Antelope Charlie Belden - Wyoming Photographer

A Look Back in Black & White

Recently I have spent some time reading about early photography in the west, and when I could find it, Wyoming.  One man that comes to the forefront of early Wyoming photographers is Charles Josiah Belden.
Beldon was so well known, that Stetson made a hat called the Belden - Here he is wearing it

Most of his Wyoming work was in and around Meeteetse. Belden was born in San Francisco in 1887. He graduated from MIT in 1910, then toured Russia, with an MIT friend, Eugene Phelps, who would later become his brother in law, taking photos with his first camera.  After coming back to America, Belden stayed on the west coast for a few months but eventually found his way to Wyoming and his good friend’s ranch. By 1912 he was working as a ranch hand and in 1913 married his friend’s sister. She was Francis Phelps, the sister of his good friend Eugene Phelps. When he married Miss Phelps, it was into the family that owned the world famous, quarter of a million acre, Pitchfork Ranch. For the next twenty years, Belden photographed and published photos in widely read national publications. Most of the photos were from in and around the stunning mountain area of the ranch.
Charles Belden raised and sold Pronghorn to zoos all over the country.
For the rest, of his time in Wyoming, he was called Antelope Charlie.
He even sold a few, air transported to Germany by the Hindenburg.

With the economy strained the ranch was turned partially into a dude ranch before 1920, and by the 1930s was in financial trouble. Things turned from bad to worse and the Belden’s divorced in 1940. Soon after, Charles Belden moved to Florida with his new wife. Belden would become a world class photographer and journalist working for National Geography, Life Magazine, and the Saturday Evening Post, and many others, taking on assignments around the world. Mr. Belden lived on until 1966 in St Petersburg, where, suffering from health problems, he took his own life.
Bald Eagle

It is interesting that although he was one of the world’s best known and most hired photographers, his best work was in Wyoming.

The American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming holds a large collection of photographs and negatives taken by Belden. If you would like to know more Wyoming PBS has a wonderful half hour documentary that can be viewed online here. 
Remains of the old Fort Laramie Hospital

Don’t be continually wishing you had a better camera. Learn to know your machine.

If a picture does not tell a story, it’s not worth taking.

Charles J. Belden

All of today's photos are in black and white in honor of Mr. Belden's work. 
Cloud Shrouded Laramie Peak over Guernsey Lake

Today Mostly Fact – Not Much Fiction

The news dominating Wyoming right now  -  The Legislature is in session, I hope to visit in the next couple of weeks and sit in on some of the education funding discussions. Education funding is a huge concern in our state as the mineral extraction industry has footed the bill for many years.

It will be interesting to see what happens. State Income Tax, more sales tax, a raise in property taxes, or a combination of all of the above. As much as no one wants new taxes or an increase in taxes, I don’t see a lot of options. Wyoming schools are doing well, currently rated as the 7th best state for public schools in America. We can use some of the rainy day money for a year, or two, but somewhere, somehow, a permanent funding model must be found.

One idea being bandied about is to increase classroom numbers or combine school districts – both terrible ideas. If the legislature decides to do this, I hope they call it what it is. Cutting the number of teachers, putting kids on long bus commutes, and taking away one of the things that make our schools really good – small classroom size. I may be prejudiced on this, having been in the classroom for more than four decades. Too often the idea comes up, “let's consolidate like the states around us.” I was in Nebraska in the 1970s, when they started to consolidate, and when they did, many of the schools were within five or six miles of each other, not the 25 or more that we have in Wyoming. Within a few years, schools that lost their high school’s, lost their identities, and often lost other businesses and then people.
Here I am - Telling it like it is

What would I do? Good question, and here is my answer. First, this should not be about politics or getting re-elected, although it probably will be, which is too bad. Before reading, understand that I might not like all of these, but think it may be a long-term solution.

Two cent increase in State Sales Tax – (money must be earmarked for education only)
1% of the room rate added to the Lodging Tax. (money must be earmarked for education only)

With a bit of a pickup in minerals, this might do it for now.

The Times are Changing - It is also likely the time to merge the State Department of Education with PTSB, long overdue. Although it is a bit stop-gap, it might also be time for a  five-year moratorium on the new school building program.
Pronghorn are from the old days - really old days

Good luck to the legislature, they have a tough job ahead of them.

What About That Wyoming Wind

Not sure about you, but I am getting tired of all the wind. Where we live in the North Platte River Valley, we don’t get as much wind as most of the state, except, it seems, this time of year. So many days with gusts around the state at 60 or more mph, seems unusual even for Wyoming at this part of the year.

