The Closet of History
By Lucas Fralick
There is a certain sense of wonderment when a person gets shuffled out of history. This occurs frequently, with a person’s life like a shirt in the bottom of a closet; the sign of the person’s past presence lingers, but just out of reach to our memory. Congressman Frank Mondell of Wyoming is one of these. Even a substantial congressional career and, in archives, several hundred pages of documents, writings and memos were not enough to save him from being buried by time.
This was one of the thoughts I had when ruminating on the many politicians of Wyoming’s past. Mondell had been cited in few works and his career, despite its incredible length and congressional achievement, is seldom talked about. In a way it makes sense: Mondell’s career was sandwiched among major national events, including four constitutional amendments, World War I and the Teapot Dome Scandal, just to name a few. And this leaves out the many people we do remember from his time, namely Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and the corrupt administration of President Warren G. Harding.
Beyond that, the complexities of teaching history simply do not provide time to cover everything. Maybe some figures are simply not interesting enough to talk about. Even after 24 years of congressional service, Mondell was not able to make that one speech or get that one law passed that makes a politician famous or infamous.
Silent political figures, unexciting, controversial or not, even uninteresting or not, are precisely what we need to read more about. It’s easy to forget a cog in the machine of politics; they come and go. Yet they leave a mark; they matter.
Mondell’s impact on Wyoming politics and land policy is undeniable. We cannot forget that his political maneuvering robbed Native people of their land and plowed massive irrigation networks in the name of progress. He also voted against admitting Arizona into the Union and drew a firm line against conservation. Therefore, the question isn’t if Mondell is worth remembering for either his deeds or misdeeds. Learning about his career broadens our understanding of Wyoming’s early years of statehood. The federal land policies Mondell helped create still impact us today, even in the smallest ways.
The “discovery” of Frank Mondell’s papers begs the question—How many others have been buried in the historical closet? Surely they’re in there, just waiting to be pulled out in time for the next season.