Shoot fire! Can y’all believe we’ve made it to the end of the trail in Big WYO! My backside feels like it’s done become a part of this here buckboard and I haven’t even shot Cookie! So all in all I’d call this here trip a humdinger!

But Cookie and me are bustin’ our britches cause we’re rollin’ into a place near and dear to us at this time ‘cause it’s where my current work in progress takes place, so we feel like we’re comin’ on home! And wouldn’t it just blow yer great aunt’s bloomers up, we get to visit this here place this summer for about the thousandth time but South Pass City never gets old! Why there’s enough shootin’, drinkin’,  fightin’, and spittin’ goin’ on here to keep any cowpoke happy.  Not that Cookie and me participate in any of the like. ;o)

So let’s roll on in and see what’s all the ruckus is about in South Pass!

Long before the first trappers set foot in the Rockies, or thousands upon thousands of emigrants set across the country in search of gold, or land, or escape from a war torn North and South, humans used a natural gateway through the Rocky Mountains.  This pass is known today as South Pass, and has been used for trade and travel for thousands of years.  Paleolithic hunters camped in the area for at least ten thousand years, and the entire area is rich in Plains Archaic and Late Prehistoric artifacts.

The earliest descriptions of this elevated plain depict a paradise for bison on both sides of the pass, and the large herds represented a great prize for hunters whose lives depended upon the shaggy beasts. The most successful of these people of the buffalo were the Absarokas, better known as the Crow, who battled for control of this rich country with their ancient enemies the Blackfeet and Shoshones.  As white traders introduced firearms and horses, however, the balance of power shifted, and by the time the bison disappeared from the Green River Valley, the Shoshones controlled all the country west of South Pass.

Later travelers on the Oregon-California Trail told of meeting Crow, Arapahoes, Bannocks, Cheyennes, Nez Perce, Lakotas, and Utes in or near South Pass. During the golden age of the overland trails, the Shoshones dominated the region and used the pass most heavily.

In 1812, one of the American Indian tribes who used this pass mentioned the natural corridor to an American fur trader, Robert Stuart. Though French and American fur traders wandered the northern Rockies before the return of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and Indian nations used the corridor for centuries, no one of European extraction appears to have so much as heard a rumor of the pass’ existence before August 1812. The history of this great pass and that of the United States was set on a course of change from that moment.

Stuart’s “discovery” of South Pass in 1812, was recognized by some as the momentous breakthrough it was. The “Missouri Gazette” quickly announced the news and published a full description of the Astorian’s harrowing journey. A brief report printed on 8 May 1813 predicted this showed “the world that a journey to the Western Sea will not be considered of much greater importance than a trip to New York.” But, remarkably, South Pass was quickly forgotten. Some speculated John Jacob Astor suppressed the news of South Pass, hoping to keep it a trade secret. Stuart’s journal remained unpublished for more than a century after his historic journey. More likely, it was the fact the news arrived in the middle of the War of 1812. This war drove Americans from the upper Missouri River and halted the nation’s western trade and exploration activities for ten years.

In 1822, with the reawakening of the American fur trade an ambitious Missouri entrepreneur, William Ashley, advertised he and his partner, Major Andrew Henry, were looking for one hundred “Enterprising Young Men” willing to spend as many as three years risking their lives in the fur trade. Among those who answered his call were Jedediah Smith, the four Sublette brothers, Thomas Fitzpatrick, John H. Weber, David Jackson, Daniel T. Potts, Louis Vasquez, and Mike Fink.  [Any of these names ringin’ a bell folks?]

The first two years were marked with repeated failures as Indian tribes employed all they had to keep the trappers out of their country. Finally, William Sublette, Jedediah Smith, and Thomas Fitzpatrick led a party of some sixteen men up the White River hoping to reach the beaver rich country along the Spanish River (today’s Green River).  The Great Plains, Badlands, and Rocky Mountains stood between the fur traders and their goal. On top of all that, it was already late in the year, October, when they set out on their trek. After an arduous trek “crossing several steep and high ridges that “in any other country would be called mountains,” the exhausted men sought shelter at the Crows’ main camp high on the Wind River, probably near today’s Dubois, Wyoming, but perhaps farther downstream at Riverton.

During their ten week stay, a Crow told Thomas Fitzpatrick about a pass that existed in the Wind River Mountains, through which he could easily take his whole band “upon the streams on the other side.”  In late February eleven men left the safety of the Crow village to find this passage.

Bitter cold and Wyoming wind made the search for the passage a grueling journey. After several days of travel, the party moved over a low ridge, likely the Beaver Divide, and struck the Sweetwater River where they camped. One of the men, James Clyman, recorded that after holding up for three weeks near what became Independence Rock the trappers struck out in a Southwesterly direction.  After another week of travel and another bitter night in sagebrush fighting high winds, Clyman said the next day the trappers realized they “had crossed the man ridge” of the Rocky Mountains. This simple announcement marked the first east-to-west crossing of South Pass.

It was the first crossing, but it opened the door for thousands of crossings to come. In the wake of the Rocky Mountain fur trade, the knowledge that wagons could cross the continent to Oregon, and that women (Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding) had successfully completed the journey altered the way American people thought about the Far West.  While there was not an immediate flood of emigrants to the West, by 1843, South Pass was “already traversed by several different roads,” according to John C. Fremont.  The number of roads across the open plain increased with the intense traffic that arrived with the California gold rush as travelers sought out campsites that had not been stripped of grass. Jim Bridger told one Forty-niner, “he could make fifty roads through South Pass.”  By 1848, about 18, 847 Americans had crossed South Pass on their way to new homes in the West.

The discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in California, would transform South Pass and the nation, as the steady flow over the pass turned to a river. By 1860, trail historian John Unruh, calculated almost 300,000 men, women, and children had crossed South Pass.

California wasn’t the only place experiencing a rush due to the finding of gold. In 1864, officers and men from the Eleventh Ohio Volunteers, sent west to guard the telegraph during the Civil War, became convinced that there was enough gold on the upper Sweetwater to make them rich. By the end of the Civil War the West was overrun with experienced prospectors. Fort Bridger commandant Major Noyes Baldwin and Captain John F. Skelton grubstaked John A. James and D.C. Moreland to spend six months surveying the mineral prospects of South Pass.  Along with miners they found already operating in the area, the men organized the region’s first mining district, the Lincoln, on November 11, 1864 on a tributary of Beaver Creek. The men found all types of gold, ranging from very fine quality flour gold to course gold. Moreland, James, and their associates began mining on the Willow Creek, where South Pass City eventually grew.  This mine was abandoned when the miners were run off by Indians, but others returned to the area to take up where these men left off.

In July 1867, the “Chicago Times” reported, “Salt Lake papers of July 1, received here, give accounts of rich gold discoveries in the mines are located in Green river [sic] country…”   Reports stated the road to the Green River was crowded with citizens from Salt Lake, and the new gold mines “set the people wild in this locality.”  Papers and reports from the area and the East kept up the steady drumbeat and Wyoming’s gold rush was on.

What was discovered by grizzled mountain man, Lewis Robinson, in June 1867, was the Carriso ledge, which soon became the Carissa Mine. By late July there were already several other prospects that looked as good if not better, including the Morning Star, Melrose, Copperopolis, and Last Chance. Half a mile below the Carissa Mine, prospectors soon began building South Pass City. By early November, the settlement boasted fifty houses and several stamping mills. At year’s end, the Dakota Territorial Legislature made the boomtown the seat of Carter County, after the formation of Wyoming Territory, the county was renamed Sweetwater County.

In an entreaty for a post office, it was reported that by March of 1868, the population of South pass was 1,000 and it was anticipated that within one or two months, the town would have 3,000. A postal agent from Salt Lake City estimated that within a few months the City would attain a population of 10,000. Regardless, there was a need for a post office. It cost $1.00 to send a letter by private express. The road from Sweetwater to South Pass City passed over 75 miles through land “destitute of water. George W.B. Dixson was named as postmaster.  However he absconded with some of the government’s money, allegedly to the newly found Cape Colony where he remained until his wife died. He ultimately returned to the United States and died in Chicago.

Despite the postmaster’s less than honorable behavior, South Pass City retained a post office along with a newspaper, five hotels, and some fifteen saloons including: the “49’er,” “Keg,” “Magnolia,” “Elephant,” and the “Occidental.”  By 1868, the town had stage service south to Bryan on the Union Pacific. By 1869, Iliff & Co. had opened the Exchange Bank and a toll road to Atlantic City 2 and half miles away opened.

If the growth of South Pass City was rapid, its decline was equally as fast. By 1870 the bank closed and in 1871 there was a disastrous fire.  The Carissa Mine remained the chief mine at South Pass City, and by 1868 some $15,000.00 of gold had been mined, but by 1873 the mine was idled, the gold rush over. Governor J.W. Hoyt reported in 1878 that “South Pass is a scene of vacant dwellings, saloons, shops, and abandoned gulches.”  For some who came and left, the big strike and fortune was just over the next hill, and when the government opened the Black Hills they followed the scent of gold.

Despite its short boom,  South Pass City, is noted not only for the gold mines, and as a stop on the Oregon Trail, but as the home of women’s suffrage.  In 1869, William H. Bright, South Pass mine and saloon owner, was elected to the First Territorial Assembly. He introduced a bill providing for woman’s suffrage which was passed by the legislature and approved by Governor John A. Campbell.  There are various versions regarding Bright’s motivation for introducing the bill. One is that Bright was persuaded to do so by a promise made to Esther Hobart Morris, later the first woman justice of the peace in the United States. Another is that Bright was influenced by his wife, Julia, to introduce the act. Another theory is the Democrat controlled legislature thought women would vote Democrat to offset the Black community that tended to vote Republican. However, if this was the case it backfired, since this was in the days before the “Australian” or secret ballot, and it was soon discovered women tended to vote Republican.  In any case, two years later the Democratically controlled legislature attempted to repeal woman’s suffrage, but the act to repeal was vetoed by the Republican Governor, and enough Republicans had been elected (thanks to women) to sustain the veto.

The mine that started it all, the Carissa, was reopened in 1901 and the size increased, but was closed again in 1906. In 1946, the mine was again reopened and quickly closed. The three towns that boomed in Wyoming’s short gold rush, South Pass City, Atlantic City, and Miner’s Delight, have faded to ghost towns.

But turn yer wagons into South Pass and y’all will still receive a big WYO welcome. You can see the home of Mrs. Esther Morris (a topic for a blog in the very near future), the Carissa Saloon, The Sherlock Store and the Sherlock Motel (originally the Idaho House), the Exchange Bank and other remains of a city that saw more history in its short boom than some see in a hundred years, and a pass that has served as a gateway for thousands of years.

Cookie and me are headed on over to Sherlock’s to gear up for a new adventure, and maybe I’ll talk the ol’ coot into a game of billiards and a cold one over at the saloon.

Well folks, just a few miles from South Pass is what they call the Parting of the Ways where those early pioneers chose one path to California or the other to Oregon. And Cookie and me, well we don’t veer left or right, but stay right here in this part of the West we’re just as happy as pigs in mud to call home. So, we’ll let y’all choose the path that fits yer fancy as we say so long to the trails!!






Folks I know we’ve been havin’ a hog killin’ time at Fort Laramie, but Cookie has a bug to keep movin’.  So gals step away from all those soldiers and let’s move ‘em out!

Today we’re gonna be seein’ many landmarks and keepin’ our wagons rollin’ over the Emigrant Road!

The Emigrant Road over which the early pioneers of California, Oregon and Utah traveled was not a single road, but a number of paths. These paths ran at a parallel route from Fort Laramie to South Pass with wagons taking cutoffs depending upon where they were headed. These included the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, California Trail, and the Sublette Cutoff, as well as the Lander Cutoff and Cherokee Trail.

It is estimated from 1849 through 1860, some 275,000 people traveled through Wyoming on the trails. Therefore, Wyoming has been described as a place through which one passed on the way to someplace else.  Now we could take the more southern and faster Overland or Cherokee Trail, which is mainly used by the Concord stages, or the Greyhounds of the old west, or we could head off on the Sublette Cutoff, popular with emigrants not needing to go to Fort Bridger.

Let’s take a quick look at the trails we won’t be traveling. The Overland Trail Mail route was established and owned by Ben Holladay, the “Stagecoach King.” Sometimes confused with the Oregon or California Trail, which actually followed the North Platte Valley from Nebraska through Wyoming, the Overland Trail refers specifically to that portion of the mail and passenger route, established in 1862, that avoided the Indian uprisings that were occurring on the Oregon Trail farther north through central Wyoming along the Sweetwater-South Pass route. In July, the US Post Office Department ordered Ben Holladay, the Overland Stage Company, to officially relocate from the central Wyoming route, to a route which had been known, in part, as the Cherokee Trail. Not just a cutoff or a detour, it became for a while the only emigrant route on which the US Government would allow travel, and consequently was the principal corridor to the west from 1862 to 1868.

The Overland Trail ran westward from Atchison, Kansas, following the Oregon Trail with some diversions created by Ben Holladay. At Julesburg, Colorado, it essentially left the Oregon Trail, paralleling on the south side. At Latham (present day Greeley), one could travel south to the Cherry Creek settlement of Denver, or cross the river and loop north along the foothills, following the established Cherokee Trail.

Continuing north, the Overland Trail split into at least two separate routes between LaPorte and Virginia Dale. One route veered off to the east toward Fort Laramie, located about 50 miles north of present day Cheyenne; the other route took a bit more westerly route to the home station at Virginia Dale. The first station established in Wyoming was Willow Springs. From there the trail crossed the Laramie Plains and skirted the north side of Elk Mountain near Fort Halleck, and the Medicine Bow Mountains. Crossing the North Platte near the mouth of Sage Creek, it continued west, through Bridger’s Pass, roughly paralleling present day Highway I-80 and the Union Pacific Railroad through Wyoming, finally rejoining the Oregon Trail again in western Wyoming at Fort Bridger.

