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.
Cities, Towns & Counties
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Cities, Towns & Counties
Park County, Wyo., was officially formed in 1909, but settlers began arriving in the area much earlier and creating several communities that are well-known today. Cody, the county seat, was named for Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody of Wild West fame, who promoted nearby Yellowstone National Park—founded in 1872—as a “Wonderland.” The Pitchfork Ranch near Meeteetse, one of the oldest ranches in the region, was founded in 1879. Dude ranching began in the early 1900s, early oil discoveries came soon afterward, and tourism and oil and gas continue as mainstays today. In the mid-1940s, the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp, where many Japanese-American families were interned during World War II, was located between Cody and Powell.
The Durlacher House in Laramie, Wyo. was built in 1878 for Civil War veteran Simon Durlacher. Durlacher arrived in town a decade earlier and just one month before the Union Pacific Railroad tracks reached Laramie. The house, designed by architect Charles Klingerman in late-Victorian Queen Anne style, was also used as a church and now is used by a private business. The Durlacher House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Discovery of gold near South Pass in the 1860s led to the creation and settlement of short-lived South Pass City, Wyo. and other settlements nearby. The Carissa Mine was one of the richest, but between 1867 and 1869, 1500 lodes were located during the rush, and as many as 2,000 miners and others may have lived in the little town or on their claims. By the early 1870s, only a few hundred were left. Sporadic gold production has continued since, however, with systematic prospecting by an American subsidiary of a Canadian firm permitted as recently as 2006.
Chinese contract laborers were among the first residents of Evanston, Wyo., which was created as a service stop for locomotives between Green River, Wyo., and Ogden, Utah, on the Union Pacific Railroad’s transcontinental route. Later, travelers drove through town on the Lincoln Highway. The Wyoming State Hospital, known as the Wyoming Insane Asylum in territorial days, is located here. Like many of the state’s towns, Evanston’s rich oil resources contribute to its continuing “boom and bust” cycles, and tourism plays a prominent role in the town’s economy.
Pinedale, Wyo. was founded in 1904, incorporated in 1912 and became seat of brand-new Sublette County in western Wyoming in 1921, when the town still boasted only about 100 people. Despite its isolation, the town survived well through the 20th century on ranching and tourism. It began to change more quickly in the early 1990s, as development sped up in the nearby Pinedale Anticline and Jonah natural gas fields. Today, with more than 2,000 people, the town works hard to keep its traditions while dealing with steady, industrial growth.
The history of Johnson County, Wyo., features a number of violent conflicts that influenced the heritage of the West. The Fetterman and Wagon Box fights were important conflicts in the Indian wars of the 1860s, while the infamous 1892 Johnson County War erupted because of tensions among cattle barons, homesteaders and rustlers. Johnson County’s economy today continues to thrive on tourism, ranching and oil and gas.
What’s now Crook County, Wyo., was crossed by Custer in 1874 on his expedition to the Black Hills, the spark that led to the final struggles of the Indian wars on the northern plains. Ranchers a few years later brought in cattle and later, sheep, and the county was organized in 1885, with its county seat at Sundance. Harry Longabaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid, spent 18 months in jail there. Coal deposits were exploited in the 1890s and shipped by rail to gold smelters in nearby Lead and Deadwood, So. Dak. Devils Tower National Monument, established in 1906 as the first national monument in the United States and still a sacred place for the Sioux, is located in Crook County. Agriculture, mining and timbering still play significant roles in its economy.
Founded in 1868, the short-lived town of Carbon provided crucial coal supplies for the Union Pacific Railroad. Its rough reputation was boosted in 1881, when a mob of miners pulled Dutch Charley Burris, accused of the murder of a popular lawman, from a train and hanged him from a telegraph pole. Many Finnish men worked in the coal mines until 1902, when the mines closed. Today, there are only a few ruins to mark the site, but the Carbon Cemetery has been recently refurbished and is still being used.