Treasures in a Piano Bench
By James H. Nottage
The Lowery Music Studio in Laramie during the late 1950s and early 1960s was actually our living room on 15th street. There, our mom offered player pianos and organs for sale and gave music lessons on piano and accordion. I remember stacks and stacks of sheet music hidden under the hinged lids of piano benches. The music and its colorful covers represented all kinds of styles and tastes from the greater American song book. As a child, I was fascinated.
If we could explore the layers of sheet music in any piano bench of the past, what could we find? They’d surely tell something of the pianist’s household. What composers, styles of music and performers are present? What tastes are here? Does some of the music appear well-worn and is some seemingly untouched? Are there clues to who promoted the music or maybe where it was bought? Does any of the music come from other cultures? Can we imagine someone playing the music for recitals, family gatherings or just plain fun?
Celebrating Native American Heritage Month
By Kylie McCormick
Last Saturday, I led a conversation about race at the Campbell County Library in Gillette, Wyo. The conversation occurred in the context of a three-part workshop focusing on the preconditions of the Holocaust and the bystanders during the genocide, but conversations like this often reach beyond that specific history and into our own personal experiences. I was fortunate to have a generous audience, among them one Native American man who shared his agreement with me about the intrinsic value in connecting with people who share something with you—like a culture, language or history.
This month is Native American Heritage Month. It seems to me, when I look at the history of these national celebrations—Black History Month, for example—I find the people who started them did so because they saw value in celebrating a group’s distinct cultures and history. The idea behind Native American Heritage Month started in 1912 when Dr. Arthur C. Parker of the Seneca Nation convinced the Boy Scouts of America to celebrate a “First Americans” Day. Soon, the idea of celebrating all their diverse cultures and shared history gained support among other American Indians. In 1912, the Congress of the American Indian Association began petitioning the federal government for the day to be nationally recognized. Finally, in 1990, President George H.W. Bush designated November to be National Native American Heritage Month, and since then each president as kept the tradition.
The Hazards of Winter Travel
Weather can kill: Anyone living in tornado or hurricane country knows this. Blizzards, too, can kill, as ranchers know well from Wyoming’s spring snowstorms. But when city people drive reliable cars on the highway in the wintertime, perhaps we are somewhat less attuned to the dangers of cold and snow.
The Rabbit Holes of History
By Kylie McCormick
Dick Blust’s latest WyoHistory.org article, “Three Photos, a Murder and a Murky Outcome,” opens with a scene familiar to anyone working in the museum and visitor center field: a visitor’s question, shining a light down a research rabbit hole just begging you to follow along. The story uncovered by the staff at the Sweetwater County Historical Museum started with a simple question, “Who are the women in this photograph?”
I’ve been lucky to work behind the front desk of an interpretive center. Some questions you get every day, and you share the answers like you are walking a visitor down a well-worn trail. Other questions lead to unfamiliar trails that have been well worn by others, and still other questions lead to rabbit holes. Blust’s rabbit hole led him to a story of a difficult marriage set against the backdrop of difficult reservation politics. Was George Terry murdered for how he treated his wife, Kate Enos, or was he assassinated for helping to open Indian lands to white settlement?
A Straight Line in Rough Country
By Rebecca Hein
Impractical decisions, made by men thousands of miles away from the relevant location, are a feature of the history of the American West. So it was with surveying the land in a grid. Government surveyor Billy Owen, working in the 1880s, found the country in central Wyoming “generally rolling with some hilly and mountainous land.”
Not the simplest job to survey, perhaps, and an issue I didn’t think about for many decades. In the 1980s, flying between Chicago and Denver, I saw a mostly flat grid below, stretching for miles, and thought vaguely about an orderly network of county roads. The consequences of laying a grid over the rugged mountains of the West didn’t occur to me.
Wait, Where’d That Monument Go?
Heavy stones set in concrete may seem permanent, yet as I’ve been researching Wyoming’s historical markers and monuments, I’ve found they can surprise you—by jumping rivers, say, or clinging to bygone roads.
When I first started to investigate the story around Wyoming’s Oregon Trail Commission (1914-1923), I assumed the placement of monuments would be obvious: on the Oregon Trail. But debates that emerged in the correspondence I read proved me wrong. The initial placement of a monument or marker depended on old-timers locating certain forts or battle fields or how close a road or access point was to the trail being marked. Typically, they attempted to put the marker right next to the trail or historic site. Occasionally, though, I would find a marker located off the trail but close to the highway for those just passing through to take notice. After all, what good is a marker that no one stops to see?
Lynching, a Family and the Law
By Rebecca Hein
Why would a man portrayed as respectable participate in a lynching? For years I didn’t think about this, although the question had been floating in front of me since childhood, when I read and re-read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series.
In 2014, at age 58, I read lawyer/historian John Davis’ WyoHistory.org article on the 1909 Spring Creek Raid, a bloody episode in which seven cattlemen killed three sheep ranchers, kidnapped two others and slaughtered sheep and sheep dogs near Spring Creek south of Ten Sleep, Wyo. This led me to Davis’ book, Goodbye, Judge Lynch. In this book I learned that White-on-White lynchings were common on the American frontier, sometimes even after a criminal justice system had been established.
A History Map on a Classroom Floor
At the annual meeting of the Wyoming Historical Society this month in Wheatland, we bumped into historian and Wheatland Middle School teacher Mary Jo Birt. We were happy to see her; year after year Birt’s students do very well in Wyoming History Day competitions and she’s always full of new teaching ideas.
