They call Rochester a ghost town, but it isn’t really.
Oh, there are ghosts. They whisper through the weeds and sound exactly like the wind. But there’s no town left. Only a crude foundation or two, and a cemetery of about 50 graves. The first thing you notice is how many of them are marked “Baby” or “Unknown.”
It was a tough life, mining in Montana. These people in the graves: You imagine how much hope they had when they arrived. You imagine how much despair toward the end. Probably a lot. Besides the scenery, they’re the only things in Montana that are always free.
Within sight of the graveyard, the living still toil for gold. A jumble of metal buildings has gone up around a low ridge of orangeish dirt. Trucks come and go, trailing dust. The price of gold being what it is, companies have returned to sift through tailings that were clawed from the earth by sweat alone. The popular belief is that the primitive methods of earlier miners left half their gold unclaimed. Great riches remain.
Yeah, OK. But if anybody’s getting rich, you won’t see it here. The gold goes away as it always has. Eventually, so will the trucks and crude buildings and the trailers where the workers lived. The history of Montana is mostly a history of impermanence. So little here is built to last. Even churches. Things get thrown up in the expectation of a quick return, and the weather erases them all in the space of a lifetime or two. Sometimes a lot less.
So it is in Rochester, where a couple thousand people lived in 1895 and a few dozen stuck around long enough to die. Funny how their graveyard outlasted everything else.