Ghost Towns

Examines the gold mining era in American history and life in the mining towns.

Among the most colorful periods in America’s remarkable early history is the Gold Rush era. In the late 1800s, the discovery of gold triggered a flood of immigrants into the country, all intent on making their fortune. These miners shaped the early history of America and created a great deal of the legend that surrounds the era of the Wild West. While some of the legends of lawlessness and debauchery are clearly exaggerated, life in the mining towns of the Gold Rush era was clearly ‘rough and ready’. This paper examines life in the mining camps of the Gold Rush era. This includes a look at the people who made up the camps, the general atmosphere, as well as prostitution, gambling, general lawlessness, and the role of religion within the mining camps. The demise of the mining camps is examined in the context of the development of the railroad and the emergence of the Settlement Act. In addition, the fate of many of these mining camps as ghost towns is discussed, including threats to their continuing existence and hopes for their preservation.
Today, time has begun to erase the physical traces of many of America’s more permanent historic mining camps. As a result, there has been a recent movement aimed at the preservation of these pieces of American history. In Montana, Virginia City and Nevada City were considered among the National Trust’s top 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties. The two towns were famous for their fine collection of buildings and artifacts from the 1860s and 1870s gold rush era, and were being slowly auctioned off by a private owner. Ultimately, the State of Montana, in association with a group of private and public sources known collectively as the Montana Heritage Preservation and Development Commission bought the property, and began preservation in earnest (Visit Montana).