Janalyn Voigt: Ghost Town in the Rearview Mirror


We welcome our guest blogger, Janalyn Voigt!

Virginia City, Nevada is one of the West’s famous ghost towns, but Virginia City in Montana is less known. That’s a shame because this Montana town played an important part in the history of Montana Territory.

The year was 1863 when a group of miners led by William (Bill) Fairweather passed through Alder Gulch. Following a scrape with Crow Indians, the men were on their way home to Bannack City, a boomtown where miners flocked after the discovery of gold in nearby Grasshopper Creek. Fairweather’s group paused in Alder Gulch near the headwaters of the waterway known as the Stinkingwater (now Alder Creek). The men aimed to mine enough gold to pay for tobacco. They found that many times over. The men had chanced upon the richest placer gold strike in the Rocky Mountains.

The men tried to keep their discovery to themselves, but flashing money around Bannack revealed their secret. When they set out again for Alder Gulch, they set off a ‘stampede’ of hopeful miners. Virginia City went up within weeks. Men arrived daily to seek their fortune.

Bannack was winding down as a source of easy gold. With most of the population living in Alder Gulch. Virginia City replaced Bannack as the capital of Montana Territory in 1864. The town served in that capacity until 1875, when the territorial seat was moved to Helena.

I discovered Virginia City while on a summer road trip through Montana with my family. After a long drive through the Beartooth Mountains, we’d passed only one roadhouse. I enjoy wilderness areas, but it was a relief when Virginia City unfolded before us in the late afternoon sun. We stopped at the gas station, where I picked up a brochure that told of outlaws, stagecoaches, and vigilante justice.

Robbers Roost particularly awed me. The brochure informed me that this notorious roadhouse several miles from town was where outlaws rode out to rob gold-laden stagecoaches bound for Virginia City. I felt the weight of history and an unction to tell the story of this place.

Several years later, I returned to Virginia City on a research trip for a western historical romance series that would do just that. It was autumn, so late in the season that snow was falling. The town’s sparse bed and breakfasts were closed until spring, but my husband and I managed to wangle a bed for the night in a renovated cabin. The next day dawned bright and clear. We climbed boot hill to the outlaw gravesite located outside the main cemetery where law-abiding citizens were buried.

A stroll through the cemetery took me past the grave of Thomas J. Dimsdale, the mild-mannered author of The Vigilantes of Montana, an eyewitness account of the vigilante activities in the area. Released in 1866, it was the first book published in Montana.

After reading his account, I felt acquainted with the man. It seemed strange to find him lying in a grave. The brevity of life struck me anew, and I was glad to come down from boot hill.

As Virginia City dwindled in the rear-view mirror, we drove through a landscape marred by tailings, large piles of rocks deposited by the mining operations all along Alder Gulch. There was little left of the settlement dubbed ‘Fourteen-Mile City.’

How about you? Have you been to a ghost town?

To one lucky person who leaves a comment,
Janalyn is giving away a $15.00 Amazon Gift Card.


Bio: Janalyn Voigt fell in love with literature at an early age when her father read classics to her as bedtime stories. When Janalyn grew older, she put herself to sleep with her own made-up tales. Her sixth-grade teacher noticed her love of storytelling and encouraged her to become a writer. Today Janalyn is a multi-genre author. Janalyn writes the kind of novels she likes to read – epic adventures brimming with romance, mystery, history, and whimsy. She is praised for her unpredictable plots and the lyrical, descriptive prose that transports readers into breathtaking storyworlds. Janalyn Voigt is represented by Wordserve Literary. Learn more about Janalyn and her books at http://janalynvoigt.com.

Click here to purchase Forever Sky .



+ posts

76 thoughts on “Janalyn Voigt: Ghost Town in the Rearview Mirror”

  1. I’ve never been to a ghost town, unless you count watching the Brady Bunch and their vacation to the Grand Canyon.

  2. I have been to Ghost Town in the Sky. It’s very close to the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee NC. It mostly has attractions like rides like a ?

  3. Of course now I can’t remember any names, but we have been to a couple of ghost towns while on road trips in the West. Amazing how the gold made them spring up, and they became deserted almost as quickly. Thanks for an interesting post.

    • I find that fascinating too, Sally. I’ve read accounts from back in the day that described folks as restless, not being able to settle easily. I suppose that was a result of the westward movement itself.

  4. Janalyn- Wow what an amazing piece of history you gave us. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog. Very very interesting.
    There is a place here in Kansas which is no loner, but it was called Stonington. All that remains is a small fork of the cimarron River and and old remains of what once were buildings. I’ll tell you I get an eeiry feeling when I pass by it.
    You have a very Merry Christmas and thanks again for the wonderful story of Alder Gulch and Virginia City.

    • I can well imagine Stonington and the feeling of history that lives in its remains. So many ghost towns have that connection to the past. Thanks for sharing your experience, Tonya.

  5. What a great blog! I love learning history at P&P! There is a ghost town in West Texas that I visited years ago. It was in disrepair then and it’s been about 25 years since I’ve been there so I can’t imagine how it looks now. Most people wouldn’t think of Texas having gold, except liquid gold, but that’s what Orla, Texas was established for. It is located in West Texas. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas! Thanks for stopping by P&P!

    • Merry Christmas to you, Stephanie! That’s interesting about Orla. Most people associate gold rushes with California and Alaska but not other places. That’s one reason I wanted to write about Montana’s gold rush.

  6. I really enjoyed y our blog. It was very intriguing. I have never been to a ghost town but it is on my bucket list.

  7. Thank you for sharing your interesting blog today. I have not visited a ghost town per say. Sometimes I’ve wondered if I came close. I look forward to becoming more acquainted with you as an author. I enjoyed your pictures too! Merry Christmas!

