More Wyoming Presidents’ Days

Last week in this space we detailed visits to Wyoming by presidents Chester A. Arthur and Theodore Roosevelt with nods to six more: Truman, Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton, a future President Eisenhower and a former President Trump.

Ulysses S. Grant, in light colored hat with his hand on the fence, visits Fort Sanders south of Laramie, July, 1868. He was elected president the following November. Wikimedia.
Ulysses S. Grant, in light colored hat with his hand on the fence, visits Fort Sanders south of Laramie, July, 1868. He was elected president the following November. Wikimedia.

Thanks to some alert readers, however, we’ve learned how wrong we were when we claimed those were the only ones. Nearly every president since the Civil War has stopped here before, during or after his time in office. Dewey Vanderhoff emailed from Cody to tell us there’s a big picture in the Park County Courthouse of President Calvin Coolidge in town in 1927 to help celebrate the opening of the museum that’s now the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Mack Frost of the BBCoW sent us a a photo of that event (see below) and says the date was Aug. 30, 1927.

And longtime contributor Phil White sent a note from Laramie pointing us to pp. 462-464 of the Seventh Edition of University of Wyoming History Professor Emeritus Phil Roberts’s Wyoming Almanac, a book by Roberts and his brothers Steve and David, jampacked with interesting facts about our state. (Warning: There’s no index, but you can get lost for hours browsing around.)

Chester Arthur was not, as we claimed last week, the first president to visit the territory or state of Wyoming; that honor goes to Ulysses S. Grant. Grant visited Fort Sanders south of Laramie in 1868 a few months before he was elected president, and then again in his second term. Future President James Garfield passed through Wyoming Territory in 1872 while he was still in the Army. Next president after Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, spoke to a small crowd at the Cheyenne depot in 1880. Arthur as we saw last week came with a large cavalry escort to Yellowstone via Fort Washakie in 1883. Grover Cleveland, as far as we've been able to determine, never came to Wyoming. Benjamin Harrison, our frequent contributor James Nottage tells us, visited Yellowstone three times

William McKinley “peered out a train window” at Wyoming, by now a state, en route back east from the west coast, as the Robertses have it. Theodore Roosevelt made his dramatic horseback ride from Laramie to Cheyenne in 1903. William Howard Taft gave several speeches here while running, unsuccessfully as it turned out, for a second term in 1911. In the fall of 1919 Woodrow Wilson, deeply weary, gave a speech in Cheyenne promoting the League of Nations idea, near the end of a three-week, 40-city tour that nearly killed him. The next day after speaking in Pueblo, Colorado he collapsed, suffered a stroke a few days later and never recovered his health for the remaining 20 months of his term.

Buffalo Bill museum founder and curator Mary Jester Allen, left, President Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge and Buffalo Bill granddaughter Jane Garlow in Cody, July 4, 1927. Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Buffalo Bill museum founder and curator Mary Jester Allen, left, President Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge and Buffalo Bill granddaughter Jane Garlow in Cody, Aug. 30, 1927. Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

President Warren G. Harding, whose administration was about to come under heavy fire for the Teapot Dome scandal, crossed Wyoming with a few sightseeing stops on his way to Alaska in June 1923, died in San Francisco five weeks later, and crossed Wyoming a second time—in a casket. President Calvin Coolidge—“Silent Cal—” passed through Cody as we’ve seen in 1927 on his way to Yellowstone. Herbert Hoover stopped in Cheyenne the night before he lost the 1932 election.  Franklin D. Roosevelt, who won it, campaigned here also that year and later visited the state three times as president. Harry Truman spoke here several times during his 1948 campaign; in 1950 he gave a speech in Casper at Natrona County High School before traveling up the North Platte to dedicate the new Kortes Dam. As we saw last week, Eisenhower crossed Wyoming as a young Army officer and spoke here a generation later, in his first campaign for president, 1952. In addition to his speeches in Laramie and Cheyenne in 1963, John F. Kennedy spoke in Jackson on the same trip. Lyndon Johnson, as we’ve seen visited Casper twice, once as vice-president in 1962 and once as president in 1964. Richard Nixon, as vice-president, spoke here three times in the 1950s—perhaps the reason Eisenhower never felt the need to return, Nixon spoke here again in 1960 when he lost to Kennedy, and once while campaigning for Barry Goldwater in 1964. He never visited during his own presidency.

Gerald Ford’s grandparents were Wyoming pioneers and Ford worked here in summers as a young man. In August 1976 he visited Yellowstone; there's a photo of him with Park Superintendent John Townsley at Artist Point. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Joslyn vacationed in Jackson Hole in 1978. Ronald Reagan campaigned in Casper in 1976, gave a speech  in Cheyenne while he was president in 1982, and vacationed with his wife Nancy, post-presidency, in Jackson in 1992. The elder George Bush, as vice-president, Mack Frost tells us again, fished the north fork of the Shoshone River with Congressman Dick Cheney and Secretary of State James Baker during the Democratic Convention in July 1988. In 1989 and 1990, Bush visited Jackson and Yellowstone and in 1992 visited Baker at his ranch in Sublette County. Ten years later, the elder Bush gave a speech at a University of Wyoming fundraiser in Laramie, late in 2002, Kathy Marquis of Wyoming State Archives tells us. Bill Clinton stopped at the Cheyenne airport during his first campaign in 1992, vacationed with his family several times in Jackson Hole and, when Hilary Clinton ran for the Democratic nomination the first time in 2008, made stops with her in Casper, Rock Springs and Laramie. The younger George Bush “appeared with Dick Cheney in Casper” in 2000, the Robertses note. Barack Obama stopped at Johnny J’s diner in Casper, gave a speech in the town as well and drew a big crowd in Laramie in March 2008, the night before the state Democratic caucuses. And former president Donald Trump held a rally at the Events Center in Casper for Harriet Hageman in her race against Liz Cheney for the Republican nomination for Congress in May 2022.

That makes 25 altogether—out of 27 presidents, if you count Andrew Johnson, since the Civil War. Today, Feb. 22, 2024, is George Washington’s actual birthday. Had he lived, he would be turning 291. Perhaps he, too, would have found a reason over all that time to visit Wyoming during an election year.