Wednesday, February 25, 2015

In the Mists of Elkhorn

There's something about the winter landscape in Montana that is especially chilling, and I happened upon my very favorite ghost town. Not the commercialized Virginia City, but instead distant Elkhorn in Jefferson County.  To be sure, I sought my muse in those settings; but the Muse of Blogging Prose (whoever she is) must have gone South for the winter.  The utter desolation can be welcoming or threatening, depending on how you feel about silence.

The only sound was the wind whistling in the barren landscape far away from the madding crowd or the comfort of convivial others.  The sense of loneliness began to pall, along with regrets of past loves that retrospectively seemed better with the perspective of distance.

What caused men and women to move into this inhospitable landscape?  Was it lust for gold, or the restless seeking for some new experiences that drives some humans to go away from familiar settings?  Indeed, what draws me to this deserted place with winter nearby?  Was this some errant whim?

Admittedly, I adore ghost towns; and I was blessed with several nearby ones due to early prospectors for gold and copper looking for paydirt.

No one was around apparently; but somehow I heard a faint playing of someone playing a ragtime tune.  There was also the murmur of voices; soft at first, but increasing in volume!  An uncanny smell wafted: a combination of sweat, beer, cologne, and manure.  What was going on?

Entering into the derelict Fraternity Hall, I saw men and women in period dress.  Actually, it was a scene straight out of old western they don't make any longer.  Men were playing cards; the women were dancing or cajoling men to but them drinks.  Is this for real, or is this an overplayed scene.  I mean, after all, "Buffalo Gals"?  There was a legend that once a man killed another over what kind of music the band should play.  The square dancer killed the waltz fan.

And yet, that is what we expect of the frontier west: a bawdy, expansionistic, optimistic era, not informed with the anxieties of the modern age.  We like to project ourselves into that time in our imaginations, if not longing.  May that is what I wanted.

I talked with the bartender, and requested a drink.

"You sure you want bourbon?  Believe me, it came all the way from Colorado."

I think I made a face, and sipped my drink that, actually, wasn't bad for having come from that bourbon-producing state, Colorado.  I was talking with a handsome miner, and he apparently took a shine to me.

"You sure are a purty red-hair gal.  I could go for you."

Not very demurely, I said, "I like the cut of your jib, too."

"Oh, a sailor gal!  Ho ho!"

A mist soon moved in, and I thought it was time to drive back to Missoula before it got too dark.  I took my leave, saying that I would be back.

Was it real, or not?  I'm not sure.  But maybe in the metaphysical sense it was as real and real could be.  The province of imagination is quite large.

Gilliam Hall and Fraternity Hall, Elkhorn


  1. You wove an imaginative dream to go with the stark setting. Elkhorn sounds interesting but desolate.

  2. Nobody else around. What's to not like?

  3. Imagination seems so real. Glad that we are blessed with it!

  4. Heidi, great story and picture. Be sure to link in to my blog on Wednesday for a story and picture for the day next time. Thanks for this one!

    1. Oops, I see you did link in to my blog. Thanks for sharing your story!

  5. That was a good story! There are also some wonderful ghost towns in remote parts of Pennsylvania, left over from the oil boom days. We used to explore them in search of old tools and other things for my father's collection of possibly useful props for ad photos, and I always enjoyed dreaming up stories about the people who lived and worked in them.

  6. Sometimes imagination is real and real is imagination...who knows.

  7. Visiting a ghost town would be a wonderful inspiration for a writer, and I love that she not only observed or imagined what was going on there, but saw herself as involved and participating. I see a great story in the making, and I suspect she will return there for more!