News stories published about the July 20, 1889, hanging of Ella Watson and Jim Averell contained inaccuracies that historians and others accepted as fact for more than 100 years, leading to a variety of misunderstandings and resulting in questions about truth and history that haunt researchers today.
In the fall of 1869, lawmakers in Wyoming’s first territorial legislature passed a bill allowing women the right to vote. The governor signed the bill into law Dec. 10, 1869, making the territory the first government in the world to grant full voting rights to women. The lawmakers mixed partisan politics, racial fears and an eye for national publicity in with a desire among some, at least, to do the right thing.
On September 2, 1885, long-simmering tensions between white and Chinese coal miners in Rock Springs, Wyo. boiled over into a massacre in which whites murdered 28 Chinese, wounded 15 more, and looted and burned all 79 shacks and houses in Rock Springs’ Chinatown. Though the remaining Chinese miners wanted desperately to leave Wyoming, the Union Pacific Railroad, which owned the mines, refused to grant them railroad passes or the back pay owed them. The Chinese finally had no choice but to return to work, which kept wages low and the coal flowing from the mines.
In March 1866, when whites and Indians together at Fort Laramie mourned the death of Mni Akuwin, daughter of Spotted Tail, chief of the Brulé Lakota, a colonel at the post hoped it was a sign of peace between the peoples. Peace hopes were shattered later that spring however, by the arrival of hundreds of troops to build forts on the Bozeman Trail, and two more years of bitter warfare followed. Finally in 1868, the tribes of the northern plains gathered at the fort and signed a treaty, ending the war—for a while.
Nellie Tayloe Ross, a Democrat, was elected governor of Wyoming a month after her governor husband, William Ross, died of appendicitis in the fall of 1924. She ran because of respect for her husband’s Progressive ideas and also as a result of her own ambition. She lost her bid for re-election in 1926, but went on to figure prominently in the leadership of the national Democratic Party. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her to direct the U.S. Mint after he took office in 1933, a job she held for 20 years. She died in Washington in 1977, at the age of 101.
Bob David, an adopted boy reared by a well-to-do Wyoming family, never felt he truly belonged until he joined the military and went to France during World War I. He served in an artillery unit and survived numerous onslaughts during battle as well as a severe bout of the flu during the 1918 pandemic, which occurred as he was returning home. He recounted his experiences in a long manuscript and other items that became the core of the Casper College Western History Center. Bob David died in 1968.
Prospectors first struck oil in the Salt Creek Oil Field in northern Natrona County, Wyo. late in the 1880s. The first gusher came in in 1908. The subsequent boom lasted until the late 1920s, peaking in 1923, when the field produced more than 35 million barrels of oil. Tom Wall, who went to work in the field in 1917, stayed for decades and in the 1970s wrote out his memories of life in the oil patch through boom and bust. After 125 years and thanks to new technologies, the Salt Creek Field continues to produce today.
Billy Owen never saw a railroad until he was eight years old. His mother had told him about railroads. But in his mind as he traveled east by wagon train across Wyoming in the spring of 1868, he had imagined railroad wheels that looked something like wagon wheels. They rolled in grooves. Each groove was made by two rails. That meant it took four rails, as he imagined it, to make a track.
The earliest people appear to have come to Wyoming from Asia about 11,000 years ago and archaeologists now think there’s a good chance the people were direct ancestors of Shoshone people who live in Wyoming now. In recent years, the mostly white archaeologists have realized it makes sense to ask Shoshone people for help understanding the pictures and carvings their ancestors left on the rocks.
Mary Hughes was just 17 years old in 1908 when the No. 1 Mine exploded twice in one day—and for the second time in five years—in Hanna, Wyo. Her story shows the devastating impact that coal mine accidents had on families like the Hugheses across Wyoming’s mining communities, and reveals her determination to survive disaster.