Historic WyomingWritten by Jennifer Womack
Walcott – A 1982 “Wallop for Senate” bumper sticker plastered to a door surrounded by decades of lanolin buildup from millions of sheep may best tell the story of the Australian-style Walcott shearing barn.
Barn owners Vern and Della Vivion told attendees at the 2008 Wyoming Livestock Roundup historic ranch tour that the building served as the shearing facility for the area’s expansive sheep operations and as the area’s social gathering point. Social gatherings included fundraisers and gatherings for political candidates.
Efforts are underway to either preserve the barn in its present-day location or relocate it to Territorial Park in Laramie, an effort that would take nearly $2 million to complete. Della said a recently secured $10,000 grant may be the beginning of what she hopes will be a growing fund. Wyoming’s State Historic Preservation Office has also taken an interest in the building by compiling a great deal of its history in written form.
“This building where we stand, which still has so much of its integrity, in eight years will be a hundred years old. It was built in 1916,” said Della. Located near the railroad tracks, wool sheared at the barn was loaded on the train and shipped to Boston in the early days.
Area shearing facilities were first located at nearby Fort Steele and operated by the Cosgriff family. Della said when an area saloon proved too distracting for shearing crews the facilities were relocated to the Walcott area. Remnants of the old town of Walcott and the shearing barn were part of the Sept. 21 tour organized by locals Bill and Carole Ward and Dick and Marty Perue, all of Saratoga. Perue offered a first-hand account of stomping wool into the wool bags at the barn during his younger days.
In 1915 three local sheep operations – the Leo Sheep Company owned by Le Emmitt Vivion, the Savage Brothers Company and Andy Nelson & Company – purchased the Walcott shearing operation from the Cosgriffs. Completed in 1916, the barn was part of a University of Wyoming effort to add efficiency to shearing and to sort wool by its quality. The barn was last used in the 1980s. Built for 20 sheep shearers to use simultaneously, Della said Curt Rochelle, Elmer Peterson, the Palms and more used the facilities.
“This has been a cultural center in a sense,” said Della. Laughing, she added, “In my young days here, it was so that if you didn’t come to the Walcott shearing sheds for dinner on Sunday, you just weren’t anybody. In fact, we had Paul Harvey here for dinner once.”
The Pace family, owners of the TA Ranch since 1976, welcomed tour attendees with a great deal of hospitality to their ranch located between I-80 and Saratoga on the flanks of Elk Mountain. Perue, an avid historian, told the story of struggling early day homesteaders who first came to the land that now makes up the 80,000-acre ranch. The ranch’s elevation averages 7,500 feet, making high altitude disease a consideration when purchasing cattle.
The ranch’s General Business Manager Clay Humphreys joked, “While it’s true we did come up from Texas, please don’t think of us as latecomers or interlopers. In fact, the ground we stand on now was once part of the panhandle of the Republic of Texas.” Humphreys said the ranch is a cow-calf operation with a great deal of native grass hay land. Hunting on the ranch is offered through Cabelas.
Information new to many tour participants was Perue’s story of William F. Swan. Brother to well-known southeast Wyoming rancher Alexander Swan, William founded the town of Swan, which later became Riverside. He also ranched at the base of Elk Mountain on land that is now part of the TA Ranch. “The only fence on the ranch was that around the hay field at the headquarters,” said Perue.
Driving through the TA Ranch and on through Pass Creek, the tour concluded at the historic, and scenic, Elk Mountain Hotel in Elk Mountain. The hotel was built in 1905 and renovated in 2005 with its historic authenticity in mind. Including a top-notch restaurant, additional information on the Elk Mountain Hotel can be found online at www.elkmountainhotel.com.