Ghost Towns Of Montana: A Classic Tour Through The Treasure State’s Historical Sites, by Donald C. Miller
While by no means a bad book, this book’s shortcomings and little flaws were all the more in evidence because I read this book after reading a fantastic book on ghost towns in the Pacific Northwest. And compared to that amazing book, this one comes up short in a variety of areas, some of them minor but some of them more significant. For example, this book features black and white photography rather than color photography, is organized in an alphabetical fashion rather than in a geographical fashion with an eye towards encouraging the visiting of such places. Indeed, one of the ghost towns is written about anonymously with no information about its location precisely to discourage people from visiting, which is precisely the wrong idea when it comes to books on ghost towns. Additionally, the book focuses on the history of the towns themselves and on a strident view of politics and economics that I found unwelcoming as well. Suffice it to say that while most of the book’s shortcomings are not big ones, they add up to making this a less pleasant reading experience than it would otherwise be.
This book contains slightly more than 150 pages of alphabetically organized ghost towns in Montana along with essays and often historical photographs about them. After a foreword and acknowledgments and preface we start with Argenta and its massive silver lode. Then there is Basin, Bearmouth, a town that barely made it, Beartown, Castle (and its return thanks to some brandy and history), as well as Coloma. There is a discussion on Comet, Elkhorn (famous for an occasion of the “cross of gold” speech by perennial loser Bryan, Garnet, and Gilt Edge. There are entries on Glendale, Gold Butte (on an Indian reservation, no less), Gold Creek (perhaps the first of the gold rush towns in Montana), and Granite. There are entries on Hassel and some of the towns around Helena, Kendall, Landusky, Laurin, various Little Belt camps, Maiden, Mammoth (an overly optimistic name), Marysville, a mystery camp apparently named after a president, New Chicago, and Parrot. There are ghost towns in the Philipsburg area as well as Pioneer and Polaris, as well as Pony. There are entries on Radersburg, Rimini, Rochester, and Sunrise. And finally, there are still miners in the ghost towns around Superior, as well as abandoned areas in Vipond, Virginia City, Bannack, and so on, as well as Yellowstone Country and Zortman, after which some notes close the book.
All in all, this is not a bad book. If I have yet to go to Montana and do not necessarily want to visit very many of these towns, even if there was anything to see, this book did at least provide some reading enjoyment about the history of Montana. If there is one consistent theme in the ghost towns of Montana it is the way that many towns were only worth inhabiting so long as there was mineral wealth to be had. Once that mineral wealth had been tapped out the town was abandoned with no thought to figuring some sort of alternate purpose for existing. I tend to think that towns are worth keeping around, are worth living in, and worth figuring out ways to make work rather than simply abandoning them every couple of years and then wasting the time and effort to build somewhere new that will simply be abandoned once some lode runs out. Yet Montana’s ways are clearly not my ways when it comes to the celebration of small towns and the establishment of lasting worth in one’s communities. This sort of book made me moan the folly of those responsible for urban planning in Montana, not interested in seeing the cities for myself, but it is at least something.