Wyoming State History

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General State History
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General Wyoming State History

There is evidence of more than 12,000 years of prehistoric occupation in Wyoming. Among these groups were Clovis, 12,000 years ago, Folsom, 10,000 years ago, and Eden Valley, 8,000 years ago. The latter were the big game hunters of the Early period. Following these, and remaining until about 500 A.D., were many groups with a mixed hunting and gathering economy. These were followed by the predecessors of the historic Indians.

On the crest of Medicine Mountain, 40 miles east of Lovell, Wyoming, is located the Medicine Wheel which has 28 spokes and a circumference of 245 feet. This was an ancient shrine built of stone by the hands of some forgotten tribe. A Crow chief has been reputed as saying, "It was built before the light came by people who had no iron." This prehistoric relic still remains one of Wyoming's unsolved puzzles.

Southwest of Lusk, covering an area of 400 square miles, are the remains of prehistoric stone quarries known as the "Spanish Diggings." Here is mute evidence of strenuous labor performed by many prehistoric groups at different times. Quartzite, jasper and agate were mined. Artifacts of this Wyoming material have been found as far away as the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys.

The historic Indians in Wyoming were nomadic tribes known as the Plains Indians. They were the Arapaho, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Sheep Eater, Sioux, Shoshone and Ute tribes. Of all of these tribes, the Cheyenne and Sioux were the last of the Indians to be controlled and placed on reservations.

Among the Plains Indians, art is found in the actual form of the object as well as in its decorative value. The Indian artist is concerned with the technology or function of an object more than with the purely artistic merits of what he produces.

Plainsmen were the hunters, warriors and religious leaders of their tribes, therefore, their crafts were related to these occupations. Both men and women were artists and craftsmen traditionally, each producing articles for everyday use as well as for ceremonial purposes. Usually, quilling and beading were done by women and carving was done by the men.

It is as difficult to separate art from the Indian's daily life as it is to separate his religion from his daily life. All are tightly interwoven. There is one Indian reservation in Wyoming, the Wind River Reservation, with headquarters at Fort Washakie. The reservation is the home of some 2,357 Shoshone and 3,501 Arapaho Indians. The total acreage of the reservation is 1,888,334, exclusive of lands owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and other patented lands within the exterior boundaries.

One of the earliest explorers of Wyoming was John Colter in 1807. While exploring the Rocky Mountains, he discovered a region of steaming geysers and towering water falls so unusual that his written reports nicknamed the area "Colter's Hell." The same area, in 1872, was set aside forever as a place to be enjoyed by everyone. It became known as Yellowstone, the world's first National Park.

Wyoming owes its early settlement in part to the gentlemen of Europe. Their fondness of beaver top hats sent early-day trappers to the Rocky Mountains in search of the prized pelts. Famous mountain men such as Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Davey Jackson and Jedediah Smith were among the trappers, explorers and traders to first roam the Wyoming territory.

Gold in California and the lure of rich land in Oregon brought increasing numbers of pioneer wagon trains rolling over the Oregon Trails through Wyoming. Pony soldiers came to protect the wagon trains from hostile Indians, and the soldiers established forts along the trails.

The most important of the western military posts was Ft. Laramie in southeastern Wyoming. Ft. Laramie became a haven for gold seekers and weary emigrants. It was also an important station for the Pony Express and the Overland stagecoaches, and it served as a vital military post in the wars with the Plains Indians. Ft. Laramie witnessed the growth of the open range cattle industry, the coming of homesteaders and the building of towns which marked the final closing of the wild, western frontier in 1890.

Wyoming was the scene of the end of the great Indian battles. Ft. Phil Kearny in northern Wyoming had the bloodiest history of any fort in the West. Thousands of well organized Indians from the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux tribes fought battle after battle with the U.S. Cavalry. A famous battle took place in 1866 when 81 soldiers set out from Ft. Kearny and were drawn into a classic military ambush by Indians led by Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. None of the "blue coats" survived.

Great herds of buffalo once grazed on the rolling hills of Wyoming, giving rise to one of the state's best known citizens, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Today in the town he founded, Cody, near Yellowstone National Park, is an enormous museum dedicated to Buffalo Bill and the West he loved and helped settle. Near the turn of the century, Buffalo Bill took his Wild West Show to Great Britain and the European continent to give audiences a brief glimpse of the cowboys, Indians and other characters who lived in America's west during Wyoming's early days.

