In the 1800’s, the west was seen as a sometimes lawless and harsh place to live. But the same regions of Montana that hid its greatest dangers, often also held its most promising treasures. But on January 10, 1863 Bannack’s sole Sheriff, Henry Plummer, stood before a posse of locals who accused him of leading his band of highwaymen to the murders of some 100 innocent travelers. No one today knows how true the accusations against the Sheriff were. But the events of that day would ensure that Bannack, Montana would be haunted long after its final residents left it.
It was a small town, but by the harsh standards of those traveling by wagon, the grocers, meat markets, four saloons, and the billiard hall would have been a welcome sight. Those passing through the town found its residents no less approachable than would be expected. But it was the Sheriff, Henry Plummer who locals warned visitors to stay away from. It’s unknown if Plummer was truly the bloodthirsty bandit he was accused to be when vigilantes hanged him without trial, but after the town’s doctor Erasmus Darwin Leavitt declared him dead, he would leave the city behind. Just over a century later the town fueled by gold mining would eventually dry up, and the last of those living within it would finally leave forever.
But while the last living within it would leave, there are some souls within this boom-town that are rumored to be around even to this day. While the events of that fateful evening when the outlaw Sheriff and his posse were hanged may have forever blighted the town’s spiritual aura, the ghosts seen there were from a number of sources. And as with so many boom towns that dotted the American west, it seems many of the stories about this town left many broken dreams in its wake.
The outlaws hanged alongside Plummer are said to still occasionally be seen walking through the town in broad daylight or even in the middle of the night carrying with them the weight of their past as well as their six shooters forever fastened to their sides. Occasionally the Sheriff himself is seen wandering through the streets, his head stooped as if deep in thought – or mourning. Even some of the townspeople present at his execution have been spotted wailing just as they did on that fateful evening in 1863. And those aren’t the only ghosts. In addition to the aforementioned gang, there is also a mysterious woman dressed in blue – said to have possibly once been one of the many women working in the saloon by some while others suggest it’s the ghost of a woman who drowned in Grasshopper Creek.
But most chilling of all, are the ghosts of the 14 children who died of an epidemic that swept through the town like a thief in the night. Those visiting occasionally report hearing their mournful cries bellowing from the creaking buildings as the wind sweeps through the dusty streets. Bannack isn’t just a single haunted house. It’s a whole town held together by mortar, bricks, and the ghosts of the past.
A final note on the death of Plummer. Despite being skilled with a side-arm, the vigilantes that executed him without trial were strangers to him. Supporters of his innocence were threatened with death. Historians who advocate his innocence note that prior to his ill-fated stay in Bannock as Sheriff, Plummer had turned himself over to police on two occasions for killing in self defense. While many of the details of Plummer’s life and death have been lost to time, these facts remain stubborn testimony that the man hanged that day may have been – in fact – innocent. In 1993, over a century after his death Plummer finally received his day in court, though a mistrial was declared over the jury, which was split.