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Black Kettle, Black Elk and an attempt at reconciliation

After the Indian Wars, White people in the West seem to have found a number of ways to harass and kill Native people. In 1895, a posse of non-Indians, mostly outfitters, attacked a peaceful band of Bannocks hunting elk south of Jackson Hole; two native people died. 

In 1906, a large band of Utes left their reservation in Utah and crossed Wyoming, hunting and drying meat as they went—and causing great alarm among civil officials, the general public and especially in the newspapers. Eventually the Utes were met in southern Montana by 1,000 U.S. troops, persuaded to go to South Dakota for a while and after 18 months to return home.

Three years earlier, on Lightning Creek northeast of Douglas, Wyo., in 1903, a sheriff’s posse attacked a peaceful group of Oglala Sioux from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota; two posse members and five Sioux were killed. The Oglalas had come to Wyoming to  gather herbs, roots and berries, and may have been hunting antelope as well.

In about 1936, a group of Oglala men from the Pine Ridge Reservation performed the astonishing feat of finding the graves of their dead on the site, going by an account dating from the time of the burials. But by the late 1920s, White ranchers had already moved the skull and bones of Black Kettle, a member of the band, to the Wyoming Pioneer Memorial Museum on the grounds of the Wyoming State Fair in Douglas.

Gale McGee and the Archives

By Rodger McDaniel

The wonderful thing about choosing to write the biography of a historian is that historians do what they do. They leave behind so much material with which to work. 

Gale McGee left thousands of files in hundreds of Banker’s boxes filled with speeches, letters, and personal reminiscences spanning his lifetime. When I first looked over the mountain of paper I thought to myself, “I’m sure I won’t need to scrutinize every piece of paper in every one of those folders.” Wrong!

Early on, I pulled a folder from a box, labeled “McGee Memoirs.” Inside was another file marked “Diabetes.” The former Senator was plagued by the disease his entire life. I opened the file thinking I’d find personal reflections on what it was like to be diabetic. What I found, instead, was a never before told story about the most prominent Senate spokesperson for the war in Vietnam. McGee served as U.S. senator from Wyoming from 1959 through 1977.

In a Bronco with Geologist Dave Love

By Rebecca Hein

At the beginning of John McPhee’s fascinating 1986 book, Rising from the Plains, the author introduces geologist David Love, a great talker and thinker who spent a long, Laramie-based career with the U.S. Geological Survey. McPhee also introduces us to Love’s mother, Ethel Waxham Love and to Wyoming geology in general. Ethel Waxham was still single in October 1905 when she traveled from Denver by train and stagecoach to teach a winter term of school in Fremont County, about 30 miles south of Lander. McPhee weaves in background on David’s childhood and early education after Ethel married sheep rancher John Love, a Scot, in June 1910 and they made a home on Muskrat Creek, near the bone-dry center of the state.

Early in the narrative—geared for the lay reader—the author and David Love, about 70 at the time, are driving around in a Bronco and camping out a lot. Stopping near Rawlins, they get out to look at the rocks. Love says, “The rock that outcrop[s] around Rawlins …  contain[s] a greater spread of time than any other suite of exposed rocks along Interstate 80 between New York and San Francisco.”

Hemingway in Wyoming

Ernest Hemingway, if you haven’t noticed, is back in the news. Ken Burns’s and Lyn Novick’s new, six-hour documentary about the writer and his life debuts this week on PBS.

Given to broad, brief statements, Hemingway supposedly told Elsa Spear Byron of the Spear-O-Wigwam dude ranch in the Bighorns, “There are two places I love—Africa and Wyoming.”

Hemingway visited Wyoming many times, often for months at a stretch. He came to Wyoming to fish, hunt and write. But he never made a life here, or in Africa, either, for that matter. In fact, unlike other great writers of his time, writers with whom he’s often spoken of in a single sentence—Pound, Joyce, Faulkner, Woolf, Fitzgerald—Hemingway seems always to have been on the move. His life was full of travel, elation, work, drink, wrecks, despair and a great, sad love for the physical world as it is—or as he thought it was, or as close as he could make it in his paragraphs.

