Bannack State Park is a real life ghost town with about 60 historic log and frame structures, and on July 20 and 21 it will come to life during Bannack Days. That’s an annual festival with exhibits, period reenactors and activities designed to recreate the atmosphere of Montana’s first major gold discovery on July 28, 1862.
“It’s a great slice of weekend fun with Montana history coming alive,” says Pat Doyle, marketing and communications manager for Montana State Parks.
The gold rush caused Bannack’s population to swell to more than 3,000 by 1863, but by the 1950s, gold operations had ceased and the town died. Today, Bannack State Park is a 2.7-square-mile complex that hosts tours and activities year-round, but the highlight of the year is Bannack Days, when the whole family can enjoy themselves and learn about history at the same time.
1. Live Music From Yesteryear
There will be live music harkening to the town’s heyday, including Mr. Banjo & Friends; old time piano player Jaye Christensen; High Country Harmony; Steven Ingram performing country and gospel; and the Junior Fiddlers.
2. The 1860s Come to Life
Actors will be all over the grounds in period clothing, including suffragettes lobbying for the right to vote. Beware of dubious characters, though. You just might encounter a reenacted shootout or a stagecoach robbery.
3. Period Demonstrations
Among the demonstrations will be a 1st U.S. Infantry cannon, as well as barbering, basketmaking, quilting, tinsmithing, telegraphing and horse and mule packing. Watch spinners spin wool, or a blacksmith forge a work of art from a flat piece of steel, or turn your attention to Hangman’s Gulch, where you can learn about the cavalry and experience an 1860’s gold camp.
4. Hands-On Activities
Visitors can participate in hands-on activities such as candle making, panning for “gold” and soap making. Even crank a sewing machine by hand, take a dance lesson or go for a horseback ride. Or if you’re really feeling adventurous, you might go for a spin in a Ford Model AA. Sunday there will be old time church services featuring period music.
5. So Much for So Little
Weekend admission is just $5 per person, with children under 8 FREE. Demonstrations are free, but horseback and stagecoach rides are $10 for children under 12 years old and $15 for adults.
One of 55 parks in the Montana State Parks system, Bannack State Park is located in Beaverhead County, west of Dillon. It’s open year-round and has a variety of camping opportunities including a reservable Tee Pee. The “ghost walks” program in October is a spooky annual tradition with many families across the state
For more information, call (406) 287-3541 or log onto StateParks.mt.gov/Bannack.
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