The Cherokee Trail was formed in 1849, when a group of whites and members of the Cherokee Nation from Washington County, Arkansas rendezvoused for the sole purpose of going to the California goldfields. Under the leadership of Captain Lewis Evans, they used the journals of John C. Fremont and became the first wagons over his trail. The White/Cherokee Pack Company followed a trail along the front range of Colorado then turned west along the Colorado/Wyoming Border toward Fort Davy Crockett and then on to Fort Bridger. They blazed the trail south of Elk Mountain in Wyoming and then across the Red Desert to Fort Bridger (this differed from Fremont’s trail as he had turned North toward the Oregon Trail).

In 1850, four separate wagons trains of Whites/Cherokees arrived at the South Platte in present Denver, crossed the South Platte and then proceeded north to LaPorte and onto the Laramie Plains and onto Fort Bridger.

The Overland and Cherokee Trails run parallel and became important stage routes while serving as secondary migration routes in the mid to late 1800s.

But since y’all are on my wagon train and Cookie hankers to take the slower more scenic route, and I hanker for a sure source of water, we’re gonna travel the central Emigrant Road following the Sweetwater to South Pass.  The travelin’ might be slow, and like most pioneers we’ll suffer from a bit of boredom, but I’ll point out some of the interesting sites so y’all won’t be like one pioneer who reported in his journal that he hoped Indians would attack to relieve the boredom.

First stop on the trail is Independence Rock. This is one of the most noted landmarks on the emigrant trails. It is said emigrants needed to reach this point by July Fourth, thereby giving it its name.  But pioneers arrived at this site throughout the traveling season. Another source states its name came from a party of fur trappers who camped here on July 4, 1824. And still another source states the rock was named by William Sublette in 1830, when his freight wagons reached the rock on the Fourth of July.

However, it got its name Independence Rock became a popular place for emigrants to inscribe their names on the sturdy granite.  The large granite outcropping is 1900 feet long and 700 feet wide, rising 128 feet. Many pioneers commented that it looked “like a huge whale” from a distance.  Over 5,000 names were placed on the Rock.

As early as 1842, a fur trapper, Rufus B. Sage noted the number of names “the surface is covered with names of travelers, traders, trappers, and emigrants, engraved upon it in almost every practicable part, for the distance of many feet above its base…”  Jesuit Priest, Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, called the Rock a “great registry of the desert, for on it may be read in large characters the names of the several travelers who have visited the Rocky Mountains…”

John C. Fremont commented on the names “many famous in the history of this country, and some well- known to science, are to be found mixed among those of the traders and travelers for pleasure and curiosity, and of missionaries among the savages…”  Like many travelers before and after him, Fremont made camp at Independence Rock. Upon leaving, Fremont left a cross at the rock.


Names were placed on the rock through engraving or by painting them with wagon grease, tar or a combination of buffalo grease and glue. Over time many of these names have flaked off or been obscured by lichens. Despite this, thousands of names remain to be enjoyed by those still traveling the trails.

For the emigrants a day’s travel west of Independence Rock, the wagons had to detour away from the Sweetwater where the river wends its way through a narrow gorge known as Devil’s Gate, a magnificent natural landmark. The cleft in the Sweetwater rocks is about 370 feet deep and 1500 feet long. The cleft is 30 feet wide at the base but nearly 300 feet at its top.

Although wagons were forced around the cleft, emigrants frequently stopped to hike around this feature and carve their names. Bighorn sheep could be seen climbing the hills. One Oregon-bound emigrant James Mathers wrote “…encamped above the pass of the river, between high rocks. This is the most interesting sight we have met with on our journey.” From journals it is believed nearly 20 emigrants are buried here, although only one known grave remains. The occurrence of several murders in this region led some emigrants to believe this truly was a bedeviled site.

The Shoshone and Arapahoe Indians attribute Devil’s Gate to the actions of an evil beast with enormous tusks that once roamed this area, preventing the Indians from hunting and camping in this region. Eventually, the Indians became disgusted and decided to kill the beast.  From the passes and ravines, the warriors shot the beast with a multitude of arrows. Enraged, the beast tore a hole in the mountains with his large tusks and escaped.

A popular stop on the trail a Pony Express station was established at Devil’s Gate and even later former Army scout Tom Sun place corrals for his ranch at the end of the gorge. Sun known for many things in this valley, the least noble concerned his role in the lynching of Ella “Cattle Kate” Watson.

To the west of Devil’s Gate, pioneers came across the “Ice Slough.” The Ice Slough is a small stream that flows into the Sweetwater River. In the Ice Slough the marshes soils and plants insulated the previous winter’s ice and it melted slowly throughout the summer. Under the marshes a thick mat of ice could be found late into June or early July.  The slough provided in the heat of summer unusual refreshment, and a way to preserve meat.  J. Goldsborough Bruff wrote “…by digging a couple of feet, ice is obtained. The surface is dug up all around by travelers, as much from curiosity as to obtain so desirable a luxury in a march so dry and thirsty…”  Captain George Belshaw of Indiana noted in his diary that lemonade was made with the ice and “it relished first rate.” Because of changes to the drainage wrought by irrigation, the sub-surface ice no longer forms.

We’ve traveled to two of three distinctive granite landmarks, Independence Rock and Devils Gate. The last of these is Split Rock. Split Rock, guided travelers for decades before the emigrants arrived. The distinctive “gun sight” notch in the Rattlesnake Range was visible for the better part of two days on the trail. Rising some 1000 feet above the prairie, Split Rock aimed the emigrants directly at South Pass, still more than 75 miles away.


Nearby along the river was established an early Pony Express Station know as Sweetwater Station. The original station lasted about a year and was replaced by the Split Rock station. Split Rock station was replaced by a fortified stage and telegraph station also known as Sweetwater Station.  A crude log structure and pole corral that were part of the station are now part of a private ranch homesite.  This area offered weary pioneers a short, and much needed, respite on their long journey.

So, like those who stayed here before us, we’re gonna hunker down here and make camp.  Let the young’uns run around a bit! So next time yer drivin’ through ol’ WYO on HWY 285 stop a spell at these here natural features and see what had the early pioneers talkin’ and jottin’ down notes in their journals.

See y’all next week on the trail where we’ll stop a piece at South Pass!


Wyoming Tales and Trails. Oregon Trail. www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com



Jording, Mike.  “A Few Interested Residents: Wyoming Historical Markers & Monuments.” Helena, MT: Falcon Press, 1992.



All right folks we’re back on the trail and headed north through ol’ Wyoming. We’ll be followin’ the deep ruts left by the wagons of those brave men and women who made this trek before us lookin’ for a better life. But ya know ol’ Cookie and me we zig and zag a bit, so ya just don’t know where we might end up before we get where we’re headin’.

“Cookie! Where the heck are we headin’?”

Guess we better stop off and load up on supplies…just in case.  “Cookie pull this here rig into Fort Laramie. WHOOEEE look at those boys in blue!”

One of the most memorable shrines in Western America, and a location that appears in many books and movies about the West, is found in Eastern Wyoming at the junction of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers.  Today the restored buildings of Fort Laramie remain preserved as a National Historic Site, where weary travelers can still stop by off the trail and step back in time.

From 1834 to 1890, Fort Laramie served as a log stockade, adobe trading post, and evolving military post.  Fort Laramie was a classic setting for the colorful pageant of the West. Explorers, trappers, traders, missionaries, emigrants, freighters, Pony Express riders, stage drivers, cowboys, homesteaders, as well as soldiers and Indians, all perceived Fort Laramie whether camp-ground, way-station, provision point, fortifications, or temporary home as an island of civilization where the Great Plains met the Rocky Mountains.

The reason for Fort Laramie’s importance was its strategic location on the great central continental migration, more commonly known as the Oregon Trail.

American and French-Canadian trappers were the first white men to explore the headwaters of the North Platte. The first documented visit to the Laramie Fork was seven men of the American Fur Company led by Robert Stuart.  Stuart noted in his journal that here “a well wooded stream apparently of considerable magnitude came in from the South West.”  He also referred to buffalo, antelope and wild horses in this region.  Stuart’s party is credited with the discovery of a near-level Platte River route which led to a natural mountain gateway.

Several geographical names attest to the early infiltration here of French-Canadians, among them a shadowy figure commonly identified as Jacques Laramee, or Laramie. According to an 1831 report a J. Loremy, a free man, was killed by Arapahoe Indians in 1821 presumably near the river and later fort now bearing his name, the euphonious “Laramie” being bestowed on many features throughout Wyoming.

Throughout the 1820s fur trappers and other enterprising Americans such as, Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, and Thomas Fitzpatrick rediscovered the South Pass area, and lush beaver country west of the Continential Divide, and established a rendezvous on the Wind River.

In 1826, William Ashley of St. Louis sold out to Jed Smith, William Sublette and David Jackson, and Sublette brought the first wagon caravan up the Platte. In 1832, Sublette and Robert Campbell formed a trading partnership, contracting to supply others at the rendezvous, and in 1834, they built the first fort on the Laramie. The first fort Laramie was named Fort William (according to one of Sublette’s party William Anderson the name was in honor of the common name shared between himself and Sublette).  In 1835, Sublette and Campbell sold Fort William to Jim Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette. These men sold out within a year to the American Fur Company.

In 1836, an overland caravan led by Thomas Fitzpatrick escorted the first white women to cross the continent, Narcissa Whitman and Elizabeth Spalding, missionary wives. These women enjoyed special consideration at the fort with chairs with “buffalo skin bottoms.”  The women caused quite a sensation among the trappers and Indians.

In 1837, as Scotch nobleman, Sir William Drummond Stewart, traveled with artist Alfred Jacob Miller. Miller’s sketches remain the only pictorial record of Fort William. Later visitors of record include, Kit Carson, Joe Meek and Osborne Russell, Father De Smet, and Augustus Johann Sutter (whose ranch in Sacramento would later host its own hordes of gold seekers).

Fort William enjoyed a monopoly of the trade in the North Platte until in 1841 when a new fort was built right under their noses.  Fort Platte was an adobe-walled fort right on the bank of the North Platte and within rifle-shot of Fort William (or if you’re not measurin’ by shootin’ at your rival that’s about a mile apart).

Not to be outdone the American Fur Company abandoned its log palisades and built a massive adobe structure.  They named the new fort, Fort John honoring John B. Sarpy, an officer of the company.  Fort John was used consistently in official correspondence, but as in the case of Fort William, the name Fort Laramie prevailed in popular usage.

For years the rivalry between the two posts intensified. Both sent trading parties to distant Indian tribes and flouted the illegal selling of liquor in the cut-throat competition.  For a while both of these establishments thrived on the trade in buffalo robes, each spring sending them to St. Louis by wagon caravans or flat-boat flotillas down the Platte.  Then in 1845, Fort Platte was abandoned leaving the field wide open for the American Fur Company.

Prior to 1841, the visitors to Fort Laramie consisted of trappers, traders, Plains Indians, missionaries and the random adventurers.  However, that was about to change with the arrival of the Bidwell-Bartleson expedition and the White-Hastings expedition the following year. These were the first avowed settlers bound for the west.  Both of these expeditions hired Thomas Fitzpatrick, veteran mountain man, as a guide.

The year 1843 saw the first great migration to Oregon, about 1,000 people led by Marchus Whitman and Peter Burnett. These settlers crossed the Laramie and obtained supplies at the post.

The trickle to Oregon became a respectable river of 5,000 in 1845, and for twenty years after Fort Laramie witnessed the annual emigrant stream of humanity moving westward on prairie schooners. Camping, repairing equipment, buying provisions, and mingling at the fort became standard trail procedure.

While provisioning pioneers became a brisk business for the Fort, Indian trade continued to decline.  Like a swift prairie wind brings a storm, conditions at the fort were ripe for change. The American Fur Company retired from the scene and a new owner better attuned to the rise of Manifest Destiny hailed its arrival with bugle and drum.

The Government had been looking at establishing a military post along the Oregon Trail, and the site of the Laramie Fork was recommended.  President James Polk proposed the action and in May 1846 Congress approved “An Act to provide for raising a regiment of Mounted Riflemen, and for establishing military stations on the route to Oregon.”  The first fort raised was Fort Kearney on the south bank of the Platte.  But, in 1848, when the news of gold discovered in California raced across the country the urgency to extend the chain of forts increased.

Lieutentant Daniel P. Woodbury, Corps of Engineers, was authorized to purchase the buildings of Fort Laramie “should he deem it necessary to do so,” in 1849.  On June 27, 1849, it was reported that this was the most eligible site and Woodbury purchased Fort Laramie from the American Fur Company for $4000.00. Major W.J. Sanderson of Company E, became the first commander of the fort.  Sanderson reported that good timber, limestone, hay and dry wood were readily available and that the Laramie River furnished abundant good water for the command.

Company C, Mounted Rifles, arrived in July and Company G, Sixth Infantry in August completed the garrison. The temporary shelter of the adobe post was decrepit and infested with vermin. However, by winter a two-story block of officers’ quarters, a block of soldier quarters, a bakery, and two stables had been pushed to completion. This began Fort Laramie’s forty years as a frontier command post of the United States Army.

The Fort saw an estimated 30,000 Forty-Niners pass through on their way to California gold.  This was but the first wave of covered wagon emigrants stampeding toward California. The following years, 1850-1854, saw even larger waves crashing against the little Army post on the Laramie, at times exceeding 50,000 each season.

To a large extent the history of the fort during this period is essentially its role in serving “this transient population during its Exodus from the States, across the vast wilderness known vaguely as Indian Territory to the Promised Land.”  For many the Fort was the only civilized place between Fort Kearny and the West Coast.

The emigrant season of Fort Laramie was short, maximum of 45 days.  One had to leave the Missouri jumping-off place no sooner than the spring rains could green the prairies for vital pasture for mules and oxen (any time during the last half of April) in order to reach the Sierra Nevadas well before October. Therefore the prime season for Fort Laramie was May-July with the majority of emigrants arriving in June.

The Fort provided care for wounded and sick, and sometimes the final resting place for travelers in the old fort cemetery. Some emigrants disposed of their surpluses here, others were in need of provisions, which the Post Quatermaster was able to supply, and the post blacksmith did a land-office business. However, the busiest place was the post sutler’s store where emigrant coin and valuables were exchanged for canned goods, liquor, patent medicines, lotions, muslin, sunbonnets, and other essentials.

