Residents of Wild West ghost town Goldfield spurn attempts to bring it life
Chris Ayres in Los Angeles
It was once the biggest city in the Wild West. But after a deadly fire in 1923 and more than 85 years of neglect, all that is left of Goldfield, Nevada, are a few falling-down buildings, some rusty mining equipment and 200 or so die-hard residents — who complain when the daily 7.45am rush-hour involves more than seven cars.
All this could soon change, thanks to a proposal by the Democratic senator Harry Reid to turn the sweltering ghost town into a tourist destination by giving it National Park status, perhaps using funds from President Obama’s stimulus plan.
Mr Reid, the US Senate Majority Leader, sees historic saloon bars being restored to their former glory, broken-down cars being towed away, and tour buses arriving daily, creating new jobs in the leisure sector.
Far from being delighted, however, the conservative-minded residents of Goldfield are appalled. They do not want the federal Government’s money. They would rather go it alone like their pioneer forefathers.
“If Reid gets what he wants, there go our property rights,” said R. J. Gillum, the Esmeralda County commissioner, in a front-page report on the town in the Las Vegas Review- Journal. “They’re going to tell us the style they want for our homes, whether they should be painted brown or some other colour.”
Another Goldfield resident, Ruth Anderson, said: “People around here don’t like Reid. We like the way it is. No rules. No hassle. It’s a kickback lifestyle. People don’t care what you wear, what you do, or where you live. But don’t mess with their stuff.” To illustrate their displeasure, the owners of the Santa Fe Saloon, still in business more than 104 years after it was founded, have hung a sign over the bar that reads: “Will Rogers Never Met Harry Reid”. It is a reference to the late cowboy entertainer’s quote that he never met a man he did not like.
Locals also point out that Goldfield already has a tourist business. Well, sort of. For example, a 76-year-old woman provides guided tours of the supposedly haunted Goldfield Hotel, where the gold baron George Wingfield once allegedly threw his illegitimate baby down a mineshaft.
Mr Reid argues that Goldfield’s lack of any civic funds puts its heritage at risk. No one doubts that it has some of the richest Wild West history in the country. For example, Virgil Earp, the brother of Wyatt, was once the town’s deputy sheriff. Goldfield was also the scene of labour unrest when President Roosevelt sent 300 troops in 1907 to crush the local mining unions.
The senator has asked the National Park Service to conduct a study on its potential as a recreation area or historic landmark. “Goldfield would be a terrible thing to lose,” he told the Review-Journal, adding that buses did not even stop there any more.