She showed us a photo of her 7th graders standing behind a Wyoming map that took up most of the floor of their classroom. On the map were many 3-D objects, but it was hard to tell just what they were.
The Fate of an Outlaw’s Body
By Rebecca Hein
Big Nose George: His Troublesome Trail, by Mark E. Miller, with a foreword by former WyoHistory.org Assistant Editor Lori Van Pelt. High Plains Press, 2022, 136 pages. $19.95 paperback.
Possibly the most tantalizing sentence in this tale of murder, lynching and postmortem gruesomeness is, “If only each murderer had kept his mouth shut” nobody would have connected the outlaws with their crimes. Outlaw groups were, in the late 19th century West, “[A] fluid and dynamic mix of miscreants and evildoers, never staying together very long, and certainly not holding powerful allegiances among group members.”
Nonetheless, in 1878 George Parott recruited his Powder River gang to rob the eastbound Union Pacific train in Carbon County, Wyoming Territory. Outlaws had learned from a recent issue of the Laramie Daily Sentinel that pickings were much better on the eastbound train than the westbound.
From this fast-paced, well-written narrative, we learn things that never cross our minds in the age of the automobile.
A Birthplace, a hidden Story and a Rebel Painter
By John Clayton
It was January 2019. I had just bundled off to my editor the manuscript for my book Natural Rivals: John Muir, Gifford Pinchot, and the Creation of America’s Public Lands. I was free to investigate new projects—ideally smaller ones! For example, somewhere I’d picked up the piece of trivia that famed Abstract Impressionist painter Jackson Pollock had been born in Cody, Wyo. Was there a story there?
I will always remember leaving the library at Montana State University-Billings, and starting my walk back to the car. I’d been stymied in my quest. I looked up “Wyoming” in the index of several Pollock biographies. Most confirmed the piece of trivia: he was born in Cody on January 28, 1912. A few mentioned that his family had soon moved away. But that was it.
Indian Boarding Schools, Wind River and the Pope
News this week of the pope’s visit to Canada caught us off guard. We hadn’t known he was coming. When he spoke, he offered an apology the size of a continent: “I humbly beg forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples,” he said, speaking in Spanish through an interpreter. “I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools.” Applause and shouts of approval from a largely Native audience greeted his remarks, the New York Times reported.
Beginning in the late 19th and running through most of the 20th century, the Canadian government subsidized Indian boarding schools. Nearly all were run by religious denominations, about 70 percent of them by Roman Catholics and the rest by Protestants. The former Ermineskin Residential Indian School, now demolished, was one of the largest and was run by Catholics on Cree land south of Edmonton, Alberta. There, last Monday in a powwow ring, the pope offered his apology.
Finland, Ukraine and a Wedding at the Cheyenne Depot
When Martha Gellhorn married Ernest Hemingway at the Cheyenne depot in November 1940, he was only a week or two divorced from his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, while Gellhorn was only 10 or 11 months back in the States from covering the war in Finland. Finland? you might ask. There was a war in Finland?
Rain, Water and the West
By Rebecca Hein
Have you ever experienced a moment when the person you’re talking to doesn’t get it? For me, such an event was connected to a long, preparatory journey of awareness. It started in the early 1980s, when I was living in Wisconsin, a farming state that depends on summer rainfall. Being from Wyoming, I didn’t think much about rain, only about what pleasant weather we were having. But I gradually understood, hearing my Wisconsin neighbors talk about the drought and understanding an economic disaster was in progress.
A few years later, when regularly visiting our cabin in the Black Hills of South Dakota, I became acutely aware of the danger of forest fire and realized we could easily lose our beloved cabin.
On moving back to Wyoming in 1992, and a decade later moving to the base of Casper Mountain, I began to notice the weather patterns more than I had while living in town.
A Rosewood Piano
By Rebecca Hein
Gillette, Christine Scoggan. A Story Nearly Told: Histories of a Wyoming Homestead. Self-published 2020, 322 pages. $25.00 paperback. Charles and Mary Spencer, the author’s great-grand parents, moved from their farm near Traverse City, Mich., to Wyoming by train on Memorial Day 1910. There they filed on a homestead and started a ranch about seven miles west of Upton, Wyo., in Weston County. Two of their five children, along with later generations, wrote of their experiences, providing abundant information for this family saga
The Many Times of John Hunton
By Tom Rea
Some books tell their stories in blunt chronology: First this happened, then this, this and this, and finally this. Others work differently, blending events from different periods that rhyme, resonate, advance or recircle in ways they would not do if told in order. Last fall at the approach of November, Native American Heritage Month, we heard from a writer wondering if we’d like a piece on the diarist John Hunton’s experiences of the Indian Wars. We answered that we already had several articles on major events of those times, but we had next to nothing about Hunton, and would like to learn more.
Advertising in Old Wyoming
1. “Individual Towels”
Sign, posted in 1868, promoting one of the best features of a hotel in Benton, Wyoming Territory, now a ghost town in Carbon County. Other less exclusive establishments did not make such claims.
2. “Since man to man has been unjust
I scarcely know what man to trust.
I’ve trusted so many to my sorrow—
So pay today and I’ll trust tomorrow.”
—Poetic sign over Belander’s Butcher Shop, Carbon, 1880s
3. “All you prospector boys, drop in and get a map of your mugs.”