Another busy functionary was the post adjutant, who ran the official emigrant register.  Every wagon was stopped and numbers of men, oxen, horses, etc. were tallied. One such record for the season showed: “33,171 men, 803 women, 1, 094 children, 7,472 mules, 30, 616 oxen, 22, 742 horses, 8, 998 wagons, and 5,270 cows” recorded as of July 5,1850.  

Contrary to beliefs both then and now, Plains Indians did not attack wagon trains as a habit, especially during the period of 1841-1858. However, two incidents would break the bonds of understanding and disrupt the peace on the Great Plains.

First in 1853, a North Platte ferryman, busy with emigrants, refused to transport a party of young Sioux. The Sioux seized the boat and one fired on the soldiers, who recaptured it. Lieutenant H.B. Fleming and 23 men were dispatched to the nearby village of Minniconjou Sioux to arrest the offender. The Sioux refused to give him up. In the ensuing exchange of gunfire three Indians were killed. The enraged Sioux then threatened the fort. Captain Richard Garnett, post commander, through skillful negotiations diffused the situation, but the seeds of mistrust were planted.

Then on August 18, 1854, eight miles east of the Fort a Mormon caravan passed a village of Brule Sioux. A cow wondered into the village and was promptly butchered by the hungry Indians. Upon complaint by the owner, Lieutenant John Grattan with an interpreter and 28 men was dispatched to arrest the offender. After a brief parley, a fusillade by the soldiers resulted in the death of Chief Conquering Bear, and the retaliatory massacre of Gratten and his entire command. Fort Laramie was threatened, but the Sioux moved away before inflicting any casualties there. But the harmony was destroyed and 25 years of warfare began.

The first serious disturbances did not occur until spring of 1862 when Sioux raided stations west of the fort, running off horses and scalping the tenders. To protect lines of communication vital to the Union Army fighting a Civil War, cavalry companies were ordered to the western theater. Colonel William Collins arrived at Fort Laramie with a battalion of the Eleventh Ohio Cavalry. It was his unenviable duty to guard the route between courthouse Rock and South Pass (a distance of over 500 miles). This blue line seemed powerless to intercept the mounted warriors of the Sioux, or to chase them down.

In the spring and summer of 1864, there were large-scale Indian attacks on stations and ranches in Nebraska and Colorado, disrupting all travel. Then came the unauthorized surprise attack in November by volunteer troops under Colonel Chivington upon a Cheyenne-Arapahoe camp at Sand Creek near Fort Lyon in southeast Colorado. The massacre of around 250 men, women and children, far from squelching the Indian spirit, precipitated a powerful and vengeful alliance of tribes.

Sioux and Cheyenne focused their wrath on the key trail junction Julesburg, where they sacked the town and killed about 20 soldiers and civilians. Then they moved northward. Colonel Collins assembled a force from Fort Laramie to assist Mud Springs.  They successfully protected the town and the warriors withdrew to the Powder River.

With the end of the Civil War plans were made to restore order to the Plains. However, the vastness of the desolate terrain, Indian aggressiveness, skill and agility, and poor initial organization and execution resulted in much success for the Plains Indians during 1865 and a dismal year for the soldiers of Fort Laramie.

Instead of a campaign to crush the tribes, in 1866, with Fort Laramie as the setting, runners were sent out from the Fort to “hostile” camps with invitations to a great council to be held in June.  Hope appeared on the horizon, when Spotted Tail, head chief of the Brules, brought in the body of his daughter for burial among the whites because it was her express wish. In a ceremony containing all the pageantry of the military and the tradition of the Sioux her body was placed in a coffin on a raised platform on the plateau beyond the fort cemetery.

Peace commissioners assembled on 1 June with the chiefs of the Sioux and Cheyenne.  While the ceremonies were still in progress, Colonel Henry Carrington arrived with 2,000 troops, heavily armed and equipped to set up a chain of posts along the Bozeman Trail. To Red Cloud, such an armed occupation made a mockery of any peace treaty. He withdrew in anger, and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1866 was the shortest lived peace treaty on record.

As forts were erected on the Bozeman Trail hostility continued to mount until in 1868 the Army and Sioux met again at Fort Laramie. The Forts on the Bozeman Trail evacuated and the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 gave the Sioux as a reservation all of present day South Dakota west of the Missouri River. It also gave them hunting rights in the great expanse north of the North Platte and east of the Big Horn Mountains.  As mentioned in the post about the Battle of the Little Big Horn, this treaty failed, as well as leading to a series of small skirmishes and the massive clash in southeastern Montana.  Though a temporary victory for the Sioux and Cheyenne, in the end the Government was left with the ability to dictate the formal relinquishment of the Black Hills.

Before  the organized large-scale fighting against the Sioux and Cheyenne reached its climax there began an upsurge of civilian activity vitally affecting Fort Laramie. This was the mass influx of settlers to the Black Hills and the development of commercial traffic to and from Cheyenne.

Fort Laramie’s destiny was welded to the “Magic City of the Plains” about 100 miles to the south that began as a huddle of shacks springing up at the end of track when the Union Pacific construction crews reached that point in 1867. The Sioux wars and the stampeded to south Dakota combined to make Cheyenne a great supply depot and jumping- off place for the Black Hills while Fort Laramie became its principal gateway and guardian.

In November, 1875, the Wyoming territorial legislature authorized the survey and designation of a road from Cheyenne via Chugwater Creek and Fort Laramie to Custer City.  By March 1876, the new line was in operation. Vehicles on the new Black Hills Road included bull-trains, buckboards, spring wagons, and anything else that would roll. However, the queen of the road and bright symbol of Fort Laramie’s new era was the colorful Concord stage. The vehicle could accommodate nine first-class passengers inside and equal number on the roof, plus up to 1500 pounds of cargo and luggage. The driver managed the six horses with reins and the crack of his long whip.

The run to Custer City was 180 miles, or 266 miles to Deadwood. The route from Cheyenne to Fort Laramie followed the Chugwater and Laramie Rivers where there was a series of road ranches. The stop just below the fort was Three Mile Ranch, just off the military reservation, which doubled as a place of “entertainment,” complete with assorted belles for off-duty soldiers. The Post Trader was permitted to build a log structure on the fort itself known as the Rustic Hotel.

What would our Westerns be without the colorful stage and its potential holdup, or colorful occupants? The fine art of highway robbery reached a new peak in their assaults on armored stagecoaches with strong-boxes of gold heading for Cheyenne. Fort Laramie cavalry patrols were frequently assigned to guard danger spots or track down criminals. Among incidents in the Fort Laramie neighborhood were several killings at the Three Mile Ranch, the lynching of horse thieves by masked men just north of the iron bridge, and stage hold-ups along the Laramie River.

Among the patrons of the Cheyenne-Deadwood Tail were Generals Sherman, Sheridan and Crook, Chiefs Red Cloud and Spotted Tail, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. In fact, Calamity is alleged to have played various roles in the saga of Fort Laramie, including stage driver, roustabout, and occupant of one of the boudoirs at the Three Mile Ranch. Buffalo Bill Cody was another celebrated visitor, as a scout for the Fifth Cavalry.

By the 1880s the small post of 1849 had blossomed into a city unto itself. The Fort structural complex gradually evolved into a sprawling assemblage of adobe, stone, frame and lime-grout buildings, about 70 Army buildings and civilian appendages were identified in 1888, being the most recent or most durable of a total of over 180 buildings constructed between 1849 and 1885.

The Fort was a stabilizing influence on the Great Plains, resembling a county seat in a region shifting from wild frontier to the beginnings of a permanent settlement. Range cattle and cowboys were replacing buffalo and Indians. Mines and ranches became the nuclei of communities sinking roots into the land. Stage lines faded as railroads, trunk lines and branches advanced. But the precursor of such civilization was doomed by the very peace it provided.

During this decade except for occasional assistance to civil authorities in upholding law and order, field exercises, maneuvers, and target practice, military activity was at low ebb, while grand balls, celebrations, dress parades, theatricals, picnics, and tree planting became the dominant preoccupations. This is not the stuff of which epic history is made.  And the bright star of the plains was fading fast.

The actual demise of Fort Laramie occurred from May 1889 to March 1890. Various units of the Seventh Infantry were transferred to Fort Logan, Colorado. A detachment from Fort Robinson stripped buildings of doors, windows, fixtures, and accessories and the buildings and furniture rejects were auctioned off. The War Department issued its final order transferring to the Secretary of the Interior the military reservation and the wood and timber reservation at Laramie Peak, “the same being no longer required for military purposes.” And like so many who served in the garrison or passed through on the search for a better life the great military post faded into history.

But put those handkerchiefs away folks and dry those pretty little eyes, cause y’all can still make an Old West pit stop, just like our predecessors, at Fort Laramie!  Why there’s still barracks and officers’ quarters ya can walk through or traipse across the parade grounds just like ya wore Blue! And iffin’ ya visit in July or August why ya can really experience the thrill of sweatin’ under that big ol’ Wyomin’ sun it’ll take ya back for sure.  Doggone, Cookie! Does a gal have ta beg for a sarsaparilla? My biscuits are burin’ for sure!

Have fun at Fort Laramie folks! See ya next week on the trail!!


FORT LARAMIE NHS: PARK HISTORY. (March 2003) www.nps.gov/fola/history/part1-1.htm

www.historicwyoming.org (Fort Laramie)

McChristian, Douglas C. and Paul L. Hedren. Fort Laramie: Military Bastion of the High Plains (Frontier Military Series).  The Arthur H. Clark Company.  2009.


We’ve been makin’ tracks like a posse’s on our backside and I’ve been told we’re well ahead of time on the trail. So let’s dip down into the Black Hills since we’re right here and all, and visit a couple monuments worth takin’ a gander at.  Don’t y’all worry we’re just leavin’ Wyoming for today, we’ll be back on the straight and narrow in no time.

Last time we gawked at a monument created by nature, and Devils Tower was a goodun! Today we’re gonna swing by a monument man carved out of the mountain…Mount Rushmore (sorry no hidden treasure folks, I don’t care what Nicholas Cage says).  Wagons Ho, folks! We’re burnin’ daylight.

Doane Robinson, the aging superintendent of the South Dakota State Historical Society, had a vision of a massive mountain memorial carved from stone and so large it would put South Dakota on the map and increase tourism.  In 1923, Robinson started telling everyone of his dream of giant statues of Western figures including, Chief Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody, Lewis and Clark and legendary Sioux warriors marching along South Dakota’s skyline.  [On a personal note as awesome as Mount Rushmore is, Robinson’s original idea of a monument to Western personalities sounds amazing]

Robinson began campaigning for his mountain statues, speaking to local organizations and writing letter upon letter to government organizations.  Many South Dakotans believed Robinson’s massive sculptures would attract thousands of tourists and their wallets. Others found the notion ludicrous. When newspaper stories stopped and snickers ceased, Robinson enlisted the aid of the respected U.S. Senator Peter Norbeck.

Norbeck, a frequent visitor at the White House, held the admiration of his peers in the Senate, as well as, the farmers and ranchers of South Dakota who sent him to Washington. He was instantly captivated by Robinson’s mountain-carving proposal and encouraged Robinson to seek a sculptor capable of commanding such a project.

In August of 1924, Robinson contacted Gutzon Borglum who was working at Stone Mountain, Georgia on Robert E. Lee.  Robinson invited Borglum to visit South Dakota and talk over the possibility of carving a mountain.  Borglum took Robinson up on his offer and met with him in September of 1924 and again in August of 1925. During his second trip Borglum found Mount Rushmore.  Next, Borglum and his party climbed Harney Peak. At 7,242 feet, this is the highest point between the Rockies and the Swiss Alps. The surrounding vista inspired him.

“Here is the place!” Borglum exhorted. “American history shall march along that skyline.”

He set his sights on the craggy, pine-clad cliff known as Mount Rushmore, near the isolated mining town of Keystone. It had southeastern exposure, giving it direct sunlight most of the day, and was made of sound granite relatively free from fracture. Borglum carefully explored the crevices and samples the rock of Mount Rushmore reconfirming with each test that he found his mountain.

SIDETRAIL:  Mount Rushmore is named after New York City attorney Charles E. Rushmore, who came to the Black Hills in 1884 to check legal titles on properties.  On returning to Pine Camp he asked Bill Challis the name of this mountain. Bill replied, “Never had a name, but from now on we’ll call it Rushmore. “  Never hurts to ask, folks ya might get a mountain named after you. Okay back on the main trail.

However, Borglum informed Robinson and Norbeck his life’s work would not be spent immortalizing regional heroes. The sculptor insisted the work demanded a subject “national in nature and timeless in its relevance to history.”  So then who…

George Washington:  First President.  Led the early colonists in the American Revolution. Father of the new country and laid the foundation of American democracy. Because of his importance, Washington is the most prominent figure on the mountain.

Thomas Jefferson: Third President. He was the author of the Declaration of Independence, as document which inspires democracies around the world. He also purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, which doubled the size of our country, adding all or part of fifteen present-day states.

Theodore Roosevelt: Twenty-sixth President. He provided leadership when America experienced rapid economic growth as it entered the 20th Century. He was instrumental in negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal, linking the east and the west. He was known as the “trust buster” for his work to end large corporate monopolies and ensure the rights of the common working man.

Abraham Lincoln: Sixteenth President.  Held the nation together during its greatest trial, the Civil War. Lincoln believed his most sacred duty was the preservation of the Union. It was his firm conviction that slavery must be abolished.

Robinson now had his sculptor, but the challenges to his dream had just begun.  Now permission was needed to carve into the mountain. Senator Norbeck and Congressman William Wiliamson (a man equally inspired by Robinson’s vision) were instrumental in getting legislation passed to allow the carving.  Williamson drafted two bills, one for Congress and one for the State Legislature. The bill requesting permission to use Federal land for the monument easily passed. The bill sent to the State of South Dakota was not going to pass so easily. The Mount Harney National Memorial bill was defeated twice and almost a third time, when on March 5, 1925, Governor Gunderson signed the bill.  The Mount Harney Memorial Association was established later that same summer.

