Gold Rush Montana

The shortest route from Yellowstone National Park to Glacier National Park leads you through a winding road of Montana history.  Virginia City and Nevada City—two townships I had previously been unfamiliar with—are intact artifact sites.

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Since 1863, Virginia City has not transformed much. The historic buildings have been preserved or restored. During the mid-1800s prospectors and outlaws alike came from all over in search of gold. The lack of law enforcement and rise of wealth lead to a self-regulating system among citizens known as the Montana Vigilantes who aimed to put the city, which also at one point became the capital of Montana, in order.

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Montana’s first newspaper was published here in 1864. The first public school in Montana was established in Virginia City in 1866.

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Rows of what appear to be storefronts down the main streets lead visitors into the shops that were, roped off much like a staged bedroom in the American history section of the MET.

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The height of tourism is the summer when much of Virginia City is filled with reenactments and actors/interpreters in the dress of the gold rush age.

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Up on hill behind the main street is the town cemetery, and notably the Boot Hill Cemetery. “Boot Hill” was a fairly common term for cemeteries in the American west who died literally with their boots on—these folk were generally outlaws and their deaths: violent (i.e. gunfight or hanging, certainly not by natural causes).

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At the edge of town one can even pan for gold or garnets. We even tested out screening for garnets, and had we known we’d be so successful we might have gone for gold instead. On the side of the road an old prospector who spoke with marbles in his mouth sold us a medium sized bucket full of pebbles for about $15. We thus put a few cups of rocks into a screen and rinsed them in a trough. Once rinsed, we emptied the them onto a sponge sorting through the pebbles with large tweezers for garnets—dark red gems found in the earth. We nearly filled a small ziplock by the time we were done. I’m not sure they’re any real value, but the search was certainly exciting, while exceptionally tedious.

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Nevada City was settled just down the road from Virginia City around the same time.

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We ate lunch at the Star Bakery, still an active restaurant and bakery, on its last day of the season.

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Historically, the railroad never actually reached Virginia City nor Nevada City, and yet, both very old and fairly old trains are on display across the street from the Star Bakery.

To plan your trip to Virginia and Nevada City, download the app (Apple and Android) which includes walking tours and maps, all via your phone.