Goshen County, Wyoming

Long before it was settled by white people, the territory in what’s now Goshen County, Wyo., was claimed by places as distant as Spain, France, Great Britain, Mexico and the Republic of Texas.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 established the claim of the United States to the area. Already by that time, fur trappers may have explored as far up the Platte and North Platte Rivers as Goshen County lies now. In 1813, Robert Stuart and a party of Astorians heading east to report back to American Fur Company owner John Jacob Astor were the first documented white men to camp in the area, near present-day Torrington, Wyo.

Annie Chamberlain Powers and her children Laura and John outside their sod-roofed house, built in 1905 near Lingle. Homesteader Museum.Early trails

In the 1820s, the route up the Platte and North Platte Rivers gradually became a thoroughfare for fur traders and trappers bound for the Rocky Mountains. In 1832, Capt. Benjamin Bonneville, on leave from the U.S. Army to try his hand at the fur business, brought a caravan of wagons through the valley. In the 1840s and 1850s the same route functioned as the road to Oregon, California and Utah, and by the late 1850s was the route of regularly scheduled stagecoaches carrying passengers and the U.S. mail.

The short-lived Pony Express, which carried mail from Missouri to California from April 1860 to November 1861, followed the same route, as did the transcontinental telegraph, completed in October 1861. The Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage Road, from Cheyenne north to the gold fields of Dakota Territory, operated from September 1876 to February 1887. Few people stayed very long—stopping only to rest a bit, wash clothes, and re-supply at Fort Laramie.

Travelers on all these trails left traces in Goshen County in the form of wagon ruts, place names and historic sites.

Fort Laramie

The first permanent settlement in the Goshen County area was Fort William, a trading post, built in 1834 near the junction of the Laramie and North Platte rivers. Fur traders Robert Campbell and William Sublette established and built the original wood stockade buildings, which became better known as the fort on the Laramie, or Fort Laramie.

After the original structures deteriorated, employees of the American Fur Company built a new adobe-walled post in 1841 and named it Fort John, though the post was still popularly called Fort Laramie. This fort was the major place for travelers heading west to replenish supplies, collect their mail and rest. In 1849, Fort Laramie was purchased by the United States government and operated as a military post through the peak years of the Indian wars on the northern plains. The fort was abandoned in 1890.

When Wyoming became a state in 1890, there were 12 counties, an increase from the original five, all of which had extended from the southern to the northern border of Wyoming Territory. The area that became Goshen County was originally part of Laramie County.

Goshen County was created officially when Gov. Joseph Carey signed the legislative act for its formation on Feb. 9, 1911, and the county’s government was organized in January 1913. Goshen County is a long rectangle, 72 miles long and 31 miles wide, with Laramie County on the south, Platte County on the west, and Niobrara County on the north. On the east, Goshen County borders the state of Nebraska. Torrington is the county seat.

What’s in a name?

There are several versions for the source of the name of Goshen. Some stories suggest that what’s now called Goshen Hole, a valley south of Torrington running northwest-southeast, parallel to the North Platte River, was originally named Goshé’s Hole after an early Indian warrior or French trapper.

Explorer John C. Fremont noted the place was named Goshen’s Hole when he camped there July 14, 1842. The fertile Land of Goshen, in Egypt, in the 45th chapter of Genesis in the Bible, has also been suggested as a possible source for the name. John Hunton, who was ranching in the area by the 1870s, was told by Seth Ward, post sutler at Fort Laramie, that the area was named for the biblical land. The name of Goshen Hole first appeared on a map years later, in 1888.

Early ranching

The same Seth Ward supposedly left a small herd of cattle out on the range during the winter of 1852-53, and, surprised they survived, continued the practice. At Fort Laramie, W. G. Bullock and B. B. Mills started the first permanent breeding herd and later moved south to Chugwater Creek.

After the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Sioux, Cheyenne and other tribes were restricted to hunting north of the North Platte River, and white people began moving cattle herds onto the plains north of Cheyenne and along Chugwater Creek and the Laramie River.

Pioneer ranchers in the area included John Hunton, Hiram B. Kelly, John Kessler, Charley Coffee and Philip J. Yoder. The Union Cattle Company and Swan Land and Cattle Company were the largest early ranches. While ranchers first settled mainly in what’s now the southern part of the county along Bear Creek, by the 1870s they had spread north of the North Platte River.