Newspaper ad for Ferris Photo Shop, Dillon Doublejack, 1900
Horseback in the Bighorns: A Life
By Rebecca Hein
One fine summer day in 1925, Floyd Bard was riding to his camp in the Bighorn Mountains when he saw “ten young ladies standing there on the edge of the East Fork of Big Goose Creek. All they had on was their bathing suits that Mother Nature had given them, probably eighteen or twenty years back.” These young women could have been part of a group Bard guided during his 22 years as an outfitter in the Bighorns, but they were actually staying at a nearby dude ranch.
Bard, born in 1879, spent much of his life on horseback. When he was 3 years old, his parents settled on a homestead south of Sheridan, Wyo., and at age 10 he took his first of many horse wrangler jobs. In late fall 1891, three Bard family neighbors were murdered just a few months before the invasion of Johnson County in April 1892, when Bard was 13.
For many roundup seasons, Bard herded and grazed cowboys’ horses, fencing or hobbling them and in other ways managing and looking after them. In 1900, he began breaking horses for use in the Boer War and, starting in 1915, was breaking and also purchasing more horses for World War I. In both cases, the Malcolm and William Moncreiffe ranch had contracted to supply horses to the British government.
Wyoming Christmas, Territorial Style
By Phil Roberts
Christmas was celebrated in territorial Wyoming much like it is today with family dinners, parties, church services and school programs. Festive occasions were reported in the newspapers of the time and press accounts reveal some of the interesting ones.
In Cheyenne in 1877 the ladies of the African Methodist Church cooked a Christmas dinner for church members and friends. “About 250 presents hung upon the tree,” the newspaper item reported.
The Presbyterian Sabbath School in Cheyenne elected new officers for the coming year, according to the same 1877 Cheyenne newspaper. Elected secretary-treasurer was photographer-banker D. D. Dare who several years later fled to the Near East after two banks in which he had an interest failed.
The Evanston newspaper mentioned a Christmas present given to the local judge. It was a “magnificent gold cane,” the judge told the Evanston editor.
The cello business
By Rebecca Hein
Early in my cello career in performance and teaching, I got a glimpse into the mind of a cellist far above me in ability and position. Two of my students, both cello performance majors at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, were also there to see.
It was the mid-1980s and we were attending the Third International Cello Congress at Indiana University in Bloomington—home to one of the best and largest schools of music in the world.
Many world-class cellists were there, plus professionals and students like our little group. The featured guest that afternoon was Ronald Leonard, principal cello of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Everyone in the auditorium knew he was the equal of any international soloist because the principal chairs of major orchestras are among the best musicians in the business.
The topic was orchestral auditions. At some point, an audience member asked Leonard to demonstrate the notoriously difficult opening of the Offertorio section of Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass.
A Frenchman in the Wyoming oil business
Recently we received a note from a Frenchman now living in the U.S.A., with a link to a family-history blog he’s posted, rich in history and pictures. Philippe Boucher’s great-grandfather, Henri Lebreton, apparently an investor in Belgian- and French-owned oil companies, visited here sometimes for months at a time in the years leading up to the outbreak of World War I in Europe. By that time, oil was a fast-growing industry in Wyoming; the war brought on a boom.
Black 14: After 52 years, the healing continues
We were interested to learn this week that the surviving members of the Black 14 and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are again teaming up to deliver free food to hungry people. In October 1969, University of Wyoming football coach Lloyd Eaton kicked 14 Black players off the team for asking, ahead of time, to wear black armbands when they suited up to play BYU, in protest against the Mormon Church’s racist policies. Eaton’s action deprived the athletes of their scholarships, sending them down far different paths in their lives than they would otherwise have followed. It also caused deep divisions in Wyoming, and decimated the football program for years.
You’re on Native Land
By Tom Rea
Last summer we found ourselves for a couple of days in Valentine, Nebraska, on the Niobrara River 180 miles downstream from where it flows out of Wyoming. The town lies just over the state line from the Rosebud (Sioux) reservation in South Dakota. Early one morning we went for a walk on a path that runs through town on an old Chicago and North Western right of way. The color was faded, but you could tell someone years ago had spray painted on the concrete: “Your on Native Land.”
Pretty good thing to keep in mind in North America, we agreed, especially here in the West where the transfer of control of that land is so recent. It’s a little over 150 years since the Shoshone, Arapaho, Lakota, Cheyenne, Crow and Ute tribes that roamed constantly through Wyoming were confined to reservations, and many of their children sent away from their families to White-run schools.
As a friend of ours likes to remind us, American Indians gave up more or less all the land in North America—for promises. How good a job have we done keeping those promises?
Playing Strings with a Country Star
By Rebecca Hein
I was rolling around in bed, flipping my pillow and rearranging the blankets every few minutes. Finally, my husband turned over and put his arms around me.
“Becky. Settle down.” In Ellis’s tone and touch I recognized the calm authority that soothed our two preschool children when they became agitated.
“That’s easy for you to say,” I retorted. “You’re not facing potential humiliation in front of hundreds of people.”
“True; that’s a decision I made years ago … and so did you. Now go to sleep.”
