In 1869 and 1871, John Wesley Powell led two expeditions from Wyoming Territory down the Green and Colorado rivers. These and other explorations brought him to a profound understanding of how the West’s aridity limits its economic prospects. He directed the U.S. Geological Survey from 1881-1894, and his ideas still affect land and water policy today.
Sweetwater County’s history is as rich and diverse as its mineral wealth and population. The area became a transportation pathway, with the early pioneer trails and the transcontinental railroad and today’s Interstate 80 serving as important trade and travel routes. Mining of coal and trona and the production of oil and natural gas have been and continue to be significant industries, contributing to the county’s economic wealth and to Sweetwater County’s position as one of the top three revenue producing counties in Wyoming.
Western Wyoming’s Green River drains 4,000 miles of forested mountains and high desert, home to migrating wildlife, grazing cattle, a few thousand people, and in recent decades a booming natural-gas business. Since prehistoric times, people have worked to balance the basin’s resources for their own benefit — and that struggle continues today.
Euro-Americans first described what’s now Sublette County in western Wyoming early in the 1800s, when it was a hub for the Rocky Mountain fur trade. Cattle ranchers followed the fur trappers. Soon, tie hacks arrived to cut timber for railroad ties. The county’s first successful oil well was drilled in 1907, and oil and gas have been important to the county ever since. In the early 1990s one of the world’s largest gas fields was discovered south of Pinedale, the county seat. County residents continue to work to balance energy booms with the conservation measures needed to keep life good and to keep tourists coming back.