Old boomtowns of the west were built around mining sites.  They started out as little camps with tents. As more and more people learned about the area that might have potential of making prospectors rich, more people came.  With the increase of population came the increase of merchants and mining companies.  A general store and other shops would be established.  A mine cave would be excavated until it  ran dry, which hopefully wouldn't be for a while.   Each boomtown was unique in its flair and what the miners and settlers brought, yet they all had similarities.   

Most boomtowns were not very well kept.  Garbage was piled in the back of the buildings.  Miners described the towns as " noisy, smelly, and dirty."  Buildings were put up so quick, that most of them weren't sturdy or safe.  Lumber became scarce once a town got big.

There was no real form of law and order, so vigilante committees were formed.  They brought justice to the law- breakers in their own way.  Hundreds of outlaws were brought to justice by the formation of these committees. 

The general store was a huge social gathering place.  Merchants made a fortune off of settlers.  They realized that selling tools to miners  made huge profits.  Prices were sky-high, almost 10 times what the merchant paid the wholesaler.

Stores and restaurants opened up quickly as well.  Boarding houses and hotels usually were small.  Sometimes, strangers would have to sleep together in a small bed. On the main level, there was usually a saloon or some kind of shop, above it would be the bedrooms.



Boomers Camp Arkansas City, Kan.

National Archives and Records Administration
Washington, DC


    A budding Boomtown 

 National Archives and Records Administration
Washington, DC   


The General Store, Corinne, Boxelder Co., Utah

National Archives and Records Administration
Washington, DC  


San Francisco: The First Boomtown

San Francisco is a city with a lot of history.  From the time John Marshall set foot in its hills and found gold, to the gold rush itself and the infamous 49ers, till today, a metropolis with a huge economy and population.  San Francisco is one of the few boomtowns that didn't bust after the rush.   It started as a small town built on a harbor near the Pacific Ocean. Here is a diary entry written in today, about his family in the California Gold Rush.

"For every decade there seems to be some kind of hardships to a forming city or state.  Every time my family has faced a hardship it seems like we just take off and run from everything, so we wouldn't have to face the hardship.  We would also move in hope of a better life.  My great grandparents on my mom and dad's side of the family decided to start moving their family to California.  They wanted to move there because they heard about the gold rush and wanted to join in the the action.  The gold rush also brought many new jobs to people, especially to immigrant Chinese people.  The gold rush started in 1849 when John Marshall saw a piece of gold in a river near the site where Johann Sutter's mill was going to be built.  My family settled in San Francisco, then settled in Coloma, which was 45 miles away from Sutter's Fort when the gold rush began.  The gold rush left the bay area empty because everyone who lived there began to move inland in hopes to find gold.  Both sets of grandparents, William and Anne on my mom's side and Henry and Ruth saw California transform from just a mining town to a booming industrial place of trade and business.  The city of about 30,000 people were moving at a fast past to transform the city full of tents and shacks to a place full of brick and stone buildings.  The cause for the city growing so fast was the within 2 years the city was burnt to the ground 6 times.  Each time it was rebuilt it was built bigger and better.  Also the gold brought many people to move to the west which turned the  city into a cultural Mecca. "

When San Francisco first started, they only had a population of 800.  Within a few years, they had over 255,000.  James Marshall found gold in 1848.  After that, San Francisco turned into "the biggest, busiest boomtown in Western History".  Thousands of men came to California from the east. Others came from as far away as China, Germany, South America, England and France.   


Boomtown Effects

Boomtowns led to immense migration (emigration and immigration) from various locations such as the East, Ireland, and China.  Once people heard a rumor of gold or silver, they rushed to the hallowed spots, hoping to arrive before all the gold was gone.  The phrase, "Pikes Peak or Bust" was on every gold seeker's mind and written on many wagons heading west.  Most people, unfortunately, didn't find gold.  Some found gold, but due to high prices of goods, gambling, and other unnecessary  items, they became broke and went back home just like they came.  Many tales came from life in the boomtowns.  Such songs as, "Oh, Susanna" and "Oh, My Darling" came from life out West.

Railroads were built near boomtowns.  This was a major effect of of on boomtowns because without transportation to the East, the gold mined was worthless.  Railroads also increased the migration to the  West which caused more towns to be established.  Boomtowns also set up just because of a railway or station.   Without the uses of railways and high tech abilities of the day, the West may have still been no man's land.   


Photo of Samuel Clemens at railroad platform in Hannibal, MO. from the Dave Thomson collection Railroads.html


The Boomtown  Legacy

The immigration to boomtowns led to a variety of ethnicities in the country. Most people that came to the west during the Boomtown Period would end up settling permanently in the west. The population increased and new states were established.  Boomtowns took the United States a step closer to its present status. Many present cities, like San Francisco, were once boomtowns. Life was discovered in new lands.




Learner. org" The West"  2001 (online) Available at:  Accessed: January 26, 2002

San Francisco History (online) Available at:  

Shapley, Robert W.  Boomtowns, The Wild West in American History.  Florida:  Rourke Publications, Inc. 1990 

The American Southwest Rhyolite, Nevada- Ghost City of Golden Dreams”  2000(online) Available at: < Accessed: January 27, 2002


Animation Library (online) Available at:

Dave Thomson collection (online) Available at: Railroads.html 

Llerrah music (online) Available at:

National Archives and Records Administration 2001(online)Availiable at: