History and Opinion
By Phil Roberts
INTRODUCTION TO THE WEB EDITION
This entirely web-based series of articles is based on the fifth edition of a book consisting of essays relating to various organizing concepts in Wyoming history. When the book was first published (in printed form) in 1992, it was intended to supplement lectures and other readings in Wyoming history. This web-based edition adds introductory essays that provide both a chronological overview of Wyoming history, surveys of several of the main concepts and important primary source documents. The primary emphasis, however, continues to be the essays, written by more than a dozen historians.
For some readers it may seem daunting to read about all of the events that have happened in Wyoming history and then try to make some sense of them. Historians have utilized several strategies in order to better understand the past and other ways of organizing the facts in looking at the state’s history. Even though these readings tend toward historical narrative in a chronological order, the book is organized by themes.
To help place these myriad events into some perspective, this book proposes ten organizing concepts in the study of Wyoming history, each containing overlapping ideas. By thinking about the state’s history through this thematic approach, a student may organize ideas and facts into discrete, workable, understandable parts. The ten concepts are summarized in the following "key words": Wall Street, Washington, Water, Wilderness, Road to Somewhere Else, Sectionalism, Self-Image, Women’s Rights, Diversity, and Wyomingites and the World.
Acknowledgements for Readings in Wyoming History Essays
The selections in this volume are intended as starting points for discussing these important concepts. Also, they provide valuable examples of the breadth of source materials and extent of methodologies possible in the writing of Wyoming history. Not only printed sources but web pages are becoming more significant. Many of these articles may be found on the internet. The address for the longer articles noted in this volume as Readings in Wyoming History is: http://www.uwyo.edu/ROBERTSHISTORY
Some of the articles in this book were written for a graduate seminar in the history of Wyoming since the spring of 1993 and later. The articles by Adam Lederer, Ginny Kilander, Sarah Bohl, Carl V. Hallberg, Augustin Redwine, D. Claudia Thompson, Carol Bowers, David L. Roberts, and the article by Kim Ibach and William H. Moore, first appeared in Annals of Wyoming. The essay on "cowboy health care" was published in Montana: Magazine of Western History. A version of Jeremy Johnston’s article first appeared in Yellowstone Science. My thanks to the editors of each of those journals for permission to reprint the articles here.
Finally, thanks to all of the authors who contributed their work to this volume and to the many students in History of Wyoming courses at the University of Wyoming who encouraged creation of this series.
Phil Roberts, Editor
THE KEY WORDS AND ORGANIZING CONCEPTS
Wyoming’s economy remains locked into cycles of boom and bust. From the rise and decline of the fur trade to the collapse of the uranium industry in the 1980s and the rise of coal-bed methane in the first years of the 21st century, the state’s economy has been buffeted by dramatic swings in economic fortunes. Most industries in Wyoming remain grounded in natural resource exploitation. During some periods, one such sector may be in decline while others are less affected. During some periods, such as the late 1920s and 1930s or the end of the 20th century, several industry sectors were in economic trouble. As a result of these wild swings in fortunes, Wyomingites have sought economic stability since pre-territorial days.
Efforts to diversify the economy frequently failed because outside forces have controlled the state’s natural resources, dictated the prices for the state’s raw commodities and determined placement of mines, rail lines, and manufacturing and processing facilities.1 This economic colonialism has been a factor in the state’s inability to escape the boom and bust cycles. I use the words "Wall Street" as a shorthand way of remembering both of these organizing concepts.
The federal government controls half of the land area of Wyoming. Given that Wyoming has far fewer residents than any other state, Wyomingites believe they have less control over the policies made by a government ruling in our name. Until recent years, few Wyomingites held high offices in the federal government where they could articulate Wyoming’s needs and direct policy that was amenable to the interests of the state.1 As a result, federal policies were often made by federal officers who did not understand Wyoming problems and did not consult with the people affected by such decisions. Consequently, Wyomingites have shown an ambivalence toward the federal government. While they welcomed dam-building, land grants, tourism promotion and military protection, the federal presence was less popular when it involved such issues as higher fees for use of public lands, regulation of the mineral industry, or relaxation of tariffs on foreign agricultural products.2
Usually, federal agency decisions stand, but sometimes they bring local opposition. In the 1970s, Sublette County residents managed to defeat a joint corporate-federal nuclear project. Even though Wyomingites succeeded in this case, federal policies affecting the state continue to cause friction, whether in the realm of wolf reintroduction, leasing of federal lands or the proposed listing of the sage grouse on the Endangered Species list (a decision to be made in late September 2015). In that respect, the tensions between the federal government and Wyomingites have little changed since pre-territorial days. "Federal-state relations" incorporate such questions as how the state copes with federal mandates and how the federal government policies influence the state’s development.
