Fort Laramie was â€˜gateway to the mountainsâ€™Written by Christy Hemken
Today the site, three miles from the town of Fort Laramie, features refurbished buildings, a museum and several interpretive areas, as well as what’s known as “the most complete Western history bookstore west of the Mississippi.”
Fort Laramie was “the most important outpost on the Oregon Trail,” according to historical information. The first fort site, originally built by trappers in 1834, was available to travelers and the people who lived in the area for 56 years. It was located at the junction of the Laramie and North Platte rivers.
American and French-Canadian beaver hunters were the first men of European origin to explore the headwaters of the North Platte in 1812. The first documented visit was by seven men from the American Fur Company.
Several geographical names attest to the early infiltration of French-Canadians, among them one “Goche,” who has become immortalized as the namesake of present Goshen County. Another was a shadowy figure commonly identified as Jacques Laramee or Laramie.
According to an 1831 report by Indian Agent John Dougherty at Fort Leavenworth this was “J. Loremy, a free man,” killed in 1821 by Arapahoe Indians “on the Platte,” presumably near the river and later the fort, which now bear his name, among a number of other Wyoming locations.
A continual benefit of Fort Laramie’s location was its equidistance between the Missouri River steamboat landings and the Upper Green River west of the Wind River Range.
In 1834 William Sublette and Robert Campbell, who were in the fur trade, built the first fort on the Laramie. In 1835 they sold the fort, then known as Fort William, to Jim Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick and Milton Sublette. Within a year the mountain men relinquished their interest to the American Fur Company.
Visitors of record include famous mountain men like Kit Carson, Joe Meek and Osborne Russell, the explorer-missionary Father De Smet and Augustus Johann Sutter, a Swiss whose ranch on the Sacramento River would become the scene of James Marshall’s discovery of California gold in 1848.
In 1841 a rival fort was built within rifle-shot of Fort William, this one known as Fort Johns, and because of the dilapidation of Fort William, the American Fur Company moved to their own nearby location, built of adobe brick. For a few years both forts continued to thrive on the buffalo robe trade, sending wagon caravans or flotillas down the Platte to St. Louis each spring.
In 1841 the first West Coast-bound settlers also arrived at Fort Laramie. In 1842 emigrants bound for Oregon followed them. In 1843 the first great migration to Oregon passed through – about 1,000 people led by Marchus Whitman and Peter Burnett, who became the first American governor of California. In 1844 another 1,000 passed through to Oregon, and in 1845 it picked up to 5,000 pioneers. For 20 years following Fort Laramie hosted emigrants moving westward.
It was in March 1849 that the site became a U.S. military post. Companies A and E, mounted riflemen and Company G, Sixth Infantry, were designated as the first garrison of the new post. On June 26 Fort Laramie was purchased from Bruce Husband, agent of the American Fur Company, for $4,000.
Stone was quarried and a horse-powered sawmill placed in operation. By winter a two-story block of officers’ quarters, a block of soldier quarters, a bakery, and two stables had been completed, and Fort Laramie’s 40 years as a frontier command post of the U.S. Army began.
In the years to come 30,000 “Forty-Niners” passed through the fort. While Fort Kearny was viewed as the gateway to the Great Plains, Fort Laramie was known as the gateway to the mountains. Aware of the long dangerous journey across mountains and deserts ahead, leaving the fort seemed to one emigrant “like parting anew from all that was hallowed on earth.”
Fort Laramie’s decline began in the 1880s, when the frontier character shifted to a permanent settlement and range cattle and cowboys replaced pioneers and Indians. In 1886 the railroad by-passed Fort Laramie and was routed through Fort Robinson in Nebraska.
On Aug. 31, 1889 General J.M. Schofield announced, “the garrisons of Fort Laramie, Wyoming Territory; Fort Hays, Kansas; and Fort Lyon, Colorado will be withdrawn, and the several military posts will be abandoned.”
Twenty-two buildings still stand on the site, including the oldest building in Wyoming – “Old Bedlam.” A former bachelors’ quarters, it’s alleged its name comes from the wild times it saw while in use. One of two principal buildings of two stories each, the other being the old Barracks, were so damaged and so rickety by 1866 that in a high wind the occupants sometimes escaped them to sleep on the open parade ground.
Two miles from Fort Laramie stands the old Iron Army Bridge, built in 1875 and one of the first iron bridges constructed west of the Missouri River.
