History and Opinion
By Phil Roberts
June 4, 2016
The Origins of the “W” on Laramie's “W Hill”
“Go out in the back steps of the University or any other convenient place about town and take a look at the red hills northeast of Laramie,” the Wyoming Student (predecessor to the Branding Iron) urged on Sept. 30, 1913. “You will there see a large ‘W’ that was never there before.”
The article referred to the “W” on the hill in the north part of Laramie. Known for years as “W Hill,” the marker lent its name to a Laramie street, thus confusing a long line of new residents who thought the official name was actually “West Hill Street”.
The idea for the letter on the hill, then in a distant unpopulated part of what is now residential Laramie, came from the freshman class in 1913—the class known then as the “class of ’17.”
The Wyoming Student told how “the 17’ers”--the freshmen—had secretly planned the construction for more than a week.
“On Saturday morning, with pick and shovel and lunch baskets, both young men and young women to the number of about fifty hied [sic] themselves for the hill, without delay and before long, a great change was wrought in the scenery.”
The group worked the entire day, taking a lunch break—“the girls served a delicious luncheon to the tired boys,” the Student reporter wrote the following week.
The W was 50 feet high by 80 feet wide and “consists of a layer of six inches of broken white limestone laid in a trench.” Later, the class planned to whitewash the rocks. According to the article, “passengers on incoming and outgoing trains from both directions can see the ‘W.’”
At the end of the article, the suggestion was made that one part of the “construction” needed to be made a permanent tradition—the whitewashing. “…it would be a nice thing to make the whitewashing an annual celebration, held in the fall of each year, allowing the incoming Freshman class to do the work.”
A few years later, it is clear that the tradition stuck. The Wyoming Student on Sept. 24, 1920, observed that one fairly new and rather pointless tradition—freshmen wearing yellow and brown caps on campus until Thanksgiving—was being observed. “Another tradition that is important for the Freshmen to carry out,” the Student reported, “is the whitewashing of the W. This must be done within two weeks after registration, or take the consequences from the rest of the college,” the paper warned. The nature of the “consequences” were not stated.
As years passed, the tradition of “whitewashing the W” continued. But even if “incoming and outgoing” passenger trains were to be passing through Laramie today, it would be hard for passengers to see the W amidst the housing and growth of trees that has taken place since the “W” was installed by 50 freshmen on that fall day more than a century ago.
(This article first appeared in WYO Magazine)
February 13, 2015
Bucking Horse/Rider First Appeared on 1936 Wyoming License Plates
Originally published as a "Buffalo Bones" column, circulated statewide in 1982 by the Wyoming State Archives, Museums and Historical Department, now the Division of Cultural Resources, State Parks and Cultural Resources Department.
Every year questions are asked about the bucking horse insignia on Wyoming's license plates. Claims from several sources seem to confuse the history of just where the emblem originated.
License plates were not issued in the first decade of automobile use in Wyoming. In fact, according to file materials in the Wyoming State Archives, Division of Cultural Resources, State Department of Parks and Cultural Resources, the first plates were issued in 1913 from the Secretary of State's office.
The 1913 law read: "Such number plate shall be an enameled plate or placard on metal...in the upper left hand corner of which there shall be a facsimile of the seal of the state, underneath which there shall be the abbreviation 'Wyo'.... Said number plate shall be of a distinctive different color or shade for each year, to be designated and selected by the Secretary of State."
Previously, numbers had been issued to individuals but it had been their responsibility to fashion them into "plate" for their vehicles.
The 1913 plates, red figures on a white background, had a state seal made of German silver. Two years later, the seal was embossed on the metal and in 1916, the plate was enameled.
For the first five years of their issuance, license plates did not note the year. In 1918, it became the standard feature.
Another important change occurred in 1930 when each county as given the responsibility for license plate issuance. Numbers were assigned to each county, not on the basis of their populations at the time, but according to the assessed valuation of property within their borders. These designations are retained without change to this day with Natrona County designated "1" and Sublette County designated "23."
The first announcement of a pending change in the 1936 license plates was made by a Wyoming State Tribune article on July 15, 1935: "A boldly embossed picture of a cowboy doing a good job of riding a wildly-bucking bronco will adorn Wyoming's automobile license plates of next year. Secretary of State Lester C. Hunt today approved a design for the next edition of the plates, taking his choice from two that were submitted. The picture of the rider and horse were drawn by Allen T. True of Denver, brother of James B. True, Wyoming State Highway engineer."
