Updated: Nov 9, 2020
For a city that once would have been the capital of Wyoming, few locals even know about this hidden gem! About 6 years ago we were out on an adventure the weekend following the Fourth of July when we accidentally stumbled upon this event. Gold Rush Days in South Pass City have been a family tradition ever since!
Tucked away in the hills of central Wyoming South Pass City is the oldest continuously lived in town in Wyoming. At the height of their gold rush in the 1800s, the town rivaled Cheyenne to the extent that it could have become the state capital. The Carissa Lode was discovered by United States Cavalrymen stationed at the forts nearby. On liberty, they would pan the Sweetwater River and its tributaries for gold.
Tracing the river to Willow Creek in 1867 a small group of prospectors found a vein of gold in the hillside above the creek. The first shaft they dug by hand, blasting the rock only to make it easier to break off the hillside, they then lifted the rock by hand from the shaft. It was backbreaking work but the discovery was so big it couldn’t be kept a secret for long. By 1868 the Sweetwater Gold Rush was in full bloom!
The peak of the gold rush was soon to follow in 1869. Around 2,000 people were in South Pass itself but two other towns had also formed: Atlantic City and Hamilton City now known as Miner’s Delight.
South Pass City, although it did not become the capital, is arguably one of the most influential cities in Wyoming history if not the history of the United States and the world. William Bright, a representative from South Pass City in the Wyoming territorial legislature proposed the first women’s suffrage bill which the Democrats passed and the Republican Wyoming territorial Governor signed into law. Months later Esther Hobbart Morris became the first woman Justice of the Peace in the world. She served in South Pass City for 9 months.
They went through a series of booms and busts but what remained consistent were the entrepreneurs who supplied the miners and the surrounding region. Janet Sherlock Smith was one such entrepreneur who owned and operated several of the businesses in town. Her family continues to live in the South Pass area to this day.
The last boom occurred in the late 1940s ending by 1953. The Carrissa still mines just a little bit each year for the guests at Gold Rush Days. Volunteers explain how each step in the mining process works in the Carrissa as visitors tour through the old mine buildings.
Down in town visitors walk the streets exploring the various buildings still standing which have been made to exhibit the material culture and time period of the original boom.
A stagecoach gives visitors rides around the town and a pony express rider demonstrates the mail hand off once every few hours. Local baseball teams join the fun too. Dressing up in old fashioned uniforms they play at the far side of town.
If you go on Saturday be prepared for long lines at all the vendors! Sunday has been the quieter day to visit for sure but I doubt it will be that way for long as enchanted guests each year continue to share with their friends. The celebration continues with live music and dancing in town. An anvil is blown sky high to mark each hour and Saturday ends with a great fireworks show.
Open from when the snow finally allows passage on the road (at the earliest, May 15) to the end of September. There are near to 5 miles of trails visitors can explore at their leisure. This may be one of the most affordable stops on your trip at only $5 a ticket for non-Wyoming residents!
Whether you come for the festivities of Gold Rush Days or just to explore the Ghost Town at your own pace, this is a stop you won’t want to miss!
Learn more from this article I wrote for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West last spring…
Have you ever visited a Ghost Town? What do you think it would have been like to live in a booming mining town in the Old West?
Thank you, fellow adventurers! You can follow the lilmissbearpaw blog page on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @lilmissbearpaw for sneak peeks into upcoming posts and my adventures. This will also be a great place to share your own adventures!