For the past few days, I’d been waking up in the morning wondering why I felt like I was going to soon face a firing squad. Then I’d remember. The last Wyoming Symphony Orchestra concert of the 1996-1997 season was coming up in about two weeks, and I was going to be playing a duo with our guest artist, Mark O’Connor. A Grammy award-winning country fiddle player, he was ascending rapidly, and was already collaborating with many world-famous classical artists such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
My principal cello job required me to perform whatever solo parts that were required, and when I first ran through my part for “Limerock,” an old country tune in an arrangement by O’Connor and others, it seemed playable enough. Next, I listened to the recording he had provided, but I didn’t recognize the piece I’d just sight-read because the tempo was insanely fast. When I discovered this, I saw the magnitude of my task.
Will Bagley, Utah historian, dies at 71
We were saddened to learn this week of the death of Utah historian Will Bagley, a great writer, speaker, talker and an important thinker with a big, true, rabble-rousing heart. Central to his many books was the Euro-American migration of the mid-nineteenth century. For Wyoming, that meant a book about South Pass and many articles for WyoHistory.org on the same and related topics. In the larger world, it meant many more books, including two big ones of a planned four-book history of the Oregon and California Trails for the University of Oklahoma Press: Overland West.
Another pandemic milestone
Major news outlets announced this week that in passing 675,000 Covid deaths, the nation has now surpassed the death total from the 1918-1919 flu. That makes the current pandemic, still going strong, the deadliest the nation has ever seen. Wyoming Covid deaths passed the state’s 1918-1919 total, 780, during the first week of August this year.
Stagecoaches, mud wagons and rocky roads
By Rebecca Hein
Imagine traveling through a major Wyoming blizzard in a horse-drawn sled. You could die, and some people did. Stagecoach companies substituted sleds for coaches in bad weather, and in the January storm of 1883, four passengers froze to death on the route from Green River to South Pass City.
The completion of the Union Pacific Railroad through southern Wyoming Territory in 1869 facilitated travel through that part of the state. But to settlements north of the railroad, passengers and mail traveled by stagecoach. Freight went by wagon, and all roads were rough.
Encampment, Wyoming: Clear-eyed photos from a different time
By Nate Martin, WyoFile
Lora Webb Nichols was a hard-working woman. Over the course of 50 years between the 1890s and the 1940s, she created a body of photography 24,000 images strong, most of which feature the life and times of her hometown, Encampment, Wyo.
These images—which capture the town and its people with arresting grace—languished in obscurity for decades.
A big book on ranching in the Green River Valley
If you’ve ever driven through Sublette County, wedged west of the Wind River Mountains, south of Jackson Hole and east of the Wyoming Range, you’ve driven through the upper Green River Basin. That winding, silver stream, lined with greenery spring and summer, threads down the middle of everything. Homesteading and Ranching in the Upper Green River Valley, by Ann Chambers Noble and Jonita Sommers is the story of people who homesteaded on the upper Green and its tributaries during the last 150 years. They ran livestock, birthed babies, drove buggies through blizzards to deliver the mail, taught school, cut, hewed and floated railroad ties and raised gardens, chickens and families.
Black Kettle, Black Elk and an attempt at reconciliation
After the Indian Wars, White people in the West seem to have found a number of ways to harass and kill Native people. In 1895, a posse of non-Indians, mostly outfitters, attacked a peaceful band of Bannocks hunting elk south of Jackson Hole; two native people died.
In 1906, a large band of Utes left their reservation in Utah and crossed Wyoming, hunting and drying meat as they went—and causing great alarm among civil officials, the general public and especially in the newspapers. Eventually the Utes were met in southern Montana by 1,000 U.S. troops, persuaded to go to South Dakota for a while and after 18 months to return home.
Three years earlier, on Lightning Creek northeast of Douglas, Wyo., in 1903, a sheriff’s posse attacked a peaceful group of Oglala Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota; two posse members and five Sioux were killed. The Oglalas had come to Wyoming to gather herbs, roots and berries, and may have been hunting antelope as well.
In about 1936, a group of Oglala men from the Pine Ridge Reservation performed the astonishing feat of finding the graves of their dead on the site, going by an account dating from the time of the burials. But by the late 1920s, White ranchers had already moved the skull and bones of Black Kettle, a member of the band, to the Wyoming Pioneer Memorial Museum on the grounds of the Wyoming State Fair in Douglas.
Gale McGee and the Archives
By Rodger McDaniel
The wonderful thing about choosing to write the biography of a historian is that historians do what they do. They leave behind so much material with which to work.
Gale McGee left thousands of files in hundreds of Banker’s boxes filled with speeches, letters, and personal reminiscences spanning his lifetime. When I first looked over the mountain of paper I thought to myself, “I’m sure I won’t need to scrutinize every piece of paper in every one of those folders.” Wrong!
Early on, I pulled a folder from a box, labeled “McGee Memoirs.” Inside was another file marked “Diabetes.” The former Senator was plagued by the disease his entire life. I opened the file thinking I’d find personal reflections on what it was like to be diabetic. What I found, instead, was a never before told story about the most prominent Senate spokesperson for the war in Vietnam. McGee served as U.S. senator from Wyoming from 1959 through 1977.
In a Bronco with Geologist Dave Love
By Rebecca Hein
At the beginning of John McPhee’s fascinating 1986 book, Rising from the Plains, the author introduces geologist David Love, a great talker and thinker who spent a long, Laramie-based career with the U.S. Geological Survey. McPhee also introduces us to Love’s mother, Ethel Waxham Love and to Wyoming geology in general. Ethel Waxham was still single in October 1905 when she traveled from Denver by train and stagecoach to teach a winter term of school in Fremont County, about 30 miles south of Lander. McPhee weaves in background on David’s childhood and early education after Ethel married sheep rancher John Love, a Scot, in June 1910 and they made a home on Muskrat Creek, near the bone-dry center of the state.
