Shannon here: Janalyn Voigt shares her recent trip to Bannack Montana, plus a chance to win a copy of her Historical Romance, The Forever Sky. Comment or answer the question in this post to enter the drawing. Deadline: March 21st, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Janalyn:
Finding History and Romance in Montana Ghost Towns
Drive across Montana, and you’ll understand why the state dubs itself “Big Sky Country.” I learned this myself during a road trip with my husband. When I was invited to help represent Christian publishing at a Missoula book festival, my husband came along. Traveling alone across several states by car didn’t appeal to me, plus the day after the festival was our wedding anniversary. We decided to combine our usual anniversary trip with a research trip for Montana Gold, the western historical romance series I wanted to write.
That we found anywhere to sleep in the partially-occupied ghost town of Virginia City, Montana was a small miracle. We’d
naively assumed that the handful of bed and breakfasts remained open all year. The town closes for the winter, as we learned to our dismay, and this was mid-October. Throwing ourselves on the mercy of one bed-and-breakfast hostess bought us a cabin for the night, which as I’ve mentioned was our anniversary. I approached the rough building with temerity but found it refurbished and comfortable inside.
The next day we climbed to boot hill. Notorious road agents, including some who feature in the Montana Gold books, are buried in a separate graveyard outside the main cemetery. Even in death, the townsfolk must not have wanted to mingle with outlaws. Virginia City’s hangman building gives mute testimony to the ‘mountain justice’ vigilantes doled out to this and surrounding areas. We wandered between the graves, paying respect to those who lived and died in this place.
So far, for our anniversary, we’d commandeered a cramped cabin and explored a graveyard. Maybe it was time to lighten up a bit. Delighted to discover that the ice cream parlor hadn’t yet closed for the season, we indulged ourselves. Fortified by coffee and handmade ice cream, we returned to our car and began the journey westward.
In these days of online videos and virtual maps, you can learn a lot about a story setting without visiting it in person. I believe that an author’s own impressions bring a story to life. No video, image, or map can substitute for actually standing in a meadow beneath the wide sky and breathing in the scent of wildflowers while grasshoppers whir. Even challenges, like enduring merciless heat or stinging your ankle on a prickly pear can help you write a more feeling passage in your story. Since much of the action in Hills of Nevermore (Montana Gold book 1) also occurs in Bannack, I was keen to experience the town for myself.
Protected within the boundaries of a designated state park, the remnants of Bannack nestled between grassy hills. On one slope, a reconstructed hangman’s gallows looms against the sky. It was here that Sheriff Harry Plummer and two of his deputies, accused road agents, met their Maker. With the town slumbering, I could barely imagine Bannack as a scene of violence.
The sky shone blue but a strong wind stirred dust in the broad street before us. We had the town mostly to ourselves. To our delight, we discovered that visitors were allowed to enter the buildings. It was an experience I’ll never forget. There is nothing quite like going through a house filled with personal belongings. You almost expect a member of the family that lived there to
come home and find you intruding. Standing in the general store with the sheriff offices at the rear felt like walking into my own future novel. The corridors of Hotel Meade, an imposing brick building, held a deep feeling of history. The single window of the tiny jail gave onto an intentional view of the gallows. The tiny jail intentionally gives a view of the gallows from its single window. When Sheriff Plummer built it, he couldn’t know that he would wind up gazing from that window himself.
After we had our fill of exploring the buildings, we crossed over the swollen waters of Grasshopper Creek on the town’s footbridge. Green grass mounded the banks, and it wasn’t hard to picture miners panning for gold in the brown water. Trees closed overhead and cast shade underfoot. The trilling of birds followed us as we strolled the path toward Yankee Flats. During the Civil War, that was the area dedicated to Union loyalists. Confederate sympathizers made their homes across the water, in the part of town we had just left. At one point, tension increased so much that the barbershop building was moved from Yankee Flats to the Confederate part of town.
Trees have grown up and obscured any sign of the streets and buildings that once formed this section of town. I could see no traces of the supply road that once delivered goods from the south. Finding places that people once called home completely vanished always brings a lump to my throat.
My husband held out his hand to me, an invitation to go back. I placed my hand in his and turned back with a renewed appreciation of the brevity of life. All any of us has is today.
May we live it well.
About the book – Forever Sky: Can a young widow with no faith in love, hope for a future with the man who broke her heart?
Maisey isn’t about to give Rob another chance to reject her love. Why should she believe that the man who left town without a backward glance three years ago cares about her? Life had taught her all about broken dreams, and she didn’t want to hope again. If only her young daughter would stop adopting Rob as a father, ignoring him—and her own emotions–would be a whole lot easier.
Thoughts of the woman he’d left behind haunted Rob for three long years. It wouldn’t have been fair to ask Maisey to wait while he mined a gold claim. After making his fortune, he has returned to his family in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Rob is ready to settle down, and he’d rather do so with Maisey. But after their first encounter, it is clear that he’s lost her forever.
Circumstances force Maisey and Rob into one another’s company. They learn, through hardship and loss, that the only way to one another is to surrender first to God’s love.
Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, The Forever Sky explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.
Question for Readers: Have you experienced a moment of connection with history while visiting a historical site?
Come back March 13th for Patrick E. Craig!