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'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. 

The imperious Frank Wolcott, employer of Bill Locker in 1886 and leader of the invasion of Johnson County in 1892. American Heritage Center.Among the most notorious of the big guys was Frank Wolcott, a round-faced former Union Army officer, prize fighter and U.S. marshal who by this time was running the VR Ranch on Deer Creek, south of Glenrock. The ranch was owned by British and  eastern investors; Wolcott’s wife had eastern relatives and connections. Among their eastern acquaintances was the young Owen Wister, who’d spent his first Wyoming summer on the VR the year before. 

The booklet, unsigned, is an all-out, high-volume attack on Wolcott’s methods, motives and character. The author may well have been E.H. Kimball, editor of a brand-new newspaper, “The Rowdy West,” published at Fort Fetterman, by then a town, more or less, since the Army had abandoned its buildings four years earlier.

The author calls Wolcott, “a lickspittle of the lordly English” and in a string of anecdotes charges him with fraud, bribery, corruption and abuse of public-lands laws, all at the expense of men and families with smaller holdings. 

 When a Wolcott henchman named Bill Locker, "lazy, lousy, trifling, quarrelsome, mean and unprincipled,” armed, approached a certain Sumner Beach to scare him off his land claim, Beach shot him. The shooter turned himself in and was in jail, awaiting trial for murder. 

The booklet appears to have been written to bolster public opinion on Beach’s behalf. If so, it worked. The jury deliberated about 15 minutes before acquitting him. Of Wolcott, the author concludes, “We are just simply representing what is said of him by his neighbors and acquaintances, in the camps and on the ranches all over Wyoming. He is known as the meanest man alive in this world.”

Click here to read the 1886 booklet and its 1971 introduction. Click here to read the story of how prominent ranchers in the Sweetwater valley in 1889 lynched two of their neighbors and then spun the newspaper coverage. And finally, click here to read how Wolcott led the famed invasion of Johnson County in 1892—the Johnson County War—and see if you think the writer of the booklet was accurate in his claims. 

Illustration

The photo of Frank Wolcott is from the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. Used with permission and thanks.

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Fighting blizzards and barkeeps

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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. In a blinding storm, Fenwick once walked the three miles from Burns to her family homestead because the weather was so bad that the town stable keeper wouldn’t hire her a horse. Her skirts, long and thick, can’t have been easy to walk in while clambering over snowdrifts.

On another occasion, while attempting to reach a wedding at which she was to officiate, Fenwick was stranded, unsheltered, in another snowstorm, waiting for her wagon driver to return from a nearby homestead with fresh horses. It was dark, and they nearly got lost because all the fences and other landmarks were drifted over.

Fenwick was a fighter; her cause, prohibition. A longtime member and officer of the Wyoming Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, she traveled throughout the state, promoting the organization. Dogmatic and outspoken, she stood with the wives and children of alcohol abusers who drank up the grocery money.

In 1928, when prohibition was law, she appealed to the people of Sheridan after receiving a call for help from a resident. This woman’s letter, and Fenwick’s reply, were published in the Aug. 22, 1928, Sheridan Journal. “Have you no pity for a poor weak woman who must see her husband come home to her drunk?” Fenwick wrote. “The saloon keepers never did hear the cry of little children and poor broken-hearted wives. They never cared for little helpless half-starved babies. … In a christian country like ours, how can anyone vote for a man who wants just such conditions to exist everywhere[?]”

The Wyoming press reported widely on Fenwick’s activities during the 1928 Al Smith-Herbert Hoover presidential race. Former Wyoming Gov. Nellie Tayloe Ross, campaigning for “wet” candidate Smith, was also in the papers that fall, and Fenwick repudiated her. You can read more in our recent article Minnie Fenwick, Nellie Tayloe Ross and the Presidential Campaign of 1928.

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A virtual cemetery for Wyoming’s overseas combat veterans

By Lt. Col. Jason Kahne, U.S. Army

Robert Adams, of Newcastle, Wyo., served as a staff sergeant in the 358th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Battalion, C Company, 90th Infantry Division, and was killed in action July 4, 1944 near LaButte, France. He’s buried at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France. Find A GraveThe 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.

There are a total of 547 service members buried overseas or memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing who entered the service from Wyoming, according to the ABMC database. The remaining 231 are buried or memorialized in the North Africa American Cemetery, the Manila American Cemetery, the East Coast Memorial, and the Honolulu Memorial.

I have uploaded my photos to existing memorials on the Find-A-Grave web-site and have created a "Virtual Cemetery" for Wyoming Combat Veterans Buried Overseas. As I compiled this "virtual cemetery" and have read the entries that memorial owners have uploaded to the website I have learned new things about Wyoming, U.S., and world history. The link to the virtual cemetery is: https://www.findagrave.com/virtual-cemetery/1165047.

As I compiled this virtual cemetery, I have come across additional resources and information on Wyoming Veterans of World War I and World War II. Many photographs of the actual service members of World War I were taken and cataloged in books like “Soldiers of the Great War” and in some cases individual counties created their own books. Another great resource for World War II has been compiled by Russell Pickett and includes those whose remains have been repatriated and are now buried in the United States. His page further breaks down those veterans by the counties that they came from. The link to his page is: http://russpickett.com/history/wywwii.htm.

I am proud of my Wyoming roots and my family’s history of military service. I am a third-generation University of Wyoming graduate and active duty military officer. My grandfather served for 29 years (1942 to 1971) and graduated from UW in 1963. My father served for 26 years (1975 to 2001) and graduated from UW in 1975. I have served for the last 22 years (since 1998) and graduated from UW in 1997. All three of our careers have brought us to Germany—from World War II, through the Marshall Plan, the Cold War, and during the fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany’s reunification. I was stationed in Germany on 9/11 and after several years of assignments rotating through Iraq and Afghanistan, I was given the opportunity to come back to Germany in 2018.

Editors’ notes

The information on Sgt. Adams is from Find A Grave, via Lt. Col. Kahne’s virtual cemetery.

For more on Wyoming and the two world wars, see:

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'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. 

In Wyoming, 780 people died. By comparison, about 450 of our servicemen died in World War I. If a similar proportion of our state population died now as died then from the flu, about 2,340 would lose their lives. Then as now, people wore face masks in public. Churches and movie theaters closed their doors. Schools and the University of Wyoming closed for the rest of the term. Sound familiar?

For more on how Wyoming coped, see UW Professor Emeritus Phil Roberts’s article, The 1918 Flu: A Worldwide Epidemic Sweeps Wyoming. Albany County historian Kim Viner has written more on how Laramie and the university coped; see his new article, “Spanish Flu Epidemic Hits Laramie—1918.” And for how one Wyoming soldier coped with World War I combat, wild rumors and his own flu on a returning troopship, see WyoHistory.org Editor Tom Rea’s article, Bob David’s War: A Wyoming Soldier Serves in France

Finally, the Daily Press advised, “Don’t worry, and keep your feet warm.” If that seems oddly lighthearted, remember people believed cold, wet feet led to colds, which led to flu, which could be deadly. Across Wyoming, physicians are saying something similar: Stay home, stay calm, stay safe and stay in touch with friends and family. 

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