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Introduction

Our mission is to collect, preserve and provide access to records relating to the history of Wyoming and its citizens from 1869 to the present.
 

We are the official repository of Wyoming state government records as well as local and county records. Our collection also contains a significant amount of records from private individuals and clubs.
 

 

Topics of research include:

  • Women’s Clubs
  • Crime & punishment
  • Pioneer memories
  • etc

 

Historical Wyoming

Topic Information
Wyoming's Musical Heritage When the earliest settlers came to Wyoming, they weren't able to bring much with them. They came to start a new life and the practical necessities for starting that new life took precedence. The difficulty of travel to a distant and foreign place limited the items they could take. Size, weight, fragility, and the little space for goods would often determine if any particular item made the trip. Yet in spite of these difficulties they frequently brought their musical instruments. Those instruments, then as now, were often made of easily bent metals and fragile woods but the music they provided was important enough to compensate for the space and extra care these instruments required.

The first instruments brought to Wyoming were generally small and portable harmonicas, homemade flutes, guitars, and fiddles. All of these instruments were easy to carried and readily accessible. When it was not possible to bring instruments newcomers sang songs of home and tried to break up the weary routine of endless travel with a few songs or a few danced steps.

The need for music and scarcity of instruments caused those with the skills to make instruments of their own. One early settler of Natrona County hand carved a complete violin that was discovered in 1923 in an abandoned cabin.

Music was an integral part of the Native American culture. They made whistles, flutes, and drums that they used in their songs and dances.* Music was important to their rituals, their family structure, and their celebration of life.

One provider of music in Wyoming was the military. It was a rare and small post that didn't have some type of band or chorus. Many soldiers learned to play the Army's ceremonial bugles and drums and soon the post had a Drum and Bugle Corps. As the post became more established musically inclined people often used the same bugles and drums that were part of military ceremonies to form bands that played simple but stirring military rythmns with style and flair. A far different use of these instruments than communication on the battle field.

Military bands served as part of post social life on the early frontier and became a focal point for community music. Townspeople would come for concerts and dances and as the towns grew they also would join in and add to the size and complexity of the band. Thus inspired they would create community music based in the local church, a marching band from the Fire Fighting company, or just folks who liked to play and others who liked to listen. It was also common to borrow some of their members from the military bands that started it all.

[Zither] This community music was played because many people felt a very deep need for it, a need which grew as the population became larger and more sophisticated. As transportation became a easier people brought more and bigger instruments. Eventually there were groups, choirs, small and large bands, symphonies and orchestras all over Wyoming. These musical organizations were seldom larger than ten or twenty people but they played regularly enough and with enough enthusiasm for a much larger group.

Wyoming's love of music continues and grows in our present day. There are symphonies, choirs, festivals, watering holes, and places and people of all sorts who provide a diverse and rich musical life that covers all interests and all areas of Wyoming. Those carefully carried musical reminders of home have grown and multiplied into creators of a rich heritage of music which has a welcome place in the fabric of Wyoming life.

*There are examples of these instruments of both Native American and Immigrant available for study in the collections of the Wyoming State Museum. The pictures are of actual artifacts from those collections and are used with permission of the museum.

Wyoming's Railroad History

S. Houston

The construction of the Union Pacific Railroad across Wyoming from 1867 to 1868 opened the state to permanent settlement. Cheyenne rose from the barren plains in the fall of 1867 and to become a hub for shipping and railroad maintenance. Elsewhere Laramie, Rawlins, Rock Springs, and Evanston emerged from 30 day town railroad camps to centers of commerce. This urban pattern was duplicated as other railroads, like the Burlington Northern and the Chicago North Western railroads also laid track and feeder lines across northern and eastern Wyoming. Here, too, railroad towns became destination points for eastern emigrants and shipping terminals for agricultural and raw materials to eastern and western markets. The rapidly growing railroad network provided a relatively safer and much quicker form of two way traffic for both freight and people. In comparison, wagon roads and trails were slower and sometimes dangerous.

In addition to laying track and building maintenance centers, the railroads had extensive land grants to manage. As a building incentive, they had received from the federal government every other section ten or twenty miles deep along the each side of the right of way. Some of these lands contained minerals, such as coal, iron and trona, which the railroads mined for their own use or for commercial or industrial needs. Railroads hoped to profit from remaining lands by encouraging settlement and development. To this end, they published brochures about government and railroad lands that were open to the public for sale or homesteading. These brochures had information about homesteading procedures, advice on crops and livestock, and sensational accounts and descriptions of the land itself.

In addition to selling and developing western lands, the railroads also promoted western tourism. The West’s varied landscapes, forms of entertainment and leisurely pursuits became and have remained attractive to eastern residents. A major attraction for Wyoming was Yellowstone National Park, and many railroads developed special tourist packages to the park. Besides Yellowstone, the railroads advertised dude ranches and western excursions emphasizing the colorful imagery and lifestyle of the American cowboy.

To capture the tourist trade, the railroads needed the proper guidance and marketing to make it profitable. Thus, railroads as travel agents were born. Brochures boasted about the many wondrous sights and activities travelers would encounter. To further entice tourists, railroads equipped passenger trains with sleeper, restaurant, and club cars. Expensive but well appointed Pullman cars were often more luxurious than middle class homes. By the turn of the century, leisure travel had become an American pastime, but for the most part, but it was expensive. By the 1920s, trips for all budgets were conceived and later, the railroads encouraged family vacations. One brochure shows families from different decades in dining cars watching the passing scenery, hinting that train travel was for all families and all ages.

The railroads continued to provide these services throughout the west until the early 1980's when they finally succumbed to the combined competition of the airplane and automobile. Strangely enough the railroad was the main carrier of automobiles throughout the United States during this period of declining passenger service and continues to haul the new automobiles. Even today, the railroad is the largest carrier of bulk freight. Wyoming still uses the railroad to ship its coal, agricultural products, and other goods and to carry manufactured goods into the state. The trucking industry has made inroads but the number one carrier is still the railroad.

