SOUTHERN CROSS, Mont. - The handful of locals in this Montana ghost town are haunted by the specter of eviction. Protected by a 1998 court injunction, homeowners earned borrowed time to stay put. But they still face a court challenge from the development company that owns the land beneath their homes.


About 20 people own homes at Southern Cross, a 7,000-foot elevation, 500-acre parcel, born of a gold-mining claim in 1866. Current residents bought old structures - a dance hall, post office and various cabins - renovated them, restored the antiques left behind, and called these places home. For the last 10 years, they paid to lease the land from the mining company. But last March, the Southern Cross Co. bought the land from then-owner, Magellan Mining Co., and issued 60-day eviction notices to all residents.


"Sixty days was designed to be confiscatory," said Roy Andes, the attorney who is fighting eviction for three residents. He says previous owners promised that leases would last for a "considerable" length of time.


Meanwhile, volunteers organized a publicity blitz and the ghost town has been profiled on television and in People Magazine. With views of the Anaconda Pintlar Wilderness peaks, the Flint Creek range and Georgetown Lake, Southern Cross sits close to unlimited recreation possibilities. For now, however, District Court Judge Ted Mizner has halted the developers' plans to build a hotel and house, while he studies the tangled knot of conflicting ownership claims. No court date has been set.


*Jackie Cohen