Wyoming’s Chinese Massacre

In Wyoming, with our small minority populations, it’s easy to feel morally distant from events like the Asian-spa shootings in Atlanta last week. Whatever mix of religion, armament, opportunity and virulent misogyny motivated the shooter, race hatred was in there, too.

Surely something like that wouldn’t happen here, right?  

Maybe. Still, this seems a good time to remember two events from Wyoming’s past.

Utes in Wyoming Newspapers, 1906

By Tom Rea
(Editor’s note: Tom Rea’s article “The Flight of the Utes,” was published this week on WyoHistory.org)

The past may seem dusty, distant, even irrelevant at times, until you hear the voices of people who lived through it. Fortunately, those tones survive in the things people wrote down. Personal letters are full of the tones of people’s voices but so, sometimes, are more formal documents, even government reports—and so are newspapers.

In the last decade or two, thanks to publicly funded, state-level efforts like the Wyoming Digital Newspapers Collection and private subscription efforts like Newspapers.com, scholars and the public now have huge resources available to them, and can find in a day or two sources that earlier would have taken weeks of time and miles of travel to access in far-flung archives. It makes a big difference in the history that gets written.

A couple of years ago, Greg Nickerson, who has written for WyoHistory.org on a variety of Native American topics, mentioned to me a story I’d never heard of: A band of several hundred Ute Indians with a large horse herd left their reservation in Utah and came across Wyoming in 1906. They hoped to find welcome and a better life on the Crow, Cheyenne or Sioux reservations of Montana and South Dakota. Greg didn’t have time to research the topic further, but he did steer me to an article about it from the Utah Historical Quarterly in 1968. I thought, well, with that plus what we can now find in newspaper databases, maybe we could bring something new to a topic that still was not well known.

And that turned out to be the case.

Two Writing Ranchwomen

By Rebecca Hein

Living on a ranch before ranches had electricity or mechanized equipment is not something people often think about now. But these on-the-spot records from just a century ago remind us how much things have changed—how hard, especially, these people had to work—and what we can learn from the past.

Two ranchwomen writers have left clear descriptions of their lives and daily routines, including the hardships they and their families endured. Both also wrote about people and events in the area, going beyond their own home lives.

Lester "Buddy" Hunt, Jr.—the Rest of the Story

By Rodger McDaniel
(Editor’s note: Rodger McDaniel’s article, “Baseball, Politics, Triumph and Tragedy: The Career of Lester Hunt,” was published this month on WyoHistory.org.)

It was April of 2011. Out of the blue, I received a Facebook friend request from Lester Hunt, Jr. I’d begun writing a column for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. A mutual friend sent copies to Mr. Hunt. He wanted to open a dialogue.  

I called him. During the conversation, I said, “Your father’s story needs to be told. Someone needs to write his biography.” Buddy said, “Why don’t you do that?” We set a date to meet. I flew to Chicago, spending a week with the namesake of the Wyoming senator who took his own life in June of 1954.

'Come brother, let us ramble o'er the Black and Yellow Trail…'

By Robert and Elizabeth Rosenberg
(Editors’ note: The Rosenbergs are authors of “Let Us Ramble: Exploring the Black and Yellow Trail in Wyoming,” recently published on WyoHistory.org.)

For almost 40 years, we have made our living as historical consultants in Wyoming. Because the state is rich in trail history, we have recorded many segments of routes from the earliest emigrant roads to the first auto roads. Historic trails generally bring to mind prairie schooners bound for Oregon and California; in addition to the famous Oregon Trail, emigrants crossed the state by way of the Overland Trail, the Bozeman Trail and the Bridger Trail. Today, one can still find remnants of these trails -- wagon ruts, rock inscriptions, and emigrant graves. 

The earliest interstate roads also crossed Wyoming: the Lincoln Highway (the first east-west interstate highway), the Yellowstone Highway (connecting Denver to Yellowstone and other National Parks) and the lesser known Black and Yellow Trail. This road was developed in the 1910s so that tourists could jump in their new cars and follow a good road from Chicago to Yellowstone National Park, enjoying the Black Hills, Devils Tower and the Bighorn Mountains along the way. The name of the new road reflected the major attractions as well as the black and yellow-banded posts that would mark the route.  

