My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Visit to the Past in Montana's Smallest State Park

This past weekend I visited my friend Kathy, a long-time birding and paddling buddy, who lives near Corpus Christi in the winter and in Bozeman in the summer.  She graciously took me to several places, one of which was Elkhorn State Park within the ghost mining town of Elkhorn, Montana, west of Bozeman.

We missed our turn but found an even better road a few more miles down Interstate 90.  It was a well-maintained dirt road with farms and hills along it. At one spot, there was a scenic rocky outcropping with lots of flowers. in small fields among the trees. We had to stop and take pictures.

Rock formation

Then we had to cut across to our original road.  The crossover road had an old hot spring that had been developed into a hotel with swimming areas top of the springs.   We stopped to check out the old hotel.  I couldn't talk Kathy into taking a soak, so we continued on to Elkhorn.

Beautiful old hotel at Boulder Hot Springs

Elkhorn is an old mining town which primarily mined silver but also mined lead and a little gold.  It was unique in that whole families lived here, rather than mostly just men as was normal in mining towns.

View of Elkhorn and part of the mine and tailings from a hill above the town

These wheels seemed to hold a story of a terrific wreck

The town itself has always had a few residents and most of the old buildings are on private land and are almost gone. The state owns only Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall.  Mixed among the derelict buildings are weekend cabins a a few full-time residences.

Almost gone

Better days are long gone

Part of mine operation

The mine entrance building
The State Park - Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall


One of the most poignant parts of our tour was a visit to the cemetery.  Most of the tombstones were on graves of children who died in the diphtheria epidemic of 1889. Many of the tombstones held the names of two children who died days apart. One family lost six children and the mother in one week.  I was glad that most modern families don't have to live with this kind of tragedy today.

The town had a high population of about 2500 people but it rapidly died away as mining slowed in the early 1900's. Tailings were still treated until 1937.

Hope no one was in this car when it was shot up.