Description - The Oregon Traill had several major destinations, including Utah and California. The first large emigration occurred in 1843 when over 1,000 people made the arduous 2,000 mile, six month trip. In total, nearly 500,000 individuals followed this route across the continent. The ruts of their wagons and the graves of those who died enroute are still visible nearby. The last recorded wagon crossed South Pass in 1912. South Pass is the gentle ascent where the trail crosses the Continental Divide called "Uncle Sam's backbone" by the emigrants. The first South Pass City was an 1850s stage and telegraph station where the trail made its final crossing of the Sweetwater River. That nearby site is now known as Burnt Ranch.
Many Oregon Trail emigrants were traveling to California to search for gold which had been discovered at Sutters Mill in 1848. Thousands of people hoped to strike it rich, but only a few succeeded. By the 1860s, discoveries of "Mother Lodes" in Colorado, Nevada, Idaho and Montana resulted in hundreds of new boom towns. When the Carissa mine began producing gold in 1867, a rush to the South Pass area began and South Pass City was founded. The boom
continued in 1868 and Atlantic City and Miners Delight were quickly erected. The area's population soared to approximately 2000 residents and dozens of mines and hundreds of placer claims kept the miners busy.
Later, businessmen arrived to fulfill the needs of the prospectors and South Pass City soon developed a main street one half mile long. A resident could conduct business in general stores, butcher shops, restaurants, sawmills, clothing stores, sporting goods stores, a jewelry store and a furrier. Visitors could stay at one of seven hotels and seek an evening's entertainment at several saloons and "sporting houses" all supplied with liquid refreshments by two local brewers and a
wholesale liquor establishment. A miner could leave his horse at one of four livery stables and hire any of several blacksmiths to shoe the animal, sharpen his mining tools or mend his wagon. A gun could be purchased or repaired at the gun shop and be used at the shooting gallery. A miner lucky enough to "strike it rich" could deposit his gold at the local bank or ship it home on a Wells Fargo Stage. A jail held troublesome residents, while a school saw to the educational needs of the children. Doctors and lawyers hung out shingles to serve the needs of the new frontier community. Ranchers and farmers soon moved nearby.
This rough and ready frontier community played a role in the women's suffrage movement. In the first territorial legislative, William Bright, a saloon keeper, mine owner and representative from
South Pass City, wrote and introduced a women's suffrage bill. When this bill passed and the Governor signed it in December 1869, Wyoming became the first territory or state to allow women the right to vote and hold office. In February 1870, the county commissioners appointed Esther Morris as the town's justice of the peace, making her the nation's first female judge. Even though her selection was controversial in South Pass City, she was an effective judge and tried twenty-six cases. Esther Morris represents the important and unique role that women played in frontier towns.
All booms must end. In 1872, a bust hit the Sweetwater Mining District. Most miners became discouraged over the absence of large gold deposits and the lack of sufficient capital. By 1875, less than one hundred people remained in the area. Even Camp Stambaugh, built in 1870, soon closed. Many prospectors wandered to other boom towns to continue their relentless search for
gold. Some folks moved to nearby settlements and played important roles in the founding of such towns as Lander, Pinedale and Thermopolis. However, a few persistent miners remained and helped start the area's future gold booms. A large hydraulic operation, a copper mine, a dredge, a strip mine and the continued speculation in gold created South Pass mining rushes in the 1880s, 1890s, 1930s and 1960s. The population of Atlantic City and South Pass City bounced between a handful of people and as many as 500 residents. But the busts have always
followed the booms.
In 1966 the Wyoming 75th Anniversary Commission purchased South Pass City as a birthday present for the citizens of the State. The once dilapidated buildings are now restored and most are open to the public. Many of the 30,000 artifacts in the site collections are original to the town and exhibited in their original locations. Today, a few prospectors continue to pan for gold and a couple of miners are still digging for ore. The labor of many individuals and several state agencies have combined to create one of the most authentic historic sites in existence. Visitors can literally step back into another era to view the "Old West" as it really was at South Pass City. Enjoy your visit to this very unique historic site.
- South Pass City State Historic Site, features 23 historical buildings of which 17 are currently open to the visitor. Amongst the buildings are an interpretive saloon, store and mining center. Events include: The Western Association of Music offering a concert and dinner evening or Gold Rush Days.
Recreation - Recreational activities in the state historic site include viewing historic and interpretive sites, panning for gold, fishing on the Willow Creek, hiking on the Continental Divide, viewing wildlife and participating in the special events that occur throughout the summer.
Climate - As throughout the Rocky Mountains, the climate varies drastically depending on elevation. Summers generally offer warm clear days with cool nights. Afternoon thunderstorms are often a possibility in the summer. In the winter, sunshine, with plenty of snow in the higher elevations, are ideal for winter activities. Harsh weather - including wind, cold, and snow - is possible throughout the winter and even throughout the year, in the highest elevations.
South Pass City State Historic Site, located approximately 77 miles south of Lander on Highway 28.