The town of Bannack was founded in 1862, when gold was discovered on Grasshopper Creek, and it didn't take long for prospectors and enterprising businessmen to flood in. The name "Bannack" came from a nearby tribe of Native Americans. Even though it was in a pretty remote part of Montana, bakeries, hotels, breweries, billiards halls, saloons, blacksmith shops, butchers, and more sprang up. Two short years later, the rapidly-growing city was named the territorial capital of Montana, before it became a state.
Its time as capital may have been short-lived (the title was moved to the newer boom town of Virginia City not long after), but Bannack managed to keep a decent-sized population through the 19th century and into the 1950's, when the mines finally began to dry up. Part of the reason Bannack is in such great condition is because it managed to keep itself together for so long-- most ghost towns died out early in the 20th century, and quickly fell into disrepair and ruin. It took until the 1970's for most residents to move out of the dwindling town, although it was declared a National Historic Landmark in the 1960's.
Of course, a lifespan like that usually comes an interesting history, and Bannack is no exception. The most colorful character in the town's past has to be its old sheriff Henry Plummer. He was accused by the townspeople of leading a double life-- as the leader of a ruthless band of murderous outlaws! Local legend holds that Plummer and his men may have killed up to 100 men in the Bannack-Virginia City area, although only 8 deaths are actually documented and accounted for. Of course, modern historians have their doubts as to whether or not this alleged gang was as prolific as people once thought, or if it even existed at all, but the fact that Plummer and two deputies were hanged without a trial doesn't help the matter. His other associates were lynched later, or run out of town and told to never return.
Whether or not the stories about the town are true, there's no denying that Bannack is a fascinating piece of history, and with more than 60 buildings still standing, it is, without doubt, one of the best preserved ghost towns in the country. If you want to really spend time to appreciate and explore as much of the park as you can, they offer overnight camping-- the chance to spend the night in a real-life ghost town is not something you can find just anywhere! They also spend the third weekend of every July recreating the ghost town's glory days in an epic event known as "Bannack Days." Learn how to pan for gold or shoot a vintage rifle, take a horse-drawn wagon ride, make your own candles, or just spend the weekend appreciating everything Montana's coolest ghost town has to offer!