Since before Wyoming paved its roads, travelers have enjoyed the route between the Black Hills and Yellowstone National Park for its spectacular scenery — and its history. Here are some stops that will allow the tourist to become a time traveler, too—from prehistoric eras through the colorful 1800s to the present.
The Campbell County Rockpile Museum, located at 900 W. Second St. in Gillette, owns a collection of more than 8,000 historic photographs. Exhibitions include rifles, saddles, Indian artifacts, fossils, quilts and more. For more information, visit the website linked above or call (307) 682-5723.
Near Fort Phil Kearny in December 1866 in what’s now northern Wyoming, Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors ambushed and killed Capt. William Fetterman and his entire command of 80 men. Fetterman’s arrogance has long been blamed for the disaster, but new evidence shows a more complex and nuanced story.
Trail End, the mansion home of cattleman, banker and politician John B. Kendrick, was completed on a hilltop overlooking Sheridan, Wyo. in 1913, 16 months before Kendrick was elected governor. Kendrick later served three terms in the U.S. Senate and died in 1933. The Kendrick family continued to use the house until 1961. In 1968, the Sheridan County Historical Society bought the building, and in 1982 transferred ownership to the state, which operates the 14,000-square-foot mansion now as a state historic site.
On Aug. 2, 1867, a large force of Oglala Sioux attacked woodcutters near Fort Phil Kearny. Soldiers assigned to protect the woodcutters took cover behind a ring of wagon boxes. After the intense battle, both sides claimed victory, and estimates of the dead and wounded varied widely.
After the Burlington Railroad reached Sheridan, Wyo. in 1892, coal camps—company towns for miners and their families—were established next to a series of mines north of the town. The mines served local and regional markets as well as the railroad. By 1910, a total of around 10,000 people lived in these camps—Dietz, Kooi, Monarch, Acme and Carneyville, later renamed Kleenburn—more than lived in Sheridan. A busy electric railway ran the 15 miles from town to the camps and back. Most of the miners were immigrants, more than half of them Polish, and their descendants still play vital roles in Sheridan County today.
The Medicine Wheel, a ring of limestone boulders 80 feet in diameter with 28 spokes radiating from a central cairn, lies on an open mountaintop at an elevation above 9,600 feet in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains. People have used the area for perhaps 7,000 years; researchers believe the wheel was constructed over a period of centuries from about 1,500 to about 500 years ago.
From 1942 through most of 1945, about 10,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast of United States lived behind barbed wire in tarpaper barracks at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center between Cody and Powell, Wyo. in Park County—one of ten such camps around the nation during World War II. The center was briefly Wyoming’s third-largest town. When hundreds of young men in the camp were drafted into the U.S. military, 63 resisted, feeling they had been denied their constitutional rights. They and seven more leaders of the group were sentenced to federal prison. In the 1980s, Congress passed a law granting an apology and $20,000 to every survivor of the camps.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, at 720 Sheridan Ave. in Cody, Wyo., houses five museums rich in Wyoming and western natural history, history and art. These sections are: Buffalo Bill; Natural History and the Greater Yellowstone area; Plains Indians, Firearms; and Western Art, the latter with works by some of best and best-known artists of Wyoming and the West, including Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Moran, Frederick Remington, Charlie Russell and Cody’s own Harry Jackson. The center is open all year but hours vary with the seasons.
Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, covers 3,500 square miles in Wyoming’s northwest corner and extends a short distance into Idaho and Montana. Established in 1872, the park continues to enthrall visitors to its striking scenery, topography, plentiful wildlife and thrilling thermal features.
Weather conditions and a “let-burn” natural fire policy in Yellowstone National Park resulted in the massive 1988 fires that blackened 683,000 acres of land. Recovery has been quicker and better than many expected, however, and lessons from the conflagration help guide the park’s fire policy today.