The railroads were vital to Wyoming’s beginnings and still contribute greatly to the economy and growth of the state almost a century and a half later. The Archives has several collections related to the railroad and its presence in Wyoming history.

Water in Wyoming

A Different Perspective To Water Projects In Wyoming
by Carl Hallberg Wyoming State Archives

In Wyoming, water is an important natural resource. Throughout the state's history numerous state and federal efforts have been initiated to develop and control water resources and in turn, enhance development in the state.

The most important legislation in this regard was the Carey Act. Passed by Congress in 1894, it provided federal aid to Wyoming's irrigation projects and turned over millions of acres of arid federal lands to the state for reclamation and settlement. By the turn of the century, irrigation projects constituted a major effort in the settlement of the state and the development of its agricultural resources.

While Carey Act projects from this period are historically significant, so too is the reclamation work begun after World War II. From 1953 to 1969, Wyoming’s Natural Resources Board and State Engineer's Office embarked upon an ambitious campaign to develop water projects across the state in order to promote or enhance agricultural, industrial or residential development. The success of many projects rested upon mastering technical issues in engineering, financing, water rights, legislation, and construction. Yet, two important but often overlooked aspects were political in nature: who was getting what and what social impacts did they have.

Writing in 1958, the manager of the Fremont Irrigation Company complained that the application processes had little changed since the turn of the century: "The wast[e] of time and manpower and the extra expense, not to mention the long delay in allowing the settler to enter on his land, is all unnecessary." The process was, in his opinion, "simply poor management." After more than a half a century, bureaucracy continued to plague and try the patience of eager reclamation participants.

There was a realization that the grand designs of one project could be detrimental to people with other interests. A 1957 project by the Water and Power Board of Utah to divert western Wyoming waters affected Henry's Fork Valley. Adrain Reynolds, editor of the Green River Star, stated that though valley was "our dust bowl at times" it could be with available water "one of our better ranching and farming areas." The Utah project would, in his opinion, deprive the valley "of its opportunity to solve its water problems permanently."

Some projects had built-in ironies. One was the Glendo project in the early 1950s. According to Breck Moran, chief of resource development for the Natural Resource Board, "the real objection to Glendo lies in the destruction of lovely houses and ranches and human values, and the love felt for them, by people who have lived on them for many, many years. . . . and the only defense for such destruction lies in the fact that a good reservoir site is a rarity of Nature of which we must take advantage. The only consolation lies in the further fact that the resulting reservoir creates new beauties, new utilities, new human values." Overall, Moran made a very insightful observation. Not all water projects were successful, and some were tabled at the start. But by 1969, the state engineer and the natural resource board could look back upon a successful period of reclamation in general. State Engineer Floyd A. Bishop thought that the Carey Act projects, initiated in Wyoming in 1895, still had much potential in the postwar period. "I think we should check further into the current status of Carey Act Projects in Wyoming, and the possibility of further development through this approach. I suspect it has more potential than the State Land Board apparently thinks it has."

Equally optimistic was Roy Beck, executive director of the Natural Resources Board, who believed that such work in Wyoming still had great potential. In 1970, he commented to Ellis Armstong, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, that with the Riverton Reauthorization Bill and the Seedskadee Project, "we can turn around the Reclamation program in Wyoming."

Water management has long been and continues to be an important part of Wyoming's culture. An exploration of water projects in the state is not strictly about engineering but about the cultural affect engineering has had upon the state.

Women's History in Wyoming By Carl Hallberg, Senior Historian
Wyoming State Archives

Women have been an integral part of Wyoming’s history since its organization of a territory in 1868. Most notable is Esther Hobart Morris who, in 1870 became justice of the peace in South Pass City. As such, she was the first woman in the country to be elected to a public office. Another famous citizen was Nellie Tayloe Ross, Wyoming’s first and only woman governor from 1923-1925.

Morris and Ross have become the sole representatives of women’s history in Wyoming. There is no argument about the important positions held by Morris and Ross. The problem is that by focusing on them, significant contributions by other women have all but been ignored.

For example, Morris’ effort opened the door of opportunity for other women across the state. But many other women justices of the peace have not been remembered in the pages of history.

Nellie Tayloe Ross’ position of governor was only one of many administrative posts occupied by women. For example, many of Wyoming’s charitable institutions have been managed by female superintendents: the Children’s Home, the general hospital at Rock Springs, and the Girls’ School. In the social axiom of the day where women were charged with caring for the home and children, these superintendents seemed to fill these rolls aptly. To say so is to patronize them, when instead their administrative abilities should be scrutinized.

Women in history is not necessarily about women doing outstanding events but about women in mundane experiences of everyday life. Managing the home, caring for children, or teaching children have been long established, sometimes sexist, roles. Yet over time, these roles have not remained the same. The family oriented woman has changed from the pioneer days, to the Victorian mother, the "Leave It to Beaver" mom of the 1950s and the working mom of the 1980s.

There were women who found life hard and difficult due to their sex, race or economic class. Some turned to crime to sustain themselves. Leaving husbands or abandoning families was not an uncommon happening. The reasons for taking such actions were rarely given, but a closer examination may reveal some insight into personal motives or temptations.

At the far extreme were women who sought a release from life itself. In October 1906, Josie Kepler was found dead in Dietz. Her death was attributed to an overdose of chloroform. For unknown reasons she was despondent with life and decided to end it. After doctors pronounced her dead, her husband hugged and kissed his wife and cried for her. When the doctors discovered additional chloroform in the room, Kepler grabbed it and decided to take the last bit so that he would go too, but the doctors wrestled him down and administered medicine to cure him.

A turn of the century tragedy or a twist on the Romeo and Juliet theme?

The history of women in Wyoming cannot be represented by one women or a handful of women. There are too many topics and too many characters involved. This diversity is what makes women’s history interesting.

