The Mighty Sioux

In a sacred manner I live

To the heavens I gazed

In a sacred manner I live

My horses are many


In my part of the west the Sioux were the largest tribe. It was the tribe of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, Roman Nose, American Horse and Old Man Afraid of His Horses, to name a few.

At the height of its glory the seven divisions of the tribe stretched from Yellowstone in the west to the middle of Wisconsin on the east. Of the seven divisions, the Teton Sioux of South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming was by far the largest with an estimated number of more than 20,000 in 1890. So big in fact that it too was divided into seven groups.

Before the wars on the plains started the Sioux were a happy wandering people. As more and more of their land was taken from them the Tribes were backed into a corner and fought. Outnumbered, it was a losing battle from the start. Most historians today agree that the government’s failed Indian policy is what started the wars. And why did the government’s Indian policy fail? The government planned and wanted it that way. Sad but true!

Longest Parade in the West - Fort Laramie 1851

The Longest Parade in the West – Fort Laramie 1851

Every student of American West history knows the treaty of Fort Laramie was signed in 1851. Not many know what a spectacle it was. I have posted about this treaty before but it is fascinating and I only live a few minutes from the old fort. Thought I might post something other than the typical.

So, what is that about the parade? When everyone got ready to finally sign, the tribes had been at Fort Laramie for weeks.  In typical Indian fashion the camps were moved to allow for enough grass for the horses. By the time the treaty was signed the tribes were 36 miles downstream at the point where Horse Creek flows into the North Platte River. The reason they were so far down stream? The signing was to be in September but the tribes hoping for trade opportunities and some freebies started arriving by the first of July.

 Government dignitaries, dubious luminaries, and army officers traveled over three days from their accommodations at the fort to get to the place of the signing ceremony. They traveled in fancy coaches colorful buggies or rode decorated horses complete with accompaniment from an army band. A three day, 36 mile long parade—whoopee!

Must have been quite a site at the signing, the government stuffed shirts, most of Fort Laramie’s 300 troopers, 10,000 Indians, 30,000 Horses and 10,000 dogs barking out of tune to the Fort band.

The treaty was a pretty good one, lasted from 1851, all the way up to the Grattan Massacre in 1854. As far as treaties in the west go, this one was pretty long lasting. The next forty years became the Indian wars period of the American west.

Interesting that one of the west’s most famous treaties was the start of the Indian wars in the west.  Important to remember that is was not the cause. The causes were many, but intrusion of people from the east on Indian land sums it up pretty well. When the 49ers trekked across Wyoming for the California gold fields the battles in the west were inevitable.


Wyoming Wind and a Plug Hat

Wyoming Wind and a Plug Hat

Bill Nye, my all-time favorite western humorist, like the rest of us who live in Wyoming often made a few unpleasant comments about the Wyoming wind. February seems to always be the bleak month in the Cowboy state. Cold and wind dominate.

 Nye entitled one of the short stories in his book, Forty Liars and Other Lies, “The Plug Hat in Wyoming,” and you guessed it, the wind is the antagonist.

Here is what he had to say –

“In the first place, the climate of Wyoming is not congenial to the plug hat. You may wear one at 1 o’clock with impunity, if you can dodge the vigilance committee, and at three minutes past1 a little cat’s paw of wind will come sighing down from the Snowy Range, that make the cellars and drive-wells tremble, and the hat looks like a frightened picket fence.”

He also plays with the idea of the hat maybe being too much of a dudes head topper to be worn in the rough and tumble 1870s – 80s Wyoming. “In former years they used to hang a man who wore a plug hat west of the Missouri but after a while they found that it was a more cruel and horrible punishment to let him wear it and chase it over the foothills when the frolicsome breeze caught it up and toyed with it, and landed it against the broad brow of Laramie Peak.

He does mention that the hats can be found as long as you are willing to travel fifteen or twenty miles, “as the crow flies,” to find it.

In the end he explains the hat of the day, the western style of hat. “Time may overcome at last the public disfavor, but until the Rocky Mountain wind is lulled to repose, so that a plug hat will not have to be tied on with a wrought iron stair-rod, the soft hat will be the prevailing style of roof.”