In 1936 National Park Service representatives first visited the abandoned fort site and expressed to then-Wyoming Governor Leslie Miller interest in preserving it. This led to a successful effort by the Governor to persuade the Wyoming legislature to buy, and landowners to sell, 214 acres in 1937, after which the state tendered a deed to the United States.
By Presidential Proclamation July 16, 1938 the site became Fort Laramie National Monument. In 1960, when the area was enlarged by Congress to 571 acres, it was re-designated a National Historic Site.
In the summer of 1999, both the Ft. Laramie National Historic Site and the California Gold Rush Trail celebrated sesquicentennials – 150 years of existence.
For more history on Fort Laramie, visit http://geneaologytrails.com. Article compiled from geneaologytrails.com and other sources by Christy Hemken, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup.
Jay Em: A historic homesteaderâ€™s havenWritten by Christy Hemken
“An intelligent man, with much foresight, Harris saw a need for various businesses to provide for the influx of homesteaders in this area,” says Jay Em information.
The town’s name was taken from James Moore’s cattle brand, the JM. Moore’s ranch was situated two miles north of the town. A successful cattleman, Moore had also been a Pony Express rider, drover and freighter.
“Jay Em is unique due to the fact it survived because of the homesteader – not because of the railroad, mining or any other industry,” says the information.
Today the town site is composed of the hardware and grocery stores, a cream station, a gas station, the lumberyard and mill building, the bank and post office and the blacksmith shop.
Built in 1920, the hardware store was known as J.M. Hardware and people traveled from as far as 100 miles to get ranch supplies there. They knew they’d be able to get whatever they needed, including parts for one complete windmill. The hardware also had a soda fountain, gas pumps and town meetings, socials and even rifle practices were held in the hall above the store.
The grocery store was constructed in 1935 and replaced the building that was originally Harris’s home and later the mill building. People were allowed to charge their groceries and dry good, and the hall above the store building was used for Sunday school, church club meetings and apartments.
The cream station, now located between the grocery and hardware stores, was small but mighty, at one time shipping out more cream than any other station in Wyoming.
The gas station and garage were known as Shoults Garage from 1928 to 1945, after the first proprietor James Shoults. Then from 1946 to 1960 it was known as Wolfes Repair, with a blacksmith shop in the back of the building.
The first blacksmith shop was west of Harris’s home and Bill Bradbury was the village blacksmith. After that site was flooded out it was moved to the current building around 1919, which later became a garage.
In 1935 Lloyd Damrow and Oscar Bradbury opened a business in the stone shop known as Jay Em Onyx & Gem Co. Through the years it was also known as Wy. Marble & Stone Inc. as well as the Jay Em Stone Shop. The companies that operated there made everything from head stones, fireplace mantels and tabletops to paperweights, salt and pepper shakers, ashtrays, candle stick holders and jewelry.
What is the mill building today was first called the Jay Em Store and the General Store. In 1917 the building housed the grocery, hardware, drugstore, livestock feed and lumber store. Trains traveling through Fort Laramie or Lingle delivered the lumber and equipment stocked in Jay Em.
The Farmers State Bank of Jay Em was opened for business in 1920. In 1945 it was sold to the First National Bank of Torrington. In 1933, after the inauguration of President Roosevelt, a proclamation was issued closing all banks and embargoing all gold to prove the federal government’s power in coping with the financial crisis of the Depression. However, the Jay Em bank did not receive word and stayed open, and it was robbed in 1935.
The first post office in the area was established in 1899 in William (Uncle Jack) Hargraves’ cabin north of town. The postal inspector reprimanded Hargraves for his duties, so Uncle Jack told him to take the post office back. Then, in 1908 Silas Harris (Lake Harris’s father) sent a request to Washington, D.C. to get the post office back.
After that Lake Harris carried mail by horseback three times a week for three months, free of charge, to show he could run a post office. On Feb. 10, 1909 Mrs. C.H. Thronton was appointed postmistress. At the time Lake wasn’t old enough, but in 1914 he was appointed postmaster. He was again appointed postmaster in 1931, a position in which he served until he retired in 1959.
The post office shared a front corner of the bank building.
Baker recalls WWII, life in LingleWritten by Jennifer Womack
“I knew I was going to have to go to the Service,” recalls John, who now lives in senior housing in Scottsbluff, Neb. with his wife Betty. “When Pearl Harbor took place I told my dad I was going to enlist in the Marines.”