More than the legislation involved was finding money to fund the project, despite Borglum’s promise of large donations from wealthy eastern businessmen.  Borglum also promised the people of South Dakota they would not be responsible for paying for any of the mountain carving.

With Congressman Williamson’s assistance, President Calvin Coolidge agreed to visit the Black Hills in 1927. Borglum planned a formal dedication of the mountain. Borglum hired a plane to fly over the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park where Coolidge was staying. As he flew by Borglum dropped a wreath inviting the President to attend the dedication ceremony. Coolidge agreed, and on August 10, 1927, Mount Rushmore was formally dedicated. President Coolidge gave a speech promising federal funding for the project.

Borglum met with Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon and convinced the Secretary of the projects importance. Mellon offered to fund the entire project, but Borglum said he would only need half the money from the government, the rest he could raise privately. Senator Norbeck was stunned than Borglum turned down full funding (Hint from Kirsten: NEVER turn down full funding)

President Coolidge signed the bill authorizing federal funding matching funds up to $250,000.00 and created the Mount Rushmore National Memorial Commission. The Commission would consist of 12 members appointed by the President. Coolidge appointed ten and said Hoover should appoint the other two.

Hoover quickly appointed the final two members, when he took office, but he never met with the Commission. The Commission had to meet with the president to begin work. Congressman Williamson was asked to make an appointment with the President. Despite interference from Borglum that almost ruined everything, Williamson eventually met with the President and convinced him of the importance of the project.  Hoover met with the Commission within a couple days. Officers were elected and the day following the meeting Williamson and Boland (the secretary of the executive committee) went to Mellon and received the first funding.

One notable, and sad, exclusion from the new Commission was Doane Robinson. The father of the project was not even put on the list of potential candidates to serve on the committee to be selected by the President. Robinson continued to support the project and generously offered, “Let me help where I can.” Soon, feeling unnecessary, Robinson moved away from the Rushmore project altogether.

Now with the Commission organized and money in the bank, workers were hired and carving began.  After only a few years under the National Park Service, in 1938, Borglum removed all road blocks to his complete control of the Rushmore project. The Commission was reorganized granting Borglum control.  Again, Borglum’s ambition threatened the project, when he proposed a Hall of Records, a large repository carved into the side of the canyon behind the carving of the Presidents, to the story of Mount Rushmore and America. Work was stopped in 1939 because the threat of losing all funding if the money was not used on carving the faces as was intended. Work on the Hall of Records ceased and was never started again.

Carving the monument was a project of colossal proportion, but would end in colossal achievement. It involved the efforts of nearly 400 men and women. Duties ranged from call boy to drillers to blacksmiths and housekeepers.

Workers endured conditions that varied from blazing hot to bitter cold and windy. Each day they climbed 700 stairs to the top of the mountain to punch-in on the time clock. Then 3/8 inch thick steel cables lowered them over the front of the 500 foot face of the mountain in a bosun chair. Some of the workers admitted to a fear of heights, but during the Great Depression any job was a good job.

The work was exciting, but dangerous, 90% of the mountain was carved using dynamite.  The powderman would cut and set charges of dynamite of specific sizes to remove precise amounts of rock.  Before the dynamite charges could be set off, the workers were cleared from the mountain. Workers in the winch house on the top of the mountain would hand crank the winches to raise and lower the drillers.  If they went too fast, the drillers in their bosun chairs would be dragged up on their faces.  To keep this from happening young men and boys were hired as call boys. Call boys sat at the edge of the mountain and shout messages back and forth assuring safety. During the 14 years of construction not one fatality occurred.

Dynamite was used until three to six inches of rock was left to remove to get to final carving surface. At this point, drillers and assistant carvers would drill holes into the granite very close together. This was called honeycombing. The closely drilled holes would weaken the granite so it could be removed often by hand.

A great story about honeycombing comes from the workers.

Visitors would become very interested in the honeycomb granite and would ask, “How can I get a piece of rock like that?”

The hoist operator would respond, “Oh, I can’t give that away. I’m holding onto it for a buddy of mine that works up on the mountain.”

The visitor would respond, ” I’ll pay, I’ll give you $2.00 for it.”

The hoist operator’s reply was, “Nope, nope, I’d really catch if I gave away my buddies piece of granite.”

Well the visitors were very determined to get a piece of that granite. They would make another offer. “I’ll give you $6.00 for that piece of honeycomb granite.

Well, the hoist operator would pretend to pause and think about it… then he would say, “Alright for $6.00 I’m willing to take the heat.”

The hoist operator would give the visitors the piece of Honeycomb granite and take their $6.00. The visitor would leave very pleased with their rare and hard won souvenir. The hoist operator would wait until he was sure the visitors were gone, then he would get on the phone going to the top of the mountain and he would say, “Boys send down another one!” Another piece of honeycomb granite was sent down, ready for the next visitor looking for a special souvenir from Mount Rushmore.

After the honeycombing, workers smoothed the surface of the faces with a hand facer or bumper tool. The bumper tool would even up the granite, creating a surface as smooth as sidewalk.

From 1927-1941 the 400 workers at Mount Rushmore earned $8.00 a day building a monument people from around the world would visit for generations.

For the final two years of the project, Lincoln, Borglum’s son (who had been literally following in his father’s tracks during the entire project) took over while Gutzon constantly tried to get more money for the project.  In March of 1941, as the final dedication was being planned, Gutzon Borglum died. With the artist gone and a World War on the horizon work on Mount Rushmore drew to a close. October 31, 1941 the monument was declared complete.

Between receiving permission, finding funding, dueling personalities at times it was harder to keep the project on track than to do the colossal carving of the four Presidents.  However, in the end cooler heads, charm and determination saw the project through to the end, and created an American icon in the Black Hills.

And while yer trekking through the Black Hills stop on over and see the Crazy Horse Monument. Still being carved from the mountain this one should be a real beaut!

Equipped with only a sledge hammer, a single-jack drill bit and a box of dynamite, Boston-born sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski went to work on June 3, 1948 creating his 563 by 641-foot sculpture of an Indian man atop a spirited warhorse. This would later be called Crazy Horse Memorial.  He would spend the next 36 years of his life doggedly blasting away 7,400,000 tons of granite near Custer, South Dakota to rough out virtually the entire figure, in the round.

Now years after Korczak started carving and his death in 1982, work continues on the world’s largest sculpture. The dimensions are awe inspiring. The mountain-sized statue is as long as a cruise ship and taller than a 60-story skyscraper!

When Korczak died, critics reckoned the mountain outlasted the man. But Korczak’s wife Ruth and their ten sons and daughters were determined to keep his vision alive using the plan books and scale models he left behind.

Together, the wife and children brought forth a heroic face from the granite of the Black Hills during the decade of the 90s. The 88-foot-high face of Crazy Horse was dedicated on June 3, 1998, 50 years to the day after Korczak’s first blast.

Work now focuses on the 219-foot-high horse’s head. Blocking out the 22-story high figure has surpassed the halfway mark. There’s a lot of excitement about witnessing Crazy Horse’s steed take shape as these cliff-hanging explosive experts work their fleet of drilling equipment. A new generation of visitors watches as a new generation of workers carry the Crazy Horse dream forward.

If ya haven’t seen Mount Rushmore, and takin’ a gander at what they’re accomplishing with the Crazy Horse Memorial, well than brother and sister load up the wagon and get ya there!  I mean NOW doggonit! Don’t just sit there starin’ at the dang computer screen get out and see it for yerself!

Now I’ve gotta go drag Cookie away from the dang helicopter ride. “Cookie! Ya old coot, no one needs ta see yer carcus hoverin’ over the Presidents in that there whirly-bird! Get on back to the wagon!”







Cookie if yer missin’ yer money pouch well that’s yer own fault I told ya… Oh sorry y’all, Cookie’s blamin’ that nice Sundance for swipin’ his money.  What? Some of y’all are missin’ a bit of coin? Well then I say it’s time we get back to the trail while we have the gold in our teeth.

We’ll be near Sundance…keep yer hands down this ain’t no hold up…I mean Sundance, Wyoming. We’re headin’ for the Nation’s first National Monument! Yep, that’s right Wyoming is home to the First National Park, Yellowstone, and the First National Monument, Devils Tower.

Located in present day Crook County in Northeastern Wyoming, Devils Tower rises 1,267 feet above the surrounding terrain including the Belle Fourche River. At its summit this core of a volcano exposed by erosion is 5, 112 feet above sea level.

Although it is highly likely early trappers and explorers saw the Tower from a distance there was not any direct reference to the formation until 1875. A U.S. Geological Survey party who made a reconnaissance of the Black Hills called attention to the uniqueness of the Tower.  Colonel Richard I. Dodge, commander of the military escort, described it as “one of the most remarkable peaks in this or any country.”

Colonel Dodge is credited with giving the formation its present name.  In 1876, he published a book “The Black Hills,” where he called the formation Devils Tower. He explained “The Indians call this shaft The Bad God’s Tower, a name adopted with proper modification, by our surveyors.” One of the geologists on the expedition countered Dodge saying “the name Bear Lodge (Mateo Teepee) appears on the earliest map of the region, and though more recently it is said to be known among the Indians as ‘the bad god’s tower,’ or in better English, ‘the devil’s tower,’  the former name, well applied is still retained.” Despite this response the name Devils Tower remained the name generally used, although for a time Geologists continued to use the original name.

The year before the Geological Survey party entered the Black Hills in 1874, in direct violation of the Treaty of 1868, General George A. Custer led an expedition into the Black Hills. The Treaty of 1868 guaranteed this region to the Indians.  As a result of Custer’s expedition and his reports of the discovery of gold in the Hills, miners invaded the region.  Though the Army attempted to keep order, troops were withdrawn in 1875 and miners and settlers poured into the region with towns like Custer City and Deadwood springing up overnight.

The subsequent battles and Custer’s fate was thoroughly discussed in a past blog, but in the end, the Indians were compelled to cede the Black Hills and most of their lands in Wyoming to whites.  This opened up the lands around Devils Tower. In early 1880s the first settlers came into the Belle Fourche Valley in the vicinity of Hulett.  With the exception of such outfits as the Camp Stool and the Driscoll, most of the settlers were small-scale farmers and ranchers from the mid-western states. In the vicinity of Moorcroft and the Tower, on the other hand, most of the land was occupied by large-scale outfits, such as the 101.  From 1889 to 1892, the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad extended its line from the South Dakota State Line through Newcastle, Moorcroft, and on to Sheridan. From several points along this line, the Tower can be seen.

The Government took early action to prevent the Tower from passing into the hands of individuals wishing to exploit the Tower for personal gain. In August 1890, the General Land Office issued an order rejecting all application on the lands around the Tower.

In February 1892, Senator Francis E. Warren of Wyoming wrote the Commissioner of the General Land Office asking him for assistance in preventing the spoliation of Devils Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes (several miles northeast of the Tower).  Weeks later the office issued an order setting aside some 60.5 square miles including the Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes as temporary forest reserve.

That same year, the Senator introduced a bill to establish Devils Tower as a National Park.  The bill included Devils Tower and the Little Missouri Buttes. The bill was read twice and referred to committee where it appears no further action was taken.  It wouldn’t be until fourteen years later when Devils Tower would become a national monument.

Frank W. Mondell, Representative from Wyoming and resident of Newcastle, lent his support to a plan to have the area preserved as a national monument in 1906. Mondell was a member and later chairman of the House Committee on Public Lands. It was result of his influences that President Theodore Roosevelt, on September 24, 1906, proclaimed Devils Tower as the first national monument. The Little Missiouri Buttes were not included in the monument area and remained opened to settlement.

While difficult to reach, the Tower became a favorite camping and picnicking spot for people in the area.  One of the inviting features was a large spring of pure cold water located near its base.  It could only be reached over unimproved roads or trails by horseback or wagon.  It was said it was necessary to ford the Belle Fourche River seven times to get to the Tower.  This trek did not stop the people of the area from visiting Devils Tower once or twice a year and spending a few nights there.  Fourth of July celebrations were sometimes held at the Tower and people came from considerable distances to attend these events.

The Fourth of July celebration best-known is the 1893 celebration when William Rogers, a local rancher, became the first known man to climb the tower. Rogers with the help of another local rancher, Willard Ripley, prepared a 350-foot ladder to the summit of the Tower. The men drove pegs, out of oak, ash, and willow, 24 to 30 inches in length and sharpened on one end, into a continuous vertical crack found between the two columns on the southeast side of the formation.  The pegs were braced and secured to each other by a continuous wooden strip to which the outer end of each peg was fastened.  Building the ladder was probably more hazardous than climbing the Tower itself.

People came from as far as 125 miles to witness the first formal ascent of the Tower. Conservative estimates say 1,000 people came by horseback, wagon and buckboard to see the feat. Rogers began his ascent after proper ceremonies were conducted. After a climb taking about an hour, he reached the top.  Amid cheering, Rogers unfurled an American flag, specially made for the occasion, and attached it to a flagpole that had been attached to the ladder.  Unfortunately, a gust of wind tore the flag loose and it drifted to the base of the Tower, where promoters tore it up and sold the pieces as souvenirs.

Others climbed the Tower using Rogers ladder. One of the first being Linnie Rogers, who duplicated her husband’s climb two years later on July 4, 1895 becoming the first woman to reach the summit. The last to reach the top, by this method, was “the Human Fly”, Babe White, in 1927. Much of the ladder has since been destroyed, but portions of the ladder can still be seen from the south side of the Tower Trail.

In 1937, Fritz Weissner and two other mountaineers from the American Alpine Club of New York City climbed the summit using rock-climbing techniques. Their ascent took four hours and forty-six minutes.  Jack Durrance pioneered the classic and easiest route to the summit in 1938. Today climbers still flock to the Tower to test their abilities and reach the summit of Devils Tower.