Where the Wind Really Blows - I did a bit of research to see how Wyoming compared to other states and, as expected, this is a windy state. Wyoming trails only South Dakota and Montana in average wind speed. I found it both funny and appropriate that the list has the District of Columbia at the top with a wind speed more than ten mph above than South Dakota. Imagine that, D.C. with all the politicians is the windiest place in the United States. (I do hope the people that compiled this list I used do know that The District of Columbia, is not a state).

That’s a Lot of Wind - Last year Casper had a wind gust that reached 103 mph in February, as much as a class 2 hurricane. So what is the windiest town in Wyoming? Good question, either Medicine Bow or Rawlins, depending on the source, and if you dig deep enough, other towns and cities will probably pop-up.

But all of Wyoming is not considered windy, Worland, Lander, Guernsey, and I am sure a few others will pop up as members of the least windy cities in the United States. How do these places qualify? With average wind speeds of around eight mph or less for the year. With the speeds at that level, cities are in the bottom 20% for the wind in the country.

Is it Spring Yet? - It has been warm enough to play golf if not for the snow and wind. Now the snow, because of the wind, has melted and I may head out to the golf course the next time the wind is not so bad. I know what you are thinking – “Well, good luck with that.”

That’s it, one very windy post, but I still do not want to live anywhere else.

Today’s photos from our drive west of town this morning – enjoy!

Snow and the Blizzard of 1887

Last night it was cold, really cold. When I got up this morning, I checked our indoor outdoor thermometer which read -20. The weather app on my phone said -25 with a wind chill of -41 now that is cold. We live in a nice valley where we don’t see such extreme temperatures as a norm but this year seems a bit different. Coming out of the Wyoming news this morning was the fact that Wyoming was reporting five of the ten coldest temperatures on earth last night. Sometimes the old, “We’re number one chant doesn’t feel all that good.
Under Our Feeder - Temperature Up to Zero at Noon

The winter of 1885-86 should have been an indication of what was to come with the great blizzard of 1887, but as people say in today’s world, “who knew?”

Fall and early winter in 85-86 were some of the most pleasant days, for that time of year, on record. Reminds me of last year when I played golf six or eight times in December. Hope that was not a harbinger of even worse things to come this winter.

In 1887, January 9th Wyoming and a big area including most of the states around were hit with the great blizzard. Snow fell at the rate of nearly an inch and hour for 16-20 hours and temperatures plunged as low as -46. The temperatures stayed bitterly cold for ten days when the snow came again.

The rest is history, starved cattle, snowed in towns and ranches, starving people. Ranchers lost from a third to all of their herds. In all, an estimated five million cattle died. That winter changed the way American ranchers would operate forever. 

Markers Along the Oregon Trail

Traveling the Oregon Trail must have been quite an ordeal. Along with the lack of food, lack of good water, lack of fuel and the constant fear of attack from Indians, travelers had to put up with walking most of the way. They experienced freezing cold mornings and often scorching afternoons. But finding the way west was, after the first few years, not as difficult as many novels and stories seem to make it. Many good scouts, or pilots as they were sometimes called, worked the trail, many had earlier trapped and traded in the west and knew much of life on the trail.

Wagons followed the Platte River across present-day Nebraska and looked forward to their first view of the west, Chimney Rock and soon after if the days were clear Laramie Peak.

Chimney Rock – Near Bridgeport Nebraska and along Highway - 26, was a towering marker letting travelers know they were leaving the flat and easy part of the journey west. Chimney Rock stood more than 400 feet above the North Platte River and could be seen for days from the wagon trains. Today Chimney Rock is still striking but stands about 100 feet less than it once did.
Chimney Rock

Laramie Peak – Often Laramie Peak could be seen before the wagons reached Chimney Rock. The highest point of the Laramie Range, the peak stands 10,276 feet high. By most standards a mountain a bit over 10,000 feet high is not much, but when viewed from the prairie, after weeks of traveling the flat land, it was most impressive. The peak, as it is referred to by locals now, also meant the wagons would soon be turning north with the river toward present-day Casper, Wyoming. As a side note, famed mountain man Jim Bridger* often claimed he’d been in the mountains so long that when he came west, Laramie Peak was, “nothin’ but a hole in the ground.”
 *Bridger came into this country on his first trip west 195 years ago.
Laramie Peak as it looked from the wagon trains