Big Piney and Marbleton, Wyoming
Agriculture, mostly cattle raising, continues to be the primary source of economic support for the two communities. Energy extraction, though, has heavily impacted the towns throughout their histories. Drilling for oil started in the area in the 1910s, though it was proved only marginally successful. Additional attempts to extract oil and natural gas continued throughout the 20th century, with four economic booms resulting from these efforts in the1920s, 1950s, 1980s and the early years of the 21st century. The area’s booms and busts, as is generally the case in Wyoming, were dependent upon the economics of faraway markets.
Big Piney and Marbleton have been fairly isolated throughout much of their history, with the closest railroad stop nearly 60 miles away at Opal, Wyo. on the Oregon Short Line, a Union Pacific subsidiary built in 1882 from Granger, Wyo. northwest to Montpelier, Idaho.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, around 70 young men from the area served in France as part of a machine gun company of the 3rd Wyoming Infantry.
During the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal provided federal funds through the Works Progress Administration for construction of the Big Piney community hall. The largest New Deal program in the area was the Civilian Conservation Corps camp built one mile west of Big Piney. A few young local men worked with the CCC, but most of the men were from other parts of the country. They built roads and fences on the U.S. Forest service land in the nearby Wyoming Range.
The towns were again directly impacted by world events when the nation went to war in December 1941. The war was felt close to home as young men and some women marched off to serve their county all over the world. Two young men never returned, paying the ultimate price. Townspeople raised money through war bonds, collected materials for recycling, and took war precautions. The young soldiers returned veterans and were soon back at work building their ranches and communities.
The famous ice box
Big Piney was called the "Ice Box of the Nation" when it was officially made a weather station in 1930. Big Piney had the coldest year-round average temperature in the United States. This title was lost in 1948 when another government weather station was added in International Falls, Minnesota that registered yet colder temperature, a title that was lost again in 1956 at Fraser, Colorado.
Big Piney and Marbleton have always taken time to celebrate their heritage, focusing especially on cowboy culture. The towns have regularly hosted hundreds of spectators for rodeos over the years, especially on the Fourth of July, with its Chuckwagon Days. Local cowboys on local horses have always been featured as part of these festivities, and for much of the 20th century, the crowds especially favored the chariot races.
The two towns have independent governments, but share about everything else. The schools are located in Big Piney, while the medical clinic is in Marbleton. Big Piney has the main grocery store, museum, and county library; and Marbleton is home to the new senior center. Both have a few restaurants and bars. Originally, both towns had post offices, though Marbleton’s was a branch office that closed in the late 1990s.
Big Piney registered a population of 552 in the 2010 census, and Marbleton 1,094. Big Piney and Marbleton have experienced relatively small net growth through the decades, though both have boomed and busted four times, due to oil and gas. The energy industry sustained the towns throughout the 20th century, but agriculture, especially cattle ranching, remains a mainstay.’
- Noble, Ann Chambers. Images of America, Big Piney and Marbleton. Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing, 2011.
- Noble, Ann Chambers. “Sublette County, Wyoming.” WyoHistory.org, accessed 3/2/12 at http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/sublette-county-wyoming.
- Sublette County Artists Guild. More Tales of the Seeds-Ke-Dee; Pioneer Lore of Wyoming’s Green River Valley. Walsworth, 1976.
- Sublette County Artists’ Guild. Tales of the Seeds-Ke-Dee. Denver, Col.: Big Mountain Press, 1963.
The photo of the Big Piney Garage about 1912 is courtesy of Mardell Fear. Used with thanks.
The photo of Marbleton in the 1920s is from the Library of Congress.
About the Author
Ann Chambers Noble and her husband, David, live with their children in Cora on their cattle ranch. Ann is also the owner of the historic Chambers House Bed and Breakfast in Pinedale. Ann is a writer and historian, with a B.A. in history from Bowdoin College and a M.A. in history from the University of Utah. She is the author of the award winning Pinedale, Wyoming; A Centennial History, 1904 – 2004 and Hurry McMurry; W. N. “Neil” McMurry, Wyoming Entrepreneur.