Beethoven, My Cello and a Wildfire

By Rebecca Hein
Editor’s note: Rebecca Hein’s article, “Beethoven’s Birthday in Wyoming,” about two concerts celebrating the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth, was published on WyoHistory.org this week.

December 2020 is the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. Wyoming orchestras planned celebrations this year, but they were disrupted by COVID-19. The (Casper) Wyoming Symphony and Cheyenne Symphony both programmed a Beethoven work for every concert, but many had to be canceled or delayed. The Powder River Symphony, in Gillette, attempting to present live performances, could not put a full orchestra on stage. On the 200th anniversary in 1970, however, two civic orchestras performed Beethoven.

Growing up in Wyoming, I had few chances to attend professional concerts in Casper, but by 15, I was playing in the Casper Civic Symphony and Casper Youth Symphony. Beethoven’s music was a magnet pulling me into the practice room, two to six hours a day from ages 16 to 27. Later, I confined my reduced practice hours to my schedule as a professional cello teacher and performer.

Thanksgiving, a pandemic and some rumors

In the fall of 1918, Wyoming, like the rest of the United States, experienced the deadliest two months yet of the influenza pandemic then sweeping the world. From October 1918 through January 1919, 780 people in Wyoming died either of the flu or a combination of the flu and pneumonia. For weeks, newspapers across the state ran front-page obituaries of local people. The peak came during the first two weeks of November; by Thanksgiving, the onslaught of new cases and deaths seemed to be tapering off slightly—in some towns at least.

“Thanksgiving Day in Buffalo this year was observed,” the Buffalo Bulletin reported, “but in a very quiet manner, prevalence of the flu making it entirely out of the question to hold any public gatherings. A number of small dinner parties among friends and neighbors were given, so that a spirit of thanksgiving prevailed in the city to a certain extent.” That caution, the wariness in the tone of “to a certain extent,” seems particularly familiar now. It runs through all the Wyoming papers we browsed recently to find out what was up during Thanksgiving week, 1918.

Italian Painters and Prisoners

By Laura E. Ruberto
Editor’s note: The author’s article, “An Italian painter in a Wyoming POW camp,” was published recently on WyoHistory.org.

In some way or another I’ve been curious about Italians prisoners of war since I was a child and heard my own paternal grandfather’s stories of having been captured by the British when he was in the Italian army and brought to the United States as a POW. But it’s as a scholar of Italian migration history and culture that I have come to understand the complexities and implications of his and others’ similar experiences. 

My current research into the Camp Douglas case, supported by a Homsher grant from the Wyoming State Historical Society and a Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowship, is part of a larger project about the approximately 50,000 Italian POWs in the United States and the art and architecture they created.  

The Western-themed murals at Camp Douglas are one example of the unique built environments and creative pieces Italian POWs made: They painted frescoes in churches, crafted small items like jewelry and toys, and built large-scale structures, such as chapels and dance halls, often using salvaged or donated materials. These constructions reflect the makers’ cultural experiences as well as the realities of their confinement, ambiguous political circumstances, and complicated relationships to communities within and beyond the borders of the camps.

A Contested Transition

For a few days in December 1892, armed men of opposing political parties filled different rooms in the Wyoming State Capitol, deep in “earnest consultation,” one newspaper reported, over whether the man in the governor’s office had any right to be there. Matters were extremely tense.

John Osborne, a Rawlins physician and a Democrat, had won the governor’s race the previous month by a comfortable margin—9,290 to 7,509. For two years, since the brand-new governor, Francis E. Warren, had resigned the governorship on being elected to the U.S. senate, the former secretary of state, Amos Barber, had been serving as an unelected acting governor. All the heat was coming now from the burning question of when it was legal for the new governor-elect to take office. 

Brave and Hardworking Young Women

Beginning in 1930, the world’s first airline stewardesses, as they were called then, were trained in Cheyenne by Boeing Air Transport, Inc. at the first stewardess school in the world. Boeing was a precursor of United Air Lines. The women earned $125 per month for 100 hours of flying time, or around $1,900 in today’s dollars. During the 14 years Boeing/United trained stewardesses in Cheyenne, more than 6,000 young women graduated.

