Thirty or more people were killed Sept. 27, 1923, when a Chicago, Burlington & Quincy passenger train nose-dived into Cole Creek from a washed-out bridge 16 miles east of Casper, Wyo. It was the worst train wreck in the state’s history. Some of the bodies were never recovered.
From 1893-1913, the Tongue River Tie Flume carried 2 million railroad ties from the Bighorn Mountains to the Burlington Railroad. Ties moved at high speed down 38 miles of flumes across trestles and through tunnels in canyon walls. Workers’ camps were large mountain villages with schools and blacksmith shops.
The history of Sheridan County, Wyo., located at the base of the Bighorn Mountains, includes polo ponies, working ranches and farms, a prestigious sanctuary for artists and writers and an abundance of American Indian lore, outlaws, pioneers, miners and Old West dude ranches. Railroads, and the coal mines dug for fuel to run the locomotives running also played important roles in the area’s development.
As its name suggests, Hot Springs County, Wyo., draws many visitors to the world-famous thermal mineral waters located in Thermopolis, the county seat. But the area also provides stunning scenic views for those who travel through the Wind River Canyon and gives fascinating glimpses into prehistoric times at the Legend Rock petroglyphs and the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.
After the Burlington Railroad reached Sheridan, Wyo. in 1892, coal camps—company towns for miners and their families—were established next to a series of mines north of the town. The mines served local and regional markets as well as the railroad. By 1910, a total of around 10,000 people lived in these camps—Dietz, Kooi, Monarch, Acme and Carneyville, later renamed Kleenburn—more than lived in Sheridan. A busy electric railway ran the 15 miles from town to the camps and back. Most of the miners were immigrants, more than half of them Polish, and their descendants still play vital roles in Sheridan County today.
On Wyoming’s border with Nebraska, Goshen County and its economy have long been stabilized by farming and ranching. Today, sugar beets and cattle are the main products. The area is traversed by the Oregon Trail and the North Platte River, is the home of Fort Laramie, and was well known to Euro-Americans by the 1830s. The Burlington Railroad arrived in 1900 and a Union Pacific line in the early 1920s, both providing impetus to the birth of many small towns, a few of which survive and thrive. Goshen County now supports a population of about 13,500.
The scenic Bighorn Basin and world-class fishing opportunities on the Bighorn River have made Big Horn County, Wyo., a tourist destination, but the area is also rich in oil and natural gas—and history. People have lived in the area since ancient times, as evidenced by the Medicine Wheel near the county’s northern corer. Ranch families still raise cattle and sheep, and farm families still raise sugar beets as they have for more than a century.
Coal, railroads and oil have helped make Campbell County, Wyo., the second wealthiest county in the state, and the county’s coal mines are the largest in the world. Though coal production has begun to fall slightly in recent years, mining continues to be the main engine of the Campbell County economy. The county’s history is rich in Paleo-Indian and bison-bone discoveries as well.
Newcastle, Wyo., on the edge of the Black Hills, was founded in 1889 when the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad arrived in northeastern Wyoming. Newcastle sprang up where a spur left the main line of the Burlington to head seven miles northwest to the coal mines at Cambria. The Burlington –now, after its merger with the Santa Fe Railroad, the BNSF—is still a major employer, along with a local oil refinery, hospital and school district, and businesses that serve tourists.
Upton, Wyo., known originally as Irontown or Iron City, and later as Merino, began in 1890 as a Burlington Railroad depot near a set of sheep corrals. The town was not incorporated until 1909. The Burlington’s successor, the BNSF, remains an important employer today, as do the school district and a clinic operated by Weston County Health Services.