The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

A coroner, a news tycoon, a captivity tale—and a great Wyoming athlete

A coroner, a news tycoon, a captivity tale—and a great Wyoming athlete

February 2016

In celebration of Black History Month this February, we offer the story of one of Casper’s successful pioneers, whose persistence in the face of all kinds of adversity continues to inspire us today.

In addition, the Wyoming Humanities Council is honoring the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize by commissioning a series of articles about Wyoming newspapers. Read our first installment in this exciting collaboration this month.

Campfield’s Casper success

Mathew Campfield, African-American Union Army veteran, worked as a barber and was elected coroner of Natrona County, Wyo., in the early 1890s. Decades earlier, he froze both feet when he lived in Kansas and ever afterward walked on wooden ones. His Army pension records reveal a great deal about his life. Read more in WyoHistory.org Editor Tom Rea’s article “Mathew Campfield: Barber, Coroner and Pioneer Survivor” at http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/mathew-campfield-barber-coroner-and-pioneer-survivor.

McCraken’s newspaper empire

Tracy McCraken borrowed $3,000 in 1926 to purchase the Cheyenne-based Wyoming Eagle. With a media empire that came to include newspapers in Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs and Worland, plus TV and radio, he played a big role in 20th century Wyoming politics—and prospered. Learn much more in journalist Kerry Drake’s article “Tracy McCraken: From a $3,000 Loan to a Newspaper Empire” at  http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/tracy-mccraken-3000-loan-newspaper-empire.

Publication of this and seven more articles on Wyoming newspapering is supported in part by the Wyoming Humanities Council with funds from the Pulitzer Prize Committee’s Campfires Initiative, celebrating this year the 100th anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize. 

Surprise attack on the Oregon Trail

In July 1864, several members of the Kelly-Larimer wagon train were killed by a large party of Oglala Sioux. The graves of five victims—7-year-old Mary Kelly and four men—are located near present Glenrock, Wyo. Fanny Kelly, held captive by the Sioux, later wrote a book about her trials. Learn much more in WyoHistory.org’s article “Attack on the Kelly-Larimer Wagon Train” at

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.

Travelers who visit the sites will be able to hear three minutes of audio information about them via their smartphones or other mobile devices, once they download the free app at TravelStorysGPS™. This is a similar—but much larger—project to the Indian Wars of Wyoming tour we completed with TravelStorysGPS™ in 2014.

The passing of a great Wyoming athlete

Longtime Wyoming sports fans were saddened Jan. 30 to learn of the death of 1940s UW basketball star Kenny Sailors, credited with inventing the jump shot. For more on his remarkable life and times, see this article by former Casper Star-Tribunesportswriter Ryan Thorburn:

“Kenny Sailors, Jump Shot Hero” at

and this oral history, conducted in 1990 by Mark Junge of the Wyoming State Archives:

“Kenny Sailors, All American, on the Jump Shot and his Life in Basketball” at