Wyoming and the Spanish American War

Remembering a Past And Distant War
Carl Hallberg
Historian, Wyoming State Archives

The sinking of the US Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, led to the outbreak of war in April between Spain and America. It was a short war, lasting three months. US Secretary of State John Jay called it, “A Splendid Little War” but in many ways the Spanish-American War proved anything but “little.”At the conclusion, the United States emerged as a world power.

This April marks the 100th anniversary of the Spanish-American war. Florida is the only state that has opted to commemorate this historical event. This is not too surprising since Florida was the staging ground for military operations in the Caribbean and thus witnessed a sudden cultural transformation due to the influx of men and material within its borders.

There is no reason Wyoming should ignore this centennial event. Obviously, Wyoming is geographically far from Florida, the Caribbean, and the Philippines. Yet the war fever was just as strong here as anywhere else. Newspapers of the day echoed public sentiment and enthusiasm for war. Governor William A. Richards was flooded with requests from old and young Wyoming men who wanted to join in what they perceived to be a noble and exciting cause.

After the fighting had ended abroad, remembrances of the war abounded in Wyoming. Regimental and general histories painted an uplifting picture about the military campaigns and the men who fought them. In 1899, the legislature approved a bill to build a statue in the veteran’s honor. It still stands at the corner of the Capital building. In 1901, the state awarded medals to men who had served in the war.

Some visible reminders of the war were Spanish-American War veterans. Patriotic parades soon featured veterans walking alongside Civil War veterans. In addition, veterans’ associations or camps arose, providing a forum for fellowship and for voicing veteran’s concerns about personal, patriotic, and legislative matters. For a while, veterans and camps were common social fixtures within some communities.

Yet over time, their presence began to fade and eventually disappear from public view as the number of veterans dwindled. In the early 1960's, as other camps dwindled away, Camp 22 in Cheyenne became Camp Number 5. According to its last minutes in 1964, there were four members. In 1966, Company I, J.L. Torrey Camp at Sheridan was abandoned following the death of its last member.

Today the Spanish-American War has become but a footnote in Wyoming history. Yet, that history is not entirely lost. Governor’s records, newspaper accounts, and historical collections about the state and local camps can be found in the Wyoming State Archives. Through these records one can see how the war changed Wyoming’s cultural history. It is a history worth rediscovering during this centennial year.

Wyoming's Teachers S. Houston

Women contributed in to the growth of Wyoming in a variety of fields. Only a few professions were open to women of good character and one of the most common was teaching. Teaching was honorable, it paid surprisingly well, and it created for women a position of respect in the community. The number of women who chose this profession grew with each year as the growing population demanded teachers for their children. Even though women were considered "scarce" among the general population they disproportionately filled the ranks of teachers. There is some evidence that a single female teacher was given preference over a man with the same skills. The ratio was often 8 women to every one man in the overall school system with rural schools routinely exceeding 95% women teachers. Interestingly, this stereo type of the single white female "school marm" overseeing the multi-class one room school house, was solidly based in fact.

The women who taught these schools had varied backgrounds. Many of them came to Wyoming from the east specifically to accept a teaching position. Others drifted into teaching, often after the death of a spouse or father. Perhaps the most interesting were the 16 or 17 year old young women who became the teachers for their own classrooms when their teacher moved on or married. Often in such a case a young woman near graduation was asked to take the job replacing her own teacher. This became fairly common as the scarcity of women led to frequent marriages. Since many areas demanded the teacher be unmarried, every marriage depleted the ranks of women teachers.

The cultural situation that provided these teachers was the combination of limited "suitable" employment for women and the relative desirability of teacher compared to cooking, washing, domestic servitude, or clerking which were often the only other jobs open to women. Homesteading was of course open to women and many of the teaching pool were homesteaders needing the extra funds that teaching could provide.

Teaching also conferred an independence and resulting higher status than seamstressing or the other "proper" jobs for women. In her own school or even classroom the individual woman ruled, usually with the complete support of the community. She also gained an acceptable income that unlike the other well paying independent means of living, like prostitution, acting, or running a business, did not reflect badly on the women or her moral character. Monetary need contributed greatly to the picture as the occasional married woman or older daughter or widower took to teaching to help the family budget.

The impact of teachers crossed over into the tolerance of suffrage for women in Wyoming and soon resulted in greater rights for women and increased female participation in the jury and election process. Schools themselves offered a broad appeal to the growing pioneer community. They were the central producer of community education, culture, and identity. Since the teacher was often one of the most educated persons in the community, they were often consulted by community leaders on social and cultural concerns.

Through the schools the children were both indoctrinated in the current culture and given the goals to improve themselves and future generations. More and more the western society depended on these single and often very young women to overcome all her difficulties and teach the youth how to overcome theirs. The contribution that they made continues to be readily evident in the advances that this education has provided our western society.

 

Five Famous Wyomingites

The following links provide access to articles written about five of Wyoming's most famous residents. These people are Buffalo Bill Cody, Esther Hobart Morris, Nellie Tayloe Ross, Chief Washakie, and Francis E. Warren, all of whom had a significant impact on the history of Wyoming. Follow the links below to read about each of these individuals and the contributions they made to Wyoming.

Name Photo Information
William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody William F. Cody was born on February 26, 1846 near Leclair, Iowa. In 1854 his family moved to settle on lands in what would soon be Kansas Territory. Young William?s father died in 1857, leaving the boy to help provide for his family.

William soon obtained a job as a messenger boy for Majors and Russell, who had a company store at Leavenworth, Kansas. In the next three years, William would try his hand at prospecting during the Pikes Peak gold rush, and at trapping. Neither ventures proved to be very successful.

In 1860, the partnership of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, in an effort to advertise and obtain a contract for a central route for mail to the Pacific, began the Pony Express. Cody, already acquainted with the principals in this partnership, was hired as a rider. The Pony Express operated from April 3, 1860 to November 18, 1861. The venture operated at a loss and failed to bring the desired contract to Cody?s employers, whose partnership ended in bankruptcy.

