After Yellowstone rangers slaughtered 4,300 elk in 1961 to try and control overpopulation, hunters, outfitters and the public were enraged. In response, zoologist Starker Leopold, son of famed naturalist Aldo Leopold, wrote a groundbreaking report for the National Park Service that advocated systematic, scientific management of natural areas—a revolutionary approach at the time.
Shortly after Congress gave him the power to do so, President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 created the nation’s first national monument at Devils Tower. Wyoming’s lone congressman, Frank Mondell, fearing federal overreach and always in favor of developing, not protecting, public land was distinctly unenthusiastic about the move.
Chicago native Florence Blake risked her life in a bull pasture; traveled to Devil’s Tower and Yellowstone Park; and attended many all-night dances—all part of her life as a single woman homesteader in Campbell County, Wyoming in the early 1920s. She lived in Wyoming seven months each year.
A Nobel Prize, big business and scientific breakthroughs including Covid-19 tests and vaccines were decades in the future when microbiologist Thomas D. Brock began taking samples from Yellowstone Park’s hot springs in the summer of 1964.
Historical monuments and markers often enrich our travels with information on a local place, person, or event—but each marker also hints at the thinking of whoever set it there in the first place. The formal marking of historic spots in Wyoming dates back before statehood, and the process continues today.
Wyoming traces its outfitting industry to an 1899 law requiring out-of-state hunters to hire guides. Guiding clients like Charles “Spend-a-Million” Gates eventually became good business, bringing wealth to the West and protecting wildlife from the slaughter of earlier generations, all while starting a gradual, statewide shift toward tourism and service economies.
During World War II, the U.S. Army operated two large and 17 smaller prisoner of war camps in Wyoming. Prisoners worked on farms and in the camps, often for private employers, who paid a going rate for local wages. Some prisoners became friends with their supervisors, others with the farm families they worked for.
Through some of Wyoming’s roughest terrain in 1874, future Gov. William A. Richards surveyed the western boundary of the territory. Felling trees, clambering through canyons, dodging lightning bolts and watching mules flip from cliffs were only a few of the privations he and his party endured.
Stephen Leek’s efforts to save the starving elk of Jackson Hole came at a time when survival of the species was very much in doubt. The founding of the National Elk Refuge in 1912 was one result—a huge achievement. But feeding wildlife in herds leads to disease, we now know. And Leek himself was a decidedly complicated man.
In July 1895, a posse of non-Indians, mostly outfitters, attacked a peaceful band of Bannocks south of Jackson Hole. The Indians believed they were legally hunting elk. But in a surprise decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state law overrode their treaty rights. In 2019, in a case with huge implications for tribal sovereignty, the court finally upended that ruling. This case too was set in Wyoming, as a Crow Tribe member hunted elk in the Bighorn Mountains.