Goshen County continues to produce more cattle annually than any other Wyoming county. In 1997, Goshen County had 688 ranches and farms averaging 1,840 acres. By 2007 there were 665 farms in the county.

In 1900, the Burlington Railroad, building west up the North Platte River from Nebraska, entered Wyoming at Torrington and continued to Fort Laramie and Guernsey. Passenger service began in May. George King was the first station agent.

Torrington’s town site was surveyed April 21, 1900, and the land was sold to its residents for one dollar by the president of the Burlington’s land company. Torrington had been named by William G. Curtis for his Connecticut birthplace and his English ancestral home. He also established the first post office in his house in the new town.

Early irrigation

Developers of early irrigation projects hoped that the irrigation of dry land would draw settlers to the area. The first water right, dated 1881, was claimed from Rawhide Creek, north of the North Platte. Prior to this, however, settlers had already begun irrigating out of the North Platte River, Rawhide Creek and Horse Creek, which joins the North Platte near the Nebraska line.

The Reclamation Act of 1902 funded irrigation projects for the arid lands of 20 Western states. Revenue from sales of semi-arid public lands was to be used for the construction and maintenance of irrigation projects. The newly irrigated lands would then be sold and the revolving funds used to support more projects. In the Goshen County region, the North Platte River provided the water necessary for irrigation.

Two hundred fifty miles of the Interstate and Fort Laramie canals were constructed with about $10 million of Reclamation Service funding.

By 1947, the Fort Laramie canal, on the south side of the North Platte, provided water for the irrigation of 53,000 acres. People who used that canal formed the Goshen Irrigation District. Land on the north side of the North Platte River received water for 15,000 acres, and the Lingle Water Users Association and Hill Irrigation District operated this irrigation system. In the Hawk Springs area, the Horse Creek Conservation District drew water from that stream to irrigate 10,300 acres. Eventually, farmers and ranchers drilled wells for irrigation and to fill water tanks for livestock on the prairie pastures.

Towns and early settlers

The village of LaGrange on the banks of Horse Creek is the oldest in the county. Kale LaGrange was a driver for a stage route between Denver, Colorado Territory, and the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail Indian Agencies in northwestern Nebraska in 1867. In 1883, he claimed water rights from Horse Creek and is thought to have platted the town site in 1889. He also operated a mail route from Pine Bluffs, east of Cheyenne, to LaGrange.

Wyncote was established around 1900, as a section house on the Burlington line northwest of Torrington. Residents of the area were instrumental in building the Northside Ditch. But because the railroad was unable to obtain enough land there for a townsite, land to the east of Wyncote was donated instead for a new town. The Wyncote railroad section house was moved to the new site, and the town was named Lingle, for promoter and financier Hiram D. Lingle.

In the early 1920s, the Union Pacific railroad built a new line from Haig, Neb. to a point five miles west of Springer in Goshen Hole. The U.P. didn’t have a town site development company as the Burlington had, so towns along the line had to develop themselves. Railroads, irrigation canals and homesteading brought the towns of Huntley, Cottier, Yoder, Hawk Springs and Veteran into existence. The Burlington helped start Wyncote and then Lingle.

Goshen County grew fairly quickly in the 1920s, from 8,064 to 11,754, a growth of more than 45 percent, according to U.S. Census figures. Since then, the population has leveled off, growing slightly in some decades and shrinking in others, with its 2011 population estimated by the state of Wyoming at 13,536.

The depression years of the 1930s were possibly not as bad in Goshen County because its economy was stabilized by agriculture, and it lacked the boom-bust industries of mining and oil and gas that affected so much of the state.

The Jews of Huntley and Allen

The Jewish Agricultural Society, formed in 1900 by the Baron de Hirsch Fund to promote farming among Jews in the United States, sponsored about 50 families by establishing a new Zion community around what’s now Huntley, eight miles south of the North Platte and five miles east of the Nebraska line. The residents came from New York and Pennsylvania as well as from Europe.

