Ramage has deep roots at Lysite
Lysite – Bill Ramage and his uncle were both born in Fremont County – Bill at Lysite in 1931 and his uncle north of Cody in 1882, which at the time was within the Fremont County lines running clear from Colorado to Montana.
Eighty years later, Bill still lives in Lysite and has seen the town move through many changes. Two months short of 50 of those years were spent running the local grocery store – an understated building situated on the main street running through town.
“Lost Cabin was really here before Lysite,” says Bill. “It was built by a prominent man at the time, named John Okie. He came here in the late 1870s, and in the early 1880s he became a prominent sheep rancher. He was very perceptive, and could see the future better than most people. Along with sheep ranching, he built stores.”
Bill says Okie built and operated general stores at Arminto, Lost Cabin and Moneta, as well as a summertime store in the Bighorn Mountains. “Anything you bought, you bought from Okie, because of transportation the way it was in those days,” he notes.
Okie also helped many people get started in the sheep business, giving them a little herd on shares, which they’d run for him while homesteading. He accumulated his ranch through purchasing the titles to those homesteads.
Bill estimates it was 1905 when Northwestern Railroad came parallel to Highway 20/26 through Fremont County, terminating in Lander. “My father came into Moneta and got off Northwestern there in 1870,” he explains. “He had immigrated from Scotland, and he had a brother in this area, so he came and eventually herded sheep.”
“Then the Burlington Railroad came through, and it came through Casper, Arminto and Lysite and up through the Wind River Canyon to Thermop. They were building it from both ends from 1913 to 1917, and at the time there was a big tunnel at Arminto, where it goes over the divide between the Powder River Basin and the Wind River Basin, and my dad worked on that tunnel,” says Bill. “They could get the trains to the east end of the tunnel construction, but they had to haul black powder around to the other end.” Bill says his father also worked on the Burlington reservoir.
“Then Lysite sprung up, after the Burlington Railroad came through. Okie tried to get it to go through Lost Cabin, which was a stage stop, but due to the engineering and the grade they wouldn’t do that and instead followed Badwater Creek and came through Lysite,” explains Bill.
After that, Okie closed his store at Lost Cabin and began a store in Lysite, a block west of the current store’s location. “Another man had this store, but in the later years he went out of business and Okie bought this building and moved his store over here,” says Bill.
Eventually Okie sold out to a man by the name of Spratt, and the store went with the ranch, later being sold to a bookkeeper who had also purchased the Arminto store. His daughter ran it from 1949 to 1958, after which Bill and his sister purchased it and ran it one month short of 50 years. During that time, Bill was also Lysite postmaster for four years.
Today Bill and his sister still own their family’s ranch and lease it to Bill’s son-in-law.
Bill says there was a school at Lysite until the mid-‘60s, when the state mandated unified school districts. Lysite and Lost Cabin only had elementary schools, and when Bill was in school he traveled to Casper for high school.
“We boarded in Casper, and by the time I got to high school in 1945 they’d closed the boardinghouse where most of my predecessors stayed, so I boarded with other folks my parents knew,” says Bill. “We’d come back on the weekends, and at the time the train had regular passenger service, especially going back home. I had to get on the train here at 7 a.m., and by night we were in Casper. Going the other way, we’d have to spend the night somewhere, so I used to hitchhike out here, and never had any trouble getting a ride. My big problem was getting from Moneta to Lysite, and usually I walked. The road used to be nine miles long, now it’s only 8.2.”
“We’ve gotten to know people – we know everybody from around here,” says Bill of his years in Lysite. “We’ve had many people in the store. John Wayne was in here. We had one incident where some people from New York state were out here fossil hunting one summer with a pet leopard. A rattlesnake bit it, and not knowing anyone, they came pounding on the door. I knew the vet at Riverton, and I called him and he said to bring him in. He first thought I was pulling his leg. The leopard kept reaching up and grabbing the back of my neck on the drive, and I was a little apprehensive, but we finally got him in.”
“It’s changed a lot from when I was a boy,” says Bill of the area. “At one time it was the largest shipping point in the state of Wyoming for livestock. The men would ride east to Omaha, Neb. with their livestock, where they’d be sold at auction. I got to make that trip a couple times. We’d ride down the railroad in the drovers’ cars with our cattle, and I did that three times when I was very young. That was quite a trip in those days. There aren’t many people around who made that ride anymore.”