Brothers in Peace

By Phil White Jr.
(Editor’s note: The author’s article, “1968: Wyoming Reacts to the King Assassination,” was published last week on WyoHistory.org.)

When I agreed to provide WyoHistory.org with some notes introducing my recent article about Wyoming reactions to the death of Martin Luther King, it occurred to me to look again at the University of Wyoming student newspaper, the Branding Iron. In the April 19, 1968, issue, from two weeks after the assassination, I found a letter to the editor and poem, both by student Ken Cooper.

This paean about Dr. King joining “the ranks of fallen men of peace” seemed so heartfelt, coming from such deep sorrow and pain, that I wondered whether the author was one of UW’s few African-American students in the late sixties. My name also appears in the Branding Iron masthead on that page, listing me as sports editor. I knew the names of many of UW’s Black athletes at the time, but I didn’t recognize this name then or now, 52 years later.

So I took a shot at finding something about this Ken Cooper. I checked the UW alumni directories without success. Then I searched for his name on Facebook and turned up a 72-year-old person with that name living in Laughlin, Nev. who ran track at the University of Wyoming. Truepeoplesearch.com gave me some possible phone numbers. I left messages on two of them, and within an hour I was talking to this remarkable man and he was mentioning the names of many sixties students and athletes I knew or recognized.

Preserving the Harvest

Too often at WyoHistory.org when we publish articles about big events—elections won or lost, towns founded or abandoneddams builtboomsbusts and blizzards survived—we give time and space to the big picture but too seldom get down to actual stories of people’s lives.

Racism and Race Horse

By John Clayton
(Editors’ note: John Clayton’s article, Who gets to hunt Wyoming's elk? Tribal Hunting Rights, U.S. Law and the Bannock 'War' of 1895, was published recently on WyoHistory.org.)

One reason I enjoy writing for WyoHistory.org is that I like to imagine Wyoming high school history teachers using these stories in class. Too often history is about memorizing dates, when it could be a springboard for discussions about values. To my mind, one of the best stories for these purposes is the history behind the Herrera Supreme Court decision, published last week.

When Yellowstone Burned

Many of us remember Wyoming’s smoky skies in the summer of 1988, when Yellowstone was ablaze. The fires started in June; at first they were small and isolated. Yellowstone National Park officials followed a hands-off fire policy that had been in place for 16 years. 

But after a wet spring, boosting growth of brush and underbrush, 1988 was the park’s driest summer recorded up to that time. However, by mid-July, only around 8,500 acres had burned. Then the fires doubled in size in a week. Park officials reversed their policy and began fighting all the fires. 

The City-Country Disconnect

By Rebecca Hein
(Editor’s note: The author’s article, The Sticking Power of Ethel Waxham Love, was published last week on WyoHistory.org.)

In January 1924, Ethel Waxham Love’s sister, Faith, wrote to her from Denver to express her concern for Ethel’s welfare. Fourteen years before, Ethel had married John Love, a sheep rancher in central Wyoming.

“I could not see you leave the ranch soon enough,” wrote Faith. “What would you think of a man who would take me off to a desert where I saw few people, who promised I should never work & who made me his slave body & soul. … You have never complained.”

They could agree on the last part, at least; Ethel never said or wrote to anyone about wanting to leave the ranch or her marriage. Before marrying John Love, Ethel had known about some of the hardships of sheep and cattle ranching in Wyoming. When Love wrote to her during the five years he courted her by correspondence, he never withheld news about how many sheep the latest blizzard had killed.

Faith continued,  “It is John’s duty to realize his responsibility [to support Ethel and their two young sons], and … he should be made to feel that responsibility. … What does John do? How does he earn a livelihood for his family?”

A Murder and a Bad Gun Law

By Dick Blust, Jr.
Editor’s note: The author’s article,  “The Buxton Case: An Anti-Immigrant Tragedy,” was published last week on WyoHistory.org.

