Was I looking for ghosts or was I looking for gold?
I think ghost towns are interesting, a bit sad when you see the remnants in disrepair, but you realize there are lots of memories there. I had heard about the ghost town of Kendall and I had some spare time so my journey began.
I had a brochure from the Lewistown Chamber of Commerce (406-535-5436) about Ghost Towns & Gold Mines for Fort Maginnis, Maiden, Gilt Edge and Kendall. It had a great map on one side and plenty of history about the ghost towns and mining on the other.
The drive from Lewistown north on US Hwy 191 was beautiful and relaxing. It was mid-September so tree leaves were beginning to change colors, adding plenty of contrast to the landscape. When I got to the small town of Hilger I stopped to take a photo of their old elevator, then turned west on the North Kendall Road. The turn is well marked and there is a historical sign about Kendall at the turn.
I was driving through ranch country and I stopped several times for some scenic photos as I drove into the foothills. Kendall is in the North Moccasin Mountains, an island range split between its southern portion (South Moccasin Mountains) by MT Hwy 81. Neither range is large and their elevations top out between 5,400 and 5,800 feet.
A side note – we refer to mountain ranges that aren’t connected to a major spine (like the Rockies) as “island” ranges.
The North Moccasins were looking beautiful, not craggy and rocky, but grassy and lush with groves of trees. It was early afternoon, typically not the most forgiving light on a landscape, but it looked good to me.
Traffic? There was more than I had expected because as I stopped to take a photo, two pickups with trailers passed me. That was it for traffic! I realized it was shipping time for cattle ranchers, basically rancher payday.
The gravel road was in good shape and it didn’t take long for me to see the first mining remnants of Kendall. I do want to point out, and you’ll see the sign, Kendall is on private property. Park your car on the edge of the road or at a pullout, then you can stroll the remnants. And, it goes without saying but I’m saying it anyway, don’t take souvenirs home from this historic location. There are great interpretive signs at many of the remaining stone foundations and the tall grass had been mowed in places to facilitate easy walking.
Kendall got its start about 1901. Miner Harry Kendall was doing surface mining in the area in 1899, then a mining company came in and developed an underground mine and a mill. I’m assuming Harry Kendall was the inspiration for the town’s name.
Kendall boomed for about 10 years and many stone buildings were built, using rock from a nearby quarry. The mines and the town had electrical power which was definitely an oddity in Montana in that era. Kendall’s population topped out at about 1,500, pretty substantial for the time.
It’s interesting to wonder what caused Kendall to enter the “bust” portion of boom and bust. In 1911, a railroad branch line was constructed near Hilger. Homesteaders and miners moved to Hilger and in some cases, moved their homestead houses. And, mining extraction techniques and equipment weren’t what they are today. Both of those things surely contributed to the decline of Kendall.
Three other attempts to extract gold out of “them thar hills” were made, one extending as recent as the mid-1990s. Cyanide heap leach methods were used in that operation and reclamation efforts are still underway.
In 1967 the townsite of Kendall was donated to the Boy Scouts. They have a magnificent camp named K-M nearby and the scouts have not only donated labor to preserve items in Kendall, they have learned history of the area.
So, what did I enjoy most about my tour to the ghost town of Kendall?
One rock, filled with deep round holes and a fence around it, intrigued me. The interpretive sign explained that about three days a year holidays were taken, the mine was shut down, and celebrations were held. The hard rock drilling contest paid the most and attracted the top paid workers at the mine – the drillers who made the holes where dynamite was inserted for blasting. They did that by hand, pounding with a hammer in one hand and the other hand held the spike. The goal of the contest was to drill (basically pound) the deepest hole in the granite in a specified time. This rock was amazing and was filled with deep, perfectly round holes.
I always love the scenery but a favorite building would be the bandstand that still exists. As I looked at it, I stopped, closed my eyes, and imagined dancing in this meadow to some old-time dance tunes. When I opened my eyes it seemed as if I really did hear the music.
Perhaps, there are ghosts in Central Montana’s ghost towns!