In 1857, the U.S. Congress passed the Pacific Wagon Road Act, allowing the survey and construction of wagon roads. A segment of the first such national road built in the West is the Lander Trail, a section 229 miles in length between a point near present-day South Pass, Wyo., and Fort Hall, Idaho. The route saved travelers 60 miles compared to the more traditional route of the Oregon-California Trail through Fort Bridger. The Lander Trail was named for Frederick William Lander, chief engineer and later superintendent for the project—a volatile but effective leader who was nationally famous in his day.
Terry A. Del Bene
Terry A. Del Bene
Green River, Wyo., on its namesake river and on the Union Pacific Railroad, began as a stage station. After the U.P. relocated switching and roundhouse operations there in the early 1870s, the Green River rail yard became one of the busiest in the nation. Since the early 1900s, this county seat of Sweetwater County has weathered many booms and busts of nearby oil, gas and trona development, with the railroad and county government steadying its economy all the while.
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.