The Gift of Experience

| June 01, 2005

How much is hunting part of Bob’s way of thinking? When he was married, he gave his wife Marilee a hammerless Beretta 410 shotgun for a first anniversary present. She is reported to have loved it.


THE WAY WE WERE
In America’s ghost towns you can still touch the dreams of long-lost people.

They have been left behind all over America. They’re towns that once thrived and were abandoned, or, clinging to life, have been preserved.

We call them ghost towns, and they are fascinating destinations: bawdy frontier boomtowns that sprang up as America went west; mining towns that brought immeasurable wealth out of the ground; railroad towns that stayed behind as work crews moved on; oil towns, cattle towns, logging communities and military bases.

Some of the towns are nothing but dust. Others are not deserted at all; tourism has made them popular destinations again, and their flavor still lingers.

Bodie (bodie.com) used to be the third biggest city in California. Not anymore. It’s now a state historic park, but it hasn’t been overly modernized or converted to made-for-tourist chic. A rough 100 miles south of Lake Tahoe, Bodie, like many other American ghost towns, boomed with the discovery of gold. In 1859 W.S. Bodey found gold but then froze to death in a blizzard. Others came and found gold, and by 1879 the town was booming. This is one ghost town with the real “feel” of pioneer gold towns. All you have to do is scratch some rust off the old equipment to put your hands on metal touched by the miners. Like many a frontier town, Bodie was famous for its wickedness, one man of the cloth writing it was “a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.”

Drivers everywhere will have heard of the legendary Cripple Creek in Colorado (cripple-creek.co.us). Once the most profitable town in the world because of the gold found there in 1891, the town became legendary. When the gold ran out, the town died. Or almost died. What was left of it was saved when a new excitement came to town far more recently – casinos.

Bannack, Mont., was another overnight boom town built on the lust for gold. The town sheriff was himself ringleader of a murderous gang, and he did quite well until an about-to-be-hanged outlaw revealed the truth. He was hanged inside the town saloon.

Frisco, Utah, (onlineutah.com/friscohistory.shtml) another overnight boom town in 1875, may have been one of the wildest. Its main streets were lined with saloons, gambling halls and houses of ill repute, but the town went bust when the mines collapsed. Frisco, what little is left, is rumored to be the most haunted town in the West.

New Echota, in the North Georgia Mountains (northga.net/gordon/echota.html), was established in 1825 as the capital of the Cherokee nation. Abandoning traditional tribal arrangements, the Cherokee established a U.S.-style system, with this town as government seat for the small independent Indian nation that once covered parts of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. Today, New Echota is an active State Historic Site. The Cherokee were dispossessed and forced westward on the Trail of Tears in 1838-39.

Nicodemus, Kan., (nps.gov/nico ) is the only remaining Western community established by African Americans after the Civil War. It was built by ex-slaves who left the devastated Southern states to find a new life. This ghost town has since gained recognition as a National Historic Site.

Belmont, Wis., (wisconsinhistory.org/ firstcapitol) the state’s first capital, is today a picturesque little hamlet, part of a state park. But Belmont, Nev., (ghosttowns.com/states/nv/belmont.html ) is the sort of ghost town a lot of people will expect to see, with some original buildings still standing, some converted for tourists, and nothing much else changed since it’s boom days after silver was discovered in 1865.

Sumpter, Ore., was another town built by gold seekers (1862) to grow and thrive when new methods were developed to extract gold from the ground. But then Sumpter slowly faded away. Just west of Baker, Ore., Sumpter is today a tourist attraction with some of the old town’s feel still intact (historicsumpter.com).

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