Saturday, October 22, 2016

Westward Ho the Wagons

I can remember many years ago watching or listening to  various programs that ended with some form of the phrase – “and the rest is history.”

 In 1841 when the Bidwell-Bartleson party headed west the rest was indeed history. This first great wagon train heading west not only made history, but it also led to the populating of the West and later the middle of the country. The next year, 1842, Dr. Elijah White led a group of more than 100 on the all new Oregon Trail. Two years later four wagon trains carried more than 2,000 hopefuls West.  The next year the numbers more than doubled. By 1869 more than half a million people had traveled along the trail to Oregon, California, and later to the Salt Lake Valley of present-day Utah. 
Trail Ruts cut deep from thousands of wagons - Guernsey Wyoming

The goal for all of these travelers was the same. Make the 2,000 plus mile trip in 150 days taking along enough food and finding enough fresh water along the way to make it.  Taking a day a week off, as most trains did, this would mean the wagons needed to average about 15 miles each day six days each week for five months. Today if we drove for eight hours each day for 130 days averaging 60 miles per hour we could circle the earth two and a half times. What does all this mean? The west coast was a long way to travel, farther than anywhere on earth in today's world. Once the new would-be settlers started west, in all likelihood, they could never go back. What a commitment these people were making. 
A view down the trail. When the first wagons came there were not nearly
as many trees along the North Platte River as today

All of the above are my thoughts as we get ready to take off on a 4,000-mile vacation next week,  and we will only be gone 16 or 17 days. My, how times have changed.
Fall at Fort Laramie, the most famous, and most welcome stop on the trail.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

I.S. Bartlett - History of Wyoming

One of the earliest attempts to write a history of Wyoming was by Hartville resident, I. S. Bartlett and published in 1918. Vol 1 of the three volume set can be read online here-

This book is a good read and one I have bookmarked on my laptop.  This one is the first of a three volume set. Some critiques have been leveled at Mr. Bartlett’s work because a few liberties were taken that would not be found in a modern day history book. Mr. Bartlett lists himself as the editor not the writer of the book and includes first-hand accounts from many sources. He also includes some of his and others poetry and in one place talks about how good the fishing is at Kelly’s Park on the North Platte River a few miles from his home.
The book, because of its age, is a bit closer to history and the beginnings of the state of Wyoming which, to me, makes it an intriguing resource.
Give it a look and enjoy.
Photo of Laramie Peak from our hike today

It has been a few weeks, maybe months since I have put up a few questions of Wyoming trivia, so here it is 5 questions to test your knowledge of the state. See answers under the last photo.

1.  Who led the first Government Expedition over the Oregon Trail in 1842. The group stopped on a bluff overlooking what today is Guernsey State Park, where the leader noted that it was the most spectacular river valley he had ever seen. Ok who was it?

2.  What river did early trappers call the Sisk-ke-dee?

3.  Which is the oldest of the five dams on the North Platte River?

4.  What was the battle in northern Wyoming between the cattle barons, and homesteaders, called?

5.  Which  Wyoming fort has been called the bloodiest in the west?

Part of the North Platte River Valley from Question 1, last winter

1.  John C. Fremont
2.  Green River
3.  Pathfinder
4.  Johnson County War
5.  Fort Phil Kearney

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wyoming's Spanish Diggings

I taught History of the American West and Wyoming History for more than 40 years and during that time attempted to visit as many of the places we studied as I could. Last Saturday, for the first time, I was able to take a trip to the Spanish Diggings, a site rich in hard quartzite rock used by ancient people. My first impression of the area is that it is spectacular, and the dig sites are incredible.

The area lies between Guernsey and Lusk in both Platte and Niobrara counties in a remote and difficult to reach area. The major section of the site was deeded to the state many years ago, but the only way to reach this valuable resource is by crossing private land on a rough two track in an area of wheat strips.
Thanks to Patsy Parkin, President of the Platte County Historical Society, a group of 40 of us spent a memorable day going through the site. Our tour was led by Randy Brown of Douglas, a man who has taken numerous groups through the site. Mr. Brown took our group to the Barber Site and the Dorsey Quarry #2, along with other unnamed areas. 
Here we are - ready to take a look at the Diggings

The Spanish Diggings may be as old as 10,000 years or more. Some believe 5,000 years is closer, and some think the digs date back a mere 1,000 years. Although what year they started might never be known, we do know, the rock quarries at the site were likely not abandoned until trade goods made of iron reached the area. This would mean that the site, used for centuries, has been unused since the early or middle of the 1800s when the first trapper/traders reached the area.
Part of the rock quarries at the Barber Site

Broken Rock Everywhere
Not only are the dates of use a mystery, but how the large rock outcroppings were worked is also a mystery.  Dozens of huge fields of broken rock can be found in an area of 400 square miles, smaller rock; some worked on two or more edges can be found strew about for miles in every direction. 
Worked pieces of stone litter the landscape for miles

The size of many of the broken pieces, some half the size of a living room recliner and thousands the size of basketballs, leads me to believe that they had more knowledge of levers, and physics than most believe.
Taking a break on rock broken thousands of years ago.

Who Built It?
Early visitors to the sites dismissed the idea of the Plains Indians having anything to do with the diggings. Odd, because we now know that they are the very people that built and used the dig sites for at least one hundred generations. Locals and experts, more than one hundred years ago, saw the diggings as something taking more knowledge than the primitive peoples of the Plains and Mountains could possibly have acquired. How these first visitors explained the teepee rings in the area has not been recorded. What was their theory if it was not the first peoples of the area? They came up with an idea far more bizarre. They believed it was the Spanish, the Conquistadors. The fact that none came within hundreds of miles of Wyoming and the additional fact, if it were the Conquistadors, they would have needed to stay for years seems to let that idea pass by common sense. But the name stuck – the Spanish Diggings.
TeePee Ring - More than one hundred years ago a historian/archeologist
visiting the site found a quarter section of land where "A man could not walk
50 feet in any direction without standing in a teepee ring."

So what do we know? First, the diggings were a project of native Indians of the plains, possibly before they were divided into modern tribal distinctions. Another thing we know is that it was not a project of short duration as evidenced by the hundreds, more likely, thousands of teepee rings in the area.

Two great mysteries remain. The first of these is the most puzzling, nowhere on the site has anyone discovered a fire pit or anything resembling a cooking site. Second, in modern time there is no water at the site. There are several dry stream beds in the area that may have been more active hundreds or thousands of years ago as running water or at least spring runoff having left behind potholes of water.

A Park
When John B. Kendrick was governor of Wyoming (1915-1917) he proposed making the entire area a drive through national park. The governor’s idea died out with World War I but was brought up once again during the Great Depression.  When the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps were putting together what was to become Guernsey State Park under the careful watch and design of the National Park Service, there was talk of expansion to the Spanish Diggins. This time, the idea nearly became a project for the CCC, but as did the first idea, it died with war, World War II.

What did I learn?
Many things. If the Spanish Diggins go back as far as 10,000 or even 12,000 years, which is very possible, considering the absence of fire pits, the first stone workers were appropriately Stone-Age people. Stone Age people used primitive weapons and tools, arrowheads, spear points, hammers, and wedges. These people would have been from the Paleo-Indian culture, a nomadic hunting, and wandering people. They also show better than a rudimentary knowledge of hammers, wedges, use of levers, and an understanding of basic physics. Maybe they were more advanced than most people believe. 
Taking a look

It is more than likely that thousands of years later, during the Archaic Period, around 7,000 B.C. that stone was quarried in this local site. This was a period when stone weapons and stone tools were made by the tens of thousands by native peoples. From that time on, hundreds of generations used the Platte/Niobrara County site to mine the rich purple quartz.
The sought after rock - these have been worked a bit

To almost borrow a line from an old Four Seasons, song –

 Oh, What A Day!
Our view from the top of our hike through the Spanish Diggings

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Month of Writing

I knew it would happen sooner or later and today is the day. I posted on the wrong site. This post was meant for my writing site but is live here now. I will be posting my normal Wyoming blog post here soon. 

Another month has passed, fall is here, and the colors are terrific.

