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Help Apprehend the Carissa Mine Vandals

Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.

I receive a lot of mail and e-mail that I use in developing various articles, including pieces for both this and my Reading the West column in the Fence Post. I had another article I intended to send for this column, but when the following message came in, I felt I needed to get the word out sooner rather than later. Vandals are cowards, especially so when they attack our history and heritage.

The following information was sent to me by a friend, Lesley Wischmann of the group, “Alliance for Historic Wyoming.” If you happen to read American Cowboy, you will know about Lesley, as she was one of the people called out in a recent issue as someone who is making a difference in the West.

I have not edited this information except to add some location information. I thank Lesley for sending it to me.

“Sometime around Feb. 8, vandals attacked the Carissa Mine complex and adjacent Atlantic City, Wyoming, iron ore mine, causing an estimated $30,000 in damages. Joe Ellis, superintendent of nearby South Pass City Historic Site, says the vandals broke windows, forced access to the underground workings of the mine and damaged other property.

“By looking at the damage, we think there’s got to be at least two or three people at a minimum involved,” Ellis reports. In addition to the damage to the Carissa Mine, the perpetrators apparently also struck the old office building at the adjacent Atlantic City iron ore mine site, breaking all the windows. “They did a tremendous job of damaging both places,” Ellis said, calling himself “outraged.”

“According to Ellis, the vandals apparently used a fairly large truck to ram the chained security gate and gain access. “They tried to get in some other buildings first, but the snow was too deep, so they just backed the truck up to the security fence and crawled over from the bed of the truck. It looks like they first broke out one window and then just had a good old time throwing stuff out of windows using anything they could get their hands on. There was a bunch of metal bolts and nuts that were used to put the trestle together that were left over from the project, and they used those and tools and just about anything they could throw as projectiles,” Ellis said.

“The vandals also broke into the main operating shaft. “It goes about 25 feet down and they got into that somehow … but how they got out, we really don’t know.” The vandals also took one of the ore cars, which had been on the trestle tracks, and used it as a “battering ram” on one of the doors until they knocked the car off the rails.

“The old Carissa Mine is well-known to anyone who has visited historic South Pass City in central Wyoming. The old mine sits on a hill above the old gold rush town which boomed in 1867-1868 before going bust in the 1870s. Today, the town, which sits not far from the historic South Pass crossing of the Continental Divide on the old Oregon-California-Mormon Trail, is a state historic site.

“The mine, South Pass City’s economic engine for more than 80 years, had been abandoned and in a state of slow deterioration for decades. Then in 2003, the State of Wyoming bought the complex, considered one of the most complete, unspoiled historic mines in the country, consisting of nine historic structures and 17 significant mine features. In 2004, the state began its four-phase, $3 million stabilization and restoration project.

“The Abandoned Mine Lands Division first removed the site’s hazardous materials and then worked to restore the Mine’s mill and hoist house to their 1929 appearance, the last significant modernization of the facility. By the end of last summer, the state had succeeded in refurbishing the head frame, hoist house and shaft house, along with the overhead trestle, which moved miners and ore from the underground mine to the surface. Ellis said that, curiously, almost all of the damage done in the recent attack was to the work done last summer.

“The owners of the area’s old U.S. Steel building have offered a reward of $1,000 for information about the attack. Anyone with information should contact either the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office at (307) 332-5611 or Joe Ellis, Superintendent at South Pass City Historic Site at (307) 332-3684. For all of us, this should be a reminder of how important it is to educate people about the value of these wonderful old historic sites so that this kind of senseless destruction does not occur in the future.”




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