Prospecting for Gold and the South Pass City Historic Site
Thirty six years ago, as a geology student, I visited South Pass City during my summer geology field experience,(A solid six full days a week and eight week long mapping and field tripping class). So when Renita and I came to Lander we both wanted to spend a day at South Pass, checking out the state historic site and doing a little gold panning and rock hounding. I didn't remember much about South Pass other then the dilapidated condition of the Carissa mine buildings and the interior of the old wooden jail, so it was quite a surprise to see that the State of Wyoming was actually rebuilding the Carissa Mine site and to see how much progress had been made. As we drove down into South Pass City a sign greeted us, stating that the population was now down to seven, and a for sale sign was on the South Pass Mercantile, hmmmm. We parked the truck and headed to the State Historic site which consisted of about a dozen brightly painted building. A boardwalk took us on a self guided tour, with each building having a room with glass windows that allowed you to see the interior of the structure. Each had been faithfully restored and many actually had family heirloom furniture donated or on loan from the original families! We were both surprised at the completeness of the buildings and that the buildings were all original structures,(With one exception, a house built to honor Esther Morris, the nations first female judge). I laughed at the school building where it told of the school teacher and how he would lock the door and beat the kids with a switch. How I had wanted to do that myself. The display also told of how a sherriff showed up one day and arrested the teacher for stealing horses,(Hmmm, they didn't pay very good in those days either). About halfway down we ran into the caretaker/greeter/merchant, of the store who told us about the site and gave us many details on the restoration and archaeological digs that had taken place there. We really enjoyed the self guided tour and both had to pose in the jail, Afterwards we returned to the truck, got our lunch and gold pans and headed downstream to try our luck, chasing the elephant. Hiking to a spot, protected by the willow trees, after all the creek is aptly named Willow Creek, we sat down and unloaded our gear. I waded into the stream and filled my pan with dirt and rock from beneath and below a large rock and started to pan. Now I am probably one of the worlds worst gold panners, but I practiced a lot when I was a teacher and even had a stream table with fools gold, lead shot and some real gold which I allowed my students to pan,(It kept the teens occupied from their usual planning of mayhem and parties). I actually had a plan and hoped to see some color. Nearing the bottom of the pan I swirled it and saw some pyrite, fools gold. Moving to another place I tried another pan with the same results, hmmmmm. Taking a step my sandal broke and I was now barefoot. Tiring, I went over and sat down with Renita, who pointed out a place for me to pan. I scooped up some of the material and handed the pan to her. She had the same luck I did. Taking a break we ate our lunch along the stream, warmed by the mid morning sun. We decided that the place had been played out and so we hiked back to the truck, with me stepping gingerly and trying to avoid any sharp rocks. We went into the mercantile store where the proprietor asked if we were gold prospectors, to which we replied, "Bad ones", and we could see her roll her eyes. I waited for her to spit out a mouthful of chewing tobacco but she didn't oblige, (I think she swallowed it, just joking but I did have a female student who chewed and would swallow it when I caught her). As we left South Pass City and headed home, we passed a dilapidated antique store just past the Carissa Mine. Stopping we were greeted by the owner, Steve Green, a retired shop teacher from Lander, Wyoming. Steve regaled us with his stories and actually was a blacksmith who did the demonstrations at the blacksmith shop in the Historic site. We talked of mutual people we might have known, and traded stories of interesting students. As we talked I looked at his wares and saw he had some pieces of jade for sale. We bought both and also some agate, which he threw in for good measure. We couldn't leave without buying some of his iron work, which was designed for cooking over a campfire. It was a pleasure to meet him and hear his stories and we left feeling that we had just had one of those unexpected pleasures in life, which is one of the great things about fulltiming and traveling. It was a day well spent. Clear skies.