His dad’s response, recalls John, “I have to sign and I’m not going to sign you in. I know you’re going to the Service, but I want you to think about what you want to do there and to have a goal.”
“I went to work at the Sunrise mine for a couple of months,” says John of the mine that was near the town of Guernsey. “It came out that summer that in the U.S. Army Air Corps that if you had two years of college you could enter cadet training.” Unable to draw enough people who could qualify, John says, “They came out and said they’d give you a mental examination. If you could pass that test they would take you. I took the test and flunked it by one point. You had to have a 90 or better and I had an 89.”
John says, “There were 33 of us who took it and one guy passed it.” The lieutenant administering the test told John to go home and come back to retake the test in three months. “I came back and was wondering what I was going to do,” says John. “About then my brother took the test. He’d graduated from UW that year. He came back and I asked him how he did. He said, I did good, I got and 88 and I’m in.”
After asking his brother some questions, John realized they’d take the exact same test, largely including questions on current events. “I called Cheyenne up and they couldn’t get enough to pass it so they lowered it to 80. I still have the letter at home that said anyone who got between 80 and 90 could take their physical and could go to Air Corps.”
John says, “It qualified me for cadet training at San Antonio, Texas.” When he arrived in Texas John says he learned that there were 40,000 soldiers in training at the facility.
“I asked to be a pilot and I qualified,” he says. “We had nine weeks of tough schooling. It was tough.” If you made it through that segment of the training, John says, you transferred to Fort Stockton, Texas for flight training. “It was in the middle of nowhere, a nice place for an airfield.”
“That was also a nine-week course,” recalls John, who completed the course, unlike the remaining 80 percent of his class. “Some of them had problems trying to fly, but they also needed crewmen, they needed bombardiers, gunners and radio operators. When you washed out you were still enlisted, but they sent you where they wanted you.”
With one week of flight training left, John got word to report to headquarters where it was confirmed that his friend Marvin Bales had been killed in a plane crash while training. “Get your stuff ready you’re going to Kansas City to escort the body,” said the commanding officer. John was told he could finish his flight training upon his return.
“I lived with his family for a week,” recalls John of the duty assigned to him when he was 19 years old. It was longer than a soldier would ordinarily stay, but John says the fog delayed his return trip. He ended up catching a train back to Texas.
Upon returning to Texas John finished his flight training and was transferred to San Angelo, Texas for basic training. “In Lubbock I was flying twin-engine planes. Everybody there wanted to be a fighter pilot, that was an automatic. But our instructor told us that none of us would be fighter pilots.”
“Everyone’s got to go to heavies,” said the instructor to the class. When asked, John chose a B-26.
“It was called the widow-maker because they were killing so many people in training,” recalls John. The losses grew so large that Congress grounded the planes until six feet could be added to the wings to increase safety. Following the modifications, the planes ended up being among those with the highest safety ratings.
“They took us down to Louisiana for combat training,” says John. “We had four and a half weeks of that and then they sent us overseas.” Upon departing the United States flying an airplane assigned to him in Savannah, Ga., John says he had about 200 hours of flight time. “My engineer was 26 years old and we called him ‘Pop.’ We didn’t have anyone else over 21.”
Given their frequent need for fuel, the young crew made stops in Florida, Puerto Rico, South America, Africa and more. “We had to land in the Atlantic Ocean on Ascension Island,” says John. “It was three miles across. We landed there and then went to Africa where we made two stops.”
“At Sardinia, an island near Italy, I joined the 320th bomb group,” says John. “They assigned my crew to the 442nd Squadron. We were there several months bombing Italy.”
They then moved north of Corsica, a location from which they began bombing southern France and northern Italy. Of the invasion of southern France on Aug. 15, 1944, John says, “We flew in support of that. You always hear about the big battle at Normandy, but there was the largest bunch of ships in history in the Mediterranean.”
After the American troops took France, John and his crew were re-stationed and began bombing Germany. “I flew for about 11 months. I had 65 missions and 287 combat hours,” says John. Throughout that time he never lost a crew member, but did have one close landing. His landing gear wouldn’t extend down and he landed the plane on its belly. The military newspaper reported the happening under the headline “Hot pilot makes hot landing.” No one was seriously injured, but John says one of his crewmembers did skin his chin sliding down the airplane.
