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Isolation Poses Problem for Some Pioneer Ranch Women

Written by Dick Perue

Isolation was a major problem for some pioneer women in Wyoming, according to one written account about a couple Cowboy state ranches.

An owner of the A Bar A brought his young bride Margaret, just out of finishing school at Washington, D.C., to the valley. She could sing and paint very well but was in no way prepared for a rigorous and isolated life on a Wyoming ranch.

Upper valley ranches were high, cold and far from town. In winter, folks could cross the river on the ice if it was strong enough to hold them. Otherwise, they took the long, snow-bound route down the east side of the river to the Butler Bridge at Bennett’s Peak and on into Saratoga or Encampment.

Margaret often rode miles on horseback to visit her neighbor, Mrs. Charles Sanger, and remembered once dismounting and crawling on her hands and knees on the icy trail. Mrs. Sanger was a valued friend and offered great help and strength including showing Margaret how to make bread, but by the time Margaret got home, the “yeast foam” was frozen, so the effort was a failure.

It was not long before Margaret’s husband realized that, happy as the men were here and romantic as was the setting, it was no place to rear a family, so he took her to California.

However, most pioneer ranch women proved to be of sturdier stock and remained to thrive.

One of those sturdy pioneer women was Josephine Brown, who after a failed courtship with one of Wyoming’s most famous cowboys – Corporal Skirdin, better known as “The Virginian” in Owen Wister’s famous novel – went on to operate a creamery and serve as postmistress before marrying a local rancher.

When Josephine came to realize that Skirdin would never be acceptable to her mother and with a broken heart, she set off to a different life at a ranch owned by her brother Jackson.

A creamery was a good-looking enterprise to Josephine and Jackson. In June of 1902, they put in a complete creamery, which was operated by steam. They were well on their way to supplying the valley towns with butter. The Browns turned out some 300 pounds of butter each week. To supply the cream for the plant, some 40 cows were needed, and for a number of years, butter was sold at 35 cents a pound.

When Jackson died his sister inherited the property and was able to finish paying for the ranch with the creamery profit.

In 1907, Josephine was appointed postmistress of French, Carbon County and moved the post office to the Brown Ranch.

The local weekly hometown newspaper reported, “Miss Brown must be commended for the public spirit she shows in accepting the position as it is a large nuisance with practically no remuneration.”

She continued to operate that post office for many years.

Josephine and her neighbor, Charles H. Sanger, were married at the Episcopal rectory in Saratoga March 2, 1908 and moved to Sanger’s ranch home, thus incorporating the adjoining property. She continued to serve as postmistress and became a noted homemaker, as well as a good neighbor, friend and mentor to Margaret and many other pioneer women.