Ghost Town Impressions … Bannack, by Deb Schneider



a-debPeople often joke with me about selling my book’s film rights, and if they aren’t making a joke – I turn it into one. Film deals are few and far between for writers, unless your last name is Brown, Grisham or King.  But then I add, “I don’t really need to see the movie, because I’ve already watched it,” and I tap the side of my head. Because, as I’m writing, that’s what it feels like. The characters talking to each other in dialogue, the setting and I confess, I’ve even put a certain piece of music on while writing because it evokes the mood.

So, with imaginary characters and a made-up place, I always thought it was the best I could do.

But – I was wrong.


On a recent trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, I stopped at the Visitor’s Center in Jackson and asked the nice gentleman at the counter if he could recommend any ghost towns in the area. He pulled out his map, consulted with his wife and pointed to a place not far off the main road we’d be taking back to Seattle.


“Bannack” he whispered, nodding. “It’s like the folks just picked up and walked off. They keep it as natural as possible.”


So, on the final leg of our journey, we headed out of Wyoming, through Idaho and into Montana. Following the signs for the State park, we finally arrived at the ghost town around noon.


I stood on the main street, with the Meade Hotel to my right, and realized I was standing in my imaginary town of Willow Creek, Montana. It was all a-deb-2there, the mining, the creek, the rather grand brick hotel. I could almost see my heroine, the Widow Wainwright, sweeping into the hotel in her black crepe mourning clothes. The hero’s sawmill would be down at the edge of town, and peeking into the windows of Bannack, I could easily imagine the various characters in my book coming to life.


My husband and I both had cameras, and we happily clicked away. I knew I’d have the perfect shots for my “book trailer” so my interest was part historical time traveler and part mercenary opportunist. I don’t think it really matters to the town.


Bannack had the first brick courthouse in Montana, and served as the chambers for the First Territorial Legislature. The first Governor of Montana lived in a house that was little more than a shack, (forget about a mansion) and it’s clear that mining gold took precedence over architecture as the town grew. There’s the tale of the sheriff who was really the head of an outlaw gang, stories of “hurdy-gurdy” joints and soiled doves along with the respectable folks creating a Methodist church, building a Masonic Lodge and organizing school.


There are enough images and snippets of information in the guide book to fuel story ideas for many years to come.


I think what makes Bannack so intriguing though, is that it grew from just 400 people to over 3,000 in just a few months when gold was discovered in a-deb-1Grasshopper Creek. And like so many towns in the West, when the gold played out, the people of  town eventually moved away. But the town didn’t disappear.


The fact that the State of Montana was wise enough to preserve this jewel is noteworthy. There are other more popular “ghost towns” scattered around Montana, and I’ve visited a few. The number of buildings preserved in such wonderful condition makes Bannack a stand-out place for me.


Have you ever visited a ghost town? What was that experience like for you?



Deborah Schneider, RWA Librarian of the Year 2009

Promise Me – January 2010



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15 thoughts on “Ghost Town Impressions … Bannack, by Deb Schneider”

  1. I have never been to a ghost town the closes thing that I have been to is a park close to my house they say there are ghosts there at midnight each night by the bridge I guess there was a women killed there years ago. It freaks me out even in the day time, I wont go to that park by myself.
    But it sounds like it could be fun visiting a ghost town. About 10 years ago my girls went up to salem when we were in Boston they said it was pretty cool.
    Thanks for the great read. Happy Saturday!!!!!!!

  2. Good morning, Deb, and welcome to the Junction! I’ve never been to a ghost town, but I’ve visited several of the silver mining towns in Colorado. I think a trip to Bannack might have to be in my near future. Sounds like a neat place.

  3. I can’t say I have ever visited a ghost town, but I think I could get into doing something like that. Great post I really enjoyed your story.

  4. Hi Deb,

    I have never been to a ghost town but now I am putting it on my bucket list. The photos are just beautiful. Thanks for sharing such an interesting place.

    Walk in peace and harmony,


  5. Hi Deb,

    Welcome to P&P! We’re delighted to have you for a return engagement. 🙂

    Loved the pictures of Bannack. I’d love to see it and if I’m ever in Montana, I’ll make it a point. Those old buildings are calling to me. Ghost towns are some of my favorite places to visit. When I was growing up, my parents took me to several. And it was always a highlight of our trip. Sure arouses my imagination.

  6. I can’t say I have visited a ghost town before but I have seen a ghost or two before, long story.
    Book sounds great. Blessings.

  7. I’ve never visited a ghost town, but there is one I would like to visit someday. My mother was born in
    a mining town named Gibbs, New Mexico in 1918. Gibbs is now a ghost town and one day we’re going to
    get there.

    Pat Cochran

  8. I have never been either but would love to – the next best thing is reading about it – a lot safer too lol.

  9. HI Deb, welcome back to the Junction. It’s so good to have you here again. And wow, what a fantastic blog and pictures. I feel like I’m right there. We’re going to the Tetons next August for a “city slicker” covered-wagon trip…so hopefully Bannock isn’t too far off. I’d love to see it.

    I haven’t been to a ghost town exactly. There are some remnants of a gold mining town in Big Bear CA, a few hours from my home. I’ve been itching to revisit there and you really put me in the mood.

    Best wishes for tons of success with Promise Me. I can’t wait to read it. oxoxoxoxxoxo

  10. Thanks Ladies for all your wonderful comments. I was so delighted to be invited back by the Fillies.

    There are many ghost towns around the West, and I try to make a point of stopping to ask about them at information centers whereever I visit.

    I’ve heard of a great one in California, and Virginia City, Montana is also highly recommended.

    I did visit Virginia City, Nevada a few years ago, and we happened to be there the weekend the state was celebrating “Nevada Days”. All the folks in town were dressed in Western garb and I had a wondeful time!

  11. Living in Arizona, I have visited several in the southern part of the state. I think the one that I visited that seemed so eerie was the one down in Skeleton Canyon. I have been to several here that have become tourist havens like Oatman but there are a lot of others here too. Quite interesting with a history behind them.

  12. We went to one about 25 years ago – Bodie near the Nevada/California border. We had young children and an old aunt with us so it was a short walk around visit. It is the typical ghost town with things falling down. Wish we had know about Bannack when we were in Yellowstone a few years ago. It would have been out of the way (we were heading south), but it would have been worth the trip.
    Good luck with your books.

  13. Oh wow, I love your pictures. I’ve never visited a ghost town, but your photos (and story) made me want to. What fun and an added bonus that it fit your ‘imaginary’ world so well.

  14. Thanks everyone for stopping by to comment.
    I’ll have more photos of Bannack on my website next month with the book trailer.

    Patricia, my husband wants to visit Bodie. We haven’t been south in a while, but we want to visit Yosemite. I think we could do that on the way.

    I think Bannack is well worth driving a bit if you are going to Yellowstone and Jackson.

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