John returned to the United States in April of 1945 and asked for an assignment shuttling fighter planes to Alaska. “But the war ended before I got to take the trip,” says John. “I was in Great Falls, Mont. when the war ended.” It took 95 points to leave the military and John had accumulated 135 points.
Within days of returning home John and Betsy were married. In 2010 the couple will celebrate 65 years together.
“They courted on dad’s bicycle,” says John’s daughter Peggy DesEnfants.
“She was a seventh grader when we started dating,” says John. They considered marrying before he left for service overseas, says John, “but it just wouldn’t have been right.” He couldn’t stand the thought of the affect it would have on her if he was injured or didn’t return home.
Back in Lingle, John operated a small filling station. “I’d go down and rent small planes every once in a while, but I never wanted to fly commercially. If I would have known it was going into the jet age, I might have.”
John was operating the filling station, also a source for the white gas many people used to use heat their homes, when the blizzard of 1949 hit. He stayed open throughout the blizzard to ensure people had the fuel they needed.
In 1952 the family sold the service station and moved to Wheatland where John was a parts manager. In 1968 they returned to Lingle where he spent over 20 years as the parts manager at Rose Brothers before retiring in the late 1980s.
“When I got out I could have made more money in a metro area,” says John, “but I like small towns. I’ve never been sorry.” Lingle, where his father operated a now retired power plant south of town during John’s younger years, was home.
Looking back on the war effort John says, “I often wonder if we had something similar happen today, how much cooperation we’d get. Everyone was working and everyone was on rations.”
Women in the community, says Peggy sharing a story from her mother, shared their gas rations so they could go places together.
“People really worked together,” says John. “Most of the boys from my graduating class were in the service.”
For many years John attended reunions with the friends he made in the Army Air Corps. Peggy, her two sisters and her brother knew her father’s military friends as “uncles.”
“You can be around people you’re whole life and never be close to them. When you’re with people in combat you get a close relationship that lasts for years,” says John.
He says, “I have good memories of the Air Corps. There were things that weren’t good, but the Good Lord lets us discard those out of our mind. You think about the good things and the humorous things.”
College Rodeo EWC rodeo team draws students nationallyWritten by Christy Hemken
Today Clark says the team, which has been a part of the college since the 1980s, sustains around 40 students, a number that has reached as high as 80 members, but he notes that 40 to 50 is more manageable, giving him more time to give individual coaching to team members while still maintaining some depth.
Clark grew up in a rodeo family as the youngest of four, so he says he was seasoned at an early age, roping at age five or six and riding calves. After rodeoing from both ends of the arena in his home state of Nebraska through high school he attended EWC for college.
Clark says a lot of his kids do recruiting for him by word of mouth. “They’ll tell their friends it’s a great place to come to school, and that’s the first contact,” he notes, adding that he occasionally attends high school rodeos as well. “Most recruiting deals with watching videos, the rodeo resume and grades.
However, he adds you never know about a person’s skills. “I’ve had students without a lot of success in high school come here and have an outstanding college career. You never know when a student will prime, so we don’t just look at the rodeo resume, but the whole person.”
EWC has a scholarship program for its rodeo team, and Clark says in college rodeo there’s every variation on skill level, saying he doesn’t turn students away as long as their grades are good. “We let them rodeo and try to do them some good while they’re here,” he says.
Students come to Torrington from Pennsylvania, Arizona, Montana and all over the country, says Clark. “They come for the rodeo program, and to be in Wyoming,” he says. “They want to come out West and learn the Western way of life, and I admire that. I think it’s a gutsy move for them to come that far to school and learn something new.”
Most students bring their own horses to Torrington, boarding them at one of several private facilities, practicing at the covered arena on the Goshen County Fairgrounds, where the rodeo stock is also kept. “The Goshen Pavilion is a great asset to our team, and it would be tough to recruit without it,” says Clark.
“I’ve lost count of our national qualifiers, which is a good thing,” says Clark of the team’s success over the years, estimating he’s had 65 or 70. “That’s what I like to see, and we’ve had several teams qualify.”
Several EWC rodeo team members have gone on to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev., including Jake Rinehart and Dean Gorsuch, who made the 2009 Finals.
“Those guys will come back and help with practice, and it’s nice to have the alumni support from them and the many others that stop in and help,” says Clark.