Early in the narrative—geared for the lay reader—the author and David Love, about 70 at the time, are driving around in a Bronco and camping out a lot. Stopping near Rawlins, they get out to look at the rocks. Love says, “The rock that outcrop[s] around Rawlins … contain[s] a greater spread of time than any other suite of exposed rocks along Interstate 80 between New York and San Francisco.”
Hemingway in Wyoming
Ernest Hemingway, if you haven’t noticed, is back in the news. Ken Burns’s and Lyn Novick’s new, six-hour documentary about the writer and his life debuts this week on PBS.
Given to broad, brief statements, Hemingway supposedly told Elsa Spear Byron of the Spear-O-Wigwam dude ranch in the Bighorns, “There are two places I love—Africa and Wyoming.”
Hemingway visited Wyoming many times, often for months at a stretch. He came to Wyoming to fish, hunt and write. But he never made a life here, or in Africa, either, for that matter. In fact, unlike other great writers of his time, writers with whom he’s often spoken of in a single sentence—Pound, Joyce, Faulkner, Woolf, Fitzgerald—Hemingway seems always to have been on the move. His life was full of travel, elation, work, drink, wrecks, despair and a great, sad love for the physical world as it is—or as he thought it was, or as close as he could make it in his paragraphs.
Wyoming’s Chinese Massacre
In Wyoming, with our small minority populations, it’s easy to feel morally distant from events like the Asian-spa shootings in Atlanta last week. Whatever mix of religion, armament, opportunity and virulent misogyny motivated the shooter, race hatred was in there, too.
Surely something like that wouldn’t happen here, right?
Maybe. Still, this seems a good time to remember two events from Wyoming’s past.
Utes in Wyoming Newspapers, 1906
By Tom Rea
(Editor’s note: Tom Rea’s article “The Flight of the Utes,” was published this week on WyoHistory.org)
The past may seem dusty, distant, even irrelevant at times, until you hear the voices of people who lived through it. Fortunately, those tones survive in the things people wrote down. Personal letters are full of the tones of people’s voices but so, sometimes, are more formal documents, even government reports—and so are newspapers.
In the last decade or two, thanks to publicly funded, state-level efforts like the Wyoming Digital Newspapers Collection and private subscription efforts like Newspapers.com, scholars and the public now have huge resources available to them, and can find in a day or two sources that earlier would have taken weeks of time and miles of travel to access in far-flung archives. It makes a big difference in the history that gets written.
A couple of years ago, Greg Nickerson, who has written for WyoHistory.org on a variety of Native American topics, mentioned to me a story I’d never heard of: A band of several hundred Ute Indians with a large horse herd left their reservation in Utah and came across Wyoming in 1906. They hoped to find welcome and a better life on the Crow, Cheyenne or Sioux reservations of Montana and South Dakota. Greg didn’t have time to research the topic further, but he did steer me to an article about it from the Utah Historical Quarterly in 1968. I thought, well, with that plus what we can now find in newspaper databases, maybe we could bring something new to a topic that still was not well known.
And that turned out to be the case.
Two Writing Ranchwomen
By Rebecca Hein
Living on a ranch before ranches had electricity or mechanized equipment is not something people often think about now. But these on-the-spot records from just a century ago remind us how much things have changed—how hard, especially, these people had to work—and what we can learn from the past.
Two ranchwomen writers have left clear descriptions of their lives and daily routines, including the hardships they and their families endured. Both also wrote about people and events in the area, going beyond their own home lives.
Lester "Buddy" Hunt, Jr.—the Rest of the Story
By Rodger McDaniel
(Editor’s note: Rodger McDaniel’s article, “Baseball, Politics, Triumph and Tragedy: The Career of Lester Hunt,” was published this month on WyoHistory.org.)
It was April of 2011. Out of the blue, I received a Facebook friend request from Lester Hunt, Jr. I’d begun writing a column for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. A mutual friend sent copies to Mr. Hunt. He wanted to open a dialogue.
I called him. During the conversation, I said, “Your father’s story needs to be told. Someone needs to write his biography.” Buddy said, “Why don’t you do that?” We set a date to meet. I flew to Chicago, spending a week with the namesake of the Wyoming senator who took his own life in June of 1954.
'Come brother, let us ramble o'er the Black and Yellow Trail…'
By Robert and Elizabeth Rosenberg
(Editors’ note: The Rosenbergs are authors of “Let Us Ramble: Exploring the Black and Yellow Trail in Wyoming,” recently published on WyoHistory.org.)
For almost 40 years, we have made our living as historical consultants in Wyoming. Because the state is rich in trail history, we have recorded many segments of routes from the earliest emigrant roads to the first auto roads. Historic trails generally bring to mind prairie schooners bound for Oregon and California; in addition to the famous Oregon Trail, emigrants crossed the state by way of the Overland Trail, the Bozeman Trail and the Bridger Trail. Today, one can still find remnants of these trails -- wagon ruts, rock inscriptions, and emigrant graves.