True had been the artist for the murals in the House and Senate chambers in the Wyoming State Capitol so Hunt called him and offered $75 for a drawing appropriate for the plates.
The controversy has continued about the identity of the horse and the cowboy on the plates. It was asserted that the rider was "Stub" Farlow of Lander, but Hunt, then a U. S. Senator wrote to Lola Homsher, then director of the State Archives and Historical Department: "Many stories have appeared in the press from time to time--their origin I do not know--saying that the bucking horse license plate was a certain horse and the rider was Mr. Farlow. Such is not the case, but I did have 'Stub' Farlow in mind when designing the plate." Nor was the horse the famous bucking horse, Steamboat, according to Hunt's letter to Homsher.
The origin of the design is still a matter of debate. Did it originate with the Wyoming National Guard in France during World War I? Did it first appear on an airplane that flew against the Germans in that war? Or was the idea "entirely original" with Hunt who wrote that "not other person had ever mentioned such a plate in my presence"?
January 12, 2013
Wyoming Frontier Towns Banned Firearms
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.” Book 1, p. 12, passed and adopted May 9, 1906.
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.”
Worland Town Council Minutes, May 8, 1906-Jan. 4, 1950. Wyoming State Archives microfilm.
Council members were long-time Wyoming pioneers and ex-cowboys.
January 10, 2014
Plans Announced for 2014 Wyoming on-the-road tour
The 2014 History of Wyoming "on-the-road" tour features visits to numerous historic sites and points of interest in central Wyoming. Centered in Casper, the day-trips will go in all four directions from there, including stops at Independence Rock, Fort Fetterman, Kaycee and Hole-in-the-Wall country, and the Trails Center and Fort Caspar in Casper. For more information, contact Mary Mountain at the Laramie Plains Museum, Laramie.
June 20, 2012
2012 Wyoming on-the-road tour
The 2012 edition of the "History of Wyoming on-the-road tour" was sponsored by the Laramie Plains Museum and the accommodations/meals/special events were organized by Barbara Barnes who did a superb job. More than 40 participants took the bus trip from Laramie to Evanston, north to Jackson, through Yellowstone to Cody, Powell, Worland, Sheridan, Casper and back to Laramie. As on past trips, I served as the history tour guide.
The group toured historic Fort Bridger, the railroad roundhouse complex in Evanston, Aviat Aircraft's factory in Afton (builders of high-performance aerobatic airplanes), the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, the new Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, the new Washakie Museum and Cultural Center in Worland, the Medicine Lodge State Archaeological Site, King Ropes and the Sheridan Inn in Sheridan.
Along with visiting historic sites, the group heard special speakers including Frank Prevedel in Rock Springs, talking about Superior and his new book on the historic coal-mining town east of Rock Springs. Jim Davis spoke on the restoration of the Evanston Roundhouse and provided a tour of the still-evolving center being developed on the site. In Worland, Dr. George Frison addressed the group about the Colby site and his extensive study of mammoth kill sites. At the Medicine Lodge site, Margaret and Tom Harless pointed out many significant petroglyphs and talked about the meaning of the site. Wayne Baumann portrayed Buffalo Bill at the Sheridan Inn and answered questions about the old scout's life. Various trip participants talked about areas where they had specific knowledge.
June 4, 2012
The 1886 territorial legislature passed a law authorizing creation of county libraries. It was the first such law in the United States. Soon after the law went on the books, the Laramie County Library was founded, becoming the first county library in the United States.
July 5, 2011
Presidential Visits to Wyoming
All but two U. S. Presidents since U. S. Grant have visited Wyoming. Exceptions were Grover Cleveland and, oddly, Benjamin Harrison who was President when Wyoming became a state. Harrison signed the Statehood Act admitting Wyoming to statehood on July 10, 1890.
The visits by the Presidents are described in the seventh edition of Wyoming Almanac, now on sale at bookshops around the state. Look on pp. 462-64, under the general category of "Politics."
December 16, 2007
Introducing Notes on Wyoming History, Folklore and Current Events
With this entry, we begin a regularly-updated feature on Wyoming history and folklore. Phil Roberts has written extensively on Wyoming history for many years. Some entries are mere notes while others are essays repeated from earlier published works. Many items will be unique to this site.
January 5, 2008
Note: Women Served on Juries in Wyoming
Wyoming was the first place where women served on juries. Laramie was the site for the first women on a jury (1871), but women also were chosen for jury service in Cheyenne during the period.
