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When early travelers traversed South Pass, the gradual incline often left them unaware that they were crossing the Continental Divide. From 1840 to 1860 an estimated 300,000 settlers traveled through the gap.
Gold was discovered at a site about 12 miles north of the pass in 1842, but takings were not impressive at first. In 1867 the Carissa, a hard-rock lode, was found and a boom began. By 1871 South Pass City boasted 2,000 inhabitants and was the seat of Carter County, which encompassed a third of Wyoming.
William H. Bright, a South Pass City saloon keeper and Wyoming senator, introduced a bill granting women the right to vote, hold office and own property. With passage in 1869, Wyoming women became the first in the nation to participate in government, and Wyoming became nicknamed the “Equality State.” One town citizen was Esther Hobart Morris, who in 1870 became the city's justice of the peace, the first woman in the country to hold any political office.
Despite its successes, South Pass City was not to escape the usual fate of boom towns: By 1875 the city was nearly deserted. The death of the mines did not, however, mean the end of South Pass City. In the 1950s a new boom came—one that involved not gold but iron ore. While the iron mines are now closed, the gold mines periodically operate, helping the town's economy. Tourism also has enabled the town to capitalize on its rambunctious past.
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Current Location: South Pass City, Wyoming