When I began my research on the Buxton-Omeyc case, I saw it as a straightforward piece about crime and law enforcement: On September 14, 1919, a 17-year-old named Joseph Omeyc shot and killed Deputy Game Warden John Buxton near Rock Springs, Wyo. Buxton was the first Wyoming game warden to be killed in the line of duty. Naturally, I was interested in the details.

When the Nation Caught Up with Wyoming’s Women

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, when women across America—white women, at least—won the right to vote. In the Tennessee Legislature, Rep. Harry Burn put the nation over the top on August 18, 1920, when he followed his mother’s good advice and voted Aye. But women in Wyoming, we are always proud to remember, had already been voting for 50 years. 

Was John Muir racist?

The answer depends, not on Muir’s actions, but on how you define 'racist'

By John Clayton
(Editor’s note: John Clayton is author of “John Muir in Yellowstone” on WyoHistory.org.)

I love John Muir. I even wrote a book arguing that this much-heralded figure doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. So I noticed when Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune called out the racism of the club’s beloved founder, John Muir. “Muir’s words and actions… continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color who come into contact with the Sierra Club,” said his July 22 post on the club website.

My Cantrell Files

By Paul Krza
(Editor’s note: The author’s article, “Ed Cantrell, Rock Springs and Boom-time Crime” has just been published on WyoHistory.org.) 

Amazingly, it was on my birthday — July 15, in 1978 — when Ed Cantrell, who I knew from my teaching days in Cody, and who had Rock Springs connections, would shoot and kill Michael Rosa, his undercover drug detective, in front of the Silver Dollar Bar. As I often say, you just can’t make this stuff up. Other Wyoming cities suffered the same fate — Gillette, in the coal-rich Powder River Basin, birthing the unwelcome tag, “Gillette Syndrome,” a catchall for boomtown woes, and Wheatland, with its power-plant construction. But it was the Rock Springs experience that spurred the concept that energy giants should pay up front for social upheaval, through industrial siting payments and with a pioneering severance tax.

Drawn to the archives—and a crime

By Robin Everett
(Editor’s note: Robin Everett, an archivist at Wyoming State Archives, is author of “Milward Simpson and the Death Penalty,” just published on WyoHistory.org.)

I was born and raised in Wheatland, attended school there through junior high and then, after many years in Colorado, was able to return to Wyoming in 1998 when I transferred to Cheyenne with my work at AT&T.Wanting to learn more about my home town, I began reading the Wheatland newspapers on microfilm at the Wyoming State Archives. For a while, there were two papers, the Platte County Record and the Wheatland Times. Sometimes I even took a day off work to spend uninterrupted time in the microfilm reading room, scrolling. Now and then I’d find an article that mentioned a family member, or friends or an event I may or may not have heard about. I still have the blue spiral notebook filled with many pages of notes about these articles.

So perhaps you can imagine the shock I experienced when one day I turned the crank on the manual microfilm reader and saw the headline, “Riggle Held Here for Double Killing” (Wheatland Times April 2, 1953) and the headline in the Platte County Record, “Riggle Captured Monday Night after 48 Hour Search.”

Political fistfights

After an argument at the state Republican convention in Gillette last month, the chairman of the Albany County delegation, Michael Pearce, and the chairman of the Carbon County delegation, Joey Correnti, headed for a side room in the Cam-Plex. There, witnesses agree, Pearce threw the first punch, after which Correnti “took him to the ground.” Pearce ended up in the hospital with injuries including a broken ankle. He later admitted he’d been drinking “tall” gin and tonics. Authorities the following Monday charged him with assault and battery.

The dispute seems to have been largely personal, but politically charged. For more details on the fight, click here for Pearce’s version, click here for Correnti’s lawyer’s version, click here for a briefer overview, click here for more on tensions within the Wyoming Republican Party this summer as the primary season heats up and click here for details on an alleged assault of Wyoming GOP Executive Director Kristi Wallin by GOP Secretary Charles Curley at a party fundraising dinner in February 2018.

These troubles reminded us of a notorious fight that broke out Jan. 20, 1913 between Democrats and Republicans on the floor of the Wyoming House of Representatives. The conflict was over which party would ultimately control the majority, and with that majority the power to elect Wyoming’s U.S. senator.