Of practices without visiting coaches, Clark says dealing with several different events with different opinions and theories can be challenging, but he says he tells his students if there’s a question he can’t answer they’ll find it, or find someone who can.
In early December the team had shut down for finals, planning to begin practice again in January for the five spring rodeos, the first of which will be hosted by EWC.
“We have an outstanding group this year and they’re a lot of fun and I’m sure some will be in Casper next summer,” says Clark of the 2010 College National Finals Rodeo. “Some freshmen are really strong, which is always fun. We could have two or seven up there, depending on how the second half of our season goes.”
“It’s rewarding to see these students grow in competition and also in their whole outlook on life, and to see them go on and be successful in whatever they do,” adds Clark. “It’s a great sport, and a great place for the young adults to be, as well as good incentive to stay in school and get an education.”
Of the students’ competition, Clark says, “I try to guide as much as I can, but in the end they have to nod their head and compete by themselves. I’m looking forward to the rest of our season.”
Wollerts work hard to maintain businessesWritten by Christy Hemken
“When I first started stacking, wherever there was a bale, I’d chase it,” says Mike. One truck turned into two, and now Mike hires help for the second truck and has just completed his 11th season stacking bales.
“When I started considering stacking hay as a business I realized we could swath and bale fast, but when it comes to getting hay out of the field it takes a long time. I felt there was an opportunity there,” he says of his beginning.
“Now we can stay in the local area,” says Mike, noting that’s not only because he’s developed a customer base but also because there’s a lot more hay produced in the area today.
“We put in a lot of hours, and 16 to 18 hour days at the peak,” says Mike. “The most I ever spent was 21 hours in the truck. It’s been a good business, but very demanding.”
He says most producers want their hay stacked right after baling, and some even call before they’re done. “Sometimes we’re chasing 10 balers that are running, trying to keep up with everybody,” he adds.
“Everyone starts baling the same day, then it starts spreading out a little bit, and we stack some wheat straw in there too. We start around the first of June and stack into the fall,” says Mike, who had some yet to stack into November.
“The moisture delayed things this year, and sometimes we’ll have some customers bale cornstalks, so I’ve stacked into January before,” says Mike.
Mike says he doesn’t haul the bales far to stack them. “It takes too much time and fuel to haul and stack, and I don’t make any money when I have to haul very far because I get paid per bale.”
“Two’s plenty,” says Mike when asked if he has any plans to expand the stacking business. “The one truck is getting pretty worn, and it’s stacked a tremendous amount of bales, but I don’t want to buy another one because you have to work so hard to get it paid for.”
Today Mike estimates he stacks 85 percent of the bales in the area.
Five years ago Mike and his wife Gretchen purchased their current place, which includes irrigated pasture and enabled them to get back into cattle. Mike says in the past he’s grazed his cows in Nebraska, near Lance Creek and near Torrington. “We’ve been everywhere, but now we’ve got the grass right here.”
Mike’s commercial cowherd is black, bred to black bulls. Although he sells his calves in the fall right now, he’d eventually like to put up a facility to feed some out.
Mike and Gretchen also recently got into the greenhouse business with the purchase of Pleasant Valley Greenhouse on Torrington’s east side, which Gretchen manages.
Mike says when they got the 24,000-square-foot greenhouse it was rough, but Gretchen says they’ve fixed it up and she spends much of her winter and spring there.
“In January I really start planting seeds, while March is nothing but transplanting to four-packs,” says Gretchen. “I’m done about the end of June, and the biggest month is May.”
Gretchen also had a taxidermy business for a number of years. “That was a good business, and made up for income lost when I quit teaching to stay home with the girls,” she says. Anymore she says she only does it if Mike or one of her girls brings home “a big one.”
The Wollerts also raise some colts. “People are just starting to use the colt’s we’ve raised, and they really like them,” says Mike. “I try to breed extensively with a cutting pedigree where they’ll watch cattle. Also, people don’t ride like they used to, so we can’t breed animals like we used to, where if you rode them enough to keep them worn down people could get along with them.”
“We stay very busy between stacking, the greenhouse, our farm and cattle and chasing the girls,” says Mike of his daughters Candace, 17, Taylor, 16 Gabrielle, 12 and Georgia, 10.
“We’re very independent and we work hard, and we wouldn’t raise our girls anywhere else than rural Wyoming,” adds Gretchen.