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Long-distance dispersal to the mining frontier in late 19th century Colorado

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Leading edges of population expansion provide unique opportunities for individuals to elevate their social and economic status. However, dispersal into unknown areas may have high costs such as violence associated with conflicts over resources, unfamiliar and harsh ecological conditions, and a loss of social networks. We investigate the background of men who dispersed to Gothic, Colorado during the late 19th century to prospect for silver ore. We find support for the hypothesis that men who chose to disperse to the frontier and endure such costs were on average those who lacked access to critical resources in their childhood homes. Yet contrary to this hypothesis and previous dispersal research, some migrants came from very wealthy and high status families. The incentives of long-distance dispersal to ephemeral mining towns with potentially high payoffs are different from the incentives of dispersal sites examined in previous literature. This project draws attention to the need to study heterogeneous incentive structures for dispersal and is also a small piece of understanding the larger puzzle of the colonization of frontiers and population expansion.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology, University of California Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA; Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Crested Butte, CO 81224, USA; 2: Department of Anthropology, University of California Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA

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