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Historic Spots & Monuments

Trails across Wyoming: The Oregon, Mormon Pioneer and California Routes

As many as half a million people crossed what’s now Wyoming in the mid-19th century before the transcontinental railroad was built. Their trails followed the North Platte and Sweetwater rivers west to South Pass, after which they divided into various routes bound for Oregon, Utah or California. They were making the journey of a lifetime, on routes blazed by Indians and trappers, and then worn deep and wide by thousands of wagons and perhaps millions of draft animals. These trails remain largely unchanged in Wyoming. Their white-topped wagons still hold an important place in the national imagination.

Fort Bridger

Established by mountain men Jim Bridger and Louis Vasquez in 1843, Fort Bridger was an important rest and re-supply spot for emigrants bound to Utah, California and Oregon. Mormons acquired the site in the mid-1850s, and burned it in 1857 as the U.S. Army approached during the bloodless Utah War. The following year the Army took over, and garrisoned the fort until 1890. Today it is a state historic site.

Fort Caspar

The U.S. Army established Platte Bridge Station in 1862 to protect the Oregon/California/Mormon Trail crossing of the North Platte River and the new transcontinental telegraph. After Lt. Caspar Collins was killed there by Cheyenne and Lakota Indians in 1865, the post was renamed Fort Casper, misspelling his first name. The fort was abandoned two years later, but reconstructed in 1936—and renamed Fort Caspar—with funds from the Works Progress Administration. Fort grounds and a museum are open to the public.

South Pass City

South Pass City, a gold mining town founded near South Pass in 1867, reached its pinnacle soon after a valuable strike was made in 1868 at the Carissa Mine. The town is also famous as the birthplace of women’s suffrage, because the 1869 bill making Wyoming Territory the first government in the world to guarantee women the right to vote was introduced by South Pass City’s representative, William H. Bright. Esther Hobart Morris, appointed South Pass City justice of the peace soon afterward, became the first woman in the nation to hold public office. The town, with many original buildings carefully restored, is operated as a state historic site.

Oregon Trail Ruts

Ruts carved two to six feet deep in a sandstone ridge on the south side of the North Platte River about a half mile south of Guernsey, Wyo., provide striking physical evidence of the route followed by hundreds of thousands of westbound emigrants the Oregon Trail during the years 1841-1869.

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Encyclopedia | Two battles on July 26, 1865 near Platte Bridge Station near present-day Casper, Wyo., are best understood in the context of tribal response to the Sand Creek Massacre the previous November. Twenty-eight U.S. troops were killed that day including Lt. Caspar Collins, for whom Fort Caspar and the town of Casper were later named.
Encyclopedia | The Casper Army Air Base was built quickly in 1942 to train bomber crews for World War II combat. The facility trained more than 16,000 men before the end of the war. Its population grew to a third of the size of Casper’s, bringing prosperity and a lively social life to the town. The base closed in 1945, when the war ended.
Encyclopedia | In 1908, Albert P. “Prof” Sommers established his ranch headquarters on property southwest of Pinedale, Wyo. Three generations of his family have lived and ranched here. When Prof died in 1928, his widow, May, continued to own and operate the ranch. She also served as Sublette County superintendent of schools. She sold the ranch to her son, Albert, in 1947. The property is currently owned by Albert Sommers, Jr. and his sister, Jonita. The ranch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Encyclopedia | Casper’s Odd Fellows Building, constructed in 1952, reflects the modern-style architecture that was popular during the postwar era and serves as a reminder of the community development, planning and the social history of the time. This structure is named on the National Register of Historic Places.
Encyclopedia | Discovery of gold near South Pass in the 1860s led to the creation and settlement of short-lived South Pass City, Wyo. and other settlements nearby. The Carissa Mine was one of the richest, but between 1867 and 1869, 1500 lodes were located during the rush, and as many as 2,000 miners and others may have lived in the little town or on their claims. By the early 1870s, only a few hundred were left. Sporadic gold production has continued since, however, with systematic prospecting by an American subsidiary of a Canadian firm permitted as recently as 2006.
Encyclopedia | The T Cross Ranch north of Dubois, Wyo., on Horse Creek in the Absaroka Mountains was first homesteaded around 1900 by Ernest O. Hadden. In 1919, Henry Seipt acquired the property, named it “The Hermitage” and operated a dude ranch here. Robert Cox became the owner in 1929 and changed the name to “T Cross Ranch,” but continued the dude ranch. The ranch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is still operated as a dude ranch.
Encyclopedia | The Crow Creek or Cole Ranch northwest of Cheyenne, Wyo. was founded in 1879 and operated until 1972, when the land was subdivided. The ranch headquarters is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On the ranch, cattle grazed native grasses during the warmer months and alfalfa hay in the winter; later, the Coles added dairy cattle. Historic structures include the ranch house, barn, bunkhouse and corrals.
Encyclopedia | As the beaver trade waned in the 1830s, so did economic reasons for an American toehold in the Oregon country, still under joint British-American occupancy. Religion shifted the balance of power, however, when American Protestant missionaries crossed the Rocky Mountains with an eye toward converting the tribes of the Northwest. Soon these men brought their wives with them as well. In 1836, Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding were the first Euro-American women to cross South Pass, and these people became the vanguard of American settlement of Oregon.

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