South Pass City began with a boom in 1867 with the discovery of gold on the southeastern end of the rugged Wind River Mountains. By 1868, Wyoming's City of Gold boasted over 250 buildings along the banks of Willow Creek and the surrounding hillsides. South Pass City hummed with excitement as numerous saloons, stamp mills, hotels, and businesses took advantage of the gold driven economy. Over 1000 people called South Pass City home during this raucous time. South Pass City was the first of three towns established due to the discovery of gold in what became the Sweetwater Mining District. In addition to Atlantic City and Hamilton City (now called Miner's Delight), Fort Stambaugh was erected to protect the miners in their search for gold from hostile Indians.
BOOMS & BUSTS
Just like many towns founded as a result of a gold discovery, South Pass City's early success was followed by a large exodus of people, some discouraged by the low returns and hard work in an extremely harsh winter climate, while others were lured away by rumors of bigger and brighter discoveries elsewhere. By 1872, South Pass City's population had fallen to only a few hundred people.
Unlike many of its contemporaries, South Pass City left its mark not only on the frontier West, but on the fabric of American history. William Bright, a saloon keeper and mine owner, represented South Pass City during Wyoming's First Territorial Legislature. During this session, Bright penned and introduced a women's suffrage bill. When the bill was passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Campbell on December 10, 1869, Wyoming became "the first place on God's green earth, which can consistently claim to be the land of the Free!" South Pass City resident, Esther Hobart Morris, was appointed the town's Justice of the Peace, and in so doing, became the first woman to hold political office in the United States. These events ultimately set the stage for women's suffrage in the U.S., with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
Although South Pass City went through several booms throughout its history, none were enough to sustain the town. In 1966, the Wyoming's 75th Anniversary Commission purchased South Pass City as a birthday present for the citizens of the state, thus ensuring that the town's storied history would not end up like so many others of its kind. Now a historic site, South Pass City has enjoyed 35 years of unprecedented notoriety as a result of the combined efforts of several state agencies. The last 35 years have seen South Pass City become one of the most accurately restored and authentically exhibited historic sites in the West. Seventeen of the site's 23 original structures have been restored and exhibited, with many of the site's 30,000 artifacts exhibited in their original buildings.
THINGS TO DO
South Pass City has a variety of interesting and educational activities for visitors throughout the summer. When the presence volunteer staff permits, not only can you walk through each of the 17 restored and exhibited original structures, you can enjoy an ice cold sarsaparilla and a game of billiards on a restored 1860's period table, as well as hear the ring of a hammer on steel when the blacksmith shapes hot iron. Each day, one can shop in the historic Smith-Sherlock General Store or pan for gold in the clear waters of Willow Creek. In the Interpretive Center, you can also learn about other gold producing methods that have been used around South Pass City throughout its history.
For folks with as much interest in nature as history, South Pass City is home to a three mile Volksmarch Trail where you can enjoy viewing some of the area's wide array of wildlife. Mule deer, antelope, moose and beaver are just a few of the animals that can be seen. For birders, many species call this area home at different times of the year, including mountain blue birds, finches, hawks and eagles. Anglers will enjoy blue ribbon fishing for brook, rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout in many of the area's streams and lakes.
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail also passes through town. Popular among serious hikers and mountain bikers, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs the length of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico. Each year, numerous bikers and hikers utilizing this trail visit the site. Many use the general delivery at the General Store's post office for re-supply, and enjoy a tour through town before continuing on their journey.
Gold Rush Days
South Pass City hosts its annual Gold Rush Days event the last Friday, Saturday and Sunday in July. The event celebrates the life and the heritage of the Sweetwater Mining District by presenting many of the activities historic to the area. South Pass City's Goldbricks take on area teams in a vintage baseball tournament, which features turn of the century period equipment, uniforms and rules. The Riverton, WY squad will take to the rugged field of dreams to defend their crown. Hand drillers pit muscle and steel against solid granite as they recall a time before the advent of pneumatic drills. Witness in amazement as brawny men try to out-drill one another on a two ton block of granite, in both single and double jacking events.
The staff at South Pass City and Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources is continually working to restore the remainder of the original buildings and improve existing exhibits. Thanks to funding generated from the fees at Wyoming's State Parks & Historic Sites, work began on the Sherlock House. Exhibit work is completed and the museum offers fascinating insights. The building was the residence of Will and Mame Sherlock. Will was the son of another of South Pass City's leading ladies, Janet Sherlock-Smith. Mrs. Sherlock-Smith owned the South Pass Hotel and the Smith-Sherlock General Store, and was one of the town's most prominent citizens for over 50 years.
SOUTH PASS AREA/OREGON/CALIFORNIA/MORMON TRAILS
These historic emigrant roads crossed over the famed South Pass only 8 miles from what was to become Wyoming's only significant gold-producing area. The first large emigration over the Pass occurred in 1843, some 24 years before gold was discovered at South Pass City, when over 1,000 people made the arduous 2,000 mile, six month journey. Thirteen miles southeast of town marks the location of one of the most disastrous events along the Mormon Trail. Encumbered by early winter storms and severe temperatures, the exhausted and starving emigrants of the Willie Handcart Company found themselves snowbound on Rock Creek. Thirteen members of the company perished in a single night and were buried in a mass grave. Out of the 404 persons that began the migration, only 327 survivors reached Salt Lake City on November 9, 1856 with their rescue party.
ACCOMMODATIONS AND CAMPING
Camping accommodations are unavailable at South Pass City. The nearest State Park campground is beautiful Sinks Canyon State Park, just outside Lander.
BLM 307-332-8400 Atlantic City (4 miles north, 1.5 miles off Hwy 28)
USFS 307-332-5460 Louis Lake (12 miles northwest on USFS #300)
Miner's Delight Inn Atlantic City, WY 307-332-0248
Atlantic City Mercantile Atlantic City, WY 307-332-5143
Louis Lake Resort Louis Lake 307-332-5549