Wyoming is also known as the "Equality State" because of the rights women have traditionally enjoyed here. Wyoming women were the first in the nation to vote, serve on juries and hold public office.

In 1869, Wyoming's territorial legislature became the first government in the world to grant "female suffrage" by enacting a bill granting Wyoming women the right to vote. The act was signed into law on December 10 of that year by Governor A.J. Campbell.

Less than three months after the signing of that act, on February 17, 1870, the "Mother of Women Suffrage in Wyoming"-Ester Hobart Morris of South Pass City-became the first woman ever to be appointed a justice of the peace. Laramie was also the site for the first equal suffrage vote cast in the nation by a woman-Mrs. Louisa Swain on September 6, 1870.

In 1894, Estelle Reel (Mrs. Cort F. Meyer) became one of the first women in the United States elected to a state office, that of Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In 1924, Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross was the first elected woman governor to take office in the United States. She took office on January 5, 1925, 20 days before "Ma" Ferguson of Texas (elected on the same day) took office. Mrs. Ross went on to become the first woman to be appointed Director of the United States Mint-a position she held for 20 years, from 1933 to 1953. In 1991, women held three of the state's five top elective positions and a total of 23 women hold seats in the Wyoming Legislature, three in the Senate and 20 in the House.

Talk of statehood for Wyoming began as early as 1869 after the organization of Wyoming Territory in that year. The road to statehood, however, did not begin until 1888 when the Territorial Assembly sent Congress a petition for admission into the Union. Bills were introduced in both houses of Congress, but did not pass.

Though no legislation passed Congress enabling Wyoming to follow the steps that lead to statehood, Governor Francis E. Warren and others decided to continue as if an "enabling act" had passed. On July 8, 1889, Wyoming Territory held an election of delegates to Wyoming's one and only Constitutional Convention. Forty-nine men gathered in Cheyenne during September, 1889, and wrote the constitution. The voters approved the document November 5, 1889, by a vote of 6,272 to 1,923. Bills for Wyoming statehood were introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House in December, 1889. The House passed the bill March 27, 1890. President Benjamin Harrison signed Wyoming's statehood bill, making Wyoming the 44th state.
Wyoming Historic Figures

Francis E. Warren
1844-1929: Francis E. Warren was born in Hinsdale, Massachusetts on June 20, 1844. He served as a private and non-commissioned officer during the Civil War, earning a Medal of Honor. He farmed and raised stock for a short time in Massachusetts before heading west to what would be Wyoming, but was then part of Dakota Territory, in 1868. He engaged in several business ventures, including real estate, livestock, mercantile, and promotion of the first lighting system in Cheyenne. In 1871 Warren married Helen M. Smith, also of Hinsdale, and they made their home in the young town of Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory. Warren's political career was marked by a steady rise in influence. He was a member of the Cheyenne City Council in 1873 and 1874. In 1873 Warren was also elected to the Council of the Territorial Assembly. The Council elected him as their president. Warren was appointed to two terms as Territorial Treasurer. He was again elected to the Territorial Council in 1884, and to the office of Mayor of Cheyenne in 1885. In the same year, he was appointed by President Chester Arthur to fill the unexpired term of governor William Hale. A second appointment as governor was made by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889. Warren was elected Wyoming's first state governor in October, 1890, but served only about six weeks before being elected by the state legislature as one of Wyoming's first United States Senators, beginning a highly distinguished career in that capacity. Tragedy struck the family in 1915 when daughter Frances Warren Pershing, wife of General John J. Pershing, and three granddaughters died in a fire at the Presidio in San Francisco. Warren served in the Senate until his death in Washington, D.C. on November 24, 1929, a tenure longer than any other senator's to that time. He was buried in Cheyenne.


