I wondered what type of ranches developed in Wyoming even before the Grand Teton National Park was established in the early 1900s. Upon research, it is interesting how people traveled from the eastern side of the U.S. to explore and settle in the western U.S.
The Homestead Act of 1862 established by President Abraham Lincoln was apparently a key piece of legislation that would entice easterners to move west.
The Homestead act created a public land management system that allowed individuals traveling to the west to acquire land for free. Sign me up, right? However, the land no doubt was taken years ago.
A homesteader was an individual 21 years of age or older, the head of a household and someone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government. When the act was signed, the U.S. had just finished its first year following the end of the Civil War.
It appears Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was a central location that supported ranchers throughout the Teton Range, including the establishment of “dude ranches.” For instance, experienced dudes, Struthers Burt and Dr. Horace Carncross opened Jackson Hole’s second dude ranch in 1912, the Bar BC Ranch. Burt described dude ranching as cattle ranching modified to care for “dudes”—visitors willing to pay handsomely for a quaint cowboy experience.
In addition to those traveling from the east to establish land ownership, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, sent parties from the Salt Lake Valley to establish new communities and support their expanding population.
Mormon homesteaders, who settled east of Blacktail Butte near the turn of the 19-century, clustered their farms to share labor and community, a stark contrast with the isolation typical of many western homesteads. These settlers first arrived in the 1890s from Idaho establishing a community (named Grovont by the U.S. Post Office), and known today as “Mormon Row.” https://www.nps.gov/grte/learn/historyculture/mormon.htm
The area surrounding Jackson Hole still reminds travelers of the western life and the open terrain of the Teton Range. When we visited the town of Jackson, it had the feel of a tourist attraction with many shops and restaurants. It is a nice place to shop and explore though, and it still has a lot of history to examine.
Frontier settlers throughout history made a difference toward building development and life itself. Wyoming’s Grand Teton benefited by certain visionaries.
J. Pierce Cunningham was a rancher who became a conservationist. He settled in Jackson Hole in the 1880s despite the winter hardship. He originally opposed the expansion of Grand Teton National Park but later became an advocate.
Cunningham teamed with his neighbor, Josiah “Si” Ferrin to write a petition signed by 97 valley ranchers who agreed to sell their land to form a “national recreation area.” John D. Rockefeller, Jr’s Snake River Land Company bought Cunningham’s land and other ranches. Rockefeller later donated more than 33,000 acres to expand the national park.
Now we can observe and preserve the beauty of the Grand Teton
Following a beautiful, yet wide-open plains travel into Wyoming as we traveled toward the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, we welcomed a respite in Lander. One could naturally feel the pioneer and western spirit.
While Lander is a stopping point, it is also a beginning point for those desiring to explore the mountains or the desert. It is surely a welcomed site for bicyclists and hikers. In 1906, Chicago and North Western Transportation made Lander the end point of its “Cowboy Line” railway and the town earned the slogan “Where the rails end and the trails begin.” The Cowboy Line ran from 1906 to 1972. (Lander Chamber of Commerce)
The Wind River Indian Reservation is quite stunning. I can see why travelers would consider settling there, albeit the winters can be quite brutal. I can see also why the Indians fought so valiantly to retain their dwelling and hunting land. Still, with the news of opportunity in the west continuing to bombard those in the east, it was inevitable that travelers would come.
“For 19th century prospectors and miners in the rich gold fields
of South Pass, the crimson mouth of Red Canyon meant a change in diet. From the
wind-swept sagebrush prairie, they could descend nearly 2,000 feet down a steep
wagon road to the fruit orchards and vegetable gardens in the warm valley below
where they purchased fresh produce – a welcome switch from wild game meat.” https://windriver.org/destinations/lander/
Since we had been traveling for a few hours along the Chief
Washakie Trail, lunch was calling. We
traveled through Lander and located a local, nice place to eat – Gannett
The menu was enticing as we examined something different. That’s one of the interesting and fun parts of travel, getting to try things different than our normal routine. The food was excellent and we enjoyed sitting outside, relaxing from the drive.
Before leaving Lander, we wanted to check out some authentic Native American gift items and stopped at the Indian Territory gift shop.
I liked Lander. The people were friendly. The town wasn’t large, but it had about all the conveniences you need.
Every heard of him? Chief Washakie was a prominent leader of the Shoshone people during the mid-19th century. He was first mentioned in 1840 in the written record of the American fur trapper, Osborne Russell.