Representative Mondell continued to seek funding for roads and bridges so tourists could reach the monument. However, bill after bill fell on the deaf ears of Congress. Finally, in 1917 the National Park Service with the help of Crook County built a three mile road leading to the formation.  And after petitions signed by the people of Wyoming and South Dakota, and pressure from Senators Warren and John Kendrick a bridge was finally constructed over the Belle Fourche in 1928. The roads and bridge allowed tourists in the ever popular motor vehicles access to the monument.  Although for many years the conditions of the roads made the trek to the Tower a difficult one, but despite these hardships visitors continued to make their way to visit, picnic, and camp at the Tower.  Access would improve with the construction of the Custer Battlefield Highway (U.S. Highway 14) between Spearfish, South Dakota and Gillette, Wyoming.  The state of Wyoming also improved roads into Sundance from U.S. Highways 85 and 16, and a paved highway was also constructed from U.S. Highway 14 to Alva making the south entrance entirely accessible by paved roads.

The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) of the 1930s provided extensive development for the Tower.  New roads were built, modern water and electrical systems installed, footpaths were laid out, picnic areas were established with tables and benches, and trailer and overnight camping areas were provided to the visitors. Residences for employees, workshops, and machine shops were erected, and in 1938 a museum was completed. The result of these improvements was a flock of tourists to the area.

Unfortunately, World War II would detract from the Tower’s new improvements and with the War tourism dropped dramatically.  But just prior to the war, George Hopkins would bring thousands to the Tower, and draw national attention. As a publicity stunt, Hopkins parachuted onto the summit of Devils Tower. His untried preparations for an easy descent failed, and stranded the stuntman on the summit. Food and supplies were dropped by plane to the stranded man, but for six days Hopkins waited while attempts and plans were made to locate a method to get him down.

Jack Durrance, a student at Dartmouth College, skier and mountain climber, who led the second mountain-climbing ascent to the summit in 1938 offered his assistance.  Durrance led seven other climbers to the summit where they found a surprisingly upbeat Hopkins. The descent was made with little difficulty.  Over 7,000 visitors came to the monument to see Hopkins and witness the rescue over the six days he was stranded on the summit.

Following World War II, tourists returned to the Tower and local celebrations were resumed.  Today visitors are invited to walk the 1.3 mile paved trail that encircles the tower or visit the prairie dog town just inside the park.  The Wyoming towns of Sundance, Moorcroft and Hulett provide lodging, food and entertainment.

For many Devils Tower is an interesting rock formation, or a challenge to climb. To many American Indian tribes, the Tower is a sacred place central to their culture. In the 1930s, first person narratives were recorded of the legend of the Tower to many of these cultures.

Arapaho Legend

An Arapaho lodge was camped at Bears Tipi. The father of this lodge was a head lodge and had seven children, five boys and two girls. The two girls had made an arrangement between themselves that the one who found the end bond (end rib) of a buffalo should receive the most favors from the brothers. The boys often made trips to other tribes. After a long search one of the girls found an end bone of a buffalo and on picking it up she turned into a bear and made some big scratches on her sister’s back. The bear-girl told her sister, “if you tell the dogs will howl and this will be a signal so I will know that you have told.” The sister did tell her brothers and when they heard the dogs howl and give the signal they were scared and started to run.

The bear-girl heard the signal and ran after them. The girl who had told was carrying a ball in her hand which she dropped and accidentally kicked. The ball bounded up on the big, high rock. The bear-girl reached over her sister’s shoulder to grab the ball, slipped and made very big scratches on the big rock and fell on her sister and broke the sister’s chest. The bear-girl climbed to the top of the big, high rock and told her family that there would be seven stars in the shape of a diamond appear in the east and the first star out would be off to one side and would be brighter than the other stars. This first star would be called Broken Chest Star. From this time on the Arapaho called this big, high rock “Bears Tipi”.

This legend was told to Dick Stone by Sherman Sage, 81 years old. Otto Hungary, Interpreter.

Cheyenne Legend

A band of Cheyenne Indians went on one of their visits to Bears Tipi to worship the Great Spirit; as did many other tribes before the white man came. The Cheyenne braves took their families with them as they felt that would be safe as Bears Tipi was a holy place.

After having camped there for several days, one of the Cheyenne braves noticed that his wife was often gone from camp, staying away for a short time. As time went on he noticed that she was gone longer than before. This brave could not understand why his wife should be gone from their lodge so much as he had always been devoted to her and being a good hunter, as well as a brave warrior, she always had much buffalo, antelope, and deer meat. He furnished her fine skins to make nice clothes.

Becoming suspicious that some other brave in his band might be courting his wife, he watched to see what man was missing when his wife left camp. He found that no man was missing when his wife was gone. This man also saw that his wife had a skin over her shoulders now that she did not wear before coming to this camp.

One day when she had been gone longer than usual, he laid in wait for her, on her return he asked her where she had been and what drew her from camp so much of the time. She would not answer any of his questions. Then the man became mad and tore the skin from her shoulders and saw that she was covered with scratches.

He demanded that she tell him which man had abused her. Becoming frightened at the way her husband was acting she told him that she had been charmed by a very big bear that lived in the big rock. The bear had no mate and had become infatuated with her while she was out gathering fruit. Fearing for the safety of the camp, she had submitted to the bear’s embraces, which accounted for the scratches on her shoulders.

Then the warrior told his wife to lead him to the bear so he could kill it. When they found the bear, the man had great fear because the bear was big, very big. The bear slapped the woman with his paw and changed her into a bear. The man ran to the camp to get the rest of the braves to help him kill the big bear.

They found the bear had crawled into a cave, leaving his hind feet in the door. The bear’s feet were so big that nobody could get past them. They could not get close enough to the bear to kill him so they shot at his feet to make him come out. When the bear came out he was so big that all the warriors were scared and climbed up on a big rock.

The men were so scared that they prayed to the Great Spirit to save them. In answer to their prayers, the rock began to grow up out of the ground and when it stopped it was very high. The bear jumped at the men and on the fourth jump his claws were on the top. The Great Spirit had helped the men and now they had great courage and they shot the bear and killed him. When the bear fell, he fell backwards and pushed the big rock which made it lean.

After that, the bear-woman made this big rock her home, so the Cheyennes called it Bears Tipi.

This legend was told to Dick Stone by Young Bird. Samuel Weasel Bear, Interpreter.

Crow Legend

Once when some Crows were camped at Bears House, two little girls were playing around some big rocks there. There were lots of bears living around that big rock and one big bear seeing the girls alone was going to eat them. The big bear was just about to catch the girls when they saw him. The girls were scared and the only place they could get was on top of one of the rocks around which they had been playing.

The girls climbed the rock but still the bear could catch them. The Great Spirit, seeing the bear was about to catch the girls, caused the rock to grow up out of the ground. The bear kept trying to jump to the top of the rock, but he just scratched the rock and fell down on the ground. The claw marks are on the rock now. The rock kept growing until it was so high that the bear could not get the girls. The two girls are still on top of the rock.

This legend was told to Dick Stone by Rides the White Hip Horse. Goes to Magpie, Interpreter.

Kiowa Legend

Before the Kiowa came south they were camped on a stream in the far north where there were a great many bears, many of them. One day, seven little girls were playing at a distance from the village and were chased by some bears. The girls ran toward the village and the bears were just about to catch them when the girls jumped on a low rock, about three feet high. One of the girls prayed to the rock, “Rock take pity on us, rock save us!” The rock heard them and began to grow upwards, pushing the girls higher and higher. When the bears jumped to reach the girls, they scratched the rock, broke their claws, and fell on the ground.

The rock rose higher and higher, the bears still jumped at the girls until they were pushed up into the sky, where they now are, seven little stars in a group (The Pleiades). In the winter, in the middle of the night, the seven stars are right over this high rock. When the people came to look, they found the bears’ claws, turned to stone, all around the base.No Kiowa living has ever seen this rock, but the old men have told about it – it is very far north where the Kiowa used to live. It is a single rock with scratched sides, the marks of the bears’ claws are there yet, rising straight up, very high. There is no other like it in the whole country, there are no trees on it, only grass on top. The Kiowa call this rock “Tso-aa”, a tree rock, possibly because it grew tall like a tree.

Told by I-See-Many-Camp-Fire-Places, Kiowa soldier at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 1897.

 Lakota Legend

In the Sioux tribe long ago was a brave warrior who often went alone into the wilderness where he would fast and worship the Great Spirit in solitude. Being alone helped him to strengthen his courage so that in the future he could carry out his plans.

One day this warrior took his buffalo skull and went along into the wilderness to worship. Standing at the base of Mato Tipila after he had worshipped for two days he suddenly found himself on top of this high rock. He was very much frightened as he did not know how he would get down. After appealing to the Great Spirit he went to sleep. When he awoke he was very glad to find that he was again at the base of this high rock.

He saw that he was standing at the door of a big bear’s lodge as there was foot prints of a very big bear there. He could tell that the cracks in the big rock were made by the big bear’s claws. So he knew that all the time he had been on top of this big rock he had been standing on a big bear’s lodge.

From this time on his nation called this big high rock Mato Tipila and they went there often to worship. The buffalo skull is still on top of this big high rock and can be seen on the highest point.

This legend told to Dick Stone by Short Bull, who lived a short distance west of Ogalala, South Dakota, on July 31, 1932. Mark Running Eagle, Interpreter.

For me it’s one of my favorite memories of my first visit to Devils Tower  when I was only eight-years-old, and my dad passed on one of these legends to my brother and me.

So let’s circle the wagons up here for a bit. Cookie can whip up a picnic…Yes ya can you old coot!  And iffin ya got a mind to go ahead and shimmy on up to the top. I’ll cheer ya on from right here!


Mattison, Ray H.  “The First 50 Years.”  National Park Service. 1955






Whoa dogies don’t know about y’all but all this time on the trail I’m gettin’ a bit tuckered. I know a place up the way we can stop off at and rest up a bit. Now we’ll have to leave the wagons here and go in on horseback cause it’s a might tricky. But ol’ Robert Leroy Parker and Harry Longbaugh will be sure to offer us a good time.

Oh, Cookie just brought up a good point. Y’all better leave your valuables on your wagons…we’re just sayin’ can’t be too careful at the Hole-in-the-Wall!

In Southwest Johnson County, Wyoming lying between the Red Wall and Big Horn Mountains is the most famous hideout on the Outlaw Trail, the Hole-in-the-Wall. Between roughly the 1860s and 1910, 30 to 40 outlaws stayed in the secluded spot including Jesse James and Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.                                                                                The area was (and still is) isolated taking about a day’s journey by horseback from any semblance of civilization. It is a steep climb to the top of the Wall, but overlooking the country below it is no wonder this location was chosen. With sweeping 360 views the pass was well situated to spot approaching lawmen and the narrowness of the approach made it easy to defend. The grassy plateau at the top and creek bed of the canyon below made it a good spot to graze all the rustled cattle.

In this area in the 1880s and 1890s, rustlers grazed stolen cattle and provided refuge to outlaws. Inhabitants of the six cabins that stood in the valley were known as the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. Members of the gang included Bob Smith, Al Smith, Bob Taylor, George Currie, Tom O’Day, and the Roberts Brothers. Later Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy), Harry Longbaugh (the Sundance Kid), and Harvey Alexander Logan (Kid Curry).

As we make our way up the rugged trail, let me introduce y’all to our hosts. Robert Leroy Parker, born in 1866, was the son of devout Mormons. He was led into a life a crime by Mike Cassidy and adopted the name George Cassidy, some believe as a way of not bringing shame on his family. In 1885, Mike Cassidy disappeared after killing a Wyoming rancher. Parker took a job with Charlie Crouse. Crouse operated a ranch in Brown’s Hole and a butcher shop in Rock Springs, Wyoming. It was alleged Crouse sold meat from cattle he rustled. It was while employed by Crouse, Parker adopted the name Butch.

By 1886, Parker was living near Meeteetse, Wyoming under his real name. It is believed he participated in the robbery of the San Miquel Valley Bank in Telluride in June of 1889. The Telluride robbery saw the introduction of a new tactic used by members of the Wild Bunch. Along the escape route, the robbers stationed fresh horses. The pursuing posse would have to continue the chase on tired horses, therefore the robbers could elude capture.

During this time, Parker continued to engage in rustling in Wyoming. He was arrested for horse stealing near Meeteetse and sentenced in 1894 to the State Penitentiary (in Laramie). He was released early in 1896 and returned to a life of crime using a series of hideouts including Robbers’ Roost in southern Utah, Brown’s Hole in northwest Colorado, and of course the Hole-in-the-Wall.

Our second host is Harry Longabough. Born in Pennsylvania in 1867, he moved to Colorado with his family. By age twenty, Longabough was working as a cowboy for the N Bar N owned by the Neidringhaus Brothers in Culbertson, Montana. In 1887, out of work and drifting he stole a horse, gun and saddle from Western Ranches, Ltd, owner of the Three V’s near Sundance, Wyoming. He was arrested and pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 18 months in the Sundance jail. He was pardoned by Governor Thomas Moonlight. Longabough drifted to Bell Fourche, South Dakota, and there as a result of his bravado about the time spent in the Sundance jail he earned the appellation of Sundance or Sundance Kid.

Sundance moved north and worked for a period of time at the Bar U in Alberta and for a short period of time in the saloon business at Grand Central Hotel in Calgary. He then returned to Montana and the N Bar N at its Rock Creek unit.

In 1892, Sundance was implicated with Tom McCarty (an acquaintance from Colorado), Matt Warner, and Butch Cassidy, in the robbery of the Great Northern westbound #23 near Malta, Montana. By 1896, Sundance was reported to be in the Baggs and Dixon, Wyoming area.

On June 28, 1897, Sundance along with George Currie, Kid Curry, Walt Punteney and Tom O’Day participated in the robbery of the Butte County Bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  The bank was a huge target. After the railroad arrived, the town became prosperous as being a loading point for cattle and later sheep. The bank was so prosperous it was acquired in 1903 by Clay, Robinson, and Co., the largest commission agents in the country. John Clay managed the Three Vs, the ranch Sundance had stolen a horse and saddle beginning his criminal career.