Chief Washakie
?-1900: The date of Washakie's birth is unknown, but it probably occurred during the first few years of the 19th century. His father was a Flathead and his mother was from one of the Shoshone tribal groups, probably a Lemhi. The future Shoshone chief was named Pina Quanah (Smell of Sugar) when he was born. The surviving story of how Washakie became associated with the Shoshones relates that the Flathead village in which his family was living was attacked by Blackfeet Indians. Washakie's father was killed. The surviving villagers scattered. Washakie's family was eventually taken in by Lemhis. He and a sister remained with the Lemhis even after their mother and other family members rejoined the Flatheads. Washakie later joined the Bannocks, a tribe hostile to white men. He lived with them five years before joining the Green River Snake Indians, who had peaceful relations with whites. Washakie became a noted warrior. Although the name by which he would be widely known has been translated in various ways, it apparently dealt with his tactics in battle. One story describes how Washakie devised a large rattle by placing stones in an inflated and dried balloon of buffalo hide which he tied on a stick. He carried the device into battle to frighten enemy horses, earning the name "The Rattle." Another translation of "Washakie" is "Shoots-on-the-Run." By 1850 Washakie was head chief of the Shoshones, apparently earning the position by his deeds in battle and wise counsel, though there is no record to show exactly when and under what conditions the decision was made. It is thought that the various Shoshone tribes may have united under one chief to deal with threats by hostile tribes, such as the Sioux and Cheyenne. Washakie became an ally of white men, deciding early that warfare was pointless and a policy of adaptation and mutual assistance should be followed. He assisted U.S. Army operations, with military forces and advice, against hostile tribes, particularly the Sioux and Cheyenne. Washakie granted right-of-way through Shoshone land in western Wyoming to the Union Pacific Railroad, aiding the completion of a coast-to-coast rail line. The Shoshone chief also sought the best for his people, requesting schools, churches, and hospitals on Shoshone lands. He also pushed for a reservation in his beloved "Warm Valley" (Wind River Valley) which had been given to the Crows, enemies of the Shoshones, in the 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty. In 1868 the United States, determining that the Crows had broken treaty terms, gave the valley to the Shoshone Indians at the Fort Bridger Treaty Council. In 1896, Washakie ceded lands bounding mineral hot springs near Thermopolis for public use, requesting that a portion of the waters be set aside for free use by people of all races. The famed leader and warrior died on February 21, 1900. He was buried with full military honors at Fort Washakie.


Nellie Tayloe Ross
1876-1977: Nellie Tayloe Ross was born November 29,1876 near St. Joseph, Missouri. She was educated in public and private schools, and attended a kindergarten training school in Omaha, Nebraska. She taught school for a few years in Omaha before coming to Cheyenne in 1902, following her marriage to William B. Ross. Mr. Ross began a law practice in Wyoming and eventually became active in politics. He was elected as Wyoming's governor in the 1922 election. Mrs. Ross was an avid supporter of her husband. When he died in office in October, 1924, the Secretary of State, as Acting Governor, called for a special election. The Democratic party nominated Mrs. Ross to complete her husband's term. She initially declined, but upon reflection accepted the nomination. She felt she was the best qualified to understand her husband's goals and work to realize them. Mrs. Ross won the election handily and became the first woman governor in the United States when she was inaugurated 16 days before Miriam A. Ferguson of Texas. She served from January 5, 1925 to January 3, 1927, losing a bid for reelection. Following her defeat Mrs. Ross continued to be a much sought speaker. She was appointed as a vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1928, and directed the party's women's division. She campaigned extensively for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Following his inauguration in 1933, Roosevelt appointed Mrs. Ross to the position of Director of the United States Mint, a position she held until 1953. After her retirement she continued to reside in Washington, D.C., and kept busy with speaking engagements. She died in 1977 at the age of 101. Interment was in Cheyenne, Wyoming.


Esther Hobart Morris
1812-1902: Esther Hobart McQuigg was born in 1812 in the state of New York. Orphaned at the age of 14, she supported herself as a milliner until, at age 28, she married Artemus Slack, a civil engineer. Mr. Slack died not long after the marriage, leaving Esther with an infant son. She moved to Peru, Illinois in 1842, where she married John Morris, a merchant. In 1869 Mrs. Morris, along with twin sons, moved to South Pass City in the newly created Wyoming Territory, joining her husband who had opened a saloon there the previous year. Mrs. Morris has been widely acclaimed as an influential figure in the events that established women's suffrage in Wyoming. However, her role in promoting suffrage legislation in the territory has been disputed. The record shows that in 1869, during the territory's first legislative session, William H. Bright introduced a women's suffrage bill. Although the legislation was received with some humor, it did pass and was signed into law by Governor John A. Campbell, thus according the young territory immediate fame as the first government to grant women the right to vote in all public elections. Shortly after the legislative session, in February 1870, Wyoming achieved another "first" when three women were appointed to serve as justices of the peace. Esther Morris was selected to complete the term of the South Pass City justice, who had resigned. She is the only one of the three appointees known to have served, thereby winning accord as the first woman to hold a judicial position. Mrs. Morris served 8-1/2 months and handled 26 cases in a manner that was considered a credit to her position. In later years, following first separation from then death of her husband, Ms. Morris lived with her sons. She appeared at a number of women's rights gatherings and political affairs, though she was apparently not comfortable with making speeches. She died in 1902 in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Mrs. Morris eventually became a symbol for the women's rights movement, and stories of her independent attitudes and support of women's issues have been circulated. As for the question of who was the main force behind the Women's Suffrage Act in Wyoming, the verifiable record favors William H. Bright, who introduced the bill. A story that Mrs. Morris had obtained a promise from Bright, also a South Pass City resident, at a tea party to introduce the suffrage bill surfaced decades after the fact and has been commonly repeated. Though this story and any direct involvement by Mrs. Morris in the drafting and introduction of the suffrage bill cannot be substantiated, Esther Morris is commonly regarded as one of the heroines of the women's suffrage movement. Her name became synonymous with equal rights, fame which led to her being chosen as Wyoming's representative in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Her statue was presented in ceremonies at the Capitol in 1960.