Most historians assert that the experiment with women on juries ended soon afterward with no women in Wyoming serving again until the 1950s. This is inaccurate. For example, women served on juries in the Big Horn Basin area in the years immediately after statehood.
Cheyenne Daily Leader, Sept. 17, 1891, p. 3, c.3:
"The law case of W. S. Collins vs. E. Minnie Whittington attracted quite a gathering in Bonanza on Thursday. It was notable from the fact that for the first time in the history of the basin the jury was partially composed of ladies, Mrs. Hyatt and Smith being chosen. The defendant appeared in her own defense and the suit ended in a disagreement. It will be retried next Thursday and the jury will be half ladies."
Other evidence exists of women serving on a jury in the Douglas area about the same time. These items require a reassessment of the commonly held notion that women were barred from jury service in Wyoming soon after the experiment started in 1871 and were not included again until after World War II.
By Phil Roberts
Experts say that of the 115 various species of snakes in the United States, just 19 of them are venomous. Last year, an estimated 8,000 snake bites were reported nationally so people need to retain a healthy respect for them.
In Wyoming, one of the most common species is the prairie rattlesnake.
When left alone, most rattlers would rather retreat than attack—at least, during most times of the year.
Where I grew up, in northern Niobrara County in the Hat Creek Breaks, rattlesnakes were commonplace. My mother used to shave the grass around the ranchyard in order to discourage rattlers from coming in and hiding in the cool grass on hot summer days. Whenever we went out of the yard, my brother and I were always cautioned, “Watch out for snakes.” We’d see them often, sunning on warm rocks or, on hot days, in the shade of sagebrush.
Snake stories in Wyoming history are legion. One of my favorites might actually be true….but I’ve heard the location of the incident change so often that I’m not altogether sure.
Anyway, one time in the 1960s, a road was being built through an area heavily infested with rattlers. (I’ve heard it was I-25 south of Chugwater, or north of Casper, or I-80 west of Wamsutter, or in the Wind River Canyon). The highway construction crew was out doing the hill blasting during the cold late-winter months so that actual paving could be done when the weather warmed. As they blasted out a hill, one big blast revealed a den of hibernating rattlers—thousands of them, tens of thousands--all sleeping soundly in a huge coil.
Alarmed at the sight down in that blast hole, about 30 feet wide and 15 feet deep, the highway supervisor decided some critical action had to be taken before the reptiles woke up. “Let’s just blast them to smithereens,” he told the dynamite man.
As the rest of the two-dozen man crew stood there peering down into the hole at the huge coil of snakes, the blaster prepared the charge. While the crew peeked over the edge of the deep hole, the blaster shoved down the primer.
Snakes starting flying straight up into the air.
And, they started coming down, feeling pretty unhappy about being awakened so rudely.
Eyewitnesses say there were men in hard hats, running fast in all directions, while angry waking rattlers thumped down around them and bounced off their hard hats.
I can’t document the details, but I’ve visited with a half dozen guys who swear they were there—that chilly afternoon, somewhere in Wyoming, when the dynamite went off and it started to rain rattlers.
Wyoming has a rich and colorful history. One early governor, Dr. John Osborne, gained earlier fame when he cut off the top of outlaw Big Nose George's skull in a vain effort to determine what was contained in the criminal brain. (He also made a pair of shoes from George's skin).
State politicians have been powerful players nationally. Sen. Francis E. Warren set a record for Senate service not equalled until late in the 20th century. He also saw from his post as chairman of the Armed Services committee, that his son-in-law, John J. Pershing, got the promotions he deserved.
Warren and Wyoming's first U. S. Senator Joseph M. Carey, were believed to be the two wealthiest men in Wyoming at the time of statehood in 1890. They held that distinction until displaced by oil barons in the post-World War I years.
Where appropriate, this site will feature the lives of some of these fascinating characters from the state's history.
June 2, 2010
Memorial Day Address,
Lusk, Wyoming, May 31, 2010
Thank you for the kind introduction.
Also, before I begin my formal address, Id like to thank the American Legion and VFW of Lusk for inviting me here today to give the Memorial Day address. It is especially meaningful for me, a native of Lusk, because my father was a veteran from here who served in the South Pacific during World War II and several of my uncles also served, two of them from Lusk, in that war. As for myself, Im a Marine Corps veteran although I never got beyond the coast of California during my service. Even though I was nowhere near a war zone, the experience had a considerable impact on my life. My thanks again for inviting me here to be part of this ceremony today.