The robbery and subsequent pursuit by the law was a comedy of errors with one man, O’Day, being found in a privy behind on of the numerous saloons after O’Day’s horse decided to leave town without him. It took until September for Sheriff John Dunn, Carbon County, Montana, and a small posse to catch up to the other three near Musselshell River. In the ensuing shootout, Kid Curry’s horse was shot through the neck and Curry was shot through the wrist. Curry leaped onto the horse and galloped away, only to have the horse drop dead. All three were arrested and transported to Deadwood Jail. There they escaped, stole horses and gear. They eluded capture on foot, losing horses and swag they had stolen. Ultimately, they made it back to the Hole-in-the-Wall, where as a result of their adventures, they were accepted as full members of the Hole-in-the-Wall gang.

Harvey Logan, Kid Curry, might be takin’ up residence at the Hole unless he’s out…on business. Harvey Alexander Logan was born in Iowa in 1867. After their mother died the four Logan boys, Hank, Johnnie, Lonny, and Harvey moved to Missouri and lived with an aunt. With Johnnie and Lonny, and a cousin, Harvey Logan left home to trail cattle from Texas to Colorado. The four ultimately wandered to the Hole-in-the-Wall where they met George Currie and adopted the last name “Curry.”

In 1894, the “Curry” Brothers established a ranch near Landusky, Montana, in what is now Phillips County.  The town was named after Powell “Pike” Landusky who discovered gold in the area. Not long after their arrival the brothers had a falling out with Landusky due to the fact Lonny impregnated Landusky’s daughter, Elfie. For some reason, Landusky blamed Harvey for the deed.

Now just to warn y’all, Harvey’s a might quick tempered, especially when he’s had a bit of alcohol to raise his blood temperature. And after enjoying too much Christmas Spirit at “Jew Jake’s” Saloon, Landusky and Harvey decided to settle their differences in a way not keeping with the Season. Harvey, being younger, had the advantage and after bringing Landusky down he proceeded to beat the town founder’s head to a pulp against the floor. Lonnie and another friend kept spectators at bay using their side arms. Landusky reached for a revolver from his pocket. Harvey was handed a gun and shot Landusky dead. Eleven witnesses swore it was self defense, but the brothers fearing Harvey wouldn’t receive a fair trial departed town on a stolen buckboard.

On the outlaw trail, Harvey fell in with Butch and Sundance and participated in the Wilcox and Tipton, Wyoming train robberies…

A trestle across the Union Pacific near Wilcox, Wyoming at 1:00 a.m., June 2, 1899, forces the Overland Flyer to halt. Men wearing masks made from white napkins, possible stolen from the Harvey House Restaurant, boarded the train. One of the men after unsuccessfully forcing the engineer to pull the train forward, pulls the train forward himself. The trestle is dynamited to prevent the second section of train from catching up. The train is pulled forward two miles and stopped.

There the express car was surrounded, and the attendant, E.C. Woodcock, was ordered to open the door. He refused. The car was blown up. Woodcock suffers a concussion from the blast and can’t remember the combination to the safe. The gang blows up the safe and stole $30,000, some of the bank notes being scorched by the explosion or stained with raspberries also in the car.

Even though the men were masked immediate suspicion falls on the Wild Bunch.  Other newspapers identified the culprits as the Roberts brothers and reported the robbers to be George Currie and the Roberts brothers. It is now believed the name “Roberts” was used by Sundance and Harvey Logan. Authorities believed some of the robbers were headed for the Hole-in-the-Wall. Posses gave chase. Near Teapot Creek some of culprits were cornered by a posse led by Converse County Sheriff Joe Hazen. In the ensuing fire fight, Sheriff Hazen was killed and the train robbers made their escape by swimming across the river.

On August 29, 1900, train robbers, using the same modus operandi robbed the Union Pacific No. 3 Train near Tipton, Wyoming of $50,000 in gold. Woodcock, if you can believe it, was again the express car attendant. This time he opened the door. The robbers were pursued by a posse led by Sheriff McDaniel of Carbon County, Sheriff Peter Swanson of Sweetwater County and United States Marshal Frank Hadsell until the tracks of the robbers were obliterated by a rain. Five years later an employee on a construction crew for the Farris-Haggarty tramway discovered near the head waters of Cow Creek thee bags in which the money from the Tipton Robbery had originally been held.

Although successful the Wilcox and Tipton Robberies marked the beginning of the end for the Wild Bunch and many of its members fled to Bolivia or Argentina including Butch Cassidy, Sundance and Etta Place.

Of all the Wild Bunch members Etta Place is the most mysterious. She is one of the Wild West’s most legendary women. Beautiful and wild she is reported to have been mistress to both Butch Cassidy and Sundance. Eyewitnesses maintain she was the second woman to ride into Robber’s Roost in the winter of 1897. She was allegedly 20 years old at the time, strikingly beautiful, an excellent horsewoman, and outstanding rifle shot, Etta became Sundance’s primary love interest.

Etta was reportedly a refined, highly educated woman of Eastern birth and rearing. She’s also alleged to have been a prostitute from Texas. Others claim she was a schoolteacher from Denver, Colorado with music as her primary discipline. Even her relationship(s) with Butch and Sundance is a mystery. It’s been said she was Butch’s mistress then Sundance took an interest and she went with him. There are even rumors the three lived as a ménage a’trois. Even her name has been debated as five different women who road with the Wild Bunch used the alias Etta Place.

We do know, Etta traveled to Argentina and Bolivia with Sundance and Butch returning to the United States three times during their time in South America. After returning to the United States in 1908 with Sundance, where he left her in Denver, Etta Place was never heard from again. Many claimed to be her, or claimed to be her son or daughter with Butch, but nothing was ever verified. But once Butch and Sundance were run to ground in South America Etta disappeared, as well.

The six cabins no longer stand at the Hole-in-the-Wall, and time has covered their foundations. But if you’d like a Wild West experience you can stay at the Willow Creek Ranch. The Willow Creek Ranch dates to 1882 when it was founded by Kenneth MacDonald, an immigrant sheep rancher. The area’s small ranchers, such as MacDonald, aided the outlaws because they didn’t want any trouble, and outlaws rustle from large cattle barons and robbed trains with well-filled strong boxes.

Today, a rugged dirt road leads from ranch headquarters to the former hideout. Guests can walk threw the chunks of foundation remaining. Guests can picnic beneath the old cottonwoods by Buffalo Creek and dream of the days when Butch, Sundance and the gang would seek refuge at the Hole-in-the-Wall.

Okay folks, we’re gettin’ close so get yer hand off the heel of your gun before ya get us all blown to bits. Smile big and look like ya belong! It’s sure to be a high kickin’ time with this bunch!

Howdy, Butch and Sundance! You boys are lookin’ just as fine as frogs hair!


*Pictures from Wyoming Tales and Trails, Willow Creek Ranch website

**Information from Wyoming Tales and Trails, Willow Creek Ranch

Hole-in-the-Wall @ Kirsten Lynn Wild West 2012





Howdy! Good to see y’all back on the trail. Today were headed out of Montana and back to big beautiful Wyoming. In my first blog, I mentioned Sheridan turned this cowgirl’s head and stole my heart. So, we’re gonna visit the area again and then head on down the trail. Let’s get those wagons movin’ we’re burnin’ daylight and we’ve got a ways to go!

The Battle of the Little Big Horn and the subsequent surrender of the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne brought to an end the American Indian conflicts, for all intents and purposes. This opened the door to lands on the eastern slope of the Big Horn mountains to ranchers, cowboys, and homesteaders. John Loucks founded the town of Sheridan in 1882, to serve as a hub for these inhabitants.

When John Loucks arrived, visiting his friend James Works in 1882, he found George Mandel’s post office in a little cabin where the Rock Creek stage line crossed Big Goose Creek. An old cabin built in 1878 by a trapper known as Dutch Henry was nearby, along with a horse barn for the stage-line teams. These buildings became the nucleus for the emerging town.

Works convinced Loucks to stay, and Loucks purchased Mandel’s cabin and claim for $50. Loucks then traveled south to find a justice of the peace so he could be sworn in as postmaster. On his return, Loucks rested as what today is Courthouse Hill. Enthralled by the abundant grass and grazing herds of buffalo and deer, he returned to the cabin and sketched out the town of his dreams on a piece of brown wrapping paper. He named the town for the commander he served under during the Civil War, General Phil Sheridan.

In May 1882, Loucks had an engineer, Jack Dow, from the neighboring town of Big Horn City survey the 40-acre town. Streets were named after several men who had already taken up claims in the area and helped with the survey: Kenneth Burkitt, James Works, George Brundage, Alexander Gould, L.H. Brooks, and W. Scott.

Another of Sheridan’s earliest townsmen, and a man who appears in a few of my stories so a personal favorite, is Henry Held. Held was heading for Yellowstone country when he pulled up his wagon to stay overnight in the brand new town of Sheridan. When Loucks found out the new arrival was a blacksmith, he made Dutch Henry’s cabin available and Held set up shop there. Held filed claim on adjacent land and purchased lots in Sheridan where he built his new blacksmith shop on the northwest corner of Main and Works Streets.

Henry Held’s blacksmith shop was the first structure built on the new Main Street in 1882. Held also built the town’s first irrigation ditch, developed one of the earliest subdivisions, and helped build the first electric light plant. He later donated land for the city cemetery.

Of course every Old West town had to have a saloon, and Cow Boy Saloon was Sheridan’s first. It served the areas inhabitants until it became a drugstore after a few years.

John Conrad built his general merchandise store across from the Cow Boy Saloon. Conrad’s store carried everything from knitting needles to threshing machines. Sheridan’s third oldest building still stands at the northeast corner of Main and Loucks Street and has housed the Hospital Pharmacy since the 1980s.

The Grand Central was Sheridan’s first hotel. All of Sheridan’s townspeople, 17 women and 65 men, attended the opening ball on July 3, 1883. The nine-room hotel was replaced by the Keenan Building in 1914.

Other Sheridan firsts include: The first seventeen children to attend school in John Loucks’s cabin, and the first frame school built in 1884. Built at a cost of $1000.00, Loucks contributed the extra $200 for the bell and belfry. Henry Coffeen, who also built a complex of stores known as Coffeen Hall, organized the first fair in Sheridan south of town near Little Goose Creek. Livestock and agriculture shows were a big part of the fair, but horse racing was the most popular event.

Almost half of Sheridan’s 1,000 residents gathered at the depot to welcome the first passenger train at 10:00 a.m. on November 18, 1892. Burlington and Missouri River Railroad executives announced their intent to build a line through Sheridan in 1888, expanding the towns population and connecting Sheridan to the outside world.

Sheridan always had the inside track on its selection as the railroad’s route through northern Wyoming. Several of the Burlington and Missouri Railroad officials from Omaha owned property in the Sheridan area and realized the value of expansion there. With local investors Edward Whitney, Horace Alger, and C.H. Grinnell, they formed the Sheridan Land Company, and built the Sheridan Inn in 1893, right across from the B&M Depot.

The Inn featured the first running-water bathtubs and electric lights in town, and the first telephone line was connected to a downtown drugstore. Inn guests have included such notables as Ernest Hemingway, Will Rogers, Bob Hope, Robert Taylor, and several presidents.

Among its guests was also Buffalo Bill Cody. In 1894, Cody became a Sheridan Land Company partner. Cody auditioned local cowboys for his famous Wild West show from the comfort of the inn’s large porch. Some of the cowboys’ wives were featured in one of the Wild West’s acts. The ladies rode sidesaddle and, with their partners, performed a square dance on horseback. The Inn is still there in Sheridan. You can order a cold one at the same bar where Wild Bill ordered a round for the house, and one of his business partners George Beck originated the popular drink called the Wyoming Slug (a concoction of champagne and whiskey). And a personal note their steak is fabulous and just a warning order one desert to share.

Speaking of cowboys, and this is Wyoming so we have to talk about cowboys, Sheridan had its share. You can read about John Kendrick in a previous post, so let’s visit some others.

Some of the largest ranches in Wyoming are in the Sheridan area. Ranchers like W.H. “Doc” Spear, Bill Glasgow, Andy Martinson, Lew Burgess, Nelson Darlington, Guy Wood and Bill Leavitt established large landholdings in the area. One of the largest and earliest ranches in the area was started west of Sheridan by two brothers Matt and Al Patrick, who also had the stage line contract from Rock Creek in southern Wyoming to Custer Station on the Yellowstone River. The PK Ranch is still one of the largest in the area, and portions of it have been set aside as a nature conservancy.

On the heels of ranching came a uniquely western phenomenon, the dude ranch came to Sheridan. Ranchers discovered that not only friends, but complete strangers were willing to pay for the privilege of riding horses and even helping out with the chores. In 1890, Daniel T. Hilman operated the first dude ranch in Sheridan County near Big Horn when he accepted the first two of a long line of visitors.

Dude ranches flourished in Sheridan County in the early half of the 19th century. The Dude Rancher’s Association in the West was formed in 1926 to set standards for the industry. The Burlington Railroad helped out by printing special maps of dude ranches in Wyoming and Montana.

The Eaton brothers, Howard, Willis Larimer, and Alden Eaton, launched the nation’s first dude ranch in 1880s at their ranch in North Dakota. The brothers moved their ranch to Wolf, just north of Sheridan, in 1903 making it the second dude ranch in Sheridan County. The Eatons ranch remains one of the better-known dude operations.

When people think of Wyoming, dude ranches can come to mind. Most visitors to Sheridan, myself included, are surprised to learn the sport of polo is alive and well int the American West. Afterall, polo isn’t a typical western sport.

However, the sport of kings found a western home when three Britons introduced the sport in the 1890s. The Moncreiffe brothers bought a ranch just outside Big Horn and named it the Quarter Circle A. Malcolm Moncreiffe and Oliver Henry Wallop and Malcolm’s brother William, partnered to provide 22,550 remounts for the British cavalry engaged in the Boer War. The Moncreiffes became known for the quality of their stock including polo ponies. William Moncreiffe’s registered brand is the second oldest in Wyoming.

It was Malcolm Moncreiffe who was the driving force behind polo in Sheridan County. In 1901, Malcolm developed the first polo field on what would become Polo Ranch southwest of Big Horn, where polo was played until 1984. Since then, the game has been played at the Big Horn Equestrian/Events Center where world-class  players and horses appear every summer.

