The Two Laramie's

The two greatest roads for westward expansion, the Oregon/Mormon Trail, and the Transcontinental Railroad both passed through Laramie. But not the same Laramie.

Fort Laramie of trapper and Indian wars fame sits on the Laramie and North Platte Rivers in east-central Wyoming.
Fort Laramie
Laramie the city, once actually called, Laramie City, is in the southeast corner of the state.
University of Wyoming - Game Day

Today the two Laramie’s are often confused in print. Most of the confusion results from people thinking that Fort Laramie and Laramie, the home of the University of Wyoming, are one and the same, but they are not. Every once in a while I run across something that confuses the two.

I lived and taught at Laramie High School for many years retiring from teaching in 2012. Now I live just minutes away from Fort Laramie, where I used to live before moving to Laramie City. That should help clear everything up.

Easy to remember which is which – wagons to the west passed through Fort Laramie and Rail cars to the west passed through Laramie City.

Why the name? I have posted here before about early Wyoming trapper and explorer Jacques La Ramie. La Ramie was a free trapper in and around Fort William, later to become Fort John and then Fort Laramie. He either died, was killed or was lost and never heard from again in 1820 or 21. Many things are named after him in the southeast part of the state including the small river running through Laramie the city and Fort Laramie.
Laramie River near the Fort

I have posted other parts of Jacques La Ramie legend from time to time, but this is the first I have blogged about the confusion with all things Laramie.

So where did all this start? A recent book where a man, riding the all-new transcontinental RR, got off at Fort Laramie. Oops!
Break time in the park

On the Trail - A Visit to Warm Springs

A Visit to Warm Springs

Today washing machines and hot tubs are everywhere but on the Oregon Trail there was but one. Located only four miles from the present day town of Guernsey, Wyoming the spring is a day’s journey, by wagon, west of Fort Laramie. John C. Fremont visited in 1842 and by 1870 as many as half a million travelers had journeyed west on the Oregon Trail. The Warm Spring, referred to on maps as the Emigrants Laundry Tub, was that place.

Warm Springs, Looking South - Sandy Area from the Flash Flood

The springs, there is both a cool and a warm spring spouting 70 degree plus water, are still actively flowing today. In Oregon Trail days, this area became a dumping ground for everything the travelers could get rid of as they lightened their wagons looking west at the imposing Laramie Range.  Stories abound of graves in the area and Indian battles that once took place there. With the day at the springs over it was but a short day to the crossing on the Bitter Cottonwood.

The Source - Warm Water gurgles from a three-foot high white limestone  bank

This weekend we had a chance to visit the springs and despite the cold and light rain it was a terrific day. Warm Springs is on military land and the only way to visit is by procuring permission from the main office at Camp Guernsey. As long as there is no shooting on the range a few miles away and no active drills near the springs the military is very accommodating of visitors.

Flowing from cold spring east toward the warm spring

The springs were fenced a few years ago to keep livestock from destroying the historically significant area. Unfortunately a flash flood, a year ago, took out the fence and many thought the springs. The springs survived, the fence did not. The California Oregon Trails Association placed two very nice interpretive signs in the area, one survived the flash flood one was broken off and lost.

Nice sign, sorry about the shadow, I was trying to keep my camera out of  the pelting rain and this was the best I could do. I look a bit like a zombie on the sign

Trail Ruts leading up and out of Warm Springs

The military has been a good partner for this area and I am sure the fence will someday be rebuilt. A plan to open this area up to the public is also in the works and will someday become a reality. Before it can happen the military must realign a firing range. This will take both time and money, but it is in the works.
Army Rangers - photo from North Range Drop Zone June, 2014

President Grant’s bad Buffalo Decision

President Grant’s bad Buffalo Decision

As President of the United States, in 1874, U.S. Grant had a chance to save the American Buffalo (Bison) but he passed. At the time, there were still thousands of bison roaming the west. His decision or non-decision almost wiped out the entire species. How sad it would be if Grant’s action would have caused the American Buffalo to become extinct, and it almost did.

In 1750, Daniel Boone hunted bison in the Carolinas. Eighty years later there were no buffalo left east of the Mississippi River. Despite this, there were still an amazing number of bison roaming the western ranges of America, as many as 30 million lived on the western plains and foothills making up the great southern and northern herds.

The fur trade years, when mountain men trapped the beaver for its skin, were nearly over by 1840. Now a new fur, the buffalo robe came into fashion. Hunters and skinners came west by the dozens, slaughtering buffalo for their skins. Tails of these hunts encouraged, so called, sportsmen to come west to kill buffalo. The hunters were encouraged by both the railroad and the army each with their own personal reasons for wanting the buffalo destroyed. This brought even more pressure on the dwindling western herd as trainloads of buffalo shooters came west.

By 1870, buffalo robes were not as saleable as before and some of the pressure went away. United States Representative, R. C. McCormick of Arizona, explaining to anyone who would listen that the southern herd was gone, introduced a bill in 1871 to stop or at least curtail the wanton destruction of the buffalo in the west, now only the northern herd. The bill fell on deaf ears in Washington, never getting out of committee. He tried it again the next year and this time people started to listen. At last congress passed a similar bill to McCormick’s in 1874.