The earliest interstate roads also crossed Wyoming: the Lincoln Highway (the first east-west interstate highway), the Yellowstone Highway (connecting Denver to Yellowstone and other National Parks) and the lesser known Black and Yellow Trail. This road was developed in the 1910s so that tourists could jump in their new cars and follow a good road from Chicago to Yellowstone National Park, enjoying the Black Hills, Devils Tower and the Bighorn Mountains along the way. The name of the new road reflected the major attractions as well as the black and yellow-banded posts that would mark the route.
Beethoven, My Cello and a Wildfire
By Rebecca Hein
Editor’s note: Rebecca Hein’s article, “Beethoven’s Birthday in Wyoming,” about two concerts celebrating the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth, was published on WyoHistory.org this week.
December 2020 is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Wyoming orchestras planned celebrations this year, but they were disrupted by COVID-19. The (Casper) Wyoming Symphony and Cheyenne Symphony both programmed a Beethoven work for every concert, but many had to be canceled or delayed. The Powder River Symphony, in Gillette, attempting to present live performances, could not put a full orchestra on stage. On the 200th anniversary in 1970, however, two civic orchestras performed Beethoven.
Growing up in Wyoming, I had few chances to attend professional concerts in Casper, but by 15, I was playing in the Casper Civic Symphony and Casper Youth Symphony. Beethoven’s music was a magnet pulling me into the practice room, two to six hours a day from ages 16 to 27. Later, I confined my reduced practice hours to my schedule as a professional cello teacher and performer.
Thanksgiving, a pandemic and some rumors
In the fall of 1918, Wyoming, like the rest of the United States, experienced the deadliest two months yet of the influenza pandemic then sweeping the world. From October 1918 through January 1919, 780 people in Wyoming died either of the flu or a combination of the flu and pneumonia. For weeks, newspapers across the state ran front-page obituaries of local people. The peak came during the first two weeks of November; by Thanksgiving, the onslaught of new cases and deaths seemed to be tapering off slightly—in some towns at least.
“Thanksgiving Day in Buffalo this year was observed,” the Buffalo Bulletin reported, “but in a very quiet manner, prevalence of the flu making it entirely out of the question to hold any public gatherings. A number of small dinner parties among friends and neighbors were given, so that a spirit of thanksgiving prevailed in the city to a certain extent.” That caution, the wariness in the tone of “to a certain extent,” seems particularly familiar now. It runs through all the Wyoming papers we browsed recently to find out what was up during Thanksgiving week, 1918.
Italian Painters and Prisoners
In some way or another I’ve been curious about Italians prisoners of war since I was a child and heard my own paternal grandfather’s stories of having been captured by the British when he was in the Italian army and brought to the United States as a POW. But it’s as a scholar of Italian migration history and culture that I have come to understand the complexities and implications of his and others’ similar experiences.
My current research into the Camp Douglas case, supported by a Homsher grant from the Wyoming State Historical Society and a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship, is part of a larger project about the approximately 50,000 Italian POWs in the United States and the art and architecture they created.
The Western-themed murals at Camp Douglas are one example of the unique built environments and creative pieces Italian POWs made: They painted frescoes in churches, crafted small items like jewelry and toys, and built large-scale structures, such as chapels and dance halls, often using salvaged or donated materials. These constructions reflect the makers’ cultural experiences as well as the realities of their confinement, ambiguous political circumstances, and complicated relationships to communities within and beyond the borders of the camps.
A Contested Transition
For a few days in December 1892, armed men of opposing political parties filled different rooms in the Wyoming State Capitol, deep in “earnest consultation,” one newspaper reported, over whether the man in the governor’s office had any right to be there. Matters were extremely tense.
John Osborne, a Rawlins physician and a Democrat, had won the governor’s race the previous month by a comfortable margin—9,290 to 7,509. For two years, since the brand-new governor, Francis E. Warren, had resigned the governorship on being elected to the U.S. senate, the former secretary of state, Amos Barber, had been serving as an unelected acting governor. All the heat was coming now from the burning question of when it was legal for the new governor-elect to take office.
Brave and Hardworking Young Women
Beginning in 1930, the world’s first airline stewardesses, as they were called then, were trained in Cheyenne by Boeing Air Transport, Inc. at the first stewardess school in the world. Boeing was a precursor of United Air Lines. The women earned $125 per month for 100 hours of flying time, or around $1,900 in today’s dollars. During the 14 years Boeing/United trained stewardesses in Cheyenne, more than 6,000 young women graduated.
Brothers in Peace
When I agreed to provide WyoHistory.org with some notes introducing my recent article about Wyoming reactions to the death of Martin Luther King, it occurred to me to look again at the University of Wyoming student newspaper, the Branding Iron. In the April 19, 1968, issue, from two weeks after the assassination, I found a letter to the editor and poem, both by student Ken Cooper.
This paean about Dr. King joining “the ranks of fallen men of peace” seemed so heartfelt, coming from such deep sorrow and pain, that I wondered whether the author was one of UW’s few African-American students in the late sixties. My name also appears in the Branding Iron masthead on that page, listing me as sports editor. I knew the names of many of UW’s Black athletes at the time, but I didn’t recognize this name then or now, 52 years later.
So I took a shot at finding something about this Ken Cooper. I checked the UW alumni directories without success. Then I searched for his name on Facebook and turned up a 72-year-old person with that name living in Laughlin, Nev. who ran track at the University of Wyoming. Truepeoplesearch.com gave me some possible phone numbers. I left messages on two of them, and within an hour I was talking to this remarkable man and he was mentioning the names of many sixties students and athletes I knew or recognized.