The Congress established the nation’s first national park in Wyoming, when it was still a territory, and the President proclaimed the first national monument in the state. Nonetheless, the state’s residents have not always supported protection of such areas. In the 1940s various local groups contested expansion of Grand Teton National Park.3 In the late 20th century, environmentalists and industry lobbyists argued over limitations on tree-cutting in national forests. Discussions continue over such issues as wolf introduction in Yellowstone and snowmobile operations in national parks. Sage grouse presence in energy-rich parts of the state raise serious questions of balance between environment and energy development. Environmental debates remain an important theme in the on-going events of the state.
Wyoming’s average precipitation is insufficient in most places to sustain most forms of agriculture. Consequently, the State Constitution states that every drop of water within the state's borders--surface, sub-surface, clouds in the sky--belongs to the people of Wyoming. The state-owned water is then allocated by the State's allocation representative, the State Engineer's Office, through a process known as prior appropriation. In the 20th century, downstream users clamored for a bigger share and agreements were made between states over the amounts of water each state could take from the various river systems. Drought in the American Southwest continues to put pressure on Wyoming's water resources. With the additional uncertainties of Indian water rights, the issues of water use and control remain key organizing concepts.
Trail to Somewhere Else
Wyoming was on the road to the valleys of Oregon and gold fields of California. The nation’s first transcontinental railroad was built across it and the first coast-to-coast air route passed in the skies over Wyoming. Even though the state is a transportation link between regions, it gained little population from these endeavors. Indeed, even in the 21st century with major motor vehicle transportation routes across Wyoming connecting the East and the West, no Wyoming town has become a major "transportation hub" like Denver, Kansas City or Chicago. These transportation lines, however, have changed the state’s history. Indeed, the construction of the transcontinental railroad created Wyoming Territory.
Does a state have a particular "identity" or "self-image"? Even though Wyoming has just a half million people, we cannot assume that all of them share fundamentally similar attitudes, habits, appearances, or internal images of themselves. Nonetheless, for various reasons, individuals and communities have promoted causes by asserting the presence of a common "self image" that is somehow distinct from the rest of America. The concept of "self-image" has influenced the direction of the state’s history in such diverse ways as adoption of Western wearing apparel to assumptions about government spending. The essay by Rick Ewig examines this issue and my essay on health care on the range explodes other myths about "rugged individualism." D. Claudia Thompson describes the inherent conflicts between reality and Wyoming mythology as it pertains to the tragic 1998 murder of Matt Shepard.
Wyoming gained international acclaim when women in the new territory were the first in America to be granted the right to vote. The first territorial legislature passed the "suffrage bill" giving women the right to vote in 1869—a full half century before the U. S. Constitution was amended to give women such rights. Wyoming also was the first state to elect a woman to statewide office—Estelle Reel, elected state superintendent of public instruction in 1894. Sarah Bohl describes Reel’s experience. Carol Bowers analyzes the story of another turn-of-the-century woman, Glendolene Kimmel, a schoolteacher who gained fame in a celebrated murder case and clears misconceptions historians held about women over the past century. Also included is an essay examining how the second territorial legislature nearly overturned Wyoming historic role by attempting to repeal women suffrage.
Wyoming was not settled by cowboys exclusively nor was that group ever in the majority. The state has been home to hundreds of different ethnic and economic groups and thousands of immigrants from around the world. Conflicts between these groups are an important part of the state’s history. Further, the incompatibility between the promoted "self-images" and the realities of diverse interests, beliefs and world views has influenced the state’s economic, political and cultural history. Essays by Frank Van Nuys (on Americanization efforts in Wyoming), Augustin Redwine (on Mexican-American workers), Dudley Gardner (on Chinese in Wyoming) and Carl Hallberg (on historiography of Wyoming ethnic history), examine these currents. Patty Kessler incorporates another aspect of ethnicity by describing how Native American history and culture influenced development of a reservation museum and cultural center.
Essays by Clifford Bullock and James Barrett examine the "Black 14" incident at the University of Wyoming in 1969. William H. Moore and Kim Ibach describe the politics in the passage of Wyoming’s public accommodations statute in the 1950s.
Wyoming never has been a happy, homogenous place with an absence of internal conflicts. The political borders artificially confine the land area into a 98,900-square-mile rectangle. In cultural, economic and social terms, influences from neighboring states are considerable. Since territorial days when Cheyenne became the "temporary capital," there have been disputes over political, economic, cultural and social issues in Wyoming among the cities and counties. They have ranged from the friendly rivalries apparent among high school athletic teams to violent episodes like the Johnson County Invasion. My essay on the capital location election illustrates the issue.
Wyomingites and the World
Wyoming citizens continue to make a substantial impact on the rest of America and the world, just as the rest of the nation and the world influence the state. To illustrate the facets of Wyomingites’ role in national life, David Roberts writes about the career of rocket pioneer G. Edward Pendray, a native of the tiny eastern Wyoming town of Van Tassell.