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1519 - Wyoming is famous for its firsts

Most everyone in Wyoming and across the nation knows about the two biggest “firsts” that occurred here – Yellowstone National Park being the first national park in the world in 1872 and the granting of women the right to vote in 1869 in Wyoming territory.

         But did you know that our state is also home to a myriad of other firsts? I had a lot of help from folks from around the state in compiling this list, such as:

         • The first national forest was the Shoshone and the first national monument was Devils Tower. Just about every Wyomingite knows this too.

         • The first Mountainman-Indian trade fair occurred here. Rocky Mountain Fur trade Rendezvous was held in 1825 on the banks of the Henrys Fork of the Green River near present-day McKinnon.  It continued annually through 1840 in that location and at other locations around Wyoming including Lander and Riverton.

         • The first meeting of Pony Express riders going east and going west occurred near Farson.  Farson is also known as the site where the infamous Donner Party was formed at the Big Sandy crossing, according to Dave Hanks of Farson.

         • Cheyenne was the first city to have electric lights west of the Mississippi River. Buffalo was the first town and it was powered by hydroelectric power.

         • The first all-woman jury that determined the result of a trial occurred in Laramie in 1870.  The trial was held in the legendary Belle of the West saloon, according to author Ron Franscell.

         • The first JC Penney store was started in Kemmerer.  The first Taco John’s start in that chain’s hometown of Cheyenne, says Pat Schmidt.  Perhaps the first bentonite mine ever was on the Taylor ranch near Rock River in 1888.

         • First woman justice of the peace in the world was Esther Hobart Morris of South Pass City. She got the job because the previous office-holder, a man, quit in protest of the legislature passing women’s suffrage.

         • Interstate 25 starts at Buffalo, Wyoming, reminds Schmidt. Randy Wagner reminds that the highest point of the Interstate 80 is in Wyoming and has a statue of Lincoln there. It was originally built in 1959 and placed at the highest point of Highway 30.

         • Matt Henderson of Sheridan says Wyoming was the state that had a national championship basketball team that featured the world’s first jump shot by Kenny Sailors of the University of Wyoming.

         • First polo field west of the Mississippi says Jim Hicks of Buffalo. Fort Fetterman was first U. S. outpost abandoned because of pressure by hostile forces.

         • Dave Miller, Riverton, points out the Branson field camp in Sinks Canyon outside of Lander is the oldest, longest continually running geology field camp in the country.  Wyoming was first place with in-situ uranium mining in Shirley Basin. 

         • Phil Roberts has a bunch of firsts. First licensed engineer in America was Charles Bellamy who named Lake Marie for his wife, who was the first woman elected to the Wyoming legislature.  First shot fired by an American in WWI was by Michel Chockie of Rock Springs. First hotel in world with electric lights in each room was InterOcean Hotel in Cheyenne. First health care cooperative was Fetterman Hospital Assn. in Converse County in 1885.

• Leslie Blythe of Casper points to Nellie Tayloe Ross first woman governor in the country and also first woman director of the U. S. Mint.  John Colter was first white man to visit Wyoming through Yellowstone. First wilderness areas in USA were conceived in a cabin in Jackson Hole, by pioneer conservationist Mardie Murie. Also the first wind project built on a reclaimed coal mine, producing energy both above and below the ground was east of Casper.

• First woman, Louisa Swain, Laramie, to vote in an election in the country, reminds Ray Hunkins.

• Buffalo Bill of Cody was most famous person in the world at the end of the 19th century.

• W. Edward Deming who was born in Powell and graduated from University of Wyoming, invented a system of quality control in manufacturing that turned the Japanese economy around after WWII and has been honored the world over for his discoveries.

• First town, Jackson, governed entirely by women from 1920 to 1921.

• Fort William was first business west of the Mississippi River in 1834 at the confluence of the Laramie and North Platte Rivers.

• First state to have a state dinosaur. First state to have a Code of the West. First County library system was organized in Laramie County in 1886.


1518 - Wyoming is special, but is it better than Mars?

Wyoming is such a special place. At least it certainly is to me.

         Yet I often get into an argument with various folks when I put our “low-population, high-empty space place” on a pedestal. This happened two weeks ago when my column talked about Wyoming exceptionalism, through our Universal Truths and Fundamental Values.

         Are we special or not?

         One critic, who I respect very much, said in the circles that he runs in, well, my conclusions were met with derision, especially any reference to Equality.  Their particular bone to pick was the legislature’s failure to pass a bill last session about equality for folks in the workplace.  I would argue my contention was in a broader context, but that still means it could offend someone. People are easily offended.

         To me, Wyoming and our people are exceptional and somewhat different from folks in other states in positive ways. For example, most of us are just a few generations removed from ancestors who left home, wherever that was, and journeyed out into the unknown, landing here.  This wanderlust gene does make us different and more self-reliant, it would seem to me. I view that both as positive and exceptional.

