The Online Encyclopedia of Wyoming History

Tribal commerce and Hollywood commercialism

Tribal commerce and Hollywood commercialism

May 2016

Prior to European settlement, Native American tribes of the Great Plains traded with each other over a vast region that included what is now Wyoming. Many years later, as traveling wild west shows went the way of the horse and buggy, movies began to dramatize the settlement of the West, hiring cowboys and Indians from the state to act in the films and travel on publicity tours around the United States and abroad. This month, WyoHistory.org offers a panoramic cultural view of early commerce on the Plains and the early commercializing of tribes in the movies, as well as continuing our exploration of significant Oregon Trail sites.

We are also beginning an exciting new collaborative project, a Digital Toolkit for Wyoming History, funded in part through the Wyoming Humanities Council. The purpose of the toolkit is to package resources for classroom use, drawing from existing artifacts of our state’s history and on the many online resources available for background and particulars. Watch future newsletters for more.

Trade among tribes

Before any contact with Europeans, Shoshone, Crow, Arapaho, Comanche, Cheyenne, Ute and Lakota people in what’s now Wyoming bartered with each other and more distant tribes for food, horses, guns and other goods in networks stretching from the upper Missouri to the Pacific and from Mexico to Canada. Learn more in historian Samuel Western’s article, “Trade among Tribes: Commerce on the Plains Before Europeans Arrived,” at

Wind River Indians in early movies

Continuing the tradition of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, Lander-based producer Ed Farlow and Hollywood actor Tim McCoy recruited members of Wyoming’s Arapaho and Shoshone tribes to perform in 1920s silent movies and to tour Europe to perform on theatre stages before the movies were shown. Read more in writer Rebecca Hein’s article, “Ed Farlow, Tim McCoy and Their Native Friends on Stage and Screen,” at

More Oregon Trail sites

Oregon Trail emigrants faced high risks crossing the North Platte River near present Casper, Wyo. River crossings were extremely dangerous; operators of commercial ferries and bridges charged steep prices. Until bridges were built, many people and animals drowned in the swift, deep, shockingly cold water of the Platte. Learn more in the WyoHistory.org piece “Crossing the North Platte River” at http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/crossing-north-platte-river.
West of Rock Avenue on the Oregon Trail in what’s now central Wyoming, emigrant oxen often got stuck in an alkaline mire historians sometimes refer to as Clayton’s Slough, in memory of the Mormon diarist who called it “one of the most horrid, swampy, stinking places I ever saw.” Read more about it in the WyoHistory.org article “Clayton’s Slough” at http://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/claytons-slough.
These two articles continue our collaboration on Wyoming’s historic trails with the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office and TravelStorysGPS™ of Wilson, Wyo., to transfer to WyoHistory.org the information on about 70 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.