bars on the windows and the other without. There are no plastic or glass chairs for visiting the jailers, and in the first building there is not even an office for the sheriff because being one was basically community service back then.

There was a second prison, the one with luxurious windows to the open world, was built in the 1860s. This was after our poor Sheriff Plummer met its maker on that fateful gallows. As the town had a small population, only 2 cells were really needed. If there were more than 2 offenders, they were doubled or tripled in a cell. Talk about a tight squeeze!

Bannack has more to offer than Montana’s first prison! With over 50 perfectly preserved buildings sitting along the main street. The design and materials used are so reminiscent of the Montana settler core that you’ll feel like you’ve really stepped back in the 1860s! To find out more about this historical monument and how to visit it, check out MT gov’s page on Bannack!

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