Cody’s mother died November 22, 1863. Shortly thereafter, in February, 1864, he enlisted in the 7th Kansas Cavalry, apparently influenced by friends and alcohol. During the Civil War Cody saw action in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Missouri. He served 19 months, including one year of active duty.

After his discharge, Cody married Louisa Frederici on March 6, 1866. He worked briefly as a scout at Fort Ellsworth, where an old acquaintance, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, was also employed. The following year Cody was hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to kill buffalo to feed track layers for eight months. This job apparently was the source of the nickname that would become known virtually worldwide: Buffalo Bill.

Later Cody distinguished himself as a scout for the U.S. Army. He was valued so highly that General Phil Sheridan endeavored to keep Cody on the Army’s payroll even after the end of their campaign, something not done with scouts up to that time. This paved the way for the scout to become an established position in the Army during the years of the Indian wars. Cody was made chief scout of the 5th Cavalry by General Sheridan in October, 1868.

Cody first began to receive national attention in 1869, when a serial story about “Buffalo Bill” appeared in a New York paper. Then in 1872 he was assigned to guide the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on a hunting trip. With the press following the Duke’s every move, Cody received a great deal more exposure. This experience was followed by his first trip to the eastern states. He attended a play about himself and was talked into taking part in the performance. Thus began a period of years when Cody alternated between scouting duties and theatrical tours.

Cody was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1872 for action against Indians at the South Fork of the Loup River in Nebraska. However, his name was stricken from the record of Medal of Honor recipients in 1916, since we was a civilian, and considered not eligible for the award. He later assisted General George Crook’s campaign against the Sioux in 1876.

“Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show had its beginnings in 1883. This was a propitious time for such an effort by Cody and his partners, during the height of popularity for outdoor shows such as circuses. The show in various forms would tour the United States and Europe for three decades.

Buffalo Bill was also commonly referred to as “Colonel Cody.” His rank was provided by Nebraska Governor John Thayer (former governor of Wyoming Territory)in 1887, when he was named aide-de-camp of the Governor’s staff. He was never an officer in the U.S. Army.

Cody became interested in developing the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming in the 1890s. The Cody Canal was built in 1895, as part of the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Project. The company laid out a townsite, first calling it “Shoshone.” With the Shoshoni Indian agency in the region this was rejected to avoid confusion. Therefore, in August, 1896 the Cody post office was established, with Buffalo Bill’s nephew, Ed Goodman, as postmaster.

The water project led to the building of the Shoshone Dam, which was completed in 1910. The dam was renamed “Buffalo Bill Dam” in 1946. Buffalo Bill was also instrumental in bringing a rail line to the town of Cody in 1901.

William F. Cody died January 10, 1917 while staying in Denver, Colorado. He is buried on Lookout Mountain, west of Denver.

Much of the information in this article was drawn from The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill by Don Russell. University of Oklahoma Press, 1960.

Esther Hobart Morris Esther Hobart McQuigg was born in 1812* in the state of New York. Orphaned at the age of 14, she supported herself as a milliner until, at age 28, she married Artemus Slack, a civil engineer. Mr. Slack died not long after the marriage, leaving Esther with an infant son. She moved to Peru, Illinois in 1842, where she married John Morris, a merchant. In 1869 Esther, additionally blessed with twin sons, moved to South Pass City in the newly created Wyoming Territory, joining her husband who had opened a saloon there the previous year.

Morris has been widely acclaimed as an influential figure in the events that established women’s suffrage in Wyoming. However, her role in promoting suffrage legislation in the territory has been disputed. The record shows that in 1869, during the territory’s first legislative session, William H. Bright of Sweetwater County introduced a women’s suffrage bill. Although the legislation was received with some humor, it was seriously considered and did pass. The bill was signed into law by Governor John A. Campbell, thus according the young territory immediate fame as the first government to grant women the right to vote in all public elections.

Shortly after the legislative session, in February 1870, Wyoming achieved another “first” when three women were appointed to serve as justices of the peace. Morris was selected to complete the term of the South Pass City justice, who had resigned. She is the only one of the three appointees known to have served, thereby winning accord as the first woman to hold a judicial position. Morris served 8½ months and handled 26 cases in a manner that was considered a credit to her position. In later years, following the death of her husband, Morris lived with her sons. She appeared at numerous women’s rights gatherings and political affairs, though she was apparently not comfortable with making speeches. She died in 1902 in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Morris eventually became a symbol for the women’s rights movement, and stories of her independent attitudes and support of women’s issues have been circulated. As for the question of who was the main force behind the Women’s Suffrage Act in Wyoming, the verifiable record favors William H. Bright, who introduced the bill. A story that Morris had obtained a promise from Bright, also a South Pass City resident, at a tea party to introduce the suffrage bill surfaced decades after the fact and has been commonly repeated. Though this story and any direct involvement by Morris in the drafting and introduction of the suffrage bill cannot be substantiated, Esther Morris is commonly regarded a heroine in the women’s suffrage movement. Her name became synonymous with equal rights, which led to her being chosen as Wyoming’s representative in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Her statue was presented in 1960. In 1963, a replica of this statue was placed in front of the Wyoming State Capitol Building.

Edited from Larson, T.A. History of Wyoming, 2nd edition, revised. University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

* There is debate surrounding Esther Morris’ date of birth. According to her headstone and obituary, she was born on August 4, 1812, but several respected early 20th century Wyoming historians have used August 8, 1814 and this was the date used on the statue currently displayed in the National Statuary Hall and in front of the Wyoming State Capitol Building. August 1814 also appears on her 1900 US Census entry, though other censuses seem to indicate either 1812 or 1818. The location of her birth, Spencer, Tioga County, New York, does not seem to be in question.

