While writing Black River, I made several visits to the Old Montana Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana. Now a museum, the Old Montana Prison was built with inmate labor and housed inmates from 1871 to 1979, when operations were moved to a newer prison facility nearby. While the prison in Black River is fictional, elements of it were certainly inspired by the real Old Montana Prison.
Mountains visible above the wall near the Maximum Security facilities.
Barbed wire coiled atop the exterior wall.
Most of the Old Montana Prison has remained largely unchanged since it was used to house inmates. There are a few exhibits inside what used to be the administrative buildings, including an exhibit about the real riot that took place at the prison in 1959.
Part of a display about the '59 riot, including a revolver like the one Wes owns in the novel.
Makeshift weapons confiscated from inmates.
The prison chapel.
At one point during the 1959 riot, the Montana National Guard fired a bazooka at the main cell block; the damage is still visible today. The interior of the cell block is quite eerie now that it's empty--you can hear doves cooing and fluttering near the ceiling, and the high exterior windows are dingy and let in little light--but it's not hard to imagine how miserable it must have been inside when crowded with inmates.
The interior of the main cellblock.
Staircase used to move between tiers inside the main cellblock.
If you happen to find yourself passing through Deer Lodge, the Old Montana Prison is a worthwhile stop. Even if you can't make it in person, you can learn more at the Old Montana Prison Facebook page or website.
S. M. Hulse visiting the Old Montana Prison. (Photo Credit: Gil Hulse)
Unless otherwise noted, all photographs on this page were taken by S. M. Hulse.