I'm designing a town in the Ozark mountain range circa 1871, and am unsure what population size to give it.

River Bend is an isolated town in the Ozark highlands of Arkansas founded in 1845 on the promise of mining lead, zinc, and iron. The town made a modest profit until Chuck Goodnight hit diamonds five years later: the mining town boomed for the next eleven years until the Civil War started, and the mine was closed as the workers became soldiers.
The War is now six years behind us (1871). Chuck Goodnight and most of his workers are as dead as the Goodnight mine, and River Bend is dying too. Its remaining population ekes out a living through trapping and lumber, sending furs and logs downstream on the nearby river.

  • What population range would be appropriate for River Bend in its heyday just before the War?
  • How small might its population be ten years later in 1871?
  • Is it even reasonable for the town to not be completely abandoned a decade later?

[Links to cited sources, wherever possible, are appreciated: not because I don't trust you but because I want to add them to my own resource stockpile.]

  • $\begingroup$ If folks are eeking out a living through trapping and lumber, that implies trade. Can you say more about River Bend's proximity to other population centers? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 16:55

2 Answers 2


Before the war the population would likely have been about 1.5 to 3 times the number of miners. Most of the non miners would have been in the business of extracting the earnings of the miners. If the mine employed 2000 miners (a good sized mine no doubt), the town could have been 3000-5000. More likely however with just a single mine you are looking at 500 miners and a total population around 1000.

Gold and silver mining towns often boasted a dozen mines and quickly boomed up to 20k to 50k people and became ghost towns with in 10 years when the precious metal veins were mined out. Gems just did not have the same boom effect. Certianly it would attract miners, but metal veins tend to be easier to find than gems. Gems also require more work to get them ready to sell. For this reason these mines boomed slower and busted slower as well.

If the town is still eeking out a living I would guess it would be because there was still just enough left to mine to support a few dozen miners. Such small settlements tended to be the types that the more solitary mountain men that survive through trapping and hunting. These men are also probably prospectors, always on the hunt for the next big strike of ore.

Unless there is a river nearby then lumber is not a viable trade as getting the lumber out to where it can be utilized at this time is not profitable. The wagons of the day just were not strong enough to handle the rocky rutted trails out of the mountains and hills while carring a few tons of logs. Since the city has busted most lumber being used in the town is going to be canabalized from the abandoned structures already in the town.

However since the town is called River Bend I am guessing there is a river nearby. So an extra 50 - 100 lumberjacks could certianly be working the area. Though even a small lumberjack crew of 10-20 could survive in the town. I would guess that the town is down to around 100-200 total inhabitants.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Since it's called River Bend, I'm willing to say it's got a river within spitting distance. $\endgroup$
    – BESW
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ @BESW - Heh sorry not sure how I missed that. $\endgroup$
    – Chad
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 14:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Since it was specifically asked for in the question do you have any sources for the figures here? $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 15:49

This site might be of interest to you. For example, this page give the historical population (based on census) of Franklin county from 1870 to 2010.


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