Nellie Tayloe Ross Nellie Tayloe Ross was born November 29,1876 near St. Joseph, Missouri. She was educated in public and private schools, and attended a kindergarten training school in Omaha, Nebraska. She taught school for a few years in Omaha before coming to Cheyenne in 1902, following her marriage to William B. Ross. Mr. Ross began a law practice in Wyoming and eventually became active in politics. He was elected as Wyoming’s governor in the 1922 election.

Mrs. Ross was an avid supporter of her husband. When he died in office in October, 1924, the Secretary of State, as Acting Governor, called for a special election. The Democratic party nominated Mrs. Ross to complete her husband’s term. She initially declined, but upon reflection accepted the nomination. She felt she was the best qualified to understand her husband’s goals and work to realize them. Mrs. Ross won the election handily and became the first woman governor in the United States when she was inaugurated 16 days before Miriam A. Ferguson of Texas. She served from January 5, 1925 to January 3, 1927, losing a bid for reelection.

Following her defeat Mrs. Ross continued to be a much sought speaker. She was appointed as a vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1928, and directed the party’s women’s division. She campaigned extensively for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Following his inauguration in 1933, Roosevelt appointed Mrs. Ross to the position of Director of the United States Mint, a position she held until 1953. After her retirement she continued to reside in Washington, D.C., and kept busy with speaking engagements. She died in 1977 at the age of 101. Interment was in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Visit our page listing all of Wyoming's Governors.

Chief Washakie The date of Washakie?s birth is unknown, but it probably occurred during the first few years of the 19th century. His father was a Flathead and his mother was from one of the Shoshone tribal groups, probably a Lemhi. The future Shoshone chief was named Pina Quanah (Smell of Sugar) when he was born.

The surviving story of how Washakie became associated with the Shoshones relates that the Flathead village in which his family was living was attacked by Blackfeet Indians. Washakie?s father was killed. The surviving villagers scattered. Washakie?s family was eventually taken in by Lemhis. He and a sister remained with the Lemhis even after their mother and other family members rejoined the Flatheads.

Washakie later joined the Bannocks, a tribe hostile to white men. He lived with them five years before joining the Green River Snake Indians, who had peaceful relations with whites.

Washakie became a noted warrior. Although the name by which he would be widely known has been translated in various ways, it apparently dealt with his tactics in battle. One story describes how Washakie devised a large rattle by placing stones in an inflated and dried balloon of buffalo hide which he tied on a stick. He carried the device into battle to frighten enemy horses, earning the name “The Rattle.” Another translation of “Washakie” is “Shoots-on-the-Run.”

By 1850 Washakie was head chief of the Shoshones, apparently earning the position by his deeds in battle and wise counsel, though there is no record to show exactly when and under what conditions the decision was made. It is thought that the various Shoshone tribes may have united under one chief to deal with threats by hostile tribes, such as the Sioux and Cheyenne.Washakie became an ally of white men, deciding early that warfare was pointless and a policy of adaptation and mutual assistance should be followed. He assisted U.S. Army operations, with military forces and advice, against hostile tribes, particularly the Sioux and Cheyenne. Washakie granted right-of-way through Shoshone land in western Wyoming to the Union Pacific Railroad, aiding the completion of a coast-to-coast rail line.

The Shoshone chief also sought the best for his people, requesting schools, churches, and hospitals on Shoshone lands. He also pushed for a reservation in his beloved “Warm Valley” (Wind River Valley) which had been given to the Crows, enemies of the Shoshones, in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. In 1868 the United States, determining that the Crows had broken treaty terms, gave the valley to the Shoshone Indians at the Fort Bridger Treaty Council. In 1896, Washakie ceded lands bounding mineral hot springs near Thermopolis for public use, requesting that a portion of the waters be set aside for free use by people of all races.

The famed leader and warrior died on February 20, 1900. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Washakie.

Most of the information for this article was found in The Shoshonis, Sentinels of the Rockies by Virginia Cole Trenholm and Maurine Carley. University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.

Francis E. Warren Francis E. Warren was born in Hinsdale, Massachusetts on June 20, 1844. He served as a private and non-commissioned officer during the Civil War, earning a Medal of Honor. He farmed and raised stock for a short time in Massachusetts before heading west to what would be Wyoming, but was then part of Dakota Territory, in 1868. He engaged in several business ventures, including real estate, livestock, mercantile, and promotion of the first lighting system in Cheyenne. In 1871 Warren married Helen M. Smith, also of Hinsdale, and they made their home in the young town of Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory.

Warren’s political career was marked by a steady rise in influence. He was a member of the Cheyenne City Council in 1873 and 1874. In 1873 Warren was also elected to the Council of the Territorial Assembly. The Council elected him as their president. Warren was appointed to two terms as Territorial Treasurer. He was again elected to the Territorial Council in 1884, and to the office of Mayor of Cheyenne in 1885. In the same year, he was appointed by President Chester Arthur to fill the unexpired term of governor William Hale. A second appointment as governor was made by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889.

Warren was elected Wyoming’s first state governor in October, 1890, but served only about six weeks before being elected by the state legislature as one of Wyoming’s first United States Senators, beginning a highly distinguished career in that capacity. Tragedy struck the family in 1915 when daughter Frances Warren Pershing, wife of General John J. Pershing, and three granddaughters died in a fire at the Presidio in San Francisco.

Warren served in the Senate until his death in Washington, D.C. on November 24, 1929, a tenure longer than any other senator’s to that time. He was buried in Cheyenne.

Visit our page listing all of Wyoming's Governors.

 

Homsher's Histories

lola5

Lola Homsher was the first practicing Archivist for the Wyoming State Archives. During her tenure as State Archivist she wrote many articles for the newspapers in her own column called "From the Archives." She also wrote items for presentation on radio and for various historical entities. These articles are taken from the historical collections belonging to the Archives. Read and enjoy these collected moments from Wyoming's past.