Preserving the Harvest
Racism and Race Horse
By John Clayton
(Editors’ note: John Clayton’s article, Who gets to hunt Wyoming's elk? Tribal Hunting Rights, U.S. Law and the Bannock 'War' of 1895, was published recently on WyoHistory.org.)
One reason I enjoy writing for WyoHistory.org is that I like to imagine Wyoming high school history teachers using these stories in class. Too often history is about memorizing dates, when it could be a springboard for discussions about values. To my mind, one of the best stories for these purposes is the history behind the Herrera Supreme Court decision, published last week.
When Yellowstone Burned
Many of us remember Wyoming’s smoky skies in the summer of 1988, when Yellowstone was ablaze. The fires started in June; at first they were small and isolated. Yellowstone National Park officials followed a hands-off fire policy that had been in place for 16 years.
But after a wet spring, boosting growth of brush and underbrush, 1988 was the park’s driest summer recorded up to that time. However, by mid-July, only around 8,500 acres had burned. Then the fires doubled in size in a week. Park officials reversed their policy and began fighting all the fires.
The City-Country Disconnect
By Rebecca Hein
(Editor’s note: The author’s article, The Sticking Power of Ethel Waxham Love, was published last week on WyoHistory.org.)
In January 1924, Ethel Waxham Love’s sister, Faith, wrote to her from Denver to express her concern for Ethel’s welfare. Fourteen years before, Ethel had married John Love, a sheep rancher in central Wyoming.
“I could not see you leave the ranch soon enough,” wrote Faith. “What would you think of a man who would take me off to a desert where I saw few people, who promised I should never work & who made me his slave body & soul. … You have never complained.”
They could agree on the last part, at least; Ethel never said or wrote to anyone about wanting to leave the ranch or her marriage. Before marrying John Love, Ethel had known about some of the hardships of sheep and cattle ranching in Wyoming. When Love wrote to her during the five years he courted her by correspondence, he never withheld news about how many sheep the latest blizzard had killed.
Faith continued, “It is John’s duty to realize his responsibility [to support Ethel and their two young sons], and … he should be made to feel that responsibility. … What does John do? How does he earn a livelihood for his family?”
A Murder and a Bad Gun Law
By Dick Blust, Jr.
Editor’s note: The author’s article, “The Buxton Case: An Anti-Immigrant Tragedy,” was published last week on WyoHistory.org.
When I began my research on the Buxton-Omeyc case, I saw it as a straightforward piece about crime and law enforcement: On September 14, 1919, a 17-year-old named Joseph Omeyc shot and killed Deputy Game Warden John Buxton near Rock Springs, Wyo. Buxton was the first Wyoming game warden to be killed in the line of duty. Naturally, I was interested in the details.
When the Nation Caught Up with Wyoming’s Women
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, when women across America—white women, at least—won the right to vote. In the Tennessee Legislature, Rep. Harry Burn put the nation over the top on August 18, 1920, when he followed his mother’s good advice and voted Aye. But women in Wyoming, we are always proud to remember, had already been voting for 50 years.
Was John Muir racist?
The answer depends, not on Muir’s actions, but on how you define 'racist'
By John Clayton
(Editor’s note: John Clayton is author of “John Muir in Yellowstone” on WyoHistory.org.)
I love John Muir. I even wrote a book arguing that this much-heralded figure doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. So I noticed when Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune called out the racism of the club’s beloved founder, John Muir. “Muir’s words and actions… continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color who come into contact with the Sierra Club,” said his July 22 post on the club website.
My Cantrell Files
By Paul Krza
(Editor’s note: The author’s article, “Ed Cantrell, Rock Springs and Boom-time Crime” has just been published on WyoHistory.org.)
Amazingly, it was on my birthday — July 15, in 1978 — when Ed Cantrell, who I knew from my teaching days in Cody, and who had Rock Springs connections, would shoot and kill Michael Rosa, his undercover drug detective, in front of the Silver Dollar Bar. As I often say, you just can’t make this stuff up. Other Wyoming cities suffered the same fate — Gillette, in the coal-rich Powder River Basin, birthing the unwelcome tag, “Gillette Syndrome,” a catchall for boomtown woes, and Wheatland, with its power-plant construction. But it was the Rock Springs experience that spurred the concept that energy giants should pay up front for social upheaval, through industrial siting payments and with a pioneering severance tax.
Drawn to the archives—and a crime
By Robin Everett
(Editor’s note: Robin Everett, an archivist at Wyoming State Archives, is author of “Milward Simpson and the Death Penalty,” just published on WyoHistory.org.)
I was born and raised in Wheatland, attended school there through junior high and then, after many years in Colorado, was able to return to Wyoming in 1998 when I transferred to Cheyenne with my work at AT&T.Wanting to learn more about my home town, I began reading the Wheatland newspapers on microfilm at the Wyoming State Archives. For a while, there were two papers, the Platte County Record and the Wheatland Times. Sometimes I even took a day off work to spend uninterrupted time in the microfilm reading room, scrolling. Now and then I’d find an article that mentioned a family member, or friends or an event I may or may not have heard about. I still have the blue spiral notebook filled with many pages of notes about these articles.
