After midnight on December 12, 1917, three men took Wade Hampton, a Black man charged with attempting to rape three white women, from his Rock Springs jail cell at gunpoint. Less than an hour later, Hampton was dead.
It began with a bowl of mush and ended in the murders of two men—one shot through the heart, the other dragged from the jail and lynched by a vicious mob of 300 to 400 people. Afterward, no one would testify to who was in the mob.
In 1904, a Laramie mob hanged African-American Joe Martin from a light pole near the courthouse, drawing a crowd of 1,000 people or more. Despite having called several witnesses, a grand jury brought no indictments. And lynchings of Black men became more and more frequent in Wyoming in the coming two decades.
During the Civil War, varying companies of soldiers from five states served at Fort Halleck on the Overland Trail in what’s now south-central Wyoming. They defended stagecoach stations, passengers, freighters and emigrant trains. Some died in blizzards, some witnessed a legal hanging and some lynched an African-American ambulance driver.
News stories published about the July 20, 1889, hanging of Ella Watson and Jim Averell contained inaccuracies that historians and others accepted as fact for more than 100 years, leading to a variety of misunderstandings and resulting in questions about truth and history that haunt researchers today.