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Wyoming People

Pioneers celebrate 125 years of Wyoming

Written by Natasha Wheeler

Douglas – The Wyoming Pioneer Association celebrated 125 years of Statehood at this years’ Wyoming State Fair, Aug. 7-16.

“We had a great turnout,” comments Mary Engebretson, president of the Wyoming Pioneer Association.

This year, the 1926 Pioneer Cabin, both schoolhouses and the Grist Mill were open to the public. Nearly 1,200 people were counted through the cabin.

New features

“This year was the first time most people have seen inside the rebuilt 1880s Grist Mill, and a lot of people didn’t know what it was,” Engebretson notes.

The building looks a bit like a tall outhouse, with an inside staircase to reach the grist stones in the top that grind the grain.

“People would carry wheat or grain in bags up to the top and pour it onto the turning grist stones. The grain was ground, and then it flowed through the mill to be collected at the ground level in a burlap bag or flour sack,” she explains.

“It was very exciting, and this is just the beginning,” she says. “We now have a Memorandum of Understanding with State Parks and Cultural Resources and the Wyoming Department of Agriculture that allows us the flexibility to open, use and showcase the historical buildings, which are the original Pioneer Cabin, two school houses and the Grist Mill, to do a lot more with the old buildings and more in creating the complex.”

Complex

One of the new developments in the complex will be a Memorial Park that features a streambed with river rock lining the banks.  These stones will be available to be engraved with family names and ranch brands. 

Memorial benches will also be created and placed throughout the space.

“We are creating a memorial park that is a real hospitality center. We hope that it will spark interest with people,” she continues.

Inside the Pioneer Museum, brass tags hang as a memorial to friends and relatives, but Engebretson explains that the new memorial park will be more outstanding.

“People can come and see it anytime,” she remarks.

Conference center

Another recent addition to the site is the Ruthe James Williams Conference Center, which was completed in 2012.

“In the 1960s, they replaced the logs on the little Pioneer Cabin and Museum. To pay for it, they lined the interior with split logs that were sold, and each log has a ranch brand and name wood-burned on it,” Engebretsen says. 

The cabin has been the annual meeting place for the Pioneers during the Wyoming State Fair since it was constructed until the Ruthe James Williams Conference Center was completed.

For the new building, the Association held a similar fundraiser. Members of the Association sponsored oak boards, branding them with their family brands.

“Those boards are now hanging in the entryway,” she mentions. “That’s added a lot of personality and charm to the building.”

Engebretson also remarks, “Our new building is in great use.”

Using the space

Kicking off the Wyoming State Fair, the Miss Rodeo Wyoming contestants met in the building, making use of both the indoor and outdoor spaces.

“They were very gracious and love the new facility. They had a great time with a barbecue and other activities out on the patio,” she comments.

The Department of Agriculture also hosted a number of dinners at the building throughout the week and the Wyoming Pioneer Association held their own annual meeting in the building as well.

“We had author Chip Carlson come up from Cheyenne, and he did a presentation on Tom Horn’s conviction,” she mentions.

Carlson has written several books about Tom Horn, a range detective who was convicted and hung for a murder in 1903.

“I think Carlson’s belief is that Horn is innocent, but he left people to make up their own minds. It was really nice,” she says.

The Wyoming Pioneer Association’s meeting also partnered with the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the groups hosted poetry, music and a silent auction at the museum.

“On Saturday of State Fair, after the Centennial Ranch Program, the Department of Parks invited all of the Centennial Ranch participants and their guests to come to our new building, and we had cake and ice cream to celebrate the 125th birthday of the state of Wyoming,” Engebretsen adds.

Year-round use

The Ruthe James Williams Conference Center is used throughout the rest of the year as well.

“We cater mainly to state agencies, nonprofits and the hospital, plus there are other groups that come in too,” she notes.

Engebretson is also happy to share the association’s “Runnin’ with the Big Boys” statue that was purchased for display at the museum in 2011.

“It was created for us by Jerry Palen,” she explains. “He graciously gave us all the rights to it, and it is the marketing piece we use for the Association and for the Museum now.”

The statue depicts two buck antelope and a jackrabbit racing. The piece is inspired by a story from the artist’s childhood about racing antelope across the prairie, invariably joined in by a jackrabbit.

“That’s why it is called ‘Runnin’ with the Big Boys,’” Engebretson says.

She adds that the statue is significant to the Association, explaining, “We started out with the little cabin, but we feel like we have grown now. We consider ourselves the jackrabbit, and we are running with the big boys.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..