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 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’ 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 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?