History and Opinion
By Phil Roberts
Stories of events happening on various dates are added from time to time. Eventually, a complete 365-day section will be in place.
The first public school in the state was dedicated in Cheyenne on this date in 1868.
On January 6, 1868, “a large assemblage of ladies and gentlemen” gathered in the newly built school for the dedication ceremonies. Outside, the temperature stood at 25 below zero, “but notwithstanding this, the large room was densely crowded,” the local newspaper reported. The reporter optimistically wrote that the presence of the school would “redeem our city from the rule of crime and vice.” More than 110 students attended the Cheyenne school that first year. The school was located on what is now the southwest corner of 19thand Carey Avenue (then known as Ferguson Avenue).
The temperature at the time was -15 degrees F. The dam, constructed by U. S. Bureau of Reclamation contractors, was the highest in the United States at the time of its completion. Renamed Buffalo Bill Dam in 1946 to honor one of the original promoters of the project, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, the project was one of the first undertaken by the newly created Reclamation Service, a branch of the U. S. Department of the Interior. On May 16, 1910, the gates were closed and the reservoir started to fill with water.
The dam was named for Cody because, initially, in the late 1890s, Cody and several partners filed for water rights on the Stinkingwater River to construct a dam, canals and laterals to provide water to the arid lands in the area for proposed farm irrigation communities. (The river was renamed Shoshone River by legislative act in 1901, a very rare instance of a historic name being changed by statute. The original name had been applied by mountain man John Colter in 1807 when he encountered geysers between what became the damsite and the town of Cody. Noticing the sulpheric odor, he named the river for the smell).
The cost of the project soon overwhelmed the financial capacity of Cody's company and, in 1903, Congress authorized the newly created Reclamation Service to complete construction of the dam. Preliminary work began on the site in July of 1904. Edgar Wheeler, the consulting engineer on the project, considered changing water surface elevations, variations in water temperatures, and deflection questions. The project is said to be the first arch dam designed using a mathematical method of analysis. The Chicago firm of Prendergast and Clarkson gained the construction contract, but was replaced by a succession of two other firms before the project was completed. Daniel Webster Cole was the overall chief engineer on the project. When it was completed, the dam was the highest in the United States at 325 feet. The dam has been raised several times, most recently by 25 feet in 1991.
The tiny village of Marquette, consisting of a post office, general store and a few houses, was inundated when the reservoir was filled. The town was named for George Marquette, early settler and the first postmaster when a post office was established there in 1891. Among the few people who llved there, near the confluence of the South Fork and the North Fork of the Shoshone River, was Burton Marston who later served as the director of Agricultural Extension for the University of Wyoming. A 1920 graduate of UW, he was named distinguished alumnus in 1965.
On this day in 1947, the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees met with a faculty committee of 15 to end a dispute that became known as the UW Textbook Controversy.
Americans in 1947 were still celebrating the long, difficult victories over Nazi Germany and Japan, but beginning to have doubts about the intentions of one of the former allies, the Soviet Union. Spread of Communism had worried Americans in earlier times, but their concerns in 1947 were fueled, not only by ideology, but by Soviet occupation of Eastern European countries, its support for Communist insurgents in China, and rumored experiments with atomic weapons.
In this atmosphere, universities in America were prospering from the millions of returning war veterans, going to college on the newly passed GI Bill. The University of Wyoming was experiencing a boom the largest in its history. In 1945-46, the enrollment languished at 1,500 students. A year later, the number doubled to 3,364, more than 2,000 of them veterans. Some 1,560 of them were newly admitted freshmen.
University officials scrambled to provide housing for the new students as well as sufficient classroom space and courses. Between 1945 and 1947, 150 new faculty joined the ranks at UW. Dr. George Duke Humphrey, hired in 1945 from Mississippi, served as UW president during this boom period. He was a conservative, strong-willed administrator.
In 1947, he was working under the direction of an influential group of Wyomingites serving as university trustees. Milward Simpson, prominent Cody attorney and unsuccessful Republican candidate for the Senate in 1940, held the board chairmanship. Board vice chair was newspaperman Tracy McCraken, the long-time Democratic Party chairman who owned daily papers in Cheyenne, Laramie, Gillette, Worland, Rawlins, and Rock Springs.
That summer, Simpson and the board treasurer, Torrington dentist Dr. P. M. Cunningham, attended a meeting of the governing boards of land grant universities on the campus of the University of Michigan. There, a speaker warned of possible Communist subversion in the form of textbooks being used in various universities.
When the trustees met on Oct. 27, 1947, the board worked on numerous proposals to accommodate the ever-increasing student numbers. At one point, Dr. Cunningham made a motion that President Humphrey appoint a committee to read and examine textbooks in use in the field of social sciences, to determine if such books were subversive or un-American. The motion was seconded and passed after practically no discussion.