On this day, we honor those who served.
We remember those who died defending freedom on the battlefields of Antietam, the Argonne forest, Normandy, Saipan, and North Africa.
On this day, we salute those who answered the countrys call to fight our nations wars on the far-off islands of the South Pacific, in the fields of Europe, on the frozen hills of Korea, in the jungles of Southeast Asia, and the deserts of the Middle East.
And, on this day, we thank those who cared for soldiers and sailors who suffered from the ravages of warthose who served on hospital ships, in VA medical wards, and in homes throughout the nation who cared for wounded servicemen and women and kept our nations promise to care for them as they cared for our country.
And on this day, we are reminded that keeping our democracy comes with a pricethat some wars must be fought to protect democracy and combat tyranny.
Yet, we also know that over the past two centuries, we, as a nation, have had our lapses. Weve been misled into foreign adventures that continue to be costly in blood and treasure. Democracy cannot be imposed by military forcethat while we may be capable of freeing people from tyranny, we cant impose the concepts of rule of law and democracy on those who wont also fight for it for themselves.
Puritan leader John Winthrop, approaching the American coast those many centuries ago, stated: We must always consider that we shall be as a city upon a hillthey eyes of all people are upon us.
That shining city served as an example for people everywhere. It wasnt the TV sets, Wall Street fortunes, or rumors of streets paved in gold that made us that shining city. It was from those concepts we put into practicemajority rule and minority rights; equal justice; equality of opportunity; and revolutionary human rights concepts of habeas corpus and presumption of innocencethose principles to which others everywhere aspire.
And, of course, we foster human dignity and democracy around the world only when we practice those principles at homewhen we restore the protections guaranteed by the Constitution and that we, once again, are the shining city to which other people aspire to emulate. We must, once again, resolve to return to being the shining city on the hill.
Even in those rare times when our country followed falsely into conflict, it doesnt take away from the sacrifices of those who fought and died. These sorrowful incidents remind us to renew the tenets of the Constitution that make us the shining city on the hill. We must not compound the mistakes of warfoolishly entered intoby curtailing the rights the Constitution always has guaranteed.
On this day, we honor those who served in all wars.
So on this day, while we honor those who served, we remind those who represent us to walk the hallowed rows of crosses in military cemeteries (and many of the graves marked by flags in our cemetery here) and walk the halls of the veterans hospitalssee the effects of war remain indelibly imprinted on millions of families. We ask our leaders to read the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and note the protections for all people and understand that it is through upholding those principles that we remain the shining city on the hill, admired by the world. Above all, they need to remember that war must never be viewed as the easy way to solve disputes and protect our nation.
On this day, we remember those who died for our country and those who suffered in its service. From their sacrifices, day to day, we are reminded of what they fought forthe American constitution and the values it protectsequal justice, due process, presumption of innocence, compassion for all of our fellow citizens.
On this day, we honor all of those who served.
June 30, 2011
The obvious comment about Wyoming in the early summer of 2011 is how much water there is. Many areas experienced flooding or near-flooding conditions. Reservoirs are at record capacity and rivers continue to set high-water marks.
Consequently, I decided some extracts from Wyoming Almanac might be included here with respect to record floods in earlier years in Wyoming. Here are a few. Again, the accounts are taken from Wyoming Almanac, pp. 197-98.
1. Bitter Creek, Rock Springs, April 4-5, 1924
No one died in the flood, but many were left homeless as a result of the flood caused by a sudden thaw.
2. Midwest-Edgerton area, July 4, 1926
The flood washed out five houses at Canadian Camp along with a highway bridge and a railway bridge. The high waters put the Midwest Oil Company's field out of commission for days.
3. Gillette, 1912
The Burlington ditch flowing through town overflowed its banks, flooding several downtown businesses. The Daly Brothers' store, the oldest business in Gillette, suffered the loss of $1,200 in damaged prunes. The firm sued for the loss, collecting $1,000, but later redried the prunes and sold them to customers later in the summer.
Notice of Authorship
Many of the opinions on these pages are those of Phil Roberts, gained over a lifetime of travel, study and familiarity with Wyoming. History is a critical component to understanding current events. Consequently, throughout these pages, Wyoming current affairs, politics, and folklore will be analyzed primarily from a historical perspective.
Your comments are welcome. Address them to: email@example.com