Topic Information
What are Archives?

Adapted from an article by Lola M. Homsher

The word ARCHIVES baffles many people, but Webster in his definition actually makes the meaning very simple: Public Records

Archives as considered by the archivist are the non-current records of any public office, federal, state, county or municipal government. The term in recent years has been broadened to include non-current records of a business or of an organization. The minutes of your local club or the accounting records of your business are archival records of a non-governmental nature.

Whether we realize it or not, we live by our records, and the preservation of the public records is most important to our everyday living. Aside from the legal aspects of our public records, they also have a vital administrative function since they are the memory of any office, and they are filled with fascinating history.

The Archives division of the Wyoming State Archives has been in existence since 1943, but only since 1951 has there been an active, systematic program directed toward the preservation of Wyoming’s state and local records. The Wyoming statutes allow records to be transferred from any office of government in Wyoming to the State Archives. Both original records and microfilm copies of records are constantly being transferred to the State Archives. Here they are carefully preserved, and qualified persons may have ready access to them for research purposes.

Under the law many archival records are open to the public. However, certain records are restricted by law, and the Archives functions under the same laws regarding restrictions on records as does the department from which they originally came. Since there are many fascinating items of interest and of historical importance in our Wyoming State Archives, this column will be devoted to turning the spotlight on some of the more choice bits of Wyoming history from its official records.

The First Territorial Legislature

Lola M. Homsher

The First Wyoming Territorial Legislature met from October 12 through December 10, 1869. During these short months the nine members of the Council and the 12 members of the House of Representatives labored long and hard to establish a structure of law so that the new Territory might function as a political unit, prosper and grow. The first legislature passed a total of 86 laws, many long and complicated, and 13 memorials and resolutions.

Not all laws were approved by Governor Campbell. In his veto message regarding "An Act to Prevent Intermarriage between White Persons and those of Negro or Mongolian Blood" he argued against such social legislation. A copy of this message may be found in his correspondence in the State Archives.

Governor Campbell was a Republican appointee by President Grant. The Territorial Council was composed of 9 Democrats and the House of Representatives of 12 Democrats. On such a question as this, they could hardly be expected to agree. Governor Campbell addressed his veto message to the Council of the Legislative Assembly on December 6, 1869, in which he declared, "How far it may be expedient or well to attempt to govern social life and taste by Legislative prohibitions and restrictions is not easily answered, but there can be doubt that any bill of this character should be formed as to bear equally upon all races of men. If it is a wise policy to prohibit intermarriage between persons of different races on account of the supposed or real moral or physical deterioration of the issue of such marriages, I can see no reason for excepting any race from the operations of the law. In this bill there is nothing to restrict the intermingling of the white or any other race with the Anglican race, and it well known that here have been and probably will be more marriages in the Territory between Indians an whites than between persons of all other races combined. Nor is the force of this objection weakened by the fact that in general a marriage has not been formally solemnized between the parties, for under late decisions, living together and constant cohabitation makes in law, as it does in morals, a marriage.

"In its present shape the bill appears to partake of the nature of legislation for or against particular classes, and as in my opinion class legislation is opposed to the spirit of our Organic Act, the genius of Republican institutions and the progress of the age, I cannot approve the bill." In spite of the objections by the Governor, this bill was enacted into law over his veto.

This article was adapted by Steve Houston

Organizing Wyoming Counties

Lola M. Homsher

The Legislative Assembly of 1875 had hopefully created the counties of Crook and Pease (later Johnson) in northern Wyoming in anticipation that the area would be open to white settlement. The original act required that there be 500 electors in the area desiring county organization. This number was reduced to 300 in 1879.

In 1879 Governor John W. Hoyt, third territorial governor, reported that although the governor had been directed to organize these two counties by the appointment of proper officers, it was impossible to do so because, as he stated, "I could not even learn the names of a sufficient number of residents to fill the offices necessary to organization."

During the summer and fall of 1878 Governor Hoyt had made a trip through northern Wyoming. Of this trip he wrote: " I found a country of magnificent scenery, fertile valleys and plains, and mountains that promise, when explored to yield supplies of the precious metals. But, outside of the forts and military camps, I neither saw nor could hear of more than a dozen or two residents."

The population, however, was gradually increasing in the northern sections, and the federal census of 1880, the original of which is located in the State Archives in Cheyenne, gave the following figures: Crook County, 239 population and Johnson, 637.

Governor Hoyt was able to report later that "Johnson County having furnished satisfactory evidence of possessing the requisite population, was duly organized in March, 1881,... and is rapidly increasing in wealth and population. The assessed value of property in the county, as returned July 19, 1881, to the territorial board of equalization, amounted to $1,259,981."

At the time of organization the population of the county was 671 and the total vote cast at the organizing election was 456. by 1884 the total vote cast in the November election had grown to 1, 312.

Crook County grew more slowly in population and was unable to organize until January 22, 1885. The population at that time was estimated at from 1200 to 1500 and the vote cast at the election of officers on December 9, 1884, was 555. In 1885 the assessed valuation of taxable property in the County was $2,423,058.

Voting Rights for Women

Adapted from an article by Lola M. Homsher

"An Act to Grant the Women of Wyoming the Right of Suffrage, and to Hold Office."
Probably the most famous piece of legislation passed by the First Territorial Assembly of Wyoming was Chapter 31 of the 1869 Laws of Wyoming entitled "An Act to Grant the Women of Wyoming Territory the Right of Suffrage, and to Hold Office."

The act was short and simple, reading: "That every women of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this territory, may , at every election to be holden under the laws thereof, cast her vote. And her rights to the elective franchise and to hold office shall be the same under the laws of the territory, as those of electors."

Much has been written regarding the background of the presentation of this Act. The generally accepted version has been that which was written a number of years later by Capt. H.G. Nickerson of Carter (later named Sweetwater) County, who gave Esther Morris the credit and honor of originating woman suffrage in Wyoming.