Without delay, Humphrey announced appointment of several deans to such a committee, naming R. R. Hamilton, dean of the law school, as chairman of the examining group.
The faculty reacted almost immediately. The newly-established AAUP chapter noted the potential problem and when the entire faculty met on Nov. 19 for its quarterly meeting, it voted 123-24 their opposition to having such a censoring board. The faculty voted to have 15 of their number represent the faculty position before the board. Dr. T. A. Larson, chair of the History Department, was chosen as chairman of the committee of 15.
The committee of 15 met later that week and agreed that the faculty had two goals: end the investigation, and affirm principles of academic freedom.
Students, many of them veterans, got involved. Some were particularly annoyed when one trustee argued that the investigation was necessary in order to protect impressionable young minds of UW students. The student newspaper, theBranding Iron, published editorials opposing the investigation and a newspaper titled Common Sense began a short-lived publication run, entirely devoted to opposing the investigation. But the trustees position had support as well. Local chambers of commerce and a few labor unions endorsed the investigation plan.
Soon, the University of Wyoming was the subject of national media reports, many of them favorable to the board, some darkly implying that the university was troubled with subversives. To strong UW boosters like Simpson, McCraken and Humphrey, these reports were alarming. How might the controversy color national opinion about UW?
Meanwhile, the committee of 15 hammered out a nine-page series of arguments against the trustees efforts at censorship. One provision noted that the plan was an insult to faculty, implying that they were either incompetent at choosing textbooks or subversive. One statement pointed out that few classes at UW actually used textbooks, arguing that such use was a crutch for poor teachers who cant develop their own course materials.
The rhetoric escalated on both sides and the shrill voices of the national papers and commentators seemed to be impugning UW. Vice chairman McCraken, nervous about what he saw as a coming "black eye" for his beloved university, wrote to T. A. Larson on Dec. 31. He suggested that a compromise was possible and recommended that a meeting be held between two trustees and two of Larsons committee of 15. Larson answered that he and vice-chair of the Committee of 15 would meet with the two trustees for lunch at the Plains Hotel in mid-January to discuss the issues. While the four were meeting in Cheyenne on Jan. 20, back in Laramie, President Humphrey released the report of his investigating committee. After examining 65 books, Humphrey reported, the investigators found not a single instance of subversion.
At the lunch, Larson assured the two trustees that no radical doctrines were being taught. As the conversation continued, the groups agreed that the entire committee of 15 could present its case to the Board of Trustees at a special meeting.
The board met the faculty committee four days later on Jan. 24. After committee representatives again made their case, the board agreed to drop the investigation (although President Humphrey pointed out that the investigation essentially exonerated the faculty by its report on the 65 clean books).
The board then acknowledged that the faculty should continue to make book selections, based on their usual procedures. Even more important, the board confirmed that principles of academic freedom would be applied at UW from that time forward. It was a clear victory for the faculty, even though various board members continued to assert that such a concession did not diminish their diligence in uncovering anti-American activities in education.
The controversy came to a quiet close through a distinctively Wyoming way of interacting. Principals on both sides were well acquaintedeven friends in most cases. At a university where board members knew none of the faculty, such a result probably would have been impossible. The controversy ended, mostly to the satisfaction of both sides, because civility prevailed.
The Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by Wyoming in 1973 on this date. The final vote to ratify the ERA was 17-12 in the State Senate. Governor Hathaway signed the ratification bill on Jan. 27, 1973.
On this day in 1921, Scottish residents of Lander again celebrated Robert Burns Day, an annual event in the Fremont County seat town. In 1921, some 100 Scottish Americans attended the dinner at the Noble Hotel, hosted by "Mr. Fyfe and Archibald C. Campbell," according to a local newspaper report. Scottish Wyomingites also celebrated the event annually in Cheyenne and other cities around the state.
On this day in 1926, a jury in district court in Worland returned a verdict in favor of Caroline Lockhart, editor of the Cody Enterprise, in a libel case brought against her by Park County Attorney Ernest Goppert.
Worland gun ordinance is passed by the first town council (1906)
The following is from the Worland (Wyoming) Town Council Ordinances, 1906:
Ordinance 9, Sec. 6: “It shall be unlawful for any person in the Town of Worland to bear upon his person, concealed or openly, any fire arm or other deadly weapon within the limits of said town.”
Fine for violation: “$5 or not more than $100 to which may be added imprisonment in the town jail not less than three days and not more than 60 days.”
--Book 1, p. 12, passed and adopted May 9, 1906.
On this date in 1903, the last 17 prisoners housed in the federal penitentiary at Laramie were moved to the new penitentiary in Rawlins. Both facilities are now historic sites.
The Laramie prison became the University of Wyoming stock farm soon after it was decommissioned as a penitentiary in 1903. When the University moved to a new site southwest of Laramie in the 1980s, the old prison was substantially renovated and returned to its former appearance when it was Wyoming's prison. Now part of the Wyoming Territorial Prison Park, the site is administered by the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Department.