William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody
1846-1917: William F. Cody was born on February 26, 1846 near Leclair, Iowa. In 1854 his family moved to settle on lands in what would soon be Kansas Territory. Young William's father died in 1857, leaving the boy to help provide for his family. William soon obtained a job as a messenger boy for Majors and Russell, who had a company store at Leavenworth, Kansas. In the next three years, William would try his hand at prospecting during the Pikes Peak gold rush, and at trapping. Neither ventures proved to be very successful. In 1860, the partnership of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, in an effort to advertise and obtain a contract for a central route for mail to the Pacific, began the Pony Express. Cody, already acquainted with the principals in this partnership, was hired as a rider. The Pony Express operated from April 3, 1860 to November 18, 1861. The venture operated at a loss and failed to bring the desired contract to Cody's employers, whose partnership ended in bankruptcy. Cody's mother died November 22, 1863. Shortly thereafter, in February, 1864, he enlisted in the 7th Kansas Cavalry, apparently influenced by friends and alcohol. During the Civil War Cody saw action in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Missouri. He served 19 months, including one year of active duty. After his discharge, Cody married Louisa Frederici on March 6, 1866. He worked briefly as a scout at Fort Ellsworth, where an old acquaintance, James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, was also employed. The following year Cody was hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to kill buffalo to feed track layers for eight months. This job apparently was the source of the nickname that would become known virtually worldwide: Buffalo Bill. Later Cody distinguished himself as a scout for the U.S. Army. He was valued so highly that General Phil Sheridan endeavored to keep Cody on the Army's payroll even after the end of their campaign, something not done with scouts up to that time. This paved the way for the scout to become an established position in the Army during the years of the Indian wars. Cody was made chief scout of the 5th Cavalry by General Sheridan in October, 1868. Cody first began to receive national attention in 1869, when a serial story about "Buffalo Bill" appeared in a New York paper. Then in 1872 he was assigned to guide the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on a hunting trip. With the press following the Duke's every move, Cody received a great deal more exposure. This experience was followed by his first trip to the eastern states. He attended a play about himself and was talked into taking part in the performance. Thus began a period of years when Cody alternated between scouting duties and theatrical tours. Cody was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1872 for action against Indians at the South Fork of the Loup River in Nebraska. However, his name was stricken from the record of Medal of Honor recipients in 1916, since we was a civilian, and considered not eligible for the award. He later assisted General George Crook's campaign against the Sioux in 1876. "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show had its beginnings in 1883. This was a propitious time for such an effort by Cody and his partners, during the height of popularity for outdoor shows such as circuses. The show in various forms would tour the United States and Europe for three decades. Buffalo Bill was also commonly referred to as "Colonel Cody." His rank was provided by Nebraska Governor John Thayer (former governor of Wyoming Territory)in 1887, when he was named aide-de-camp of the Governor's staff. He was never an officer in the U.S. Army. Cody became interested in developing the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming in the 1890s. The Cody Canal was built in 1895, as part of the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Project. The company laid out a townsite, first calling it "Shoshone." With the Shoshoni Indian agency in the region this was rejected to avoid confusion. Therefore, in August, 1896 the Cody post office was established, with Buffalo Bill's nephew, Ed Goodman, as postmaster. The water project led to the building of the Shoshone Dam, which was completed in 1910. The dam was renamed "Buffalo Bill Dam" in 1946. Buffalo Bill was also instrumental in bringing a rail line to the town of Cody in 1901. William F. Cody died January 10, 1917 while staying in Denver, Colorado. He is buried on Lookout Mountain, west of Denver.