Beautiful Carbon County in south-central Wyoming was established in 1868 and named for its coal. Since fur-trade days, through coal, copper, cattle, sheep, uranium, coal again, natural gas and wind power, booms, busts, and new booms have dominated the economy. The Union Pacific Railroad has by contrast offered a steadying influence, as has the state prison in Rawlins, the county seat. And the North Platte River, locals say, offers the best trout fishing in the world.
Cities, Towns & Counties
Though the site was an important river crossing on the early frontier, the town of Casper did not begin until 1888, when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad reached the area. The town immediately became an important shipping point for cattle and wool. The first oil refinery was built in 1895 to process crude oil from the Salt Creek Oil Field, 40 miles to the north. The first true oil boom began after 1910 and lasted through the mid 1920s, and the town’s fortunes have been closely connected to the energy business ever since. In 2010 the city’s population passed 55,000. Casper continues as a retail, medical and energy-industry service hub.
The Piedmont Charcoal Kilns southwest of Evanston, Wyo. were built in 1869 to supply charcoal primarily to Utah mining and smelting operations. The town of Piedmont’s location—on the Union Pacific Railroad but near a ready timber supply in the Uinta Mountains—made it a logical spot for the industry. Most of the charcoal was shipped to the Salt Lake valley, and some to Fort Bridger for use in blacksmith forges and heating stoves. Piedmont was a railroad station on the Union Pacific line. Three of the original five kilns remain standing. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Since prehistoric times, people’s lifestyles in what became Natrona County have depended on their livelihoods. Casper was founded in 1888, and county was formed in 1890, shortly before Wyoming became a state. First cattle, then sheep and after 1910, the oil and refining business dominated. An Army Air Corps training base near Casper brought another boost in World War II. Casper College was founded in 1945. Since then, the county has continued to ride the booms and busts of the energy business, but with cultural, health-care and education opportunities growing all the while.
The JC Penney Company, long among the world’s largest department store chains, traces its roots to a one-room shop in a small Wyoming coal-mining town at the turn of the last century. Penney’s career in Wyoming lasted just a decade, but in 1902, Wyoming provided exactly what young Penney needed to found a chain that has survived, as of 2011, for 109 years.
The Carbon cemetery has been in use since 1868, when the town of Carbon was founded next to coal mines on the Union Pacific Railroad. The town has long been a ghost town, but interest in the cemetery revived in 2002, when a local association began refurbishing it and researching the lives of the people buried there.
Sheridan, Wyoming first boomed when the Burlington and Missouri Railroad reached it in 1892. Named for a Civil War general and situated in the center of Indian War country, the town became a regional center for business and western culture. Sheridan developed many local processing industries in its first few decades, and also attracted wealthy residents. However, its fortunes have fluctuated with the nation’s demand for nearby natural resources like coal, and the changing economics of agriculture. Today, Sheridan’s unique identity is still rooted in its distinctive culture and scenic location near the Bighorn Mountains.
Cody, Wyoming, was founded in 1896 by investors including Buffalo Bill Cody who had high hopes for prosperity thanks to local irrigation, great scenery, and nearby Yellowstone National Park. Prosperity finally arrived early in the 20th century with the Burlington Railroad and, eight miles away, the federally financed Buffalo Bill Dam. Cody remains one of Wyoming’s premier tourist towns.