Wyoming Ghost Towns

Wyoming Tales and Trails

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This Page: South Pass City, Miners Delight, Atlantic City, Bear River City.

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Modern view of South Pass City.

Ghost towns are frequently associated with played out mines. such is South Pass City, perhaps, the most famous of Wyoming's ghost towns. Gold was discovered in the area in 1842 by a trapper working for the American Fur Company, but a "gold rush" did not occur until the opening of the Carissa Mine in the 1867. The town was platted the same year and incorporated shortly thereafter. It was designated as the county seat of Carter County, named after Judge Wm. Carter of Fort Bridger, later renamed Sweetwater County. By 1868, the town had stage service south to Bryan on the Union Pacific. By 1869, Iliff & Co. had opened the Exchange Bank, the town had a newspaper and the town had a toll road to Atlantic City 2 1/2 miles away, tolls: fifty cents for a wagon and two horses, twenty-five cents for two horses, and stray stock five cents each. For discussion of the discovery of South Pass see Lander.

Bryan, now accessible by four-wheel drive, consists only of a few foundations. In 1868, Bryan was expected to become an important center of communication. It had a railroad roundhouse. In addition, Bryan was served by the Williamson & Co. Bank and by Martin's Hotel, an imposing 50 ft. by 125 ft. two story structure. The stage service advertised roundtrip fares in covered "spring carrages," leaving from Martin's Hotel to Jenk's Restaurant in Green River City, for only $5.00. "Spring carriages" were not necessarily comfortable. Elmer Carlson, of Cody, writing of stage service in Meeteetse, described the reactions of several passengers after their experience in stages using covered "spring" wagons as coaches:

"One young eastern fellow rode the stage from Cody to Meeteetse and when asked if he would ride it back replied it would be a whole lot more comfortable to walk back. Andy Wilson said he wouldn’t pay a dollar to ride from Meeteetse to Thermopolis, couldn’t earn a dollar easier than to just light out and walk it."

The Union Pacific was concerned about lack of water in Bryan, not only for the locomotives, but also for the roundhouse. The railroad moved the roundhouse to Green River City. Bryan faded away.

Masonic Lodge, South Pass City

For discussion on history of the Masonic Order see discussion on Cheyenne III. In the early 1870's disputes arose with Green River City as to the location of the seat with, pending an election, the Board of County Commissioners meeting first in South Pass City, then in Green River City, back to South Pass City. When the election was held Green River City won, but it still required a law suit against the Board to get the move made. Meanwhile, in the various moves back and forth, some of the County's financial records were stolen. In 1871, a fire destroyed several buildings including the newspaper. The result of the fire, loss of the county seat and the coming of the railroad to Green River, bypassing the town was its failure. In 1884, county lines were changed and the town became part of Fremont County.

Cabin, Miners Delight

The privy to the right and behind the cabin is a "two-holer." See photo below right. Miners Delight, originally Hamilton City, located about 2 1/2 miles from Atlantic City, received its start with the discovery of the Miners Delight Mine in September 1867. By 1869 some $60,000-$70,000 in gold had been recovered from the mine resulting in the change of name from Hamilton City to Miners Delight. by 1870 the town had attained a population of 70 including 40 miners, 1 farmer, and 1 liquor dealer. Mining declined and between 1882 and 1907 the town was completely abandoned. In 1907 the Miners Delight Mining Company attempted to resume mining. During the depression many of the otherwise abandoned cabins were occupied by the jobless. Most of the sructures in the town date to the 1907 period, it being doubtful than any structures date back to the original town.

Atlantic City was founded in 1868, by Tozier, Collins & Thompson. At one time the town supposedly attained a population of 2,000, although the 1870 census only reflected a population of 321 whites and 4 blacks. The town claimed the honor of having the first brewery in the Territory. Atlantic City was noted for its "French" section which appealed to lonely miners. After the intial gold rush the town began to fade until the arrival of Emil Granier who attempted to revive mining. Unfortunately, several mine explosions killed his hopes and he returned to his native France destitute and spent his last years in debtors' prison. Hopes for the town's revival again arose in the 1962 with the coming of surface iron ore mining, but were dashed with cessation of operations in 1983.

As noted with regard to the discussion of Sherman on the next page, as the Union Pacific moved west there were created instant boom towns at the end of the line serving the grading crews and providing a "jumping off" spot for those heading further west. A few of these instant towns, typically division points such as Cheyenne and Laramie, became permanent cities. Others such as Sherman lasted a little longer. Others which consisted little more than tents and a few shanties in which saloon keepers, gamblers, and soiled doves plied their respective trades, may have lasted only a matter of months. As the tracks were extended the inhabitants of the towns would pack up, load up on wagons and move to the next town, giving rise to the expression, "Hell on wheels." In 1868, at the peak of railroad construction, the Territory had a population of about 16,000, but by mid-1869 the population was only a little over 8,000.