Writing totals for the Month
I had hoped September would see an uptick in my writing, but instead, I wrote a bit less than last month. This month totaled 17 blog posts and 11,291 words on all of my projects. This brings my total for the year to just under 167,000. I need to pick it up to reach my goal of a quarter of a million words, right now it looks like I will come in around 200,000. My original goal was 350,000 then lowered to 250,000. I am not sure if I set my goals too high, or if I have become lazy. This year is the first that I have kept exact totals so maybe next year will tell the tale of how many words I write each day, month or year.

Sales are up
Although my word total was lacking, my book sales were and still are up. I have three new books nearly ready to go and hope to update my Christmas book to a second edition and get it out before Thanksgiving.  If I do all of that, I should have a good writing month in October.
Saw these little guys in the park yesterday

What a September
Not much writing in September but it was a great month for everything else. We went back to southeast Nebraska for our 50-year high school class reunion – Class of 1966. I also spend some time in the Laramie Range, visited the old Iron mining town of Sunrise, spent a day at the world famous Spanish Diggings and half a day at one of my favorite places, Fort Laramie. My wife and I also, with the cooler temperatures, started our fall hiking at Guernsey State Park.
Sitting on rocks quarried thousands of years ago at the Spanish Diggings

Garden Book 
Oh, and the garden is looking good. Which reminds me, I have not mentioned that one of my works in progress is a gardening book. Tips for beginning gardeners at altitude, and a collection of short murder mysteries that take place in – you guessed it - the garden. It will be a short book, coming in at around 100 pages, but so far I like it. The others will be my second Blade Holms western mystery and the third in my series of children’s books.
No frost yet - but it is October, and coming soon

Thanks for keeping, Ghost of the Fawn, and Interview with a Gunfighter, consistently in the top 200 the past month, it is appreciated more than I can ever say.

Friday, September 30, 2016

John Jakes Short Stories

Fall in the Mountains
I just finished, last evening, reading John Jakes book of short stories, The Bold Frontier. This collection covered much of Mr. Jakes writing career, stores from as far back as the 1950s. I especially enjoyed the first story in the book, The Western and How We Got It. That story gives a background of where and how the western genre started. Other than that, the stories run the gamut from traditional to a bit quirky.

Not everyone that reads westerns is a Jakes fan, but after reading all the books of his Kent Family Chronicles, many years ago, I then read his North and South Trilogy which included North and South, Love and War and Heaven and Hell. Guess that makes me a pretty big fan.

Oh, one last note, the 84-year-old Jakes is still alive and well, the Chicago native now lives in Flordia.

Seems like I am not getting much writing done lately. Might be I am enjoying the great fall weather a bit too much. The photos on today's post came from our ride out west of town this morning. We covered 85 miles enjoying the wildlife and fall colors along the way.

Keep on reading and keep on writing. 
Nice Black Bear, but lots of timber between him and us - probably a good thing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fort Laramie and the Old West

The End of the Old West

 As I was writing an introduction to a book that I am working on several thoughts crossed my mind. The book, about Fort Laramie and the American West, has been a much more than interesting research project. Fort Laramie may be more a symbol of the old west and last frontier than anything else.

Fort Laramie 1849-1890

Throughout most of its active years, Fort Laramie was the most important fort of the West. The fort protected an area that was mostly unsettled when it was established as a military fort in 1849. One could argue that the 41 years the fort was active, were the defining years of what many called the old west. Yes, there were people, quite a few, in fact, Native Indian Tribes who would soon be displaced, and a few hunters, trappers, and wanderers, and with Fort Laramie, Soldiers.

 End of the Frontier

During the active years of the fort the country rapidly expanded. The Gold Rush, Transcontinental Railroad, Telegraph, Pony Express, Civil War, and economic woes in the east all lead to the end of the old west. By the time 1890 rolled around, Benjamin Harrison was president and the United States Census Bureau announced the end of the frontier. In 1893, Fredrick Jackson Turner wrote an article for the Chicago World’s Fair, stating that there was no longer a line of Frontier in America. With the closing of Fort Laramie in 1890 also came the disgraceful Massacre at Wounded Knee and statehood for Wyoming. When Owen Wister published the first Western in 1902, The Virginian, the old west was gone.