Writing Sherman Coolidge

When considering the dramatic events of Sherman Coolidge’s life, it’s hard to believe his biography wasn’t written long ago.  Born around 1863 into a small band of Arapaho in present-day Wyoming, Coolidge, as a boy named Doa-che-wa-a (He-Runs-on-Top), experienced a series of tragedies few could imagine. After losing his grandmother, aunt, uncle, and father to warfare and murder, he was sold by his mother to an army surgeon at Camp Brown (now Lander). And all this happened before he turned 8 years old. Coolidge was later adopted by an infantry officer, educated in eastern schools, and ordained an Episcopal priest. In 1884, he returned to Wyoming as a missionary among the Arapaho at the reservation on Wind River, where he spent approximately a quarter century. Coolidge left in 1910, and in 1911 helped found the Society of American Indians (SAI), an organization dedicated to defending Native rights. He then served as president during the SAI’s most robust period of agitation, becoming one of the best-known American Indians in the United States. 

A Tiny Dynamo

Emma Mitchell, wife of railroader and mountaineer Finis Mitchell, who devoted his spare time to exploring the Wind River Mountains beginning in the 1930s, was probably crucial to his effort. The Mitchells’ granddaughter, Sandra Snow, remembers Emma as “a tiny little dynamo. I still miss her and all the things she said and did.

Wyoming’s Black Past

Recently we learned that Dr. Quintard Taylor, founder and director of Black Past, a history-minded website a few years older than ours, has announced plans to step away from management of the site. When we sent him a quick note of best wishes, he sent us a link to all the website’s articles that have any connection to Wyoming.

Would you eat one of those?

If you’ve ever raised leafy greens such as kale, chard or collards, you’ve probably eaten at least one aphid. This idea is not so revolting because aphids are tiny, and we usually don’t know when we’re eating one. But eating an insect on purpose? For us, it’s not a cultural norm, although it has been for lots of other people in the world, past and present.

'A lickspittle to the lordly English'

Now and again an old document comes along that offers a true feeling for its times. Recently we came across a pdf of a 1971 reprinting of a booklet first published in Wyoming Territory in 1886, just before the cattle boom busted. Tensions between big-ranch cattlemen and small landholders were heating up.

Fighting blizzards and barkeeps

We all know what it’s like to be caught in a white-out on the highway. The roadside markers disappear into whirling snow. We can’t see the center line, other cars nor even the hood of our own. This, minus the warm, enclosed vehicle with food and water aboard if we’ve planned well, is what early travelers in Wyoming faced in fall, winter and spring. Sometimes they were horseback, or in a wagon or even on foot. One such hardy settler was Minnie Fenwick, a Congregational circuit rider serving the small town of Burns and surrounding communities in Wyoming’s southeast corner, in the early 1900s.

A virtual cemetery for Wyoming’s overseas combat veterans

The last few years have been an exciting time to be stationed in Europe with the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I and the 75th Anniversary of many World War II battles. Over the course of my three-year assignment here I wanted to incorporate visiting the 17 American Battlefield Monument Commission (ABMC) Cemeteries in Europe where Wyoming Veterans are buried. Additionally, I wanted to visit the headstones of each of the 316 service members from Wyoming buried here. Thus far I have visited 16 of 17 cemeteries. I have taken photos of 315 of 316 of those headstones and their names on the Tablets of the Missing.

'Don't worry, and keep your feet warm.'

Prominent on the front page of the Casper Daily Press on October 10, 1918, were two text boxes packed with advice. One listed ways to avoid the flu; a second listed steps to take if you got it: “Avoid contact with other people, especially crowds indoors . . . Sleep and work in clean, fresh air. . . . Keep your hands clean and keep them out of your mouth. . . . “ The paper’s tone was calm and upbeat, but it was a scary time. As of this writing, the number of new coronavirus cases in the United States and Wyoming continues to rise fast; Wyoming oficials reported the state’s first death this week. In October 1918 things were far worse. That month alone, 195,000 Americans died of the flu. Before the epidemic ended the following year, more than 50 million people would die from the disease worldwide.