President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1903 Horseback Travel Route

To ride from Laramie to Cheyenne, President Theodore Roosevelt and his friends seem to have taken a route somewhat similar to one motorists can follow today, along the well-known Happy Jack Road, Wyoming Highway 210, parallel to and north of present I-80—but with a sharp detour to the north near the end of the trip.

The “At Laramie” column on p. 4 of the Cheyenne Daily Leader on May 30, 1903, noted that the group first rode to Tie City, 13 miles by way of “the high rides of the hills east of Laramie.” From there they rode to McGee’s ranch, then to Van Tassell’s, where they ate lunch. From there they rode to Van Tassell’s windmill, and from there on in to Fort D.A. Russell just northeast of Cheyenne. The Cheyenne-based Wyoming Tribune of May 31, 1903 describes a similar route.

Judging from USGS 1:125,000 maps from surveys made in 1903 and 1911, federal records of land patents, the two newspaper accounts and modern 1:100,000 maps published by the Bureau of Land Management, it seems most likely the riders started out up Telephone Canyon, east of Laramie, the same route I-80 follows today. Near the top, they turned north, about where a traveler now would leave I-80 at Exit 313 to take the Happy Jack Road. Tie City is marked on the 1903 maps about where the US Forest Service’s Tie City Campground is now located on the south fork of Lodgepole Creek, a mile or so north of I-80.

From here, a route roughly following the Happy Jack Road would take them to McGee’s ranch. The 1903 map shows McGee’s on the South Fork of Crow Creek, at a spot about a mile and half southwest, up Crow Creek, from where the highway crosses that fork today, or roughly 12 miles west of Happy Jack’s intersection with I-25 on the west side of Cheyenne. Today. Laramie County Road # 110 would take a person to the site of the former McGee’s ranch from a spot near Happy Valley and the Bunkhouse Bar, where Happy Jack Road crosses the south fork of Crow Creek.

The party changed horses at McGee’s, and then rode from there to Van Tassell’s ranch, say both newspaper accounts. This route, somewhat oddly, took them on a 12-mile detour to the north, instead of heading directly into Cheyenne. A person could follow the likely route today by taking Laramie County roads 109 and 734 north from the Happy Jack Road about 10 miles to the community of Federal, where 734 intersects Wyoming 210, the highway from Cheyenne to Iron Mountain.

From there it’s about another mile northwest to Islay where, the Wyoming Tribune notes, Van Tassell’s ranch was located. Islay was a stop on what was then the Colorado and Southern Railroad, now a BNSF line, running northwest from Cheyenne toward Iron Mountain and points north. Federal land records show two Van Tassell parcels in the area around that time, one of them on Lodgepole Creek just half a mile from Islay. Here, the president and everyone else had lunch, rested for an extra hour, and changed horses again. A number of the president’s larger entourage, traveling across the nation with him, took the train from Laramie to Cheyenne to Islay, and met the riders for lunch.

After lunch, says the Tribune, the riders headed south and east toward Cheyenne. Six miles out of the city, they were met by Acting Gov. Fenimore Chatterton, and the governor and the president greeted each other with separate speeches from horseback.

The Cheyenne Leader, however, reports the riders made a final stop, at Van Tassell’s windmill, where they changed horses yet again. A clue to that location lies again in federal land records, which show a Van Tassell parcel about seven miles south of Islay (and two miles north of the Happy Jack Road) near the intersection of Laramie County roads 109, 730 and 734.

From there, following county road 109 and then the Happy Jack Road a final time, it’s about 15 miles to Cheyenne.

“When the ride was at an end,” reports the Wyoming Tribune, Roosevelt “was the freshest of his party.”