display | more...

Pony, Montana is a town in southwestern Montana, located at the edge of the Madison River valley, against the Tobacco Root Mountains. Pony Montana is a ghost town, although it also has a fairly large number of people still living in it. Since this is a confusing statement, I am going to cease to be prosaic.

It may be a bit self-centered of me to think about whether the general public thinks about Montana at all, but I imagine that when they do, they tend to think of it in terms of stereotypes, or worse yet, of a single stereotype. But just like any other area, Montana is not socially or politically homogeneous, and there were a number of different waves of settlement, for different purposes. Butte, Montana, for example, feels like a real city, although a very small one. Being in Butte feels a lot like being in Seattle, at least until you go about 10 or 15 blocks outside of downtown, in which case it feels like being back in ranch country. This is because Butte was settled as a company town to extract copper, and was filled with immigrant workers, many Irish. It had a very different social and political background than other areas of Montana, which were settled by ranchers or farmers.

Pony, Montana, looks like a city. It was named after a man nicknamed "Pony" because of his short stature in the 1860s, but was developed on a larger scale after 1875 after quartz gold was discovered. Two story brick buildings and Victorian homes were built, along with a large gold mill, where quarts rock was crushed and then mechanically separated through vibration. In 1926, the gold mill was abandoned, and the large scale extraction of gold was mostly finished. So all the big brick buildings were shuttered up and abandoned. But not everyone left the town: there were still a number of ranches in the area, and the town, even though it was off a spur of the main highway following the Madison River, still was a local hub for the area. So people hung on, and over the years, other sources of income would develop, such as tourism. But the people who hung on never had a use for a two story brick bank,or any of the other buildings. Instead, most of the current buildings are the same type of trailers or cheaply made houses that most people living in rural communities can afford. So the modern visitor to Pony will explore a ghost town full of imposing looking buildings, which must have been the pride of this isolated town at the Turn of the Century, interspersed with much more modest looking modern buildings. It is this combination that makes Pony particularly interesting to me, and by far the favorite ghost town I have visited.

Pony stands in great contrast to other ghost towns I have visited, such as Bannack and Coolidge. Bannack is very well maintained, and feels like much more a part of the "wild west". Coolidge, like Pony, was a company town, but the fact that it has disintegrated almost totally make it feel separate from contemporary life. I can't help but think that Bannack is more of a tourist attraction than a place like Pony for several reasons. Bannack for the most part, comes from an earlier time, when mining was mostly done by prospectors working on their own, using techniques such as panning or sluice mining---techniques that can be done by a single person, of their own initiative. Pony, and other towns coming from a few decades later, had to use industrial techniques, organized by companies, and which represent an urban culture that was closer to what we have today than the idealized pioneer spirit of a place like Bannack. It may be reaching too far, but I think that many tourists would rather view an old west characterized by individualism and a spirit of wildness, and forget that even in isolated spots like Pony, most of the settlement and development was not as dependent on individual initiative as may be thought, but was instead the result of large companies building urban areas, and hiring immigrants of various nationalities to work them.

Of course, aspects of this have been discussed elsewhere, and it is perhaps overreaching to place the burden of interpretation of American culture on a small town of 100 or so residents located down a side road in the middle of a very rural county in a very rural state. And as with any ghost town, it is being able to see the history as a present thing, rather than having it interpreted, that is the draw. So I would just encourage any tourist or students of history to make the effort to stop in Pony themselves, and find out for themselves what it feels like.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.