         This got me thinking about how easy it is to promote Wyoming. But how do you promote a place like North Dakota? Or South Dakota?

         Some smart folks at the South Dakota’s governor’s office seemed to look pretty desperate recently when they decided to use the theme “we are better than Mars.”


         The exact tagline was “Why die on Mars, when you can live in South Dakota.”

         I love South Dakota, since we used to own newspapers in that state and the people are friendly.  A wonderful place. One of their former mottoes was Great Faces, Great Places.

         Their reputation among young adults is terrible though.  Thus, the extreme notion of comparing yourself to Mars was the concept that came through to reach these hard-to-reach folks.

         Other states have tried this tongue-in-cheek advertising as a way to get folks to pay attention to them.  Oregon, some years ago, did a campaign claiming to tell people to not go there. “In Oregon, we don’t tan, we rust” seems like might have been one of their taglines. Another one was “Keep Oregon Green. Bring Money.” It got them a lot of attention.

         But then again, if we return to that outer space theme being used by South Dakota, Wyoming once had a seat at that table. Wyoming had a chance back in the late 1970s to promote itself as the last, best place in the universe to visit when the hugely popular movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind was filmed here at Devils Tower.

         It was nice to get a few hundred million dollars of free press promoting your special place with a Steven Spielberg blockbuster.

         Also staying with the space theme, the vast empty spaces of New Mexico seem like a logical place to promote itself as a destination for aliens. Their outer space campaign is still ongoing and has generated a lot of traffic among sci-fi enthusiasts, allegedly. It features folks that look like the creature from the movie Alien populating their state.

         Of course, New Mexico is home to Roswell where a space invader allegedly crashed 65 years ago.  And more seriously they have built a giant spaceport to accommodate Richard Branson’s future fleet of space going rocket machines.

         So, they have a legitimate claim.

         But South Dakota?

         Some media folks have scoffed at our neighboring state’s effort but they are hanging in there, claiming that all their research shows that this crazy campaign is getting the attention to young professionals around the country.

         Here in Wyoming, most of our tourism and promotion campaigns are pretty conventional, relying on our natural beauty of our national parks as a hook and then showing off the rest of the state.

         Roam Free is the latest iteration of the Forever West theme, both of which have great appeal.

         We are boosters of Wyoming as a tourism destination, having been in that business for 40 years. Record numbers of people from across the world are choosing The Cowboy State as where they want to go.

         When your state is home to Yellowstone, the Tetons, Devils Tower, the Red Desert, Frontier Days and more, well, it would be highly unlikely to sell ourselves as alternative to Mars.

         And perhaps you might conclude that you are exceptional, after all.



1517 - Four seasons in four days, welcome to spring

         Ah, springtime in Wyoming; you gotta love it.

         In recent weeks, we have dodged storms in Cheyenne, Laramie and Rawlins and endured them in Lander and Jackson.

One day, you can be wearing shorts and a tee shirt, the next you are bundled up against a harsh wind and heavy wet snow.

         Because Nancy and I are retired, we are fortunate we can leave a day early or stay an extra day, as a way to avoid these spring storms. We did that in both of these trips.

         After playing golf in shorts with my brother Pat in Denver, we blasted north to Cheyenne in spitting snow and managed to get through Laramie, Rawlins and Muddy Gap before getting pounded by heavy snow.  Our last 40 miles from an amazing geologic formation called Beaver Rim to Lander was a bear. 

         Digging out from a foot of snow did not take long in Lander, though; soon the lawns were greening up under that glorious spring sun.

         Then it was time to make a Jackson Hole trip, which is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The new highway from Dubois to Moran Junction was one of the most expensive in Wyoming’s history and it looks and feels that way, too. Not only is it scenic;  it is also a route that abounds with wildlife including bighorn sheep, moose, elk, deer, antelope and other critters.

         Because of the gloomy forecast, we left a day early and took our time.  I roamed around the various Shoshone Tribal buildings in Fort Washakie checking on images of Chief Washakie, as we have a colorized version of his pre-1900 portrait coming out in our next book. Lots of images of him and all showed him in different colored outfits – no help there.

         In Dubois, had a tasty lunch at the Nostalgia Café and then visited with the folks at the museum along with one of the busiest people in that town, John Angst. John is a transplanted Minnesotan who has adapted well to the Wyoming lifestyle.

         On to Jackson for a couple of nights at Steve Meadows’ remodeled 49er Inn.

         It was off-season, which means one of two things when you go out to eat – either the place is closed or they are offering a two-for-one special!

         It was snowing hard most of the time. The ski areas were closed, as were the Mangy Moose, The Blue Lion and the Brewpub.

         Had a succulent dinner at the Rendezvous Bistro at half price while visiting with a dinner group that included Liz Brimmer and Rob Wallace. Rob had just moved to Jackson.  Also enjoyed long-time friend Nancy Guthrie, a retired district judge.

