The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

Frontier humor, emigrant trails, war-horse sales and an oil scandal

Frontier humor, emigrant trails, war-horse sales and an oil scandal

April 2016

This month we offer a taste of 1880s Laramie newspaperman Bill Nye’s sense of humor—dry as the drying alkali lakes that 1840s Oregon Trail emigrants described near Independence Rock. More serious news stories in later years included the part Wyoming played in supplying the war-horse market during the Boer War and World War I, and the little-known role of the U.S. Marines in 1922 Teapot Dome scandal.

Fun on the frontier

Bill Nye, first-rank humorist and 1880s editor of the Laramie Boomerang, entertained readers for decades and for a time became as well known, thanks to national speaking tours, as his contemporary Mark Twain. Read University of Oklahoma Press Associate Director/Editor-in-Chief Charles E. Rankin’s article “Bill Nye, Frontier Humorist” at http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/bill-nye-frontier-humorist.
Publication of this and seven other articles on Wyoming newspapering this year is supported in part by the Wyoming Humanities Council with funds from the Pulitzer Prize Committee’s Campfires Initiative, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize.

Horses for War

Moncreiffes, Wallops, Careys and other Wyoming dealers offered local stockmen high prices for tens of thousands of horses for British and French markets during the Boer War and World War I. After that war, the U.S. Army expanded its remount service to improve bloodlines for horses for military markets. Read more in writer Rebecca Hein’s article “Horses for War: A Market for Wyoming Stockmen,” http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/horses-war-market-wyoming-stockmen.

The 1922 Teapot Dome invasion

In August 1922, five U.S. Marines “invaded” the U.S. Naval Petroleum Reserve at Teapot Dome in central Wyoming to evict oil drillers the government had determined were there illegally. Bribery connected with acquiring those drilling rights eventually led to the Teapot Dome scandal—one of the worst in U.S. politics. Learn more in Museum Consultant Carolynne Harris’ article,
“Teapot Dome, the U.S. Marines and a President’s Reputation” at http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/teapot-dome-us-marines-and-presidents-r....

Rocky Mountain testing center at Teapot Dome

The late 20th-century history of the Teapot Dome Oilfield, long after the end of the political scandal that made it famous, demonstrates an interesting public-private partnership that continued through eight and a half decades of the oil business in Wyoming and the West. See Carolynne Harris’ “Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center at Teapot Dome Oil Field” at http://www.wyohistory.org/essays/rocky-mountain-oilfield-testing-center-....
Publication of the Teapot Dome articles is supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy.

More Oregon Trail sites

After leaving the North Platte River near present Casper, Wyo., westbound emigrants on the Oregon Trail faced nearly 25 miles of dry travel. What little water they found was brackish with alkali and sometimes poisoned their animals. No wonder then that cold, clear water at Willow Spring made it a favorite camping place on the trail from the North Platte to Independence Rock, where the road would meet the Sweetwater. Read more in “Willow Spring” at http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/willow-spring.
Poetry, shouts and song—year after year, reactions were similar when Oregon Trail emigrants managed the steep climb up Prospect Hill, also called Ryan Hill, on the road from the North Platte to Independence Rock. The sight of range after range of mountains greeted them—a sweeping view of new country. Learn more in “Prospect Hill” at http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/prospect-hill.
Fifteen miles west of Prospect Hill, emigrants as they neared Independence Rock began passing shallow, sometimes dry lakes. If dry, the lake floors were encrusted with snow-white alkali—essentially baking soda—which the pioneers called saleratus. It worked well for raising bread baked over sagebrush campfires. Learn more in “Saleratus Lakes” at http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/saleratus-lake.
Watch for more articles soon about Wyoming’s historic trails, part of a collaboration with the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office and TravelStorysGPS™ of Wilson, Wyo., to transfer to WyoHistory.org the information on many dozens of trails spots from a historic-trails website SHPO developed a dozen years ago, and to make GPS-triggered audio information about the sites available to smartphone-using travelers.