Many western fiction tales and older western movies feature “The Prospector” character. A nice profile of this fictional character can be found here. So, is the prospector a man long obsessed with striking it rich in the foothills outside of town or as some might believe, just a crazy old hermit who prefers the company of his burro to that of his fellow man? Often enough the cranky old miner comes to play an important role in the story. Because of his benign presence in town he frequently is used by the hero to spy on the activities in town or to pass messages to allies. In many cases he is also connected in some way to the plot as the long forgotten uncle or father of the female character or the original owner of some land title. Although he is rarely the main character the grizzled old-timer often saves the day in the story’s climax.
While a prospector character is a fun addition to the population of your gaming town mining as an industry itself is often the reason for a towns existence. The economic vitality of your town could be fueled solely by mining–either the wild free-for-all of a boom town that attracts all sorts of independent small time miners or the more industrial company owned mine that employs 80% of the town. The notorious city of Tombstone, Arizona was a famous for it’s silver mines in it’s early days. There is the downside of a mining town too–when the vein taps out and the miners leave for better pickings elsewhere. This leaves a dying town and unless there is some way to keep people from leaving it will become a ghost town.
Mining is a very big topic and there are many books that cover the historical gold rushes in California, the Klondike, and elsewhere. But there are also many types of valuable ore besides gold such as silver, platinum, copper, bauxite, and zinc. Google Books has a primer on placer mining and another book called Elements of Mining. There is also the Prospector’s and Miner’s Manual and the Miner’s Guide. If you really want to read about the sociological side of mining camps you can find some chapters in a book called Mining Camps: A study in American Frontier Government. If you are curious there is a small book about Mine Signboards too. There is also a load of fiction to be found such as Yellow Pine Basin: The Story of a Prospector and Zane Grey’s Desert Gold.
Anyways, something to think about in your world building. Here are some comic book fact pages I’ve collected on prospectors and mining that can help bring color and depth to your games. I’ve collected them into a .pdf file as well. Prospectors & Mining
NOTE: I posted a smaller post on this gold mining previously (04 March 2012) but it didn’t really do justice to the topic.