         While in Jackson, I showed my wife one of the most amazing housing projects in all of Wyoming.   At the base of Snow King Mountain is a huge gaping tunnel opening.  We drove up through it and emerged on to a big ledge with super-expensive condos overlooking the town of Jackson and peering at the Tetons in the distance.  Wow!  Not sure the contractors were happy to see me there but Nancy was sure impressed. 

         This in-between season is a great time to be in Jackson if you can avoid spring blizzards and find places open. It snowed on us for a day and a half but when we left, the sun was out and the Tetons literally sparkled in the morning sunlight as we drove back to Fremont County.

         Despite the bright sun, Jackson, as a community, was gloomy as it was mourning the loss of three local men who had died in the crash of a small airplane. They were employees of a Lander-based solar and wind company called Creative Energies. 

         They were flying with a 70-year old pilot, who owned a ranch back in the mountains. They were working on an elaborate plan to provide the ranch with electricity from renewable sources.

         No one knows what happened but swirling winds probably wreaked havoc as the pilot was trying to take off, one observer said.  What a terrible loss.

         Sometimes I marvel at how different a place like Jackson can be when compared to places like Cheyenne and Laramie. They are all in Wyoming but are over 400 miles apart and certainly seem different, when it comes to overall lifestyle.

         And yet, this time of year both are bedeviled by wet snowstorms, crazy winds and the chance to experience four seasons over just about any four-day period.


1516 - Universal Truths, Fundamental Values for WYO

The wind is our neighbor. Wind was here first. We deal with it. – Number 14 on the list of fundamental values.


         When you talk about Wyoming people or think about our wonderful state, are there specific universal truths and fundamental values that come to mind?

         Are they unique to our state and to our people here?

         I always thought so.

         My quest to identify them started when I ran for state office back in 2002.  It seemed like a good idea then if I could identify them but this effort became a bigger task than I thought it would be.

For example, it can be argued that the people of our state really live within spheres of influence of neighboring metro areas such as Denver, Salt Lake City, Billings, Idaho Falls and Rapid City.

         With all that distraction, what is it that ties us all together besides rooting for our football team?

Folks living on our state’s borders who find themselves traveling to Denver or Billings for just about everything, well, do they feel the same kinship with someone from Casper or Lander or Buffalo or Douglas?

In recent years some visionary Wyoming folks developed the Code of the West, which is much simpler and was even adopted by the Legislature.  I love the Code of the West. Let’s compare it with what I came up with 13 years ago:


Wyoming Universal truths


1.    Wyoming’s economy will be based on commodity values of minerals for decades to come and thus will be vulnerable to the ups and downs of worldwide prices for energy.

2.    Wyoming’s future is intertwined with the desires of the people running the federal government since the people of the United States through federal agencies administer about half of the state’s land mass.

3.    A better educated population means better opportunities for all.

4.    Because of low population, long distance and isolation, Wyoming’s people have unique character traits. We celebrate our individuality.

5.    Wyoming people celebrate truth.

6.    In Wyoming, people dream.  They dream big. Hope and entrepreneurship is alive. The power of an idea is important. 

7.    Often we are alone, but we are not lonely.

8.    The idea of equality is celebrated in Wyoming.

9.    Wyoming`s people have always lived off its land its wild animals, forests, agriculture, minerals and scenery.  Since Territorial days we have exported our products and invited tourists to enjoy our unique blessings. 

10.         Despite being town dwellers or California imports, we will always be the Cowboy State. You can even see it on our license plates.


Wyoming Fundamental Values


1.    The concept that small is good means more here.

2.    We celebrate our clean air, clean water and a clean environment.

3.    As an entrepreneurial people, we believe in being persistent. We believe that anything worth doing is worth doing over and over with the goal that if we keep on trying, we will get it right.

4.    Our government is among the most open in the United States. Our elected officials are very accessible.

5.    Equality in opportunity and the power of the individual are celebrated.

6.    Wyoming people are polite. We help out the needy. We wave at people we don’t know.

7.    Wyoming people appreciate good health.

8.    Water is perhaps our most valuable resource. Its value is never over-rated.

9.    In a place often described as a small city with extremely long streets – well, we appreciate our good roads.

10.         We cherish our pioneers and our veterans. We thank them for what they have done for our state.

11.         Hope for the future is alive in Wyoming. We call it a child.

12.         No place in the lower 48 states has the wildlife that Wyoming has – we celebrate the diversity of our animals and plants.

13.         Wyoming people appreciate seasons, dawns and sunsets plus big storms and lightning-quick changes in the weather.

14.         The wind is our neighbor. Wind was here first. We deal with it.

15.         We don’t like taxes, especially the concept of a state personal income tax.

16.         We have learned that the way to deal with power is to share it, not hoard it.

17.         We do not drive by a stranded traveler on our back roads.

18.         Truth and trust are fundamental in our society. My word is my bond. You can trust my handshake.

19.         All else being equal, we must be fair.

20.                  We are a God-fearing people. We celebrate our religious beliefs.