The prison in Rawlins housed Wyoming prisoners until 1982 when a new penitentiary opened south of Rawlins. The old prison, substantially in the same condition as when it was closed, was renamed the Wyoming Frontier Prison. Visitors can take tours of the facility, in the opinion of this writer, one of the spookiest places in all of Wyoming! Included in the tour are visits to death row where the gas chamber replaced hanging as the form of execution in the 1930s.
Both historic sites provide an interesting picture of law and justice in the early days of Wyoming and the first century of statehood.
To learn more, see Elnora Frye, Atlas of Outlaws at the Territorial Pentitentiary (1990), p. 240.
On this date in 1863, Hiram Brundage, the telegrapher at Fort Bridger, published the first issue of the Fort Bridger Telegraph, Wyoming's first newspaper. Brundage had grown tired of soldiers and others constantly interrupting his work by asking him how the Civil War was going in the East. He decided to print the news daily on two sides of a regular-sized sheet of paper and sell the copies around the post. Thus, Wyoming's first newspaper was a daily. Publication ended when Brundage took a telegrapher's job at another fort.
On this date in 1898, five soldiers of "Torrey's Rough Riders" were killed in a train mishap near Tupelo, Miss. Organized by Col. Jay Torrey, the rough rider unit consisted of experienced cowboys recruited from throughout Wyoming. Because of the train accident and organizational delays, the unit never saw action in the Spanish-American War.
At 1:22 p.m., on August 5, 1923, the funeral train carrying the body of President Warren Harding, who had died in San Francisco earlier in the week, stopped in Cheyenne at the depot for precisely 27 minutes. He had passed through en route to the West Coast on June 2, 1923, where he was met by a large crowd at the Cheyenne depot.
On this day in 1903, Dr. W. W. Crook brought the first automobile to Cheyenne. Named "Old Pete," the vehicle was an Oldsmobile that cost Crook $725.
“It was considered marvelous to see Dr. Crook actually tearing up the dirt at 20 and 25 miles an hour. Later, he bought a Ford and sold the Olds to Charles Dereemer. He couldn’t make it run so the car was abandoned on his ranch for 20 years. It had a single cylinder with chain drive and was built for two passengers. The car steers with a long lever, and cranks and drives from the right side. The radiator is under the floor in the front and the engine is under the seat. Gas tank is just below the water tank on the rear end and the carburetor is just below the engine." “Cheyenne’s First Automobile ‘Old Pete’ Being Conditioned,” Wyoming State Tribune, Nov. 15, 1934.
On this date in 1931, Laramie was shaken by a slight earthquake. The Sunday quake lasted about half a minute and was felt as far away as Buford. No damages were reported.
On this date in 1867, Cheyenne was just 88 days old and the city council passed the following resolution to control fire arms within the city:
"The council met in special session pursuant to notice previously given....
"The following ordinance concerning carrying firearms was presented and on motion ... accepted.
"An ordinance concerning the carrying of Fire Arms
"Be it ordained by the city council of the city of Cheyenne that
"Sec. I. It shall be unlawful for any person, other than a member of the police force, to carry or keep any Fire Arms of any description, or any bowie knife, dagger, sling shot or other dangerous weapon upon his or her person either publicly or concealed.
"Sec. II: Any person convicted of a violation of this ordinance, shall be fined...not exceeding one hundred dollars or less than five dollars or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days, in the discretion of the court or by both fine and imprisonment.
"Sec. III. It shall be the duty of the Police officers to arrest any person found in the act of violating this ordinance except in the cases of strangers and non-residents of this city who shall be first informed of this ordinance and allowed thirty minutes to comply herewith (p. 39) and should they refuse or neglect to do so within that time they shall be held answerable to the penalties hereof. Approved Setp. 30, 1867.
On motion it was ordered that the above ordinance be printed in the form of hand bills and posted in public places throughout the city.”
--Minutes of the Council of the City of Cheyenne, from Aug. 1, 1867, Jan. 4, 1869, Wyoming State Archives. microfilm #989, pp. 38-39, Sept. 30, 1867.
On this day in 1871, Territorial Gov. John A. Campbell said in his annual message to the legislature: "I desire to invite your attention to the law passed by the last legislature providing for licensing gambling houses. I hope it will be repealed. We cannot afford to legalize vice. While we may be unable to prevent gambling and other vices in our midst, we can at least pay the compliment to virtue of endeavoring to do so.”
On this date in 1940, The Cheyenne newspaper reported that "Ernest Hemingway of Key West, Monroe Co., Florida, married Martha Gellhorn of St. Louis," in Cheyenne that morning. Cheyenne's Justice of the Peace, F. A. Strennett, officiated at the wedding. After the ceremony, the couple ate lunch at the Union Pacific Depot dining room.