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Pioneer Assoc. breaks ground on museum addition

Written by Jennifer Womack

Douglas – Anticipation is already building for the 2012 and 100th Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo (WSF). That’s especially true amidst the Wyoming Pioneer Association (WPA) membership as the group prepares to make its latest in a long history of investments in the WSF and the associated infrastructure.

During the recent WSF, the group broke ground for what will be a new addition to the Wyoming Pioneer Museum located on the Wyoming State Fairgrounds. K&R Construction of Douglas has been hired to construct the building with plans to have it finished prior to the 2012 Wyoming State Fair & Rodeo.

In 1956 the WPA accomplished one of its greatest goals when the Wyoming Legislature appropriated funds to build the Wyoming Pioneer Museum. The museum was built next to the Wyoming Pioneer Cabin, the group’s early day meeting site.

“In 1927 the WPA built the Pioneer Cabin to host their annual meeting. Just one year earlier, the group dating back to 1884, was incorporated,” says WPA President Mary Engebretsen.

The original cabin cost $1,400 to build, with the logs ordered shortly after the Pioneers’ formative meeting. Shortly thereafter the group’s membership grew to 720 members, and a tent was pitched to accommodate the growing attendance at annual meetings.

“In recent years, with a group too large for the cabin, we’ve been meeting in the Wyoming State Fair Cafeteria,” said Engebretsen.

The group saw a need to not only provide their own meeting facilities, but also involve additional community members with the museum by offering new space amidst some of Wyoming’s finest historical collections.

Engebretsen explains, “It’s a very exciting time as we move forward with plans to build a Ruthe James Williams Memorial addition to the Wyoming Pioneer Museum. With this addition we will have space to host our annual meeting, become the home of the Centennial Ranch program and house art shows, receptions and other events.”

Each year through the Centennial Ranch Program, ranches that are 100 or more years old are recognized during the WSF. The reception has been held at various locations in Douglas, and the WPA would like to bring the event to the museum and its new facilities.

“While Ruthe James Williams’ generous contribution to the Pioneer Association will go far in helping us reach our building goal, additional contributions are needed,” says Engebretsen. “It will truly take community involvement and investment to ensure this much-needed expansion of the Wyoming Pioneer Museum becomes a reality.”
Engebretsen says investing in the museum is a great way to permanently recognize an individual, a family or a ranch while supporting a beautiful new building rich in history and with a bright future.

“We plan to hold our 2012 meeting in the new building,” says Engebretsen.

During initial planning stages, she says the group has requested a building completion date of late June or early July 2012. It’s fitting that a group with such close ties to the WSF could complete this project on the year the event turns 100!

Those who would like to support the Wyoming Pioneer Association’s building efforts are encouraged to contact Mary Engebretsen at 307-334-2929 or mail the Wyoming Pioneer Association at PO Box 1545, Douglas WY 82633.

Jennifer Womack is a freelance writer who can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 307-351-0730.


Wyoming Pioneer addition to be named in Williams’ honor

Douglas — Ruthe James Williams’ story is laced with Wyoming’s pioneer spirit. Fittingly, Ruth, who passed away in September 2008, left a large portion of her estate to the Wyoming Pioneer Association. Beyond allowing the Pioneer Association to pursue its building goals, the gift has resurrected a World War II story of heroism and perseverance during hard times.

In 1917 William and Carrie James, along with their two oldest daughters Gladys and Louise, arrived in Douglas and homesteaded 18 miles from town. The young family from Iowa lived in a tent while their new home was built and sod was broken for the crops they’d grow.

In December 1919 a mid-wife delivered the James’ third daughter – Ruth, who would later add an “e” to the end of her name. Ruthe’s sisters were ages eight and ten at the time of her arrival.

At age six Ruthe was sent to Douglas for schooling. She, along with her then high-school age sisters, lived in a long-narrow building with cement floors.

“I believe it was originally a laundry,” Ruthe later wrote in a short memoir. “We were comfortable and lived under the watchful eyes of Margaret and Jim, a Catholic sister and brother who owned this boarding house for ranchers and farmers who visited the county seat for business or doctor’s calls.”

The following year Ruthe was able to receive her education at a country school a mile from the family’s homestead.

“In good weather I walked a mile, a little less if I cut across the pasture. Sometimes I would see meadowlarks nesting under the sagebrush, and their song can still make my heart quiver.”

While attending this school Ruthe made her first of two “grade skips,” which landed her in high school three months before her twelfth birthday.

“1927 was the only year they ended in the black, moneywise,” wrote Ruthe. “How proud and happy my folks must have been. We made a trip to visit relatives in Iowa. We had new clothes. My mother bought me a red rubber-like raincoat and hat.”

Good times were short-lived.

“Depression did not start for farmers in 1929,” recalled Ruthe. “It had been building for some time and farmers were the first to know it.”

Hard times took a toll on Will and Carrie’s marriage, and Ruthe and her mother were soon living in an apartment in Douglas and later Iowa. Ruthe graduated from high school in Iowa at age 16 and shortly thereafter returned to Douglas.

Back in Douglas, Ruthe and Jack Williams began courting. Five years later, in September 1941, the young couple married unbeknownst to their families. At the time of Jack’s death in a March 1942 barracks fire Ruthe had resigned from her job with the telephone company and had been making plans to join him on the coast. She followed through with the move and lived the remainder of her life in the Seattle area.