President Grant, still worried about an Indian uprising in the west, listened to his advisors and pocket vetoed the law. For anyone that has forgotten their high school history lessons this simply means congress was about to adjourn and Grant did nothing. When the congressional session ended so did all bills that were not signed.

Grant had been told privately, by his Secretary of Interior, that if the bison were gone the Indians of the west would have no choice but to adapt to a white, agricultural lifestyle. His military advisors, Generals, Phil Sheridan and William T. Sherman were very outspoken urging the killing the buffalo to end the lifestyle of the western Indians.

Ten years later most of the buffalo were gone. The few remaining were protected in Wyoming’s northwest corner by the formation of Yellowstone Park in 1872. But even here the poachers arrived attempting to kill off the last of the western herd. Finally, the government came to the aid of the buffalo (in 1886) sending soldiers to the park to run the hunters out and become the parks first police force.

At long last in 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed a law outlawing all hunting, timber cutting and mining in Yellowstone, finally protecting the last two hundred animals.
If this post has any good news it is that the bison has become an American success story, with 300,000 to 500,000 now in North America.

“When the Buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere.” 
Crow Chief Plenty Coups

A Trip Back In Time

Horses grazing in river bottom meadow at Fort Laramie. This photo could have been from 150 years ago. The fort is one of my favorite places and a place that all western history buffs should visit.

Seems to me that in present day vacations too often lead to zip lines, scary theme park rides and shopping mall adventures - too bad.
Ruins at Fort Laramie - to me kind of an ancient Greece look

Not at the Fort, but not far away
Exploring the past can be as much fun as a theme park adventure, and who knows you might just learn something.
Not into history?  Climb a mountain and take a look back to where you came from, fun stuff.
This mountain, in the Laramie Range, is about 50 miles west of Fort Laramie looking back toward the Fort.

Bill Barrow and his Sagebrush Philosophy

I have made several posts in the last few years about Edgar Wilson (Bill) Nye. Nye was one of the most famous newspaper columnists of the late 1800s. So famous he went on humorous lecture tours and shared billing with Mark Twain. His Laramie Boomerang writings appeared in papers throughout America and overseas. Seems unlikely that a state as small as Wyoming could have a newspaperman of such prominence, but they did, and they also had another.

Merris C. (Bill) Barrow was nearly as well-known as Bill Nye. He came to Wyoming in 1878 and after a few months was working for Bill Nye who was then the editor of the Boomerang. He worked in an entry-level job in the papers make-up department but in a few years he was running the Douglas Budget.

Barrow wrote two segments for the paper that were widely circulated and appreciated. Authoring both, Sagebrush Philosophy (once a month) and his weekly column, Bill Barrow’s Budget. Barrow’s folksy cowboy philosophy was a hit. He advertised his newspaper as, “five the chunk”, (five cents each) or, “two plunks per” ($2.00 a year), and reported it was printed on, “prickly pear papyrus.”
He reported his sagebrush philosophy, was “pungent yes, but palatable.” The paper did well, for a small town paper, but it was Bill Barrow and his words that were sent around the country.

I am not sure today if newspapers present the type of vehicle a writer needs to become known worldwide. A few columnist writing for papers with circulations in the hundreds of thousands are well known but not the superstar writers of the old days. Today we reserve that status for our favorite novel writers.
One of a group of horses and mules from Rocky Mountain National Park that winter each year at Fort Laramie.

The Cattle Drive

Before the Civil War, Texas was the land of cattle. After the war that started to change, there were too many cattle. And the long drive became part of American history. The drives became a part of Americana for the next 15 years and later became the subject countless books, movies, and television productions. Cattle sales could yield another few dollars a head after the long drive and this was after paying the drovers and expenses.

Not all beef made it to the railroad terminals in Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska, some were sold to forts along the way. But most were moved north to the railroad and shipped east. A little-known fact is that some of the cattle were taken east and then exported to European markets. When the markets waned, the cattle were still marching north to supply ranches and farms in Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and other points north and west.

So many herds were moving that in 1884 the Texas Cattleman at the National Stock Growers Convention talked about building a trail, six miles wide and fenced from Texas to Canada. The trail would have entered Wyoming at Pine Bluffs and followed the already well know Texas Trail north through Douglas and Sheridan and on into Montana. The idea went so far as to be introduced as a bill in Congress but went no further. Good thing – two years later the cattle boom went bust.

So many cattle marched north at about 15 miles a day that a few rules of the road or drive were honored, they included.

ü No passing the herd in front of you
ü Do not drive your cows onto range occupied by another herd
ü Don’t pick off another herds strays
ü Do not eat from another man’s herd

Git Along, Little Dogies (traditional trail ballad, first published 1910)
As I was walking one morning for pleasure
I spied a cowpuncher riding along
His hat was throwed back and his spurs were a-jingling
And as he approached he was singing this song

Whoopee ti yi yo, git along little dogies
It's your misfortune and none of my own
Whoopie ti yi yo, git along little dogies
You know that Wyoming will be your new home 
Needed many good horses to drive the herds north.