    • Hi, Kathy. You’re welcome. I enjoy sharing the places I discover in my travels. Thanks for your interest in my writing. Merry Christmas to you!

  8. I have not yet been to a ghost town.

    Your a new author for me. But, thanks to your blog, I have discovered 2 books I want to read: The Vigilantes of Montana and Forever Sky.

    • Awesome, Alisa! The Vigilantes of Montana is fascinating. It’s always nice to find a new reader of my books. If you think you’d enjoy the whole series, start with Hills of Nevermore, book 1. All the books are discounted in celebration of The Forever Sky’s launch, and Cheyenne Sunrise is going free for Kindle today.

  9. Several years ago, my family and I visited Animas Forks, a ghost town twelve miles northeast of Silverton, CO. It was fascinating to walk through the old, abandoned structures and imagine what life was like in the mining community’s heyday.

    • That’s my favorite part of visiting a ghost town, Britney. Imagining the people who lived there once connects us with the past in a tangible way. When I saw a child’s potty chair in Bodie, a California ghost town, it really struck me that down through time, we’re all alike.

  10. What a wonderful blog. I have never been to one, but it is on my bucket list. I have friends who visit different ones and I just love their pics. Thanks again for the information and have a blessed day.

  11. I have not been to a ghost town before. I live in Vermont and don’t travel to far from home. Thank you for sharing your story. Nice to meet you.

  12. I have been to a couple of ghost towns out in Colorado. But I had never heard of the one in Montana. It’s a dream of mine to visit Montana.

  13. I’ve never been to a ghost town. I think it would be kinda fun! I’ve watched shows that had people going to ghost towns, like Gunsmoke. I heard about Virginia City on Bonanza. Kinda nice to know that at least the town was real!

    • Hi, Trudy. I suspect that the Virginia City mentioned on Bonanza was the more-famous one in Nevada. Despite being the territorial capital, Virginia City, Montana is lesser known.

  14. Welcome, Janalyn. It’s so nice to have you back. I love ghost towns and the spookier the better. I’m not a fan of the slick, modern ones that have been sanitized. I want the ones that send me back to the 1800s.

    Lots of luck and much success with your new book!

  15. We have visited Virginia City , Montana, a couple of times while driving to or from Yellowstone. It is interesting to see this isolated place which was once home to hundreds of people.

    • I agree, Alice. You can tell it was an important town, right down to the row of abandoned mansions. How strange to think that few live there now.

  16. Living in NM I have visited Shakespeare. On road trips in the west it is fascinating to see these old towns and envision how they once were vital.

    • Hi, Anne. I’ve never seen Shakespeare, but I love the name. 🙂 The contrast between a town at its pinnacle and what we see today keeps drawing me back to ghost towns. May you enjoy many explorations also.

  17. Ghost towns are extremely interesting and when we took a trip to Colorado we visited several. I enjoyed seeing the real site where mines were successful.

  18. I’ve never been to a real western ghost town, but I’ve always wanted to! I love reading about them and seeing pictures and imagining what it was like.

    • You should schedule a trip, Susan. Reading about a place is awesome, and imagining one is even better. Ah, but there’s nothing quite like actually standing in a dusty street and staring into a long-abandoned building to bring western history alive.

  19. I have been to haunted places and fictional ghost towns. That is not where I have encountered ghosts though.

  20. Welcome. This is a fascinating post. Yes I have been to a ghost town in CA. Argghh I cant remember the name. But there were some residents on the outskirts of the town that would not move away. My dad had business dealing with one of them so my mom and us five kids would go with and spend time with this older lady that my mom made friends with. She was so sweet.

  21. I haven’t been to a ghost town, but I did visit the fascinating town of Deadwood. The cemetery there is fascinating because it has the graves of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok. I even saw the bar where Wild Bill was shot.

  22. I have visited several ghost towns here in Arizona where I live. Probably the most famous is in Bisbee and Jerome. Some of the rooms are not rented out in the old hotel since people have seen ghosts there. eerie but very interesting.

    • Arizona is a good location for visiting ghost towns. I once slept in the Hotel Shaniko in the partially-inhabited ghost town of Shaniko, Oregon. My room overlooked the tiny jail, which was rather picturesque at sunset. You can’t stay there anymore. I feel lucky to have spent the night there before it closed.

  23. Hi, your book sounds like a very good read and the cover is beautiful! I will be adding your book to my TBR list. Thank you so much for sharing about it. I think I’ve been to a ghost town but it was a long, long time ago and I don’t even remember where we were at. Thank you for the chance. Have a Great weekend.

  24. I have never been to a ghost town before but we did visit Custer’s Last Stand in South Dakota on our way across the States. I’m fascinated by old west towns and the history behind them. My dad instilled the love of everything Western as a kid, he watched movies, TV shows and read books 🙂

    How fun that you got to go to Virginia City for a research trip and was able to use what you learned for your book. I love authenticity in historical fiction!

    • Hi, Trixi! We have some things in common. My dad also instilled a love for the West in me during childhood. He and I watched westerns together every Sunday after church. I feel blessed to write about the locations I visit. Like you, I enjoy authenticity in historical fiction. 🙂

  25. I don’t think we have managed to visit one in our travels. We have come across abandoned homesteads, some with multiple outbuildings. I tried to convince my husband to visit several when we were in Wyoming and Montana, but never could. We will stop next time we are out West. I will make sure I am driving.

  26. I have been. It was so long ago I don’t remember anything. It was in Arizona. I was visiting my grandparents for a week and they took us.

  27. Never been to a ghost town but I did live in a old hotel converted into rooms for low income adults which was haunted. Always a spot on one of the floors were a section of the hallway would be freezing cold no matter the time of year.

Comments are closed.