The Gold Rush Of South Pass City, Wyoming

South Pass City and the Sweetwater mining district in Wyoming paint a colorful picture of the Old West. Open to visitors, South Pass City is the most well preserved ghost town in Wyoming.

The foothills of the Wind River Mountains in central Wyoming are dotted with what remains of the gold rush that hit the area in 1867. Several ghost towns and deserted mines echo the triumph and failures of the masses of 19th century prospectors that populated the area.

At the heart of the gold rush was the boom town of South Pass City, and the nearby Carrissa Mine. South Pass City began in the 1850s as a stage and telegraph station, and was originally located on the Oregon Trail at the final crossing of the Sweetwater river. The original site is now known as Burt Ranch.

Seemingly overnight, dozens of mines and several

towns were born. Among them, were Atlantic City and Miner's Delight. The ghosts of these towns still exist today, though South Pass City is by far, the most well preserved town in the area, and perhaps all of Wyoming.

Nestled in a small valley below the Carissa Mine, is South Pass City. As one walks along the main street, it is not hard to imagine the town in its heyday. The town boasted general stores, butcher shops, restaurants, and clothing stores, sporting good stores, saloons, and seven different hotels.

Several banks were waiting in South Pass City, for the prospectors that were lucky enough to strike gold. A miner could leave his horse at one of the four livery stables; hire one of several black smiths to make repairs on his wagons, or tools and if he happened to take a hankering for a new gun, he could purchase it at the gun shop and test it out at the local shooting gallery.

For the rough and rowdy citizens of the old west, the jail on the south end of town was an absolute necessity. High on a hill, east of town, was a small one-room school house, and of course no town in the old west would have been complete without a "Boot Hill." The South Pass City cemetery is located on a rise just west of town.



South Pass City soon had stage service to many different destinations. One could buy passage to Green River for $5.00. A toll road was erected between South Pass City and Atlantic City; the charge was fifty cents for a wagon and two horses.

South Pass City had its share of colorful history. One such incident involved the sheriff whom had conspired with a group of local outlaws to rob stage coaches on the road to Atlantic City. The Sheriff was eventually discovered and hung. The Cheyenne Indians made their presence be known, when they attacked and burnt down part of the town. Indian trouble became intense leading to the United States Calvary erecting nearby Fort Stambaugh.

This frontier community played an important role in Wyoming politics. In the first territorial legislative, William Bright, a saloon keeper, mine owner, and a representative from South Pass City, wrote and introduced a woman's suffrage bill. Wyoming became the first state or territory to allow women the right to vote and hold office when the Governor signed the bill in December of 1869.

In February of 1870, Esther Morris became the town's Justice of the Peace; this made her the nations first female judge. Her appointment was the subject of controversy in South Pass City, but never the less she was successful.

As all good things must come to an end, a bust hit the Sweetwater mining district in 1872. The miners became discouraged by the lack of large gold deposits. In 1875, less than one hundred people remained in the area. It was at this point that the Untied States Military made the decision to close down Fort Stambaugh.

Many of South Pass City's citizens moved to nearby communities, eventually playing important roles in the founding of several modern-day Wyoming towns. The prospectors moved on to pursue that elusive dream of the mother load, some to local boom towns, while others headed further west, or north into Montana. Though South Pass City was short lived, during its life, the Carissa mine produced millions of dollars in gold and made a handful of people very wealthy.

All that remains of the Sweetwater mining district is a few ghost towns and the Carissa mine. In the summer months, visitors flock to the area to get an authentic view of the Old West. The original saloon in Atlantic City is still open and in business, right down to the broken mirror behind the bar, the result of a brawl over a hundred years ago. South Pass City has been completely restored and is open to the public at a small entrance fee. The Bureau of Land Management has developed two parks for camping, and there are even a few cabins put up for rent every summer.

One can still pan for gold in the Sweetwater River, or the tailings of the numerous deserted mines in the area. Dirt roads spider the district, most are the same roads used by stage coaches and wagons over a hundred years ago. Located approximately thirty miles south of Lander Wyoming, the South Pass City area is the perfect place to get an authentic taste of the old west.

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