Ghost Towns of America: South Pass City, Wyoming

The landscape of South Pass City, Wyoming.
The landscape of South Pass City, Wyoming.

About ten miles north of Oregon Trail is South Pass City, a once booming gold mining camp. It is one of the most famous ghost towns in the United States. It is also arguably one of the more authentic old settlements in the American West. South Pass City is located along the banks of Willow Creek, in the Wind River Mountains and 2 miles south of the intersection of highways 28 and 131. The town was started in 1867 when a group of Mormon prospectors discovered gold in the Wind River Mountain but after the gold mines were closed it became a ghost town. However, some people have moved back to the South Pass City, though not much activity goes on there.

Development of South Pass City

South Pass City developed as a telegraph station along the Oregon Trail in the 1850s. The first settlements in the area were located about 9 miles south of the present day town. The region was occupied as early as 1842 by the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and the Indians who would attack those who invaded their homeland. It is believed that gold was discovered in the area around the early 1840s near the Sweetwater Creek, though in small quantity. In 1866, Mormon prospectors discovered large quantities of gold in the area, with prospecting beginning in 1867. Gold prospecting in the area got the South Pass City started with several miners rushing to the area to get a share of the precious mineral.

The Booming Town

Although traces of the precious minerals were discovered in 1842, gold prospecting began in 1867. Early miners were forced to post watchmen around the mines to warn them of the Indians who were known to attack those who invaded their homeland. Mineral ore was initially found in limited quantities. With the arrival of the US troops in the area, the Carissa mine was opened up. By 1868, the population of the area had swelled up to 2,000, boasting of 250 buildings. South Pass City became the first mining camp in what was known as the Sweetwater Mining District. Other camps included the Atlantic City and Miners Delight. In 1870, Esther Hobart Morris, a resident of South Pass City, became the first woman in the US to serve as a Justice of the Peace. With time, South Pass City became so significant that it became the county seat of Carter County, remaining the county seat until 1873. Its main street boasted of several hotels, restaurants, and general stores. Two newspapers and several doctors also served the town.

Decline and Ghost Status

The great boom of South Pass City did not last long. Just two years after its establishment, the town began to show signs of decline. The expenses and hardship in recovering gold were too costly for most of the miners. Within a decade, the town’s population had shrunk dramatically, as large gold deposits could not be materialized. By the mid-1870s, the population of South Pass City had been reduced to about 100 people. Over the next decade, most of the shops and stores along the main street fell into disrepair, with the last store closing in 1949. In the end, South Pass City became a permanent ghost town. In 1966, the State of Wyoming purchased the town. It now serves as South Pass Historic Site, preserving over 30 historic structures.


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