South Pass City, Wyoming
August 20, 2021
South Pass City is an unincorporated community in Fremont County, Wyoming, United States. It is located 2 miles south of the intersection of highways 28 and 131. A former station on the Oregon Trail, it became a ghost town after later gold mines were closed. The entire community is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The closest town is Atlantic City. Some people have returned.
South Pass City developed rapidly as a stage and telegraph station on the Oregon Trail during the 1850s. The site of the first settlement in the area was about 9 miles south of present-day South Pass City, at what is today known as Burnt Ranch. Burnt Ranch was located where the Emigrant Trails crossed the Sweetwater River for the last time and ascended toward the South Pass.
In August 1861, 25-year-old Samuel Clemens (later Mark Twain) passed through South Pass City via stagecoach with his brother Orion, newly appointed as Secretary of Nevada Territory. Mark Twain later wrote about the experience in Roughing It, first published in 1872: ". . . we hove in sight of South Pass City. The hotelkeeper, the postmaster, the blacksmith, the mayor, the constable, the city marshal and the principal citizen and property holder, all came out and greeted us cheerily, and we gave him good day. He gave us a little Indian news, and a little Rocky Mountain news, and we gave him some Plains information in return. He then retired to his lonely grandeur and we climbed on up among the bristling peaks and the ragged clouds. South Pass City consisted of four log cabins, one of which was unfinished, and the gentleman with all those offices and titles was the chiefest of the ten citizens of the place. Think of hotelkeeper, postmaster, blacksmith, mayor, constable, city marshal and principal citizen all condensed into one person and crammed into one skin. [Fellow passenger] Bemis said he was 'a perfect Allen's revolver of dignities.' [The Allen was a small revolver notorious for sometimes firing all six chambers at once, according to Mark Twain.] And he said that if he were to die as postmaster, or as blacksmith, or as postmaster and blacksmith both, the people might stand it; but if he were to die all over, it would be a frightful loss to the community."
In 1866, gold was discovered in the vicinity, and a year later prospecting began on what would become the Carissa mine. Prospectors and adventurers quickly arrived and founded South Pass City. Within a year, the community's population had swelled to about 2,000. One of those who arrived in 1869 was Esther Hobart Morris. In 1870 she became the first woman in the United States to serve as a Justice of the Peace.[page needed] At her urging in 1869, William H. Bright, a saloon owner and representative to the Wyoming Territorial Constitutional Convention, introduced a women's suffrage clause into the territorial constitution. When the constitution was approved by Territorial Governor John A.. Campbell in December 1869, Wyoming became the first jurisdiction in the United States to grant women the right to vote, a right which was not granted women nationally until 1920.
Within a decade, the city's population shrank dramatically, as the large gold deposits that had been hoped for failed to materialize. By the mid-1870s South Pass City's population was reduced to about 100 people but apparently grew to 180 by 1901. Over the next century the population of South Pass City declined even further. Many of the city's homes, mercantile stores, hotels and saloons fell into disrepair. A few businesses continued to operate in South Pass City, with the last of the pioneer families finally moving out in 1949
South Pass City State Historic Site
By the end of the 20th century, steps were being taken to renew the community, and to develop it as an historic site for destination tourism. The community in the early 21st century consists of two areas: South Pass City, in which a handful of residents live, and South Pass City State Historic Site, which preserves more than 30 historic structures dating from the city's heyday in the 1860s and 1870s. In 1970, the community was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
In The Outlaw Trail: A Journey Through Time, Robert Redford devoted a chapter to South Pass City.