Ghost Town: Mondak, Montana

Ghost Town: Mondak, Montana

This is Mondak, Montana, a true ghost town in Roosevelt County straddling the Montana/North Dakota border, two and a half miles west of Buford, North Dakota, and ten miles north of Fairview, Montana. It was a smoky day in July 2014 when we took these pics on a trip that had already taken us to Trotters, North Dakota and Fairview Lift Bridge and Cartwright Tunnel the day before. It was our first visit to Mondak, and we found three structures remained standing, including the former Mondak jail. We revisited Mondak in 2017, too, when skies weren’t quite so hazy.

Mondak, Montana

Mondak has an incredible history as a rough and tumble outpost designed to serve liquor to thirsty North Dakotans after their state became one of the first to go dry.

Mondak, Montana

Mondak was founded in 1903 by businessmen intent on making money in the bootlegging and saloon trade. There were eventually seven saloons in Mondak, as well as a bank, two hotels, and three general stores.  According to one account, it also had a notoriously dangerous red light district.

Mondak, Montana

The liquor laws intended to keep North Dakota dry were woefully inadequate in Mondak, though. It was illegal to sell alcohol in North Dakota, but it wasn’t illegal to drink it. So, according to a story in a 1965 issue of Montana Magazine of Western History, a local partnership built a saloon right on the state line in which customers could walk to the Montana side of the bar, get a drink, then move back down to the corner booth and drink it in North Dakota.

Mondak, Montana

We visited Mondak on a summer weekend in July of 2014 when smoke from forest fires (in Canada, Washington, or Oregon, depending on who you ask) was thick in the air, spoiling the beautiful skies we so often seek.  These photos were shot just after six in the morning, moments after sunrise.

Mondak, Montana Map

In this graphic based on a Google Earth aerial view, we see substantial ruins in Mondak and the unique geographic layout of the town. Note the close proximity of the state line to some of the ruins. The jail and the other two remaining structures appear in the upper left.

Mondak, Montana

Something tells me that morning patch of warm sun on the wall was a welcome relief for any prisoner who had to spend the night in this cell in the winter.

Mondak, Montana

At the rear of the structure is the large room shown above, presumably desk space where the town’s lawmen could kick back in a chair and put up their boots after bringing in a drunkard from who knows where — there were too many to count. Mondak was known to have a considerably higher-than-average crime rate.

Mondak thrived for almost two decades, but was devastated by a number of factors, including a fire in 1916, the end of prohibition, which really started the decline in earnest, then another fire which destroyed many of the by-then-vacant structures in 1928.

Mondak, Montana



Mondak, Montana

Below, a shot through the front window of the red building, above.

Mondak, Montana

Mondak, Montana

Mondak, Montana

We’re not quite sure what this was. If someone can enlighten us, please do. Terry speculated this might have been a vault.  Below, looking into one of the chambers.

Mondak, Montana

On the back was the single door shown above.

Mondak, Montana

Today, there are nearly a dozen foundations and empty basements still visible around the site, slowly decaying and filling with sediment, year by year, as nature reclaims Mondak.

Mondak, Montana

Mondak, Montana

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media

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17 thoughts on “Ghost Town: Mondak, Montana

    1. IN 1960 I WORKED ON THE MONDAK RANCH OWNED BY BEN NORDEL. IT WAS 6500 ACRE RANCH THE BARN HAD BEEN THE STABLES AND THE HOUSE THE FORMAN AND FAMILY LIVED IN HAD BEEN THE HOTEL . THE ONLY THING LEFT OF FORT UNION WAS FLAG POLE AND MONUMENT.

      1. My husbank jerry worked for Ben Nordel, from 1956 to july of 1959, , his brother in law Ray halvorson was Bens forman and they lived at mondack on the hill, we lived in Ben other house on the north dakota side by Beford, yes the flag pole was there they farmed around it Darrel Baxter are you related to Dennis ? he will love seeing these pictures, we were just married and licing there, I rode the goose to fairview. good old times

  1. Wow! I have known about the town of Mondak for years, but did not realize there were still so many buildings there! My grandparents (James and Lily Kennedy) pointed out Mondak to me once long, long ago. They told me they used to go there occasionally! Ruff and tumble town? Hmm. My grandparents are both gone now, I wish I would have asked them more questions. They did say they went there to have a drink as they couldn’t get that in Williston. Unless you count the “hooch” my Grandpa made! HA! Thanks for posting.

  2. I visited there as a child. My dad took me there and told me the story of the town. Stuck with me all these years. I also heard that the big fire started during a fight in the bar. Not sure if it is true but it makes for a good story!

  3. My in-laws own pasture land surrounding Mondak, and one of the stories/rumors my husband’s family talks about is that during the building of Snowden bridge a gentleman killed the sheriff’s deputy. The story goes that the townspeople stormed the jail that you have pictures of, lynched the man and threw his body into the cement supports of the bridge. Never done any research into it so no idea if the story has any truth to it.

    1. Also was told by my father-in-law that when Mondak was abandoned most of the people that were in the Mondak cemetery were moved to Bainville, MT by their families.

  4. Excellent pictures and history notes on the old town of Mondak. I have been there and have done some research on Mondak and have been out to the Mondak cemetery. I have the cemetery posted on findagrave.com. Keep up the good work with Ghost Towns of North Dakota. I enjoy all of your postings.

    1. I hope you don’t mind me contacting you. I’m Scottish. My grand-uncle, LEONARD PYNE, lived in and around Mondak for a time around 1910. I have a letter written by him from the New Yellowstone Hotel on 3 April 1910. (106 years ago today!) He also died as a young man, about 26/28ish. I wonder if you can advise me if there is any way I may be able to find out if he was buried in Mondak or around there. I would be most grateful if you could. The PYNE spelling of his name is correct.
      Bob Payne

  5. Did you come across the cemetery at all? I plan to find that this spring – It should be near there. My great and great-great grandparents are all buried together somewhere in this area. Great Photos. Thanks for the share!

  6. I have several old checks that were cashed at the “Mondak State Bank” dated 1911. i also have an old deed and other pictures of some Indians from that area. All items are very old. They are going to be included in my upcoming book titled “REACH” (due out around the end of October 2016. The checks were written by a Mrs. W. D. Retzlaff. One of the names on the old deed was a Jakob Steel who also ran the post office there in Mondak. His post office was located in one of the first buildings built in Mondak and had operated out of a tent up until that time.

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