On July 6, 1906, six men from the community filed claims for 160-acre homesteads located near present Huntley. They first built dugouts for dwellings. There were a number of challenges, however. The nearest water was about a half mile away in the Katzer Canal. Obtaining supplies was difficult as the closest general store was in Mitchell, Neb., about 15 miles east.

These settlers did not own horses, so they walked and carried flour, sugar, beans, rice and salt in knapsacks. They struggled at first, but after about a year, the Jewish Agricultural Society sent five hundred dollars to each family. With this money, horses, wagons, machinery, a cow and tools were purchased. Eventually, Huntley had a post office, church, grocery store and lumber yard.

In 1908, 40 or 45 more families, also supported by the Jewish Agriculture Society, moved to Wyoming and established a school and synagogue. This community was called Allen, a few miles northeast of Huntley.

A County seat

After the Legislature had authorized formation of Goshen County in 1911, citizens from both Torrington and Lingle began promoting their towns as the ideal county seat, with Lingle residents arguing that their town was more centrally located. Finally, Lincoln Land Company deeded a city block in Torrington over to the town for a courthouse site, and added a cash donation. Torrington citizens raised an additional $40,000, and the county commissioners awarded a construction contract.

On July 4, 1913, the three-story courthouse was dedicated and the cornerstone laid. Festivities included a parade, a county-wide picnic, an afternoon baseball game between teams from Torrington and Morrill, Neb., and in the evening, fireworks displays and two dances. Voters in 1980 passed a bond issue to expand the courthouse. The work was completed in 1984.

Key Dates

July 14, 1842

Explorer John C. Fremont camps in Goshen’s Hole, in present Goshen County.

Date: 1842-07-14

July 4, 1913

Cornerstone laid in Torrington for new, three-story Goshen County courthouse.

Date: 1913-07-04

Goshen County
quick facts

Land Area

2,225 square miles, 20th largest in Wyoming

Land Ownership
in Goshen County

Owner Acres Percent
US Government    
National Park Service 787 .06
Bureau of Land Mgmt. 25,197 1.76
Bureau of Reclamation 845 .06
Wyoming    
State Lands Comm. 92,271 6.45
Recreation Comm. 2,000 .14
Game & Fish 2,525 .18
Local Government/Other 7,087 .40
Total Public Lands 130,712 9.14
Private Lands 1,299,688 90.86
Surface Water 4,378 .31
Total Area 1,430,400 100

Goshen County Population

13,249 (2010 U.S. Census)
13,536 (2011 State Estimate)

City, Town and
Census-designated Places

Town Population
Torrington (county seat) 6,501
Fort Laramie 230
LaGrange 448
Lingle 468
Yoder 151

Employment by sector
(2009 state figures)

Sector Population
Farm 875
Forestry, Fishing & Related (D)
Mining (D)
Construction 607
Utilities 36
Manufacturing 313
Wholesale Trade 255
Retail Trade 686
Transportation & Warehousing 182
Information 63
Educational (Services) (D)
Health Care & Social Assistance (D)
Arts/Entertainment/Recreation 98
Accommodations & Food Service 362
Management of Companies 0
Finance & Insurance 376
Real Estate, Rentals & Leasing 339
Professional, Scientific & Technical 256
Administration & Waste Services 192
Other Services except Public Admin. 384
Fed, state, local gov't 1,325
Total 7,604

D=not disclosed to avoid disclosure of confidential information, but estimates included in totals.
L=less than 10 jobs, but estimates included in totals.

Sources: Wyoming Division of Economic Analysis Equality State Almanac, County Profiles, http://eadiv.state.wy.us/almanac/Page135_183.pdf ; Wyoming DEA summary of decennial U. S. Census data, http://eadiv.state.wy.us/demog_data/cntycity_hist.htm; Wyoming DEA Employment, Income, and Gross Domestic Product Report, http://eadiv.state.wy.us/i&e/Inc_Emp_Report09.pdf; 2010 Census Summary Report for Wyoming, http://eadiv.state.wy.us/
demog_data/pop2010/2010_Census_Summary.pdf
; 2011 county population estimates, http://eadiv.state.wy.us/pop/CO-11est.pdf.

About the Author

Vickie Zimmer is a Torrington native. She attended Eastern Wyoming College and the University of Wyoming. She has built houses, owned a historic sewing business, and currently owns an independent bookstore with her husband.

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