So perhaps you can imagine the shock I experienced when one day I turned the crank on the manual microfilm reader and saw the headline, “Riggle Held Here for Double Killing” (Wheatland Times April 2, 1953) and the headline in the Platte County Record, “Riggle Captured Monday Night after 48 Hour Search.”
After an argument at the state Republican convention in Gillette last month, the chairman of the Albany County delegation, Michael Pearce, and the chairman of the Carbon County delegation, Joey Correnti, headed for a side room in the Cam-Plex. There, witnesses agree, Pearce threw the first punch, after which Correnti “took him to the ground.” Pearce ended up in the hospital with injuries including a broken ankle. He later admitted he’d been drinking “tall” gin and tonics. Authorities the following Monday charged him with assault and battery.
The dispute seems to have been largely personal, but politically charged. For more details on the fight, click here for Pearce’s version, click here for Correnti’s lawyer’s version, click here for a briefer overview, click here for more on tensions within the Wyoming Republican Party this summer as the primary season heats up and click here for details on an alleged assault of Wyoming GOP Executive Director Kristi Wallin by GOP Secretary Charles Curley at a party fundraising dinner in February 2018.
These troubles reminded us of a notorious fight that broke out Jan. 20, 1913 between Democrats and Republicans on the floor of the Wyoming House of Representatives. The conflict was over which party would ultimately control the majority, and with that majority the power to elect Wyoming’s U.S. senator.
Writing Sherman Coolidge
When considering the dramatic events of Sherman Coolidge’s life, it’s hard to believe his biography wasn’t written long ago. Born around 1863 into a small band of Arapaho in present-day Wyoming, Coolidge, as a boy named Doa-che-wa-a (He-Runs-on-Top), experienced a series of tragedies few could imagine. After losing his grandmother, aunt, uncle, and father to warfare and murder, he was sold by his mother to an army surgeon at Camp Brown (now Lander). And all this happened before he turned 8 years old. Coolidge was later adopted by an infantry officer, educated in eastern schools, and ordained an Episcopal priest. In 1884, he returned to Wyoming as a missionary among the Arapaho at the reservation on Wind River, where he spent approximately a quarter century. Coolidge left in 1910, and in 1911 helped found the Society of American Indians (SAI), an organization dedicated to defending Native rights. He then served as president during the SAI’s most robust period of agitation, becoming one of the best-known American Indians in the United States.
A Tiny Dynamo
Emma Mitchell, wife of railroader and mountaineer Finis Mitchell, who devoted his spare time to exploring the Wind River Mountains beginning in the 1930s, was probably crucial to his effort. The Mitchells’ granddaughter, Sandra Snow, remembers Emma as “a tiny little dynamo. I still miss her and all the things she said and did.
Wyoming’s Black Past
Recently we learned that Dr. Quintard Taylor, founder and director of Black Past, a history-minded website a few years older than ours, has announced plans to step away from management of the site. When we sent him a quick note of best wishes, he sent us a link to all the website’s articles that have any connection to Wyoming.
Would you eat one of those?
If you’ve ever raised leafy greens such as kale, chard or collards, you’ve probably eaten at least one aphid. This idea is not so revolting because aphids are tiny, and we usually don’t know when we’re eating one. But eating an insect on purpose? For us, it’s not a cultural norm, although it has been for lots of other people in the world, past and present.
'A lickspittle to the lordly English'
Now and again an old document comes along that offers a true feeling for its times. Recently we came across a pdf of a 1971 reprinting of a booklet first published in Wyoming Territory in 1886, just before the cattle boom busted. Tensions between big-ranch cattlemen and small landholders were heating up.
Fighting blizzards and barkeeps
We all know what it’s like to be caught in a white-out on the highway. The roadside markers disappear into whirling snow. We can’t see the center line, other cars nor even the hood of our own. This, minus the warm, enclosed vehicle with food and water aboard if we’ve planned well, is what early travelers in Wyoming faced in fall, winter and spring. Sometimes they were horseback, or in a wagon or even on foot. One such hardy settler was Minnie Fenwick, a Congregational circuit rider serving the small town of Burns and surrounding communities in Wyoming’s southeast corner, in the early 1900s.
A virtual cemetery for Wyoming’s overseas combat veterans
The last few years have been an exciting time to be stationed in Europe with the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I and the 75th Anniversary of many World War II battles. Over the course of my three-year assignment here I wanted to incorporate visiting the 17 American Battlefield Monument Commission (ABMC) Cemeteries in Europe where Wyoming Veterans are buried. Additionally, I wanted to visit the headstones of each of the 316 service members from Wyoming buried here. Thus far I have visited 16 of 17 cemeteries. I have taken photos of 315 of 316 of those headstones and their names on the Tablets of the Missing.
'Don't worry, and keep your feet warm.'
Prominent on the front page of the Casper Daily Press on October 10, 1918, were two text boxes packed with advice. One listed ways to avoid the flu; a second listed steps to take if you got it: “Avoid contact with other people, especially crowds indoors . . . Sleep and work in clean, fresh air. . . . Keep your hands clean and keep them out of your mouth. . . . “ The paper’s tone was calm and upbeat, but it was a scary time. As of this writing, the number of new coronavirus cases in the United States and Wyoming continues to rise fast; Wyoming oficials reported the state’s first death this week. In October 1918 things were far worse. That month alone, 195,000 Americans died of the flu. Before the epidemic ended the following year, more than 50 million people would die from the disease worldwide.