There are many towns throughout the American west which serve as excellent examples of what a mining “boom town” was like. South Pass City, Wyoming is one such town. It is a relatively rare example, however, in that it has survived practically unchanged into the present and as such can better relate its story to us now.
The story of the town is like so many others of its ilk. In the summer of 1867, gold was found in an area along Willow Creek in the southeastern Wind River Mountains by Mormon prospectors. When the precious ore was found, this part was primarily occupied by Arapaho, Sioux and Cheyenne tribes who fiercely defended their homelands and successfully kept the majority of Anglo-Americans from coming settling there. The whole situation changed though when in 1866, US troops arrived to defend those brave (or stupid) enough to settle the region despite the risks.
People began to flow into the area under the protection of the US troops with the hope of striking it rich. In the same year, a major gold vein was found which would eventually become the Carissa Mine. By 1868, the town proper of South Pass City had been founded and contained 250 buildings and a population of over 1000 people. As with all mining “boom towns”, its decline came as quickly as its “boom”. By 1869, the population had already begun to decrease and by 1872, only a few hundred people remained.
South Pass City continued to be occupied for several more decades by a group loyal to the town, however. The Carissa Mine continued to function on and off until it finally closed down for good in 1949. The last residents left the town shortly thereafter, leaving South Pass City as a ghost town.
Despite being such a small town, South Pass City boasted several people who made Wyoming history. Two such examples are William H. Bright and Esther Hobart Morris. Bright was a saloon and mine owner in the town who served in Wyoming’s First Territorial Legislature. There, he introduced the first women’s suffrage bill. Once passed, Esther Hobart Morris then became the very first women in the United States to hold public office. She made history when she became Justice of the Peace on February 14, 1870.
The state of Wyoming purchased the town in 1966 as a historic site and has since continued to support its upkeep as a tourist attraction. Many of the original buildings with full original furniture are still standing today and can be visited. The official website for the historic site can be found here.
This post is part of a multi-part series about mining towns in the Rocky Mountains. See the rest of the series either on the Rocky Mountain Mining Town project page or in the category of the same name.