Bill Nye lived all too short a life (1850-1896) and unfortunately his very popular newspaper column was only partially saved over the years. Reading him today, more than a hundred years later he is still funny, no wonder he traveled the lecture circuit with Mark Twain.  

Guernsey, Wyoming - 80 Years Ago With the CCC

Guernsey State Park is well known as a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts. But did you know that it is one of America’s best historical sites to take a close look at Civilian Conservation Corps History?

Dozens of projects undertaken by CCC workers in the 1930s are still in use in the park today. For those of you who dozed off in high school history class the CCC was part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Civilian Conservation Corps was the government’s attempt to put young men back to work. Guernsey State Park was built by theses CCC workers, the park having two camps, one on each side of the lake.

Although the park abounds in wonderful reminders of the CCC and their work building the park, here are my five favorites.

1.     The Museum – The Museum is on the east side of the lake and was built by CCC camp Br-9, which was located down the deep valley south of the museum.

2.     Lakeshore Drive – Lakeshore Drive crosses the dam and follows the east shore. The drive leaves the park at Long Canyon and leads on into the town of Hartville. The drive from Guernsey to Hartville via Lakeshore Drive may be the most beautiful drive in all of eastern Wyoming.

3.     Sitting Bull Picnic Shelter- Located on Lakeshore Drive

4.     Skyview Drive – This is the main road on the west side, unlike Lakeshore Drive, it is not paved but the surface is well maintained, hard packed, gravel.

5.     The Castle- The Guernsey State Park Castle can be reached by taking Skyview Drive to its termination on the North Bluff. While there check out the, Million Dollar Biffy, the most ornate and overbuilt comfort station in all of Wyoming’s state park system. Skyview Drive, the Castle and the, Million Dollar Biffy were all projects of Camp BR-10 although the Castle was finished up by the men of    Camp BR-9.

For true history buffs, the Powderhouse at Camp BR-10 and the bridge on the Brimmer Point walking trail are musts. (Unfortunately the bridge on the Brimmer Point trail was burned in the terrible fire in the summer of 2012 but the terrific stone work is still in place)

The Powderhouse may be one of the least visited historical places in the park. To find the Powderhouse take Skyview Drive the road left from the park entrance pay station, (the road to sandy beach) after going up the mountain (May West Hill) and coming down you will find a turnoff to the left, south, at the bottom of the hill. This is across the road from the beginning of Tunnel Mountain Trail. The old Powderhouse is only about one-hundred yards northwest from this turn off. The turn off is steep but there is room to turn around at the bottom.

The Powderhouse has a small bright metal (unfortunately) interpretive sign. If you are adventurous many ruins from old camp BR-10 are in the area immediately west of the Powderhouse strung out for nearly a quarter of a mile.

On a final note - If you have taken a long drive to reach Guernsey State Park check out the hiking trails. Wonderful views with many great photo opportunities and great exercise also.
"The Worker," statue at the Museum

The Astorians and the Oregon Trail

201 years ago visitors showed up at my doorstep. Or, at least, they could have.

It was in the winter of 1812-13 that Robert Stuart led the seven returning Astorians on their journey from Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River to St. Louis. After traversing South Pass they found the North Platte and followed it to the Missouri and on to St. Louis. To do this they must have passed very close to my home a quarter of a mile north of the North Platte and 13 miles upstream from Fort Laramie. It would take another 21 years before Fort Laramie (then Fort William) was founded as a trapper trading post.

With this passing of the Astorians Robert Stuart and his crew become the pathfinders of the route that later would become the Oregon Trail. Fort Laramie would go on to become one of the most looked forward to stops for travelers heading west.         Fort Laramie             Guernsey State Park (in our town)

The Lovable Jim Bridger

Jim Bridger was quite a guy and a pretty decent scholar, despite a few shortcomings. He could use sign language as well as anyone in the early west. He spoke passable Spanish and French along with English and several Indian dialects. He could read sign and survive the toughest conditions with the best of the Mountain men. At the rendezvous he could party and tell stories, well maybe better than most. He quoted long passages from the Bible and from Shakespeare, so what shortcomings did he have? He never learned to read. A man as smart as he was could have learned, and rather quickly. Why didn’t he learn, maybe he liked learning from others and didn’t see the need to read. We will never know.

I have written other posts about Jim Bridger - see here. This post talks about Bridger's penchant for telling tall tales.