Growing up under the Big Sky and spending about 50 years living there certainly makes me a citizen for life. This short feature will put the spotlight on how gold fever rushed miners and others into three different regions during the 1860s into the Last, Best Place called Montana.
During America’s Civil War, Montana seemed a bit more preoccupied with gold than war. Three separate gold strikes poured people into western mountain valleys overnight.
Each region was designated with a geographic name as well as the town which sprung up in the midst of gold fever.
- Grasshopper Creek in 1862 (Bannock)
- Alder Gulch in 1863 (Virginia City)
- Last Chance Gulch in 1864 (Helena)
Montana became a territory in 1864 when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Congressional legislation into law. Each of these three gold mining communities would serve for a time as territorial capital.
Bannock (Territorial Capital 1864-1865)
This boom town started from Montana’s first significant gold strike. Along an unassuming creek, hundreds of miners made the trek into Montana. Today, Bannock is a ghost town, but a state park preserves the town’s structures.
These Bannack pictures (courtesy of Pinterest) show the exterior of a Masonic Temple and the interior of another building.
Virginia City (Territorial Capital 1865-1875)
One of the world’s largest placer gold strikes proved much richer than Montana’s first discovery along Grasshopper Creek. While Bannack declined, Virginia City thrived. Today, the town serves as the county seat of Madison County with the historic courthouse formerly being the territorial capitol.
These photos were taken during a summer, 2016 trip to Montana which included an opportunity to visit Virginia City. The Madison County Courthouse (formerly the Territorial Capitol) is on the left. Virginia City is a unique community with the 21st Century living alongside of the preserved historical district as shown in the photo on the right (the inside of a business as it looked back in the gold rush days).
Helena (Territorial Capital 1875-1889)
A forlorn group of prospectors decided to pan for gold. Their “last chance” before moving on proved to be the discovery which turned the region into a mad scramble of miners and businesses. The gulch later became a meandering avenue (the original Main Street) in Helena, Montana’s capital city when statehood became a reality in 1889.
The above images (courtesy of Pinterest) show the contrast of Last Chance Gulch from earlier times on the left with the modern walking mall of today.
Thanks for visiting as Big Sky Buckeye appreciates your readership. Stay tuned for future posts about the Last, Best Place of Montana.