Saturday, December 1, 2018

Ghost Towns of the West

When I mention the topic of ghost towns of the old west, many images come into our minds. Some of our impressions of those old towns have been formed by the old movies and TV westerns we watched. Some of you may have even visited some of the well restored or re-created western towns that have become popular tourist attractions. But many would consider that the true 'ghost' towns are those that were abandoned and left for ruin. They are the ones where there may be only one building standing, or just the shattered remains of a building or two.

While the commercially operated old western towns have some very knowledgeable guides and narrators who can accurately describe the history of the location, there has got to be something special about tracking down some of those real old ghost towns, and searching out your own information about them.

Colorado Experience | Ghost Towns:

Most of these towns started out as a hub for whatever local industry was prominent. There were the cow towns of the cattle industry, the oil towns near the rich oil fields, mining towns, logging towns in the higher elevations, and the towns that started as nothing more than a water stop for a railroad line.

That last example is where we got the term, “one tank town,” where a single water tower awaited a thirsty steam locomotive on its way to somewhere down the line where greater prosperity from a larger population made the trip worthwhile for the railroad. But many of these obscure remote stops soon added sleeping and dining facilities and maybe a saloon for the railroad employees. Then later more buildings were constructed to accommodate RR passengers and others who might want to settle there or just spend some spend time there.

Many of these tiny towns became boom towns as the expansion of the west took place, and prosperity peaked related to the industry upon which the town was built. And thus they began to fall when their specific industry failed. It's called progress, I guess. Some of the railroads that once fed these small towns found it more profitable to alter their routes into the larger cities. Many oil fields went dry and many mines were depleted, and then their towns began to fold, and then fall to ruin as well.

I did some web searches to locate some of these true ghost towns, and have selected a few to comment on. I decided to list what appears to be the last wild west town to be built as my first one on the list. They called it Whizbang.

Whizbang, Osage County, Oklahoma (see video below), was likely the one of the last, or maybe 'the' last old wild west town to be founded (1921), and just about the last to completely fold (1942). As an oil boom town, it attracted some of the toughest and roughest men of the west who earned their wages from the hard and dangerous jobs offered in the oil fields. With what we would call primitive oil rigs today, these men helped the oil companies produce a whopping twenty-five hundred barrels of oil a day. And while not a cow town, as was symbolic of the old west. And Whizbang certainly had its share of brawls and shootings and killings and bank robberies. You could depend on big trouble from the town's bad guys on a weekly, and sometimes on a daily basis. Whizbang was not so willing to adapt to the modern civilized life of the 1920's that was then more prominent across the United States.

Whizbang, Oklahoma, oil boom ghost town:

Although known by the popular name of Whizbang, the bureaucrats of the Postal Service decided to change the name of the town to Denoya not long after it was founded. But it will long be remembered as Whizbang, which is more fitting to its legendary wild west occupants.

But with its total dependence on oil production, when the oil dried up, so did the town. It went from nearly 300 businesses down to zero in no time. By 1942, the post office officially closed, and Whizbang / Denoya was left to become a ruinous ghost town.

Here are a few more 'ghost' town locations where at several of them, some folks claim they've actually seen ghostly figures appear.

Rhyolite, Nevada:

Rhyolite is located on the eastern edge of Death Valley in the Bullfrog Hills area about 120 miles NW of Las Vegas. Early on, the town received some solid financial backing by Charles M. Schwab, and the mining town's population and prosperity took a sudden rise in 1907. But after some natural disasters and monetary failures, Rhyolite continued to decline until the last of its residents left in 1920.

St. Elmo, Colorado:

Formerly named Forest City, St. Elmo was once a major mining center. First settled in 1878, its population grew to 2,000. But by 1930, there were only seven people remaining. The site is now privately owned and maintained and open to visitors who happen by, but there are no typical tourist attractions there to distract from its authenticity. Present day St. Elmo has a reputation of having the most paranormal activity in the state of Colorado.

Bodie, California:

Located in Mono County, CA, this site was established in 1859 as a gold mining town, and was named after one of their pioneer miners, William Bodie, who had perished in a blizzard while on a supply trip. The town has been left virtually untouched for 150 years. Visitors may get an eery feeling when they look inside the shacks that are still standing and see the tables with cups and dishes all set waiting for their 'departed' residents to return.

Kennecott, Alaska, Mining Ghost Town:

The massive size of this ghost mine adds to its forbidding appearance. Located in the middle of Alaska's massive Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, Kennecott was in operation from 1911 to 1938, and employed some 300 people in the town and just as many in the mines. Copper was its commodity, and it was said that $200 million of the metal was processed there. Tours are provided of the 14-story mill and other buildings by the National Park Service. Tours, yes. But Kennecott is not your typical 'tourist' attraction.

Bannack, Montana:

This desolate old town is another one that is supposedly rich in paranormal activity. Founded in 1862, Bannack became a typical wild west gold rush town. There is a road that runs between Bannack and Virginia City, Montana that became plagued with more holdups, robberies and murders than almost any other stagecoach route. The mine lasted longer than most old western mines as it operated from the 1862 era to 1950. And with almost 60 structures to explore, the adventurist traveler might want to set aside a few days (or weeks) to cover the whole complex.

South Pass City, Wyoming:

Another gold mining town, South Pass City was founded in 1867 and is located in the Rocky Mountains about 10 miles north of the Oregon Trail on the Continental Divide. When things were booming, there were about 2,000 residents in the town, mostly made up of the usual rowdies who frequented the saloons and brothels of the town and the proprietors who ran them. But since the gold deposits were sparse, the miners started to leave and things really bottomed out by the mid-1870's. But through all of it, a few families still remained in South Pass until 1949. And presently, a dozen or so residents have returned to live among the 30+ preserved historic structures. Most likely some of them have a few interesting stories to tell as passed down from their ancestors.

That will have to wrap up my coverage of these relics of the old west for now. There are so many more authentic ghost towns worth the mention that it would be very time consuming to even begin to cover them all. But here are the links and names of the websites where I gleaned much of my information:

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