Washakie’s prowess in battle, efforts for peace and commitment to his people’s welfare made him one of the most respected leaders in Native American history. In 1878, a U.S. Army outpost located on the reservation was renamed Fort Washakie. It was the only U.S military outpost to be named after a Native American. (Wikipedia)
There is also a statue of Washakie in downtown Laramie at the University of Wyoming. Many locations are named after him as well.
I didn’t know much of the history of Chief Washakie until I first saw his statue in Laramie.
Once we departed Laramie and traveled toward Rawlins and Lander, Wyoming, the chief’s background became more intriguing. We found ourselves on the Chief Washakie Trail that extends through the area and Shoshone Reservation.
Here is a little ride-along if you care to join me. The clip picks up leaving Rawlins, Wyoming on U.S. 287 traveling the open road with miles of sage brush and occasional hills. You’ll then notice a sign saying Chief Washakie Trail. We even crossed the Continental Divide a couple of times. Stay tuned toward the end of the clip and you’ll see us driving toward the Crow Heart Butte. I’ll explain that below.
Washakie was not born to a Shoshone tribe. No doubt he had a challenging childhood and was likely lost when he escaped with some of his family when his tribe was raided by an enemy tribe. He was later found and was adopted into the Shoshone tribe. He became a mighty warrior and eventually chief of the Eastern Shoshone Indians of Wyoming.
Washakie befriended white pioneers who traveled through his territory in wagon trains, and no doubt as individuals, in the 1850s. He helped overland travelers in crossing streams and recovering cattle that had strayed. It is stated Washakie was also a scout for the U.S. Army. (Wikipedia)
It is evident to me that Washakie knew he and his people needed to
adapt to the new life and work with the government initiative.
Another challenge for Washakie was having sufficient land to hunt large
game like buffalo and elk for their survival.
Other tribes had this problem as well, particularly with the U.S.
Cavalry making progress in pushing the various tribes to reservations as the
west was being populated.
Wyoming was one of the last areas to become a reservation for
Native Americans and this triggered intense competition. The Sioux were well-trained warriors and had moved
toward the area, as well as the Crow.
According to Jackson Hole History, in 1856 the building up of the competition erupted in a violent battle between Washakie’s band and a large Crow group. The fight took place when Washakie’s Shoshones traveled south from Henry’s Lake, according to the memoirs of Elijah Wilson, a white boy who spent two years with Washakie’s family during this time.
Wilson said more than 50 Shoshones and 100 Crow warriors lost
their lives, which is a tremendous loss of life and highly unusual in plains Indian
warfare. Wilson implied that Washakie
and the Crow leader called a truce and both groups departed the scene. However, it is quite possible and perhaps likely
that this battle is the legendary story of the Battle of Crow Heart Butte.
According to the story, following a battle like this one described by Wilson, Washakie challenged the Crow leader to single combat, with the loser’s people agreeing to retreat from the area. This event supposedly took place at the top of the Crow Heart Butte, a monolithic table-top mesa near the Big Wind River, about 30 miles south of Dubois, Wyoming.
Here is another account of the battle between the Shoshone and Crow leaders.
Crow Heart Butte was the site of a battle between the Crow and Shoshone American Indian tribes in 1866. According to legend, following a five-day battle for rights to the hunting grounds in the Wind River Range, Chief Washakie of the Shoshone and Chief Big Robber of the Crow agreed to a duel, with the winner gaining the rights to the Wind River hunting grounds. Chief Washakie prevailed, but he was so impressed with the courage of his opponent that rather than scalp him, he cut out his heart and placed it on the end of his lance. Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/2017688173/
The following is another
story presented by the Historical Marker Project as it referenced the statue of
This bronze sculpture captures the moment when Chief Washakie first raises his lance challenging Crow Chief Big Robber to a duel. The Battle of Crow Heart Butte was ignited when Crow Chief Big Robber and his braves refused to leave an area near this unique geological outcropping at the middle northern boundary of the present-day Wind River Reservation.
Game had become
increasingly scarce in other areas, with more tribes looking to the Wind River
Valley for their winter supply of meat. Like the Shoshone, the Crow believed
that this was their territory too. When the Crow moved in, to hunt, Washakie
allowed them to stay for several weeks. Eventually, however, Washakie sent one
of his best warriors and the warrior’s wife as a peace envoy with a message
telling Big Robber that it was time to move east toward the Owl Creek
The Crow chief’s response
was to kill the Shoshone scout as the woman watched helplessly. Big Robber then
sent her home to relate the horrific scene to Chief Washakie.
considered Big Robber to be a very strong opponent who was revered among his
people for his steadfast bravery, the Shoshone chief immediately organized a
war party of men he had trained personally to military precision and set out to
attack the band of Crow camped on the Big Wind River near the Kinnear Ranch.
