Alan & Teri's Travels travel blog

Robber's Roost

Virginia City, Montana

Tonight we’re in Dillon, MT at the Southside RV Park. We have a campsite right along Blacktail Creek. The campground is next door to the Fairgrounds so we hear any announcements being made for activities. There are also chickens that wander through here. We are enjoying the time here.

When the Utah and Northern Railroad (now the Union Pacific) built into this area in 1880 (en route to Butte), it brought an end-of-track town called Terminus. This pre-packaged community included all the necessary social and business services, moving from place to place with portable structures of canvas and wood.

During the winter of 1880-1881, Dillon was the railroad’s end-of-track – in a literal sense an instant, organized community, unlike haphazard mining camps such as Bannack and Virginia City nearby. Dillon’s streets parallel the railroad and many bear the names of Terminus businessmen who formed Dillon.

Dillon is located in Beaverhead Valley which nourished agriculture well before the railroad arrived. Livestock raising here predated the gold rush, and within Beaverhead County grazed some of the first cattle herds and flocks of sheep anywhere in Montana.

We decided to do the gold rush era ghost towns today and headed toward Virginia City and Nevada City.

On the way, we stopped at Beaverhead State Park. Sacajawea recognized this huge landmark, resembling the head of a swimming beaver, and knew she was in her Shoshone homeland. The fortunate meeting with her tribe and her brother, who was now chief, gave Lewis & Clark the necessary horses to assure the successful crossing of the continental divide before the winter of 1805.

Beaverhead Rock is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the site is 4,949 feet in elevation and is 71 acres in size.

We took MT 41 toward Twin Bridges, which is situated at the confluence of the Ruby, Big Hole & Beaverhead Rivers. We traveled down the Ruby Valley through Sheridan with a backdrop of the majestic Tobacco Root Mountains.

Unfortunately we missed the Madison County Lewis and Clark Interpretive Park in Twin Bridges which includes a 6 foot bronze statue of Sacajawea, her son Pomp, and Lewis’s dog, Seaman.

En route to Virginia City, we stopped at Robber’s Roost, four miles south of Sheridan. This roadhouse was the hangout where famous outlaws would plan their next stagecoach holdup.

Virginia City was designated a registered national historic landmark on July 4, 1961.

The gold of Alder Gulch drew thousands of people to southwestern Montana during the 1860's mining rush to the Rocky Mountains. A lucky band of weary prospectors, led by 27 year old Bill Fairweather, discovered the gold in the gulch in May of 1863 and within two weeks hundreds of people stampeded to the district. Speculators laid out a townsite, named Varina after the wife of confederate President Jefferson Davis. Union miners later agreed to change the name of the to Virginia City, which became the center of the diggings, and with the creation of the new territory of Montana, its capital. In 1864, the first census counted 11,493 people.

The gold field extended 14 miles along Alder Gulch, from the head in the steep bare Gravelly Range to the broad alluvial fan of the Stinkingwater River (later named the Ruby River). Within three seasons, miners had dug $30 million worth of dust and nuggets.

Such wealth attracted a band of desperados, organized under Henry Plummer, the miners’ elected sheriff. The Plummer gang robbed travelers and stages, murdering at least 102 men before the outraged community formed a vigilante committee. In 1863-64, during five weeks of an incredibly cold winter, the vigilantes hanged 24 men, including Plummer, on his own gallows.

Virginia City contains 154 historic structures.

On the way back from Virginia City, we stopped in the Ruby Valley to “mine” for garnets. The valley was mistakenly called “Ruby” because early miners thought the garnets they found were rubies. It was fun to wash a 5 gallon bucket of soil in search of semi-precious stones.

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