Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Road Trip to Virginia City Montana
I noticed the other day, my license plates on my van were two months expired. To get them renewed I drove 14 miles from Ennis, where I live, up over the Gravely Range into the Ruby Valley, into Virginia City, and the Courthouse where I get my new plate tags.
Virginia City where Calamity Jane lived for some time. In 1863, the area was part of the Dakota Territory until March, when it became part of the newly formed Idaho Territory. On May 26, 1864, the Territory of Montana was formed, with Bannack briefly becoming the territorial capital, Virginia City would quickly take that title from Bannack.
In May 1863, a group of prospectors were headed towards the Yellowstone River and instead came upon a party of the Crow tribe and were forced to return to Bannack. Gold was discovered on the retreat trip when Bill Fairweather stuck a pick near Alder Creek joking he might find something to fund some tobacco.
The prospectors could not keep the site a secret. They were followed on their return to the gold bearing site and set up the town in order to formulate rules about individual gold claims. On June 16, 1863 under the name of "Verina" the township was formed a mile south of the gold fields. The name was meant to honor Varina Howell Davis, first and only First Lady of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. Verina, although in Union territory, was founded by men whose loyalties were thoroughly Confederate. Upon registration of the name, a Connecticut judge, G. G. Bissell, objected to their choice and recorded it as Virginia City. (In full irony, since Virginia itself had seceded, only to have West Virginia secede from the state and stay in the Union, it seemed an appropriate name for aDixie city in Yankee territory.)
Within weeks Virginia City was a veritable boomtown of thousands in the midst of a gold rush with no law enforcement whatsoever, except for vigilantism. Most of Montana became under the rule of aVigilance committee, the infamous Montana Vigilantes, which operated on both sides of the law. Their secret motto, 3-7-77 is still on the badges, patches, and car door insignia of the Montana Highway Patrol.
In 1864, the Montana Territory was carved out of Idaho Territory. Virginia City, claiming 10,000 citizens, was made the capital of the new territory in 1865. The first public school was built in 1866, but already the most easily accessible gold from placer mining had been exploited and development and population in the territory was moving towards Helena.
In the 1940s, Charles and Sue Bovey began buying the town, putting much needed maintenance into failing structures. The ghost town of Virginia City began to be restored for tourism in the 1950s. Most of the city is now owned by the state government and is a National Historic Landmark operated as an open air museum. Of the nearly three hundred structures in town, almost half were built prior to 1900. Buildings in their original condition with Old West period displays and information plaques stand next to thoroughly modern diners and other amenities.
Virginia City also has a Boothill Cemetery.