A group of Bannocks (another
tribe) joined Washakie in his attack on the Crow. Although taken by surprise,
the Crow proved to be formidable adversaries for Washakie’s men. The two sides fought for nearly a week
Finally realizing that
both chiefs were losing too many warriors, Washakie approached Big Robber with
a proposition: the two chiefs would fight each other. The warriors of the
losing chief would forfeit the hunting lands and go home.
Fearless and menacing,
Washakie rode close to the Crow chief and taunted him: “You and I will
fight. And when I beat you, I will cut out your heart. And I will eat it!”
As the Shoshone and Crow
warriors gathered on opposite sides to watch, the two chieftains rode back and
forth taunting and yelling at each other. As the fight raged on, it
became impossible to distinguish one from the other in the distant haze of
Finally, Washakie emerged
with Big Robbers heart on the end of his lance, determining the winner. True to
his word, Washakie had indeed cut out the dead chief’s heart, but his
descendants say he did not eat it. Instead, he displayed it until after the
Shoshone victory dance that night. Out of respect for the triumphant Washakie,
the Crow gave him two young women. He later took one of them as his wife. https://www.historicalmarkerproject.com/markers/HM1SPZ_battle-of-crowheart-butte_Laramie-WY.html
Washakie accomplished what most other Indian leaders of his time could not; a negotiated deal with the U.S. Government, guaranteeing land for his people.
When Washakie died he was given a full U.S. military funeral, supposedly the only Native American leader so honored. His cenotaph states that he “was noted for his friendship towards the white men” and even his tombstone praises him as “always loyal to the government and to his white brothers.” https://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/36397
The railroad remains a constant mover of life and goods to keep the connections between east and west United States. Sure, aircraft can move people and goods faster, but think about the train – the volume of goods moved, support to towns and communities, the direct connection of those on the ground. The railroad continues to develop and maintain a unique way of life, particularly out west.
The clanging, rattling of the tracks, engines roaring, rails
came alive in May 1868, the historic day when a train whistle marked the
arrival of the first train in Laramie, Wyoming, on the newest section of the
Union Pacific Railroad.
Builders kept at the task and inched along, achieving
milestones little by little. The west was being explored, although with hardship,
and there would be success.
There is a remarkable difference from the trains and
railroad operations of years past to the modern trains of today. There remains still a little bit of the old
western feel though. Thankfully, the
Laramie Railroad Depot helps preserve the past.
In 1924 the Laramie depot was built to replace the town’s original Union Pacific Depot and Hotel that was destroyed by fire in 1917. The depot served as Laramie’s Union Pacific passenger depot until 1971, and as an Amtrak depot until 1983. In 1985, the Union Pacific Railroad gave the Depot to the Laramie Plains Museum, which then transferred ownership to the Laramie Railroad Depot Association in 2009.
“The Depot is the only remaining building left from the once
large Union Pacific presence in Laramie and was added to the National Register
of Historic Places in 1988. The railroad is the reason for the city’s original
existence, and the Depot is an important part of Laramie’s historic legacy.” More
history is located at https://www.laramiedepot.org/history.
I enjoyed standing on the railroad walkway watching the trains move along, thinking of the history, and wondering what people from 1868 would say about these trains today.
The high plains of southeastern Wyoming are now inviting to those with quick means of transportation, as compared to more than 100 years ago, although they had dreams and desires to start a new life, regardless of how long it took them.
Just envision the slow, cumbersome wagons and laboring livestock meandering their way to places unknown as the western U.S. was being formed. Let’s take a quick glance at Laramie, Wyoming.
I’m glad we were able to travel the area in June. Here are some tidbits I collected for the post.
Laramie today is a town of nearly 31,000 people. It is near the Medicine Bow Mountains and recreational parks. It is home to the University of Wyoming.
Laramie is also the historic place where a woman first cast a vote in a general election. Some of the street art depicts pioneer women making significant milestones toward individual freedom.
In the early days, American Indians scattered the area during hunting season as they looked for large wildlife to sustain their livelihood.
Laramie is another example too of the influence from those outside
the United States who made lasting impacts toward societal growth.
