“It is better to believe in men too rashly, and regret, than believe too meanly. Men could be more than they are, if they would try for it.” – Mary Renault, The Persian Boy
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From Humble Beginnings…
A historic stop about ten miles north of the Oregon Trail and a once bustling gold mining camp, South Pass City is one of the best known ghost towns in Wyoming. At the same time, it’s also one of the most authentic old settlements in the American West. Situated in a small valley along the banks of Willow Creek on the southeastern end of the Wind River Mountains, South Pass City got its start in the summer of 1867 when gold was discovered in the Wind River Mountains by a group of Mormon prospectors.
Though the precious metal had already been found in small amounts in Sweetwater Creek as early as 1842, Arapaho, Cheyenne and Sioux Indians who had primarily occupied the isolated region were quick to attack those who had dared to invade their homelands. Early miners were forced to post lookouts for the Indians and the ore was found in such limited quantities that miners didn’t begin to search the area in large numbers until U.S. troops arrived in 1866. Even then, Indian attacks were frequent and heavy.
…To Stellar Fame And Popularity
But, when a large vein was found at what would become the Carissa Mine, the miners flooded in, bringing their families with them. By 1868, South Pass City boasted over 250 buildings, 1,000 people, and hundreds of claims. South Pass City was the first of three mining camps in what was called the Sweetwater Mining District. Atlantic City and Miners Delight soon followed. In 1870, Fort Stambaugh arose as a permanent post for U.S. troops to protect the settlers and the miners.
South Pass City hummed with excitement as its half-mile-long main street boasted numerous hotels, restaurants, general stores, two newspapers, doctors, a bowling alley, and dozens of ever-popular saloons always found in popular mining camps. The mining district continued to boom, growing to as many as 3,000 residents. This becasue miners, looking for investors and newspapers promoting further settlement in the area, exaggerated the amount of gold in the region. The settlement was so significant that it became the county seat of Carter County, when the area was still part of Dakota Territory.
South Pass City, WY Still Proudly Stands Today
However, South Pass City’s great boom wouldn’t last. Just two years after its establishment, it would begin to show the first signs of declining. Hitting a slump in early 1869, the town resurged briefly after outside capital was poured into the area. Yet, it would slump again as expenses and hardships to recover the gold proved too costly for most miners. Only a few hundred people occupied the town by 1872. Eventually, South Pass became a permanent ghost town. By 1949, the last of the pioneer families had moved on from South Pass City and the buildings had fallen into disrepair. For the next two decades or so, the site was privately run as a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, the task of maintaining the buildings became too difficult.
Luckily, in 1966, the ghost town site was purchased by the State of Wyoming as a 75th birthday present for the citizens of the state. This ensuring that the town’s storied history would continue to be told. As a combined effort of several state agencies and private organizations, the town has been accurately restored. It now contains 23 original structures and some 30,000 artifacts, almost all of which are original to the old settlement.