Bear River City, Wyoming Territory

Of such a nature was Bear River City about 10 miles south of Evanston. Bear River City, 1867, pictured below right, is not to be confused with the city of the same name in Utah, Bear River City, at its peak had a newspaper, The Frontier Index, published by Legh Freeman. Freeman, utilizing a box car as a printing office, followed the tracks starting his newspaper in Fort Kearney, and moving westward to Julesburg, Cheyenne, Fort Sanders, Green River City and Ogden. Freeman was not, however, a milquetoast in expressing his opinions as to fraud by the Railroad or his opinions as to others. In the November 15, 1868 edition of The Index he expressed his opinions as to Blacks, Indians and Chinese. If his opinions didn't get the attention of the gentle reader, he persisted several days later with a vitriolic attack on the L.D.S. and a call for the lynching of three accused murderers. Following the necktie party, a group of vigilantes turned on him. Nineteen years later in the June 19, 1877 edition of the Ogden [Utah] Freeman he described, with perhaps some exaggeration, the reason for his departure from Wyoming:

"The next morning at the break of day, when several thousand graders headed by the most villainous desperadoes, beseiged the office, gutted and sacked it, and threatened to burn us in it, and would undoubtedly have left nothing but a grease spot of our mortal remains had not a milk white steed conveyed us to Fort Bridger, where we obtained troops, who arrested the leaders and held the town under martial law until the large gangs of men passed westward to the grading camps of Echo and Weber Canyon. Forty-odd rioters are buried around the office. the only citizen killed in the melee was Steve Stokes. The last of the cutthroats has died with his boots on and the ringleader had his head chopped off with an ax."

The graders from Echo Canyon were, however, a bit rough. When the Echo Canyon saloon was torn down years later, seven human skeletons were found under the floor boards. A more accurate version of the November 19, 1868, Bear River City Riot was described by George Crofutt in his 1872 edition of Crofutt's Trans-Continental Tourist's Guide:

The Bear River City Riot cost sixteen lives, including that of one citizen. The mob first attacked and burned the jail, taking thence one of their kind who was confined there. They next sacked the office and destroyed the material of the Frontier Index. Elated with their success, the mob, numbering about 300 well-armed desperados, marched up the main street and made an attack on a store, belonging to one of the leading merchants. Here they were met with a volley from Henry rifles, in the hands of brave and determined citizens, who had collected in the store. The mob was thrown into confusion and fled down the street, pursued by the citizens, about thirty in number. The first volley and the running fight left fifteen of the desperados dead on the street. the number of wounded was never ascertained, but several bodies were afterwards found in the gulches and among the rocks, where they had crawled away and died. One citizen was slain in the attack on the jail.

By 1872, Crofutt reported that nothing of Bear River City was left except some chimneys and rusted oyster tins. Among those who assisted in putting down the riot was a former New York City police officer, Thomas James Smith. Smith, as a result of his actions, earned the appellation "Bear River Tom." Smith subsequently became the first town marshal of Abilene, Kansas. There he, among other things, closed down the "Red Light District" after a murder in one of the "dens of iniquity." Smith was killed on November 2, 1870, while attempting to arrest Andrew McConnell. Smith was buried in a $2.00 grave. In 1904 the City removed his remains to a more prestigious part of the cemetary and provided a grave marker. Smith's year of birth is given by various sources as 1830, 1835, and 1840.

Benton, Wyoming

Benton was Wyoming Territory's first ghost town. Benton, 11 miles east of present day Rawlins at UP milepost 672.1, lasted only three months from July to September 1868, and attained a population of 3,000. During that period, however, it provided an interesting contrast. On one hand, it had twenty-five saloons and five dance halls. During its brief existence, reputedly over 100 souls met their Maker in gunfights. One visitor referred to Benton as "nearer a repetition of Sodom and Gomorrah than any other place in America."

On the other hand, General Grant during his 1868 visit to Wyoming visited the town. Additionally, the town in August and September 1868, provided the jumping off location for 2,000 Saints in 5 companies heading to Utah.

The election of Grant brought out the voice of moderation, Legh Freeman, who again excited the attention of his readers, many of whom were Union veterans. Freeman, a former Confederate sympathizer, referred to Grant as "the whiskey bloated, squaw ravishing adulterer, nigger worshipping mogul rejoicing over his election to the presidency."

More ghost towns on next page.