The history of Niobrara County, Wyo., organized in 1913 and Wyoming’s smallest by population, includes early-day dinosaur discoveries, successful oil drilling and agricultural activities. The county seat, Lusk, earned that status only after extended controversy. The Wyoming Women’s Center, the state’s only prison for women, is located in Lusk.
One of Wyoming’s early large-scale irrigation projects dates to the 1880s in what’s now Platte County, Wyoming and the county, organized in early 1913, still is perhaps best known for its reservoirs and recreation areas. The Oregon Trail ruts and Register Cliff near Guernsey serve as reminders of the pioneer heritage of the area and a coal-fired power plant near Wheatland provides jobs and economic stability.
Toomey’s Mills in Newcastle, Wyo., began operations as Newcastle Milling Company and Electrical Light Plant in 1905, producing flour by day and generating electricity at night. In 1919, D. J. Toomey purchased the business and it remained in the family until 1965. In 1974, new owners converted it into a restaurant, the Old Mill Inn. In 1995, current owners, Doug and Larita Brown bought the property, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, in 1995.
What’s now Crook County, Wyo., was crossed by Custer in 1874 on his expedition to the Black Hills, the spark that led to the final struggles of the Indian wars on the northern plains. Ranchers a few years later brought in cattle and later, sheep, and the county was organized in 1885, with its county seat at Sundance. Harry Longabaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid, spent 18 months in jail there. Coal deposits were exploited in the 1890s and shipped by rail to gold smelters in nearby Lead and Deadwood, So. Dak. Devils Tower National Monument, established in 1906 as the first national monument in the United States and still a sacred place for the Sioux, is located in Crook County. Agriculture, mining and timbering still play significant roles in its economy.
The final Wyoming Territorial Legislative Assembly created Weston County in March 1890. Thirty years later, the discovery of oil at Osage, Wyo., halfway between the county seat of Newcastle and the small town of Upton, led to a number of cyclical economic booms and busts. Today, the county’s industries include agriculture and oil refining.
Newcastle, Wyo., on the edge of the Black Hills, was founded in 1889 when the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad arrived in northeastern Wyoming. Newcastle sprang up where a spur left the main line of the Burlington to head seven miles northwest to the coal mines at Cambria. The Burlington –now, after its merger with the Santa Fe Railroad, the BNSF—is still a major employer, along with a local oil refinery, hospital and school district, and businesses that serve tourists.
Upton, Wyo., known originally as Irontown or Iron City, and later as Merino, began in 1890 as a Burlington Railroad depot near a set of sheep corrals. The town was not incorporated until 1909. The Burlington’s successor, the BNSF, remains an important employer today, as do the school district and a clinic operated by Weston County Health Services.