In addition to Big Horn’s Polo Ranch, the game was played at several sites around Sheridan. Cowboys played polo around Saberton Avenue before the hospital was built there and at Sheridan’s original fairgrounds. In 1900, the first match played for a cup took place behind the old Western Hotel near Works and Brooks Streets.

The local Big Horn team, called the Magpies, wore distinctive black and white vests. They traveled to Colorado to compete in matches with teams, including several fielded by the U.S. Army.

William Moncreiffe married in 1908 and remained on the ranch until 1923 when it was sold to an Illinois businessman, Bradford Brinton. Brinton used the ranch as a vacation home. Brinton collected many pieces of western art and expanded the ranch. The Bradford Brinton Memorial Museum is opened for visitors and showcases the historic home and vast art collection.

Oliver Henry Wallop married Marguerite who was the sister of Amy Moncreiffe (Malcolm Moncreiffe’s wife). Wallop became a United States citizen in 1904 and was elected to the Wyoming legislature in 1908. However, the death of his older brother forced him to assume the earlship and membership in the British House of Lords in 1925. His grandson Malcolm Wallop served for many years as one of Wyoming’s U.S. Senators.

A more familiar site in Western sports is rodeo, and since its beginning Sheridan’s has always been one of the best in the West. The Sheridan-WYO rodeo, established in 1931, features all the finest rodeo events. The organizers of the Sheridan-WYO had three goals: keep Sheridan residents home, provide a mid-summer event in Sheridan, and advertise Sheridan to tourists. From its start, the rodeo attracted some of the biggest names in the sport of its day.

From the beginning, the Sheridan-WYO included a strong American Indian presence. After facing cancellation during World War II, the rodeo came back strong. And in 1952, Lucy Yellowmule, a shy Crow girl, was selected rodeo queen. Aided by reporter Howard Sinclair, Lucy turned her reign into an opportunity to improve American Indian and white relations. She made many public appearances to dispel myths and share American Indian culture. Gradually, new appreciation was gained on both sides. American Indian leaders organized an event called All-American Indian Days, celebrating all tribal cultures and featured a pageant to select Miss Indian America.

Like all Western towns Sheridan has faced fire, flood, boom times and bust times, but year after year the people of Sheridan have struggled, straggled, rebuilt, built more, persevered and preserved their history. It’s no wonder Sheridan is continually named one of if not the number one Western town in America. But folks we have a little more traveling to do before nightfall. I know, I know it rips my heart out to leave Sheridan, too, but these next stops will be worth the trip. We’re heading into the Big Horn National Forest.

Before we head out let’s make one last stop at the Mint Bar, established in 1907, still in business on North Main Street. It was at the Mint, Theodore Roosevelt noted that cowboys “when drunk on the villainous whiskey” would “cut mad antics such as riding their horses into the saloons.” And indeed, the custom continues today.  The Mint Bar continued to operate through prohibition, although quietly. Upon the repeal of prohibition it officially reopened. Sheridan even had its own brewery, the Sheridan Brewery, maker of Sheridan Export and Sheridan Pale, in business from 1885-1954. The Mint makes an appearance in one of my stories, and yes a cowboy rides his horse into the saloon.

The Big Horn National Forest is eighty miles long and thirty miles wide. The Forest covers 1,115,073 acres, and extend from the Great Basin area of Wyoming northward to Montana. Elevations range from 5,500 feet to 13,175 feet (Cloud Peak).

Hold onto your mules folks we’re headin’ up the Dayton-Kane Highway! God bless your hearts! Make sure your supplies are tied down tight and iffin ya don’t like heights I’d hunker in the back of the wagon.

The Dayton-Kane was named for two small communities. Dayton is still there, but Kane was destroyed when the Bureau of Reclamation condemned the land and bought the community in 1965 when the Yellowtail Dam neared completion and the Bighorn Lake would flood Kane.

All that being said let’s head up the road and by up I mean waaay-up. First stop, Sand Turn. I’ll just stand back and let you take all the pictures you’d like. It’s an amazing site looking over the road you just traveled, all the twists and turns. Many visitors hang glide from Sand Turn and best of luck to them, I’m getting back in the wagon.

As we travel take time to check out all the gorgeous wildflowers at their peak in the Big Horns in late June and early July. It can take a good bit of time to get down the mountains when you stop every few feet for a photo opportunity (this is from personal experience, but I’d do it all again).

Next stop are the Shell Falls. These are spectacular and make sure you walk the paths to get the falls from all angles and find other falls cascading down the mountains.











Another interesting spot is the old Beef Trail. I don’t mind taking pictures, but Cookie would demand a huge raise if this trail boss took the herd up that narrow path and this trail boss would demand a huge sedative.

We’ll just ease on down into the basin leaving the majesty of these mountains. Hope y’all enjoyed just this brief glimpse of what Sheridan and the surrounding area offers. But please folks if ya only choose one place to visit from all these posts make Sheridan and the Big Horns it!

Now if ya’ll will excuse Cookie and me we have to go shed a few tears around the campfire. We always get a might choked up when we visit this piece of God’s country. Below are some links to places to visit that should keep ya busy for a time and give ol Cookie some time to compose hisself for the next leg of our journey!





*All colored photographs are property of Kirsten Lynn

*Black and white photographs from “Tales and Trails Wyoming”


Sheridan County Museum (Information from placards around Museum)

Blair, Pat, Prater, Dana and the Sheridan County Museum. Images of America: Sheridan. Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

Wagons West Sheridan @ Kirsten Lynn 2012


Folks we’re likely to give those mules whiplash goin’ north than south only to whip back north, but I’ll try to keep us on a straighter trail the next few weeks.

Anywho, this week we’re turnin’ the wagons to Montana Territory and THE BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIG HORN!

But we can’t go rushin’ into things and right into the middle of the battle (we all know how that kind of rash action faired for Custer) Don’t get your petticoats in a bunch, we’ll get there, but first let’s take some side trails to northern Wyoming and South Dakota.

The Bozeman Road enraged the Sioux and Cheyenne from it’s opening in 1863-64, because it crossed the Powder, Tongue, and the Big Horn rivers, lands they and their Crow enemies claimed as prime hunting grounds.  Teton Sioux, Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho warriors allied to defend this territory, first in an attack at Platte Bridge Station, July 1865, and then against the troops brought against them. Hostilities escalated when Colonel Henry Carrington and his infantry headed for the Powder River, leading Red Cloud (the most powerful of the Sioux Chiefs) to lead the majority of Indian leaders to walk away from peace negotiations at Fort Laramie to return and defend their lands.

Carrington and his men established three forts in the area, Fort Reno, Fort Phil Kearny, and Fort C.F. Smith. Carrington’s troops quickly found themselves in an impossible situation with low morale and vastly outnumbered by the Indians. Red Cloud’s warriors closed in and placed the forts under siege with Fort Phil Kearny facing the worst of it.

In December 1866, a brash and reckless officer Captain William J. Fetterman took eighty-one men out of the fort to protect a wagon train and impetuously followed warriors led by a young Sioux war chief, Crazy Horse. Within forty minutes Fetterman and his men where dead. The Fetterman massacre shocked the nation and more troops were sent to the area to build a stronger fort, Fort Fetterman. Violence escalated and by 1867 the government realized it must vastly increase troops on the Bozeman Road or abandon it.

In the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Sioux seemingly got what they wanted. Red Cloud refused to discuss terms until the soldiers left the hated forts. The Bozeman Road was closed, the forts closed, with the promise of no new posts in that area. In line with the new policy of “concentration” the commissioners persuaded the chiefs to accept a reservation centering on the Black Hills and consisting mainly of today’s South Dakota west of the Missouri River. It must be noted that the Powder, Tongue and Big Horn areas, where Red Cloud had just won his war, were not part of the reservation. This area became unceded Indian lands, closed to general white entry, available for seasonal hunting, but not permanent occupation by the Indians.

Sitting Bull

This treaty, like others before it, was only a temporary peace. Red Cloud and most of the older chiefs went on the reservation, but many younger Sioux leaders, like the Hunkpapa chief, Sitting Bull and the Oglala Crazy Horse, refused to accept the decision. These “nontreaty” Indians kept their bands in the unceded lands. Treaty commissioners expected these bands to be forced to the reservation when buffalo hunting declined. But these Sioux adamantly refused to settle on reservations and ventured farther north into the Yellowstone territory to hunt, making white settlers uneasy.

While things in the Yellowstone remained static for the most part, things in the Black Hills were building steam like an out of control locomotive headed toward a cliff. Rumors of gold spurred white men into the sacred Black Hills, lands clearly defined within the 1868 reservation. Men hungry for gold and good agricultural lands poured into this area.

In 1874, an officer hungry for glory, Colonel George A. Custer threw coal into the engine as  he led an “expedition” into the lands and sent back reports of a land heavy with gold and ripe for agriculture. And although Indians killed some and the army half-heartedly threw out others, still settlers came by the thousands. The 1875 gold boom made a travesty of the 1868 treaty and brought to a boil the situation with the Sioux. As more and more whites flooded the area the Indians left the corrupt agencies and headed west to join the nontreaty bands.

President Grant and policy makers far removed from the lands further complicated the issues. While passively allowing settlers into the Black Hills region, military force would be used to drive the Sioux and Cheyenne out of the unceded lands and back to the reservations.

Early December 1875, the Indian Bureau sent messengers to the bands in southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming, ordering them to return to the reservation by the end of January 1876. First, if you look at the timeline the order did not give the tribes enough time to comply, but it did not matter as the Indians had decided to stand and fight in any case. The United States Army officially called these bands “hostiles.”

The army eagerly made its first move against these hostiles in March 1876. General George Crook, who proved himself against the Apache in Arizona led 900 men north from Fort Fetterman, Wyoming. Facing subzero weather the first confrontation “Battle of Powder River” accomplished almost nothing. Even though a large band of Sioux was captured the army was unable to hold or destroy the camp. Crook returned to Fort Fetterman.

From his Chicago headquarters, General Phil Sheridan, developed a spring-summer three pronged campaign to corral the Sioux and Cheyenne. Three large armies would be sent into the unceded lands with the hopes at least one would engage the hostiles and defeat them. The “Montana Column” began moving down the Yellowstone in April 1876, with 450 infantry from Fort Shaw and Fort Ellis. Their commander was Colonel John Gibbon and their assignment was to block any Indian movement north or west of the Yellowstone. The “Dakota Column” left Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck in mid-May under the command of General Alfred Terry. They moved across the Dakota plains and up the Yellowstone Valley. Among Terry’s column was the 700 man Seventh Cavalry under Colonel George A. Custer.

Custer was already a national hero for actions during the Civil War and as a dashing Indian Fighter. Originally, he was supposed to command the entire Dakota Column, but was removed from command when he testified against President Grant’s brother regarding the corruption of the Indian Services. At the last minute he was allowed to go along with the column and command the Seventh. Historians speculate Custer may have acted as he later did at Little Big Horn in an attempt to recover his glorious reputation he believed Grant tarnished.

While the Montana and Dakota columns moved toward a rendezvous on the lower Yellowstone, General Crook again led the army north from Fort Fetterman. Crook, Gibbon and Terry had only a general idea where the Indians where and how many there might be. Throughout the spring of 1876, bands of Sioux and Northern Cheyenne fled the reservation and joined the hostile camps near the Rosebud and Little Big Horn rivers. By June, their villages may have housed as many as 15,000 people, including three to four thousand warriors.

The three advancing columns were forced to act somewhat independently since communications were slow and unreliable. Crook encountered the Indians first. On June 17, his men paused on Rosebud Creek, a large Sioux-Cheyenne force under Crazy Horse, attacked them. It was a helter-skelter attack and counterattack ending when the Indians withdrew. Crook and his men withdrew, as well, back to Goose Creek. Crazy Horse moved to join their allies. This battle effectively removed Crook’s column from the campaign.

Terry and Gibbon converged on the Yellowstone. They had no idea about Crook’s location. They chose a sensible strategy of attempting to entrap the Indians from both the north and south. They would send Custer’s swift Seventh Cavalry on a sweep southward up the Rosebud and then across and down the Little Big Horn. Meanwhile, they would move the slower infantry southward up the Big Horn and then up its Little Big Horn tributary. Both armies should reach the Indian village on June 26, 1876. Terry gave Custer considerable discretion if the Indians seemed likely to escape.

June 22, Custer rode up the Rosebud. On June 24, he made his first controversial decision. Instead of following Terry’s order, he pursued and Indian trail westward before reaching the upper Rosebud. Driving his men to exhaustion on a night march, Custer reached the divide between the two streams, at dawn June 25, and his scouts reported smoke of an enormous encampment. Whether to gain all glory, or to hit the Indians before they could scatter, or both, Custer decided not to wait for Terry and the 26th rendezvous date. He failed to acknowledge the immensity of the Indian gathering, even though his terrified scouts warned him. The Seventh, in his vain opinion, could whip any number.

Mid-day, Custer’s troops advanced down Reno Creek, out of sight from the Indian camp, the stream the Indians called the “Greasy Grass.” Custer divided his command into three units. Three troops under Captain Frederick Benteen to scout the hills west of the village, hoping Benteen could contain an Indian retreat. Major Marcus Reno, was ordered to cross the Little Big Horn with three more troops, and strike the camp at its southern end. Custer would retain the remaining five troops and skirt the bluffs to the right of the village and attack the center.

When Reno hit the near end of the enormous village, the Indians did not panic and rallied under Chief Gall and rushed their attackers. Reno tried and failed to form a defensive skirmish line. He led his men in a disorganized and bloody retreat back across the river and dug in on the bluffs there. Benteen’s returning force soon joined what was left of Reno’s, with Benteen taking over for the distraught Reno.

Chief Gall

Unaware of these developments, Custer emerged from the bluffs to the east of the village and attempted to cross the river and attack it. But Gall’s warriors, having left Reno’s force, moved across the stream and attacked Custer instead. The colonel retreated up the ridges, but it was too late. More warriors joined Gall, and Crazy Horse led another attack flanking from the north. The Indians overwhelmed Custer’s skirmish lines, and within a half-hour wiped out his command. While they celebrated a great victory, the Indians kept Reno and Benteen under siege until evening the next day. Aware that more soldiers were coming they dispersed. Terry and Gibbon arrived at the battlefield on June 27, 1876. They buried more than two hundred and sixty dead and prepared Reno’s and Benteen’s wounded for removal to the steamboat Far West.

