Need help with story set in 1870's Rocky Mountains
March 11, 2012 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know the history of mining towns and/or horse ranching in the Rocky Mountains, or where to go to research it?

I have this story in my head that I want to write out of my system; it's set around 10 years after the American Civil War somewhere around or in the Rocky Mountains. (At first I considered the Appalachians but thought that they were perhaps too "civilised" by this time?)

Basically I want my main character to live near a dying/disreputable mining town where her uncle has a small horse ranch. Preferably I want it in the middle of nowhere. I was looking at the area around Sula, Montana to be the inspiration of it; does anyone know if that's a good place? Or does anyone have any tips on where I might go (online) to research a story like this? I don't live in the States - or even North America - so I have no clue.

Any help would be greatly appreciated! (metafilter newbie btw ^_^)
posted by trollnystan to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You should research Ghost Towns. There is tons of info on-line about Ghost Towns. Find a town that existed and died in the time-frame and area of when you are discussing.

The research a bit more on that town. Research on the history of the that region.
posted by Flood at 4:55 PM on March 11, 2012

You might check out the history of Leadville Colorado - lots of rich material there.
posted by ecorrocio at 4:57 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You might have luck with the digital collections at Library of Congress. Their collection of historic American newspapers can be searched by both date and state.
posted by buggzzee23 at 5:09 PM on March 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, the 1870s was a period of great growth and boom in that region, so you might have better luck finding a disreputable town as there weren't many dying towns until a bit later.
posted by buggzzee23 at 5:11 PM on March 11, 2012

I would recommend Butte, Montana. It's still a thriving town today - yet still has a rough 'Wild West' vibe to it, and I'm betting you could find plenty of rich history online.
posted by matty at 5:47 PM on March 11, 2012

Leadville has a mining museum.
posted by kenaldo at 5:55 PM on March 11, 2012

Best answer: I grew up in Colorado and Wyoming, and it's true that the 1870s were the boom for the mining towns in those parts (though it's also true that some early camps would be abandoned as mining pushed westward). In general, mining towns flourished between the late 1850s into the 1890s; the ones that became ghost towns didn't start to be abandoned until the early 20th century. So if your story really needs to be set in the 1870s, than I agree that you'l have more luck finding a disreputable town than a dying one.

Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps is a good place to start, with information about when each town was founded, when post office service was discontinued (if applicable), etc. There are a number of towns that are mentioned as being in the vicinity of ranches, so that could help narrow things down for you as well.

I can't find a specific book about ghost towns/mining towns for Wyoming, but this website might be a good place to start (there seems to be a lot about mining towns on page 3 of the table of contents). Wyoming didn't have as much gold and silver mining as other regions in the Rockies (its mining was more for coal), though there certainly was some. If it turns out you want any information about the area around Laramie, I can try to answer your questions.
posted by scody at 6:02 PM on March 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Patty Limerick does exceptional historical work on this region and era. That link goes to her profile at the Center of the American West's website, which will have interesting information throughout.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 6:43 PM on March 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fwiw my husband was born in Leadville and grew up bouncing around towns on the west slope. He might have some recommendations.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:18 PM on March 11, 2012

There's hundreds of ghost towns in the west, and most of them would have had ranches nearby. Many were abandoned when the mines played out or the railroads and highways went elsewhere, and some where inundated by reservoirs, and yet others had their names changed.
posted by Brian B. at 10:36 PM on March 11, 2012

I just remembered: the Old West series of popular history books from Time-Life, published in the '70s and early '80s, might be a good place to look, too; both ranchers and miners get their own volume, if you can track them down where you are. The series isn't serious scholarship about the region or era, but it has lots of anecdotes, period photographs, maps, etc. that would no doubt fire your imagination. Also, since your protagonist is a woman, there's a volume about women of the West that could be useful, too.
posted by scody at 12:49 AM on March 12, 2012

Here are some Colorado resources (plenty of mining towns in Colorado). The Denver Public Library has some digital collections that you can look at without a library card and that might be helpful. There's also the Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection (that's not associated with the library). And there's a page of online resources on the Colorado Historical Society's page. The Internet Archive might also be helpful; I tried putting in: "colorado mining" (without the quotation marks, actually) into their search engine and there was some interesting looking stuff even on the first page.
posted by colfax at 6:07 AM on March 12, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, thanks guys for all this info! This will help a lot. I should have added "small" to "dying/disreputable", lol; that's really what I meant =) That's what I get for writing a post when tired =P

Thanks again so much! Let's see if I get this story out of my system now.
posted by trollnystan at 6:27 AM on March 12, 2012

Response by poster: Btw, will leave this question as unresolved for one more day if that's ok? Just in case others have more tips or links to share. Unsure of etiquette... =S
posted by trollnystan at 6:32 AM on March 12, 2012

Would you like a visual idea of the area in that time period? WH Jackson was a photographer who was at the peak of his career during his time documenting the American West in the 1870s-80s and spent a good part of that time in the New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming area. Best of all, lots of his pictures are available online.
posted by buggzzee23 at 10:48 PM on March 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd recommend reading some of Isabella Bird's writings from her time in the Rockies, to give you a feel for what life was like in the more isolated parts. A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains (1879) is particularly good.
posted by Suw at 2:07 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks guys! I've now downloaded a few books from the Gutenberg Project and bookmarked several sites; let's see if I get anywhere =)
posted by trollnystan at 12:38 PM on March 13, 2012

« Older landlord and tenant dispute   |   Help not look like an abuse victim. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.