Thar’s gold in them thar hills: The search for gold in Wyoming continues for 175 years

WYOMING – Wyoming has never been a state to strike it rich in as far as gold mining, but the Cowboy State does have pockets and people still look for Rare Earth Elements (REE) like gold.

Places like South Pass, Atlantic City, and Miners Delight were once boomtowns where thousands of miners came from all over the world to stake their claim after gold was first discovered by westward-bound wagon trains along the Sweetwater River in 1842. By the 1860-70s, Wyoming was a full-on gold mining territory long before it ever reached statehood.

Carissa Mine in South Pass City. (Wayne Sutherland, WSGS)

As prospects began dwindling after the California gold rush (1848-1855), miners and panners fanned out in all directions looking for that next big pocket payoff. A strike in the Bear Lodge Mountains district near Warren Peak in northeastern Wyoming drew some. It was prospected in 1875.

The Silver Crown district, located on the east flank of the Laramie Mountains in southeast Wyoming, was organized in 1879.

Mary Ellen Mine in South Pass City. (Wayne Sutherland)

The search for precious aurum continued throughout the 1880s and 1890s in the Absarokas—Kirwin, Stinking Water, Sunlight, and New World (now Cook City). Miners also flocked to the Medicine Bow Mountains and Sierra Madre area the Wind River Range.

The biggest payoff to date has probably been the Carissa Mine in South Pass City. Gold production from the South Pass-Atlantic City region totaled between 50,000 and 180,000 ounces before 1911. One estimate by W. Dan Hausel (1989) suggests that as much as 334,000 ounces of gold were mined from the South Pass-Atlantic City district. Total production from Wyoming is unknown because little to no records were ever kept.

Panning for gold then and now. [Inset] a panner sifts through river bottom silt in search of a few keeper nuggets. Today, airborne geophysical exploration for gold continues in the Rattlesnake Hills-Blake Mountain area. (Wayne Sutherland, WSGS)
Even as late as the 1980s, gold exploration continued in Wyoming as several companies found the possibility of large amounts of disseminated low-grade gold thought to be more than one million ounces, according to the Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS).

In 1982 the WSGS discovered anomalous gold in the Rattlesnake Hills in pyrite-rich metachert and the rush was on again. Exploration in the area accelerated after 2008, with efforts by several companies active in the Rattlesnake Hills region. The largest, Evolving Gold Corporation, eventually drilled and evaluated 252,000 feet (76,800 m) of core, finding significant gold mineralization.

Evolving Gold sold its property in 2015 to GFG Resources Inc. CFG continued exploration activity for gold in the Rattlesnake Hills with an extensive airborne geophysical survey in 2016 and successful drill programs in 2016 and 2017.

Modern-day gold map. (WSGS)

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