2011 Mining History Association Field Trip

Bannack, Montana

June 3, 2011

Tour Leaders: Staff of Bannack State Park


The Mining History of Bannack, Montana

Gold was discovered in Grasshopper Creek in July 1862.  By the spring of 1863 the population of the Bannack mining camp had reached 3,000.  The population diminished somewhat with the exodus following the discovery of gold in Alder Gulch in 1864, but by then mining in Bannack was well established.  Prospectors staked claims in the hills surrounding the creek and several stamp mills were erected east of town to process the ore from the mines.  Hydraulic mining employed on the bench gravels required the digging of ditches to bring in water from as far away as 30 miles.  The first dredge was employed in 1895 and several dredges operated in the creek for 7 years. 

Production from the mines in Bannack and the surrounding areas through 1905 was reported to be $4 million with 63% coming from the placers.  Deep mining continued until the early 1970’s.  A variety of milling techniques were used over the years.  The Apex Cyanide Mill, visited by the Mining History Association, was built in 1914 and operated sporadically until the 1970’s.

Gus Graeter and crew slucing gold at Bannack. (Courtesy Tom Lowe, Bannack State Park)


The F. L. Graves, first successful gold dredge in the US, Bannack. (Courtesy Tom Lowe, Bannack State Park).
The Montana Territory was created in 1864.  The first Governor, Sydney Edgerton, lived in Bannack.  The first Territorial Legislature was held in log buildings in Bannack in the same year.  The Beaverhead County Courthouse, which later became the Hotel Meade, was constructed in 1875.  Following the coming of the railroad to Dillon, MT in 1880, the county seat was moved there in 1881.  Montana became the 41st state in 1889. 

As the mines played-out, the population of Bannack declined.  During World War II, gold mines were shut down by the federal government.  The school closed in the 1950’s.  Bannack was nearly a ghost town.  Efforts to preserve Montana’s Territorial Capital began in the late 1930’s but were interrupted by the War.  Through the efforts of several groups including the Beaverhead County Museum Association, Southwestern Montana Mining Association, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and Western Montana College, now University of Montana Western, much of Bannack was purchased and donated to the State of Montana.  Today, Bannack State Park is managed by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Protection and preservation of the structures is aided by the non-profit Bannack Association.

(Written by Mike Kaas, 2011)



Alexander N. Winchell, Mining Districts of the Dillon Quadrangle, Montana and Adjacent Areas, Bulletin 574, United States Geological Survey, (Government Printing Office: Washington, 1914)


Jeffery S. Leon and Robert C. Pearson, Mines and Prospects of the Dillon 1° x 2° Quadrangle, Idaho and Montana, Open File Report 84-377, (United States Geological Survey: Denver, CD, 1984)


Bannack Visitors’ Guide, Bannack State Park, Bannack, MT



Hardrock Mines were on the Hill behind the Houses on Main Street in Bannack Rodger Burt, United Kingdom, Inspects the Bannack Real Estate

Houses with Combination Masonic Hall and School

Ed Hunter, Bob Weldin, and Terry Close Relax in the Boneyard

Brother Van’s Methodist Church and Homes along Main Street

Brian Hill, Australia, outside the Hotel Meade

Drug Store and Hotel Meade, Original Beaverhead County Courthouse (1875), near the Site of the First Montana Legislature (1864)

Partial Restoration of the Hotel Meade Lobby
Restored Home of Doctor Ryburn
Backyard View Looking Down Grasshopper Creek, Site of the Early Placer Mines







Photo Credits Mike Kaas

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