Wild West

What about the Wild West? If it ever was, which it was not, it was a part of the old west. The Wild West was a creation by pulp writers turning out dozens of dime novel westerns and a few years later, Hollywood expanded the myth. 
Fort Laramie was the first sign, or last sign, of civilization to an American people who farmed the land or lived in cities on the east and west coasts and in the south. It was also a sign of things to come, and 41 years after it opened, the buildings were sold off for salvage.

The Time’s They Are Changing

At my age, we just returned from our weekend 50-year high school reunion, I am not always in favor of the changes I see taking place. It was no different with the ending of the frontier, some saw it as a good sign, others hated the Idea of everything settled. Such is life, change and time march on. 
Enjoying Time With Old Friends From The Class of '66'

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Ride With The President

In late May of 1903 the president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt,  rode 50 miles from Laramie to Cheyenne. The story is well known in Wyoming and to Roosevelt and presidential scholars. Not much has been said about those accompanying him, and I thought it might be interesting to take a look at some of the riders who rode with the president up the mountain trail.

Francis E. Warren - U.S. Senator from Wyoming
Warren was the man that did it all for the State of Wyoming. Served as territorial Governor twice before being elected as Wyoming's first governor. Shortly after becoming Governor he was elected to the Unites States Senate. Warren served as a Senator from 1890-93 then was elected again in 1895 and served until his death in 1929. At the time of his death, he had served longer than any other U.S. Senator and was the last Civil War Veteran to serve. Warren was also a Civil War Medal of Honor winner.  Warren's daughter married John J. Pershing in 1905. Pershing went on to lead the American Expeditionary Force in WWl.

Frank Hadsell - U.S. Marshal
Appointed a U.S. Marshall for Wyoming in 1872, Hadsell is best known as one of the posse leaders who tracked down Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch after the Wilcox Train Robbery.
Wild Bunch

Joe LeFors - Deputy U.S. Marshal
LeFors was appointed by Hadsell, reportedly after asking repeatedly. He bragged of being with Hadsell after the Wilcox Train Robbery but most likely was not. He did lead a posse after the Wild Bunch robbed the train at Tipton Wyoming. LeFors is best known for bringing in Tom Horn. In modern days LeFors name is well known among western movie lovers because it is mentioned as the mysterious man in the white hat chasing Butch and Sundance in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

N.K. Boswell - Albany County Sheriff
Boswell was the first sheriff of Albany County and most responsible for cleaning up- actually; they strung them up – Laramie’s crooked Marshall Steve Long along with his half-brothers, Ace and Con. Today he may be best known as the man who built the historic N.K. Boswell Ranch south of Laramie near present day Wood’s Landing.

R.S. Van Tassell - Cheyenne area rancher
One of the largest landowners in Wyoming history. One of his holdings, his Laramie County Ranch, was where Roosevelt and his companions stopped several times and changed horses at least once was listed as approximately 21,000 acres. During the ride Van Tassell who was near 70 years old at the time set such a fast pace that President Roosevelt, nearly 30 years his junior, reportedly said, “Say, Van, you old rascal, I believe you're trying to show me up.” Van Tassell for much of the 50 plus mile ride rode his favorite mount, Gypsy. Van Tassell kept and rode a horse named Gypsy for more than 50 years. Obviously several different horses, but most certainly a good way to remember your horse's name.

Seth Bullock - Black Hills Forest Reserve Supervisor

A long time friend of the president. Bullock was a Lawman from Deadwood South Dakota, a position he took over the day after Wild Bill Hickock was murdered.  He met Roosevelt in 1884 when he was in Deadwood and Roosevelt was a lawman in North Dakota. Roosevelt once said of his friend, "Seth Bullock is a true Westerner, the finest type of frontiersman." Bullock, although never deployed was a captain in company A of Roosevelt's famous Roughriders. When Roosevelt was inaugurated, Bullock rode in the parade along with Tom Mix to honor his friend. It was Roosevelt, as president, that appointed Bullock to the position in the Black Hills.