Capt. Nickerson had been defeated for the Territorial Council by Col. William H. Bright. Colonel Bright introduced the Act, and a few years later, in newspaper accounts, he claimed the full credit for originating and carrying through his idea.

Melville Brown of Laramie in 1889, while a member of the constitutional convention, stated that while a rumor related that the suffrage act was originally presented as a jest, he did not feel the rumor well founded. However, there was a certain amount of horse-play which took place before its passage.

Ben Sheeks, a member of the House of Representatives from Carter County in the 1869 legislature, did push through an amendment changing the voting age from eighteen to twenty-one. Several obstructive amendments which introduced an element of the ridiculous into the debate were proposed by Mr. Sheek's active leadership, but all were rejected.

At the time he signed the Act, no special comment was made by Governor Campbell. In his first letter press book, now in the State Archives, Governor Campbell, on December 10, included mention of the Act in a communication to the President of the Council in which he informed the Council he had approved of three acts: An Act to establish a Code of Criminal Procedure; An Act to grant to the Women of Wyoming the right of suffrage and to hold office; and An Act to create the several county offices and defining the duties thereof.

The granting of woman suffrage did not remain a negative privilege in Wyoming. On February17, 1870, Mrs.Esther Morris of South Pass City was appointed Justice of the Peace. In the term of the District Court beginning at Laramie in March, 1870, women were drawn for both the grand and petit juries. Women first voted in an election in Wyoming Territory on September 6, 1870.

Protecting Women's Suffrage

Adapted from an article by Lola M. Homsher

Granting of women's suffrage was a victory for the women of Wyoming in 1869. However, that right of suffrage could have been quickly rescinded and women's rights dealt a resounding defeat during the 1871 legislature had it not been for Territorial Governor John A. Campbell.

During the years 1870-71, Governor Campbell received letters from all over the United States congratulating the Legislators and himself as Governor of Wyoming, on their advanced thinking and action in passing the suffrage act. In his letter press copy book in the State Archives are the duplicates of some of his answers to such correspondence.

On March 25, 1870, after an absence from the Territory , he began catching up on back correspondence, and on this date he wrote letters to Joseph R. Quinley of Cincinnati, Ohio , to Mrs. S. Peckham of Minneapolis, Wisconsin, and to Miss R. A. Fairbank of Providence, Rhode Island, thanking them for their congratulations.

On April 7, 1970 he wrote a more detailed letter to Mrs. C. B. Wilborn of New York City on the progress of the woman suffrage movement. In it he states that he noted there was a great deal of rivalry for leadership within the national movement for woman suffrage, one group of which was lead by a Dr. Townsend. He commented: "These contentions of rivals for the leadership of the movement for women's enfranchisement are to me evidence of the strength and vitality of our cause rather than of its weakness as its enemies assert. We do not see men (and women) progressing forward to assume leadership of a dying cause and contending for the foremost position in a party doomed to defeat....So far as I have been able to ascertain, unmixed good has resulted from investing women in this Territory with all her rights and duties."

In his official address to the Second Legislative Assembly on November 9, 1871, Governor Campbell mentioned the results of the act: "There is upon our statute book " an act granting to the women of Wyoming territory the right of suffrage and to hold office," which has now been in force two years. Under its liberal provisions women have voted in the territory , served on juries, and held office. It is simple justice to say that the women entering, for the first time in the history of the country, upon these new and untried duties, have conducted themselves in every respect with as much tact, sound judgment, and good sense, as men. While it would be claiming more than the facts justify, to say that this experiment, in a limited field, has demonstrated beyond a doubt the perfect fitness of woman, at all times and under all circumstances, for taking a part in the government, it furnishes at least reasonable presumptive evidence in her favor, and she has a right to claim that, so long as none but good results are made manifest, the law should remain unrepealed."

But a battle was shaping up in the Territorial Assembly over women suffrage, and in the year 1871 this right was almost taken away.

Wyoming Builds Its Government

Lola M. Homsher

At the time of its organization in 1869, Wyoming had already been divided into four counties: Laramie, established January 9, 1867, Carter(later Sweetwater) December 27, 1867, Carbon, and Albany, January 9, 1868. These counties extended from the northern to the southern boundaries of the Territory. Upon the organization of Wyoming Territory a portion of Utah and Idaho, extending from Montana to the Wyoming-Utah boundary, was annexed and named Uinta county.

County seats were, with one exception, located along the Union Pacific Railroad and included Cheyenne, Laramie, Rawlins, and Evanston. South Pass City was originally the county seat of Carter County until it was removed by legislative act to Green River in 1873.

While the northern half of Wyoming Territory remained unceded Indian Lands, that area was effectively cut off from settlement, but Governor John M. Thayer in 1875 anticipated that the area would, before too long, be turned over to the territory for settlement. That year he reported to the Legislature:

"There is every probability that before another legislature meets, there will be a large population north of the North Platte, within the present organized counties. Their great distance from the present county seats of those counties will vastly increase the cost of all public business, and, in great measure, deprive those people of the protection and assistance of the government. Some proper means should therefore be devised to obviate those evils. A satisfactory plan would undoubtedly be, to enable those people, whenever they desire it, to incorporate themselves under a general law, and erect a county government by electing the necessary officers."

In response to his request the Legislature created two new counties, Pease and Crook, thus breaking for the first time the longitudinal boundary lines of the five original counties. Crook County was cut from the northern part of Laramie and Albany counties and Pease from Carbon and a portion of Sweetwater, extending as far west as the Big Horn River. In 1879 the Legislature changed the name of Pease County to Johnson County.

One interesting section in the act creating Crook County read "that if, by reason of any treaty with the Sioux tribe of Indians and any act of Congress, any part of the territory of Dakota shall be included within the limits of this territory, the same shall form and constitute part of the aforesaid county." This provision expressed the hope of some citizens of Wyoming that the Black Hills country would be either detached from the Dakota Territory and annexed to Wyoming or that it would be created a new territory.