News of the “Last Stand” blazed across newspapers throughout the country in early July 1876. Highly inaccurate accounts of “the massacre” disrupted Fourth of July celebrations of the nation’s centennial, and sent Americans poring over maps of Montana Territory. Custer became the legend and hero he always desired being, and generations of schoolchildren learned of his daring actions, but never of his impetuous recklessness. And every western saloon, it appeared, displayed a romantic Anheuser-Busch painting of the battle. Custer’s wife, Libby, was the greatest proponent of spreading his legend, and it is believed it was in her honor that those who knew best of his actions on that day, kept their mouths closed until after her death.

The Battle of the Little Big Horn was in no way decisive. The Indians won a significant victory, but this victory only postponed their ultimate and tragic defeat. More troops descended on the plains at the call for unconditional surrender.

Brave chiefs and warriors like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse continued to resist. But in 1877, starving and demoralized Sioux and Northern Cheyenne bands surrendered. Even the great Crazy Horse gave up in early May. By autumn1877, the conquest of the proud Sioux and Northern Cheyennes was complete. Their brave “stand” against Custer all but forgotten and diminished by the Custer propaganda until cooler heads removed from the time and prejudice could provide a complete picture to the events in June 1876.

So take your young’uns on up to Montana where every June reenactors bring history to life. This year y’all can catch a full color reenactment on June 22, 23, or 24th.  Iffin’ ya want to join the action contact www.custerslaststand.org and ride into battle with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, or with George A. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry.

The other forts and battlefields mentioned in this post can be visited, as well. In some cases, the buildings are gone, but there are still markers and signs you can follow. And don’t forget to visit The Custer Battlefield Museum in Garryowen, MT.

Toss the young’uns in the wagon and continue their learnin’. Heck, they won’t even know this is all that yuck from their ol history books, and they’ll learn somethin’ before they realize what happened. And ya know y’all just might learn somethin’, too.

See ya on the trail, and watch how ya drive those mules! Last time ya almost ran clear into Cookie’s grub wagon, he liked to ‘ave turned the air blue.

**Crazy Horse is not pictured in this post as I could only find pictures thought to be the Sioux warrior


Malone, Michael P., Lang, William, Roeder, Richard. Montana: A History of Two Centuries. University of Washington Press. Seattle. 1976.

My own essay written in 1995 while attending Montana State University-Billings, and plaques on trails of the various battle listed from my trips to these locations.





Continuing on down the trail from the majestic Tetons, this week we’re lookin’ at a whole different kind of spectacle.  Let’s talk rodeo folks!! And if we’re talkin’ rodeo we must be talkin’ the largest outdoor rodeo in the world. The Daddy of ‘Em All…Cheyenne Frontier Days!

YEEE-HAAAW!! Strap on your spurs we’re in for a rip snortin’, six-shootin’, bronc bustin’, bull riden’, steer ropin’, bulldoggin’ thrills and chills ride!

Acting on a suggestion from Frederick W. Angier, Traveling Passenger Agent of the Union Pacific Railroad, in 1897 plans for the first “Frontier Day,” were formulated in the Trivoli Saloon at the corner of 16th Street and Carey (the Saloon serves as the present day Chamber of Commerce).  On September 23, 1897, a legacy of the old west began with the first Frontier Day.

Flags decorated the town and a special excursion train brought in a band and visitors. The Sun-Leader reported on the “thousands of visitors from all over the state and from Colorado and Nebraska.” The first Frontier Day presented ox teams, vigilantes, and stage holdups as major parts of the presentation. The first Frontier Day parades consisted merely of cowboys racing down the street “perhaps scaring women, children and dogs.” The first celebration only lasted one day. It started at noon with a cannon fired by Battery A of the 76th Field Artillery and concluded with a Grand Ball at Keefe Hall.

Bill Jones won the saddle bronc contest, and the only marring incident on the first Frontier Day was when bleachers were smashed by wild horses, which had broken loose and spectators fled for safety. The following year William F. Cody’s “Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” attracted an audience of 6,000 to the festivities. The event was such a success it was expanded to two days, but continued to be referred to as “Frontier Day” until 1910.

Frontier Day gained national attention in 1904 with the spectacular performance by black cowboy Will Pickett. Pickett, who is credited for single-handedly inventing the Bulldogging contest, observed that cowdogs would bring steers down by biting the steer on the muzzle. Thus Pickett would, “attack a fiery, wild-eyed, and powerful steer, dash under the broad breast of the great brute, turn and sink his strong ivory teeth into the upper lip of the animal, and throwing his shoulder against the neck of the steer, strain and twist until the animal, with its head drawn on way under the controlling influence of those merciless teeth and its body forced another, until the brute, under the strain of slowly bending neck, quivered, trembled and the sank to the ground.”

Pickett’s performance was reported nationally in Harper’s Weekly and he was offered a place in the Miller Bros. 101 Wild West show. He was the first black man inducted into the Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.

Women, though participating in rodeos since the 1880s, made their first appearance in the Frontier Day rodeo in 1904. Bertha Kaepernick gave and exhibition of bronc riding.

By 1908, Cheyenne Frontier Day, was recognized as the premier rodeo in the United States and cowboys from all over the country came to compete. That year the citizens of Wyoming were shocked by at least two of these out of state cowboys. The Basin, Wyoming newspaper The Big Horn County Rustler reported, in their August 28th edition, “for the first time in history neither the world’s champion bronc buster or steer roper was from Wyoming, also neither man was a resident of the group of states immediately surrounding Wyoming.” The steer roping champion was Ikua Purdy of Hawaii.

The bronc riding champion that year was Dick Stanley of Portland, Oregon. Stanley won the championship “by the most splendid exhibition of horsemanship ever seen in a frontier arena…Stanley performed a feat never before accomplished by a buster, riding to finish old Steamboat and spurring the horse at every jump. Many men have ridden old Steamboat for years the undisputed worst bucker of the world, but never before did a rider spur the equine warrior and manage to remain on his back until he was subdued.”

After his death in 1910, it was discovered that Dick Stanley was really, Earl Carl Shobe, and he had jumped bail in Wyoming some years before on charges of murder and post office robbery.

Steamboat continued to compete until John Coble sold out. He donated Steamboat to the Cheyenne Elks Lodge. In 1914, Steamboat contracted blood poisoning from a barbed wire fence and met his end. The horse was inducted into the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.

Legends, both man and beast, continued to be made at Frontier Park and cowboys from around the country enter to test their metal at the Daddy.

The Basin Republican reported in July 1909, “entries are still coming in for various events at Frontier and judging from the official program…there will be more contests and more interesting features than ever before. Six fine band [sic] have been engaged to supply music, and in addition to the purely wild west sports, Uncle Sam’s crack Ninth Cavalry will do some special stunts…”

Only war could threaten the Daddy, but after World War I ended the question on the people of Cheyenne’s mind was whether there would be Frontier Days. In November 1918, the Wyoming State Tribune put their minds to ease. “With the War over, troop movements stopped, and many of the best performers who have been in the army probably out, and ready to appear again by the time the show is held, things are said to be looking up for a good Frontier celebration next summer.” Trains were running under normal conditions without troop and munitions being transported, so tourists could once again travel West.

One blight caused concern for the success of that year’s show. Prohibition. How would being a dry state effect people’s desire to come to Cheyenne “a wide open town in the minds of many…They come to frontier [sic] to see a wide open cow town, and when the town is no longer that, the effect on the number of people who come here for the show forms a subject of much speculation.”  They didn’t speculate too long, and in July 1919 Frontier Days was held in all its pageantry to large crowds.

Parades, concerts, pancake breakfasts, Indian dancers, the largest outdoor rodeo in the world, and more cowboys than you can lasso in a year, the Daddy of ‘em All never disappoints. So put it on your bucket list, or better yet high tail it to Cheyenne this July and live the experience.

And while you’re in the neighborhood mosey on over to Fort Laramie or the Wyoming Territorial Prison and Old West Park.

Whatever you do, get a move on pilgrims and get your hides down to old Cheyenne!


“Basin Republican.” July 27, 1909. page 1

“Big Horn County Rustler.” August 28, 1908. page 1

“Wyoming State Tribune.” No. 288. November 20, 1918. page 6.

Wyoming Tales and Trails. http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/frontierdays.html

Kirsten Lynn @ 2012


It’s gettin’ on to summer time and pretty soon many of you will be loadin’ up supplies and the little tykes in the Conestoga and headin’ out on the trail. God bless ya’ll!

So, for the next few weeks I’m gonna feature a few places in the West I hold near and dear to my heart. Places I consider home, as do many of the characters in my manuscripts.

I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been to the location featured today, and I’ll probably go just as many times as I can in the future. It is truly one of the most beautiful places on God’s earth and if you haven’t been, well turn that wagon ‘round and get those mules headed West to Wyoming!

GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK & JACKSON HOLE, WYOMING                                 

Named for the largest of the peaks the Grand Teton there are three peaks, the Grand, Middle and South Tetons.

Archeological studies show humans arrived in the Teton Range over 11,000 years ago. By the time the first white explorers entered the region in the early 19th Century it was the people of the eastern Shoshone tribes they encountered. For the modern Wind River Shoshone, who continue to maintain close cultural ties to this region, the majestic and snow-capped peaks of the Tetons hold special significance. “In the Shoshone belief system, mountain peaks provide access into the spirit world, where they gain special powers for such things as hunting or healing.”

The first white men who ventured into the Tetons were trappers and explorers. These men will be featured in future posts as each deserves a post to themselves and I’m not sure you’d appreciate a hundred page blog. So we’ll let John Colter, Jim Bridger, John Hoback, Edward Robinson, Andrew Henry, Jed Smith, Jacob Reznor and others take a breather, but we’ll meet them up on the trail a piece.

The Three Tetons, were among the most significant landmarks in the fur trade era. By the 1820s, the mountains were known as the Trois Tetons, the Three Paps, or the Three Tetons. It is unkown how these peaks received their names, however it is likely Iroquois or French Canadian trappers from the Pacific Northwest may have been responsible. Two trappers wrote of their first experience viewing these majestic peaks. Warren Ferris saw the Three Tetons for the first time, in 1831, from the Gray’s River south of Jackson Hole. He described them as “three inaccessible finger-shaped peaks of a lofty mountain overlooking the country to a vast distance. . . . Their appearing [sic] is quite singular, and they form a noted landmark in that region.” Osborne Russell viewed the Tetons for the first time from Pierre’s Hole, where they are most visible and distinct. From Russell’s vantage point, the range appeared as “Mountains piled on Mountains and capped with three spiral peaks which pierce the cloud.”

Trappers used the Three Tetons as guides to passes and trails through the valley. Two passes provided access through the Teton Range, Conant Pass, and Teton Pass. The latter pass was the most important. Other important passes were Togwotee, Union, and Two Ocean. Significant routes through the valley were the Hoback Trail, the Yellowstone, and the Gros Ventre River route. Because Jackson Hole is located between South Pass and the upper Snake River country, it was common for trappers to follow the Hoback or Gros Ventre Rivers from the Green River Basin, then cross Teton Pass. Parties traveling from the Bighorn Mountains in the east followed the Wind River and crossed into Jackson Hole via Union or Togwotee Pass. At Union Pass, trappers could turn south, strike the Green River and head south to other profitable trapping grounds. Mountain men entered or exited the Yellowstone country via the Lewis River or Two Ocean Pass.

In 1872, William H. Jackson took the first photographs of the Grand, Middle and South Teton. In the area to photograph Yellowstone, Jackson took a side trip to the Tetons as Yellowstone had lost something of its novelty. The Tetons, never before photographed, now became more important to Jackson.  Jackson and a small party including his assistant, Charley Campbell, John Merle Coulter, the botanist, P J. Beveridge, and a packer named Aleck.

They ascended Table Mountain situated to the west of the three Tetons. The mules carried food and camp gear, while Jackson’s mule, “Old Molly,” hauled his precious photographic equipment. They set up camp at tree line, spent three days exploring the area, and sought a good vantage point for photographic work. While making their way to the summit of Table Mountain, they found their passage blocked by a wall of rock. “On one side was a sheer precipice, but on the other a ledge supported a bank of hard snow, ‘which offered a passage around the wall.’ ” The snowbank formed a dangerous angle, hanging over a sheer drop of several hundred feet. Deciding the risk was worth the view, they first packed a trail on the snow, then carefully guided their saddle and pack animals across the snowbank. Jackson’s photographs of the Grand Teton are among the most famous of his thousands of remarkable images of the American West. The Grand Teton was revealed to Americans for the first time.

By the time, President Chester A. Arthur traveled through Jackson Hole in 1883 with a large entourage of guides, Indians, cavalrymen, packers, and political cronies, the purpose was recreation rather than exploration. A year after Arthur’s tour, the first settlers entered Jackson Hole, marking a new era in the valley’s history.

After years of politics and social disagreements about how to preserve the Teton Range prominent Jackson Hole residents agreed on a plan to protect the Teton Range and six lakes at the base of the range. President Calvin Coolidge signed the executive order establishing the 96,000 acres Grand Teton National Park.

This is barely a thumbnail sketch of the history of the Teton area. But don’t fret, I’ll be covering more in future posts. If you can’t wait for me, a good sketch of the history can be found at www.nps.gov/grte/.

Or heck, treat yourself to a first hand look and don’t forget to visit the towns of Jackson and Dubois while you’re up there. It’s a sight that hits me right in the heart and soul every time. That moment when from a basin blanketed in snow or wild grasses, sage,and flowers rises three peaks touching a vast clear blue sky or their tips hidden by clouds heavy with snow or rain. I always say I don’t need any more pictures of the Tetons, and I always end up taking hundreds more.

*Information on the Park provided by “A Place Called Jackson Hole.” Daugherty, John. Grand Teton Natural History Association. Moose, Wyoming. 1999.

**The pictures provided on this page are my own from my last visit to the Tetons**