The Meaning of Lester Hunt

During a stormy session, the Wyoming Legislature last month found itself debating the implications of one of the most telling events in our state’s history: the life and tragic death of Lester Hunt.

The Paradox of Plenty

Wyoming: The Paradox of Plenty: The Allure and Risk of a Mineral Economy, by David Freudenthal. WordsWorth Publishing, Cody, Wyo., 2022, 237 pages. $20.00 paperback.

The author’s blunt, tell-it-like-it-is style permeates this engaging history of Wyoming’s mineral economy and its associated politics. Drawing on his experience as Wyoming’s governor from 2003-2011 plus substantial personal research, Freudenthal paints a compelling picture of our long dependence on the extractive industries.

A hostile balloon over Wyoming

The Chinese spy balloon that lingered over Montana for a while last week reminded us of reports of an earlier, more hostile balloon that bombed Wyoming during World War II. What? Wyoming was bombed? Well, yes, apparently.

The “hottest” topic I’ve ever researched

By Rebecca Hein
Huge advances in medicine, biology, law enforcement and paleontology were not what I expected to learn about when I began researching the discovery of a thermophilic (heat-loving) bacterium in Yellowstone’s hot springs. At first it seemed to me nothing more than a scientific curiosity. I had no idea I’d end up with the perfect retort to people who believe little of significance ever originates in Wyoming.

On top of all its world-shaking benefits, the amount of money generated by this tiny life form are staggering. In a better world, maybe Wyoming, Yellowstone or the National Park Service would have ended up with some of the money.

For me though, the fascinating part of the story is how an apparently small discovery can mushroom into a world-changer.

The Hinge of the West

By Dick Blust, Jr.
Geography, of course, is fundamental to all aspects of history, and in few cases is this more profoundly true than in the American West. Arguably, the most significant—in an emblematic sense, at least—is the Tri-Territory Historic Site in Sweetwater County, Wyo., where the Louisiana Purchase, the Oregon Country and the Mexican Cession all joined at a single spot along the Continental Divide. Those three acquisitions, with the last coming in 1848, became the overwhelming bulk of the western United States outside of Texas.

Fistfights on the House Floor

In January 1913, 110 years ago this month, old and new political animosities in Wyoming’s House of Representatives exploded into an actual fistfight. Blows were swapped, chairs were thrown and glass was broken when, reportedly, a framed picture smashed over the head of a lawmaker. At issue was a crucial question—who was the rightful speaker of the House?

It began when the elected speaker left the chair at a tense moment to join the debate. When he tried to regain it, the speaker pro tempore (the temporary speaker) refused to give up the gavel. The elected speaker dragged the speaker pro tem and his chair from the dais, the chair fell on top of the speaker pro tem—and that’s when the fighting really began.

Two Deer Creek Christmases

Lighted candles warmed what may well have been Wyoming’s first decorated Christmas—before there was a Wyoming. The candles are a German tradition—they’re part of the winter warmth and light that the carol “O Tannenbaum” recalls. At Christmas 1859, a lighted tree filled most of a small log building on Deer Creek, about two miles upstream from creek’s mouth at present Glenrock, Wyo. 

Packed closely around were some army officers, a Native family and a few German Lutheran missionaries. Missionary Moritz Braeuninger read from the scriptures. Capt. W.F. Raynolds, his officers and the Indians, at least as shown in a sketch by one of the missionaries, all listened closely. The Oregon Trail ran nearby. Downstream at the mouth of Deer Creek on the North Platte was a busy stage station and trading post.

Government exploration, Indian business and high hopes had brought these people together. Raynolds was leading a small, two-year expedition of soldiers and civilian scientists from the U.S. Topographical Engineers to explore regions drained by the Yellowstone River, and had come down to the North Platte from the Yellowstone as winter was closing in. In 1857, a group of Mormons had begun building a stage and freight depot on the site for a planned West-wide operation to be owned and run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Later that year, as the U.S. Army marched toward Utah to re-establish federal control there, the Mormons abandoned the place.

Notes from a Pioneer Rancher

By Brian Beauvais
When I first read about the open-range cattle ranchers of the Bighorn Basin, Otto Franc’s name always came up. Usually, however, details were frustratingly few. The same facts were batted about, largely devoid of insights into who the man actually was and how he lived his life.

Primary sources relating to the activities of folks in the Bighorn Basin rarely mentioned Franc, unlike some of his neighbors. It seems some of the early ranchers on the Wyoming frontier could be as flamboyant and showy as any of their urban counterparts. But it appears Otto Franc mostly kept his head down and focused on his ranch. This made him hard to truly pin down.

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.