Conflict of Cultures

Lola M. Homsher

The First Wyoming Territorial Legislature met from October 12 through December 10, 1869. During these short months the nine members of the Council and the 12 members of the House of Representatives labored long and hard to establish a structure of law so that the new Territory might function as a political unit, aprosper and grow. The first legislature is not only chief executive and organizer, he must act as a promoter as well and encourage immigration to his newly created area. Governor John A. Campbell conscientiously answered letters of inquirey which came to his desk, copies of whcih may ge read at the State Archives. In 1870 information as to the prospects in agricutlure were extremely limited, but he did his best to be accurate.

In answer to an inquiry dated January 1870 from a travel agent located in Poland, Ohio, requesting information on agricultural resources he wrote: " It would be impossible to give you any definte information concerning the matter inquired o fa s there is comparatively little known of the agricutural resources of the Territory. It is ibelieved there are many poritons of the Territory well adapted for agricultural purposes. Perhaps the best tract of land near any considerable settlement is the Laramie Plains. They are siturated about sixty miles west of Cheyenne (the capitol). Laramie City is located on the plain an dis a flourising town of 1500 inhabitants. The tract of land is said to be very fertile and well adapted to both farming and grazing. You can get as much as you want of this land at Government prices (abouit $2.50 per acre for that within twenty miles of the Railroad, and $1.25 per acre for that more remote.) There has as yet been no Land office established for the Territory, though there is a bill before Congress new to establish one. After that is done it is quite likely the land owned by the RR Co can be bought much chaper than Government land."

Governor Campbell was more enthusiastic about the possible mineral resources of the new territory, for he continued, " As soon as the actual resourcs of the Territory can be ascertained they will be found to be very great.

How Art Galleries Got Started in Wyoming

Lola M. Homsher

Art in Wyoming has always had a flavor all its own. While the idea of any "western" art or art originating in the American West conjures some kind of picture in the mind's eye of most people today, it wasn't always the case. In fact, much of the recognition Wyoming's Art and Western Art receives comes from a cohesive effort to create venues for that art to be shown.

During the 1930's many programs were started by the federal government to combat the effects of the depression on the American economy. One of these programs was the Works Progress Administration [WPA]. The main idea of this program was to create jobs through government sponsored projects. The University of Wyoming, the Works Progress Administration, and several Wyoming communities cooperated to establish a system of art galleries throughout Wyoming. Each of these galleries was to serve as a center to display and promote art. The plan was to have different exhibitions continually on display to the public. These displays would be augmented by the creation of art clubs that would discuss, promote, and create art. Workshop activities to demonstrate and teach art would be an intricate part of these clubs and galleries.

The first communities to join were Laramie, Torrington, Newcastle, Sheridan, Casper, Riverton, Lander, Rawlins, Rock Springs, and Evanston. Other communities were to follow after these first participants got their galleries going. These galleries were a demonstration of the interest these communities had in promoting art and they all backed up their interest with financing to ship the exhibitions from gallery to gallery on this intra-community circuit. Different buildings were drafted by each community to serve as these galleries. Public schools, post offices, city halls, just to name a few, were all drafted to serve the viewing needs of the individual communities.

The response to these galleries was greater than the original proponents had imagined. The local school systems, American Legions, service clubs, women's clubs, and municipal governments all cooperated to share the expense. In many smaller communities, the yearly attendance at the galleries was greater than the population of the town. The galleries took on a life of their own, and the area residents began to inform themselves about art. The schools in particular embraced the galleries and took the students to see, study, and explore the exhibitions. The teachers and parents together supported the galleries as a means of creating a better education and a fuller life for their children.

This movement also created a haven for the artist who could find a market for their work in a depressed economy. They also had the added benefit of seeing that work displayed rather than buried in a museum. Of course, some of these artist were both from Wyoming and had Wyoming life as the subject of their work. This privileged few had their works displayed at other galleries beyond the borders of Wyoming and some even internationally.

Thus this movement created a benefit for many people within Wyoming and to the others states beyond. The citizens of Wyoming created a forum to see and discus the beauty of art, their children received a better and broader education, and their native artist had their work displayed. The foundation of these galleries created a bright spot for many in the darker days of the depression and helped bring the art of the West to a much broader audience for the enjoyment of all.

 

Wyoming's Capitol

"The people should resolve that when the doors of the capitol shall swing open to receive officers of the territory, that he who legislates for his private gain, that he who neglects to execute and fails to honestly administer the laws, shall be driven from its portals forever." Such was the feeling expressed by the Judge Joseph M. Carey, Wyoming's delegate to Congress, at the cornerstone laying ceremony of the Wyoming Capitol on May 18, 1887.

Wyoming State Capitol website

 

Blue Books

The Wyoming Blue Book Wiki is a comprehensive guide to the history of Wyoming state government history from pre-territorial days to the present. The wiki includes biographies of elected officials, election results, legislation, information on government agencies and counties, historical timelines, essays, historical photographs, and much more.

A limited number of printed copies of the original Blue Books volumes I through V books (covering pre-territorial to 2007) produced by the Wyoming State Archives are available for $25 each. The complete five-volume set can also be purchased for $25.

Volume 1 (75 MB) European Exploration to 1890, including acquisition of land, territorial years and statehood
Volume 2 (200 MB) 1890 to 1943, including the early days of statehood and a history of Wyoming's counties
Volume 3 (235 Mb) 1943 to 1974, including a study of equality in the Equality State
Volume 4 (57 MB) 1974 to 1990, including sections on government, education, economy, culture, and the Wind River Reservation
Volume 5 (40 MB) 1991 to 2007, including recent developments in Wyoming's history -- Centennial ed, 1990: v. 5, pt. 1. Guide to the county archives of Wyoming -- v. 5, pt. 2. Guide to the state government and municipal archives of Wyoming.

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