Date of Award

Spring 1980

Document Type




First Advisor

Robert Swartout

Second Advisor

Rev. Jeremiah Sullivan

Third Advisor

Donald Roy


The mining camp was the center of attention during an era in which men struggled to build something lasting in a strange and hostile environment. The camp reflected well the transitory and exploitative nature of the mining frontier in that there was always the speculation concerning the unanswerable question of how long prosperity would last. Would the cost of living decline and wages remain high? Could the merchant gamble with an expensive inventory, hoping the economy would remain on the upswing?'5' Life was exciting, yet many wanted it to be more stable. Those who adhered to this attitude, like the merchant, newspaper editor, businessman, mine owner, and others, did so for a good reason. Stability meant a camp was maturing and prospering, thus ensuring itself of some sort of future permanence. Permanency eliminated much of the risk involved with investing in a particular camp. This group of people, then, realized that settling in a community which might not exist tomorrow was chancy business. Thus they would do what they could to develop and promote the camp in 2 its task to achieve or maintain stability.2

But stability was not a characteristic of the mining frontier. Mines, camps, life in general were in a constant pendulum motion. When times were good the camp prospered and appeared stable. When the mines declined and stopped producing, the camp, which existed primarily to serve and be served by the mines, similarly declined. With this decline the population pulled up stakes and moved on to more promising 3 areas. Yet there was much more involved in the cycle of a camp which affected its development and stability. The camp did not exist within the shell of the frontier, sheltered from outside interference. Rather, it was an institution affected by all forces, both local and national. The camp was nineteenth century America and in most respects reflected the country’s needs, strengths and weaknesses. Usually, mining camps materialized wherever rich minerals existed. They first arose in the 1850-60s with the great placer booms. Later, when quartz mining (underground) picked up momentum, many would flourish in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s Generally, the first camps began in California and then spread eastward. Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, and South Dakota all had their booms. Most were short-lived, as each camp spent its hour on stage and then disappeared. A few, though, continued to hang on to permanency and flourish today, defying the philosophy of the 4 mining frontier, "easy come, easy go. ..."