Bannack Days

Return to the Old West

 

Morning Coffee The click of spurs on boardwalk accompanies two men down the deserted street, enameled tin cups filled with their morning coffee. Shaded by an old tree in the front yard of Montana’s first governor’s mansion, a spinner adjusts the tension of lanolin rich wool as she draws it into fine strands of yarn. Resting against the front of the combined post office/barbershop the barber and a friend shoot the breeze before the first shave and haircut of the day.

For one weekend each July Bannack, Montana comes to life recalling the 19th-century boom days of gold, growth and government. Frontier live is recreated by hundreds of volunteers for two days theLady with Wool third weekend of July. The wooden boardwalks once again are filled with people, many in period clothing. Bannack Days celebrates the town’s fabled history.

Demonstrations, hands-on activities, music and entertainment fill Bannack Days plus the opportunity to enter dozens of buildings. Start the day with breakfast at Hotel Meade before panning for gold, touring the mill or taking a horseback ride. Simulated shootouts and stagecoach robberies recall the days of highwaymen and a sheriff who ended up swinging from the gallows. Visitors can even rent costumes and become part of the scene. A horse-drawn wagon and Model A Ford truck shuttles tired tourists from one end of town to the other. Food concessions satisfy the hungry and thirsty. Note from Nancy – the hot donuts were the best!

Quilts Today, with designation as a state park, Bannack is preserved as a genuine ghost town not a tourist attraction. During a regular visit tales of the past and a stiff Montana wind may be your only companions.

When You Go: Bannack Days is always scheduled on the third weekend of July. A modest per person entrance fee is charged for the event. Bannack is located 26 miles southwest of Dillon, Montana. From I-15 exit #59 head west on Highway 278 for 20 miles. Turn south on the paved Bannack Road, follow for four miles. Turn left onto the graveled park entrance road. Well placed signs point the way.

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Santa Fe Trail Guardian

Fort Larned National Historic Site

FLNHS - Post Hospital The year is 1868. Mail stages and wagon trains loaded with trade goods await military escort westward along the Santa Fe Trail. The tepees of a band of Cheyenne Indians stand just outside the fort expecting to receive their first rations as promised by the Medicine Lodge Treaty signed the previous year. A wounded 7th Cavalry soldier seeks warmth in a rocking chair near the stove in the post hospital. The place – Fort Larned in southwestern Kansas.

March 2010 – A 37-starred flag unfurls in the stiff Kansas wind over a quiet Fort Larned National Historic Site. From 1859–187FLNHS - Flag8 the Fort was an  important link along the Santa Fe Trail. Today nine of the original stone and timber buildings and the reconstructed Blockhouse echo with the history of the march to the American West. First established to protect traffic along the Santa Fe Trail, Fort Larned later served as an agency for the Indian Bureau and, after the Civil War, soldiers from he Fort protected Santa Fe Railroad construction.

Unfortunately, we didn’t arrive until late afternoon on our trek across Kansas and had less than an hour to explore Fort Larned. What we did see captured our interest and imagination. In the Visitor Center an informative receptionist set the stage for our visit. Her extensive knowledge and enthusiasm came through in each sentence. With our time limitations we skipped the orientation slide show and the museum deserved more attention than our quick walk through provided. We were eager to see some of the Fort’s refurbished buildings and snap a few photos.

FLNHS - Fire Buckets We noted walls that talk with century-old graffiti – names and dates etched in the soft stone building blocks. Stepping into the Company C Third U.S. Infantry Barracks we’re surprise at the detail of the furnishings – fire buckets to coffee grinders, uniforms and firearms. Imagine the level of activity when this building housed and fed 150 men. The east half of the barracks replicates the post hospital, again in fascinating detail – more than we can observe during one visit.

The Shops Building recalls the multitude of tasks  undertaken at the Fort – bread baking in the brick oven, blacksmithing, carpentry, tinsmithing, saddlery. We’ll have toFLHS - Uniforms return to further explore the New and Old Commissaries, Blockhouse, Quartermaster Storehouse, two Company Officer’s Quarters, and Commanding Officer’s Quarters. We only scratched the surface of Fort Larned. And, we did not scratch our names in stone.

During the summer season staff and volunteers serve as living historians. Dressed in period clothing they share details of Fort live. Special weekend events further replicate the 1860s era. Saturday, Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend as many as 70 re-enactors bring the Fort to life in the time of the Indian Wars. Other special events include:

  • Labor Day Weekend – Indian Wars living history event
  • Candlelight Tour – 2nd Saturday of October – An evening walk through vignettes depicting the Fort’s history. Limited attendance, reservations open two weeks prior.
  • Christmas Past – 2nd Saturday of December, 6:30-9pm – Old fashioned Yuletide celebration with soldiers, hot apple cider, cookies, Santa and carols. Free.

FLNHS - Sign When You Go: Fort Larned National Historic Site is open daily 8:30-4:30 year round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day. Admission is FREE. The Fort is located 6 miles west of Larned, Kansas just south of KS156. Great Bend, Kansas is 27 miles to the northeast, Hays 63 miles north and Wichita 130 miles southeast.

Map picture

Also Visit The Santa Fe Trail Center – Museum and Library. The facility is located 2 miles west of Larned and 4 miles east of Fort Larned NHS. Indoor and outdoor exhibits interpret the importance of the Santa Fe Trail in the country’s push westward.

 

Unveiling – Mission San Xavier del Bac

sanxaviermission2008The scaffolding that encased the west tower of the historic mission church came down just in time for Christmas services. Restoration of the tower took five years and over $5 million dollars to complete. Old cement plaster was carefully removed and brick work repaired before refinishing with traditional lime plaster. Original construction began in 1783 – the oldest European-style building in Arizona. A mix of Moorish, Byzantine and late Mexican Renaissance design San Xavier del Bac is acclaimed as the finest example of mission architecture in the United States.

For years visitors have been frustrated trying to capture photos of the Southwestern icon, often referred to as the “White Dove of the Desert.” Photographers better hurry to capture the unblemished glistening white tower. Scaffolding goes up on the east tower in March, its restoration is expected to take three years.21-san-xavier-del-bac1

Located west of I-90, south of Tucson, the mission is open to the public daily from 8 am – 5 pm. There is no fee to visit but contributions to the restoration fund gratefully accepted. A gift shop adjoins the church. When you visit don’t miss the amazing interior and the museum behind the church. A video of the interior restoration merits the viewing time. This is an active parish of the Tohono O’odham, be respectful of worshipers.