A French-Canadian trapper
named Jacques La Ramee, sometimes spelled La Ramie, arrived in the area about
1817, and is thought to have explored the area around the Laramie River in what
is now Wyoming.
Euro-American settlement commenced in
1862 with the arrival of Ben Holladay’s Overland Stage line.
The impending arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad on the Laramie Plains was assured when company surveyor James Evans laid out the general course of the line in 1864. The 1866 construction of Fort Sanders basically ensured settlement would continue in the area.
As I ponder the Fourth of July celebrations, my first thought was independence, and how it led to opportunities for those from around the world to come to a place to worship as they choose, with an independent free will created by God Himself, freedom from government dictating how to live. Government would be by the people, for the people – with the federal government being responsible for safety and security of its citizens, enabling them to prosper and pursue happiness.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.Preamble
to the Declaration of Independence (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration)
I thought about how conflict arose, and the many lives lost between early settlers and the motherland – Great Britain. Although there were struggles and loss of life throughout the early years, and each generation thereafter, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness were destined to prevail.
The individual, independent states formed a republic with
representation in the federal government.
The government provided a common defense, allowing the people to be creative
– expanding the new nation, building for themselves a new home, wherever their
adventures would take them.
With the expansion west, it became evident travelers and settlers needed an efficient, and safer, means of transportation. The people were on the move to build a greater nation and accept those of all nations who yearn for freedom, although it also came at the demise of the Native American.
With the great expansion out west, how could organization,
peace and unity be established?
In the 1850s Congress commissioned several topographical surveys across the Western U.S. to determine the best route for a railroad. However, private corporations were reluctant to undertake the task without federal assistance. The Pacific Railroad Act designated the 32nd parallel as the initial transcontinental route and gave huge grants of land for rights-of-way.
The act authorized two railroad companies, the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, to construct the lines. Beginning in 1863, the Union Pacific, employing more than 8,000 Irish, German, and Italian immigrants, built west from Omaha, NE.
The Central Pacific, whose workforce included more than 10,000 Chinese laborers, built eastward from Sacramento, CA.
“Each company faced unprecedented construction problems—mountains, severe weather, and the hostility of American Indians. On May 10, 1869, in a ceremony at Promontory, UT, the last rails were laid and the last spike driven. Congress eventually authorized four transcontinental railroads and granted 174 million acres of public lands for rights-of-way.” https://www.docsteach.org/documents/document/pacific-railroad-act
The railroad vastly improved development out west and state governments had to be formed.
Cheyenne was born in 1867 in the path of the transcontinental railroad, when the Union Pacific crews arrived to lay tracks westward. Cheyenne soon laid claim to a higher status than older Wyoming settlements such as those at Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger, and the mining town of South Pass City, changing Cheyenne from a village to a city in a matter of months. The seat of the new territorial government was established in Cheyenne in 1869.
Women were instrumental in settling the west with their new freedoms and opportunity. They too had dreams and aspirations. No doubt they faced many obstacles and persevered, making way for Wyoming to be the first state to grant women the right to vote.
Wyoming began construction of the state capitol building before statehood (becoming a member of the United States), located north of downtown Cheyenne.
Although we didn’t see them during our visit while the renovation was being completed, the exterior approach to the front steps of the capitol features the State Seal in granite as well as two statues:
Esther Hobart Morris, who had a significant role in gaining women’s suffrage in the Wyoming Territory. The statue was sculpted by Avard Fairbanks. The act to grant women the right to vote was passed by the First Territorial Assembly and signed by Governor John Allen Campbell on December 10, 1869. Wyoming became the first government in the world to grant women the right to vote. Morris was also appointed as the first female Justice of the Peace in the territory during 1870.
Chief Washakie of the Shoshone tribe. The statue was sculpted by Dave McGary. Chief Washakie earned a reputation that lives on today – a fierce warrior, skilled politician and diplomat, great leader of the Shoshone people, friend to white men. Washakie granted right-of-way through Shoshone land in western Wyoming to the Union Pacific Railroad, aiding the completion of the transcontinental railroad. The famed leader and warrior died at the age of 102 in 1900. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Washakie. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wyoming_State_Capitol.
So, as we celebrate independence as a nation of all who dream to be free, let’s be mindful of the myriads from all nations and walks of life who contributed to this worthy cause, often having their own lives taken in pursuit of their dreams and freedoms. Let’s take these differences and unify them for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.