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1523 - Wyoming once part of four territories

It is highly possible that there is a small spot in Wyoming which once was bordered by four different territories, parts of which together became the future home of our great state.

         This spot is somewhere in a corner of Sweetwater, Fremont, Natrona or Carbon County, according to a map created by Velma Linford in her amazing history of Wyoming in 1947 called Wyoming Frontier State.

         This one amazing spot touched what were once Texas in 1845, Mexico in 1848, the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, and Oregon in 1846. These areas were once controlled by four independent countries of France, England, Mexico and Texas.

         All of these territories ultimately became part of the United States. And then in 1890 (125 years ago this year) the U. S. Congress created a big rectangle that became the state of Wyoming.

         First big owner of all these territories was Spain as a result of Columbus’ “discovery” of North America in 1492. 

         Not much happened for a long time except that whenever Indian tribes were exposed to white men, they were nearly wiped out by diseases for which they had no natural defenses.

         It was Marquette and Joliet who were the first white men to discover the huge drainage of the Mississippi River and claimed the whole vast area for France. At this time, the southwest corner of future Wyoming was presumably controlled by Spain and the northwest corner by England. Present-day Washington, Oregon and Idaho were once considered to be part of Oregon, pretty much founded by the Brit Lt. Vancouver.

         In 1803, President Jefferson negotiated the Louisiana Purchase for $15 million from Napoleon who was in the midst of a terrible war of attrition with Great Britain. At that point, about two thirds of the future state of Wyoming became part of the USA.

         Jefferson soon sent Lewis and Clark to find out what he had purchased and they skirted our area because they were following the Missouri River. One of the Corps of Discovery’s members, John Colter, was one of the first white men to venture into our future state, though.

         Mexico rebelled against Spain in 1821 and finally captured its own land in 1824.  They claimed land all the way to present-day Idaho and owned about 10 percent of present-day Wyoming.

         The Spaniards had explored the Green River all the way up into Wyoming and earlier claimed all that drainage.

         A man named Moses Austin dreamed of a Texas country. That job was later finished by his son Stephen.  By 1835, there were 35,000 Americans in Texas and it was ripe for prying itself away from Mexico.

         Texas won independence in 1836, despite all those deaths at the Alamo, but its boundaries were subject to dispute. Its initial claim included a finger of land that reached all the way into the heart of Wyoming.

         The battle call of “fifty-four forty or fight” was what finally rallied Americans to force England give up Oregon in 1846.

         That was a pivotal year because the USA also went to war with Mexico and ended up in 1848 with a vast swath of land from California to Colorado, which again included that 10 percent chunk of future Wyoming. After the U. S. won that war, it paid $15 million to Mexico as a way to prove itself a good neighbor and to prevent future wars.

         By 1848, some 42 years before becoming a state, the land that today encompasses all of present-day Wyoming was firmly under the ownership of the United States. It took four decades to establish the final property lines.

         Not sure if everyone agrees with Velma Linford’s map or her conclusions, but it might be interesting for some enterprising person to go back into the files and try to determine where this “four corners” area of Wyoming would be located.

         Going by her map, as much I want to believe part of it might be in Fremont County, it surely could be right in the middle of Carbon County. There is already a Tri-Territory marker in Sweetwater County recognizing three of the territories but not mentioning the Texas claim.

         So I tip my hat to Ms. Linford, who later became state superintendent of schools.

         Her book was used as a textbook for years in Wyoming schools. Like so many wonderful history books that have been done about Wyoming over the years, it has been hard for me to catch up with each one.



1522 - Good luck and Godspeed to 2015 grads

When I was in high school, it was easy to impress me. It did not take much for a teacher, parent, sibling, friend or newsmaker to convince me about certain facts in the world.

         That was a long time ago but perhaps it is time to debunk a few facts that have changed  or perhaps were never true in the first place. Let’s take a crack at three facts.

         This, by the way, is what I would say had some school asked me to give the commencement talk this year:


         1) You were told your entire lives that America would be relying on foreign energy imports forever.  You were taught that our destiny, as a country, is to make Arab Sheikhs rich as we continually import their oil.

Not true.

         Today we are a net energy exporting country.  With our vast coal deposits, gigantic natural gas reserves and amazing new oil discoveries, we are now sending out more energy than we are importing.  Amazing.


         2) You were told that manufacturing was dying in America and, no matter what you do, do not get into that dinosaur business.  We expect everything of importance to be built in China.  Surely the experience of Walmart and Apple Computer would seem to verify this.

Not true.

         Surprise! The USA is still the biggest manufacturer of everything on the planet. And manufacturing is bigger across our land than it was a generation ago.


         3) Finally, you were told loyalty to your boss or your company was a total waste of time and a relic of the experiences of your fathers and grandfathers (and mothers, too) experiences of long ago.

Not true.

Instead loyalty may be the most important factor going forward in getting and keeping that job you covet. Do you remember the key component of the state of Wyoming’s official philosophy called the Cowboy Code of Ethics?  To me, the big one is “Ride for the Brand.”

Sort of seems like much of what was drilled into you over your brief lifetime of about two decades was not as true as it was told to you.

So what happened?

         Just when everything had a gloomy but predictable look to it, we find out that many assumed truths in the world really are upside down. What people thought was true is false. What was passé is back in fashion. 

         To someone sitting in a hot, crowded auditorium pondering that biggest of all questions: “What am I going to do?,” well, these times can be times of opportunity just as easily as they can be times of despair. And because of all the above, that is why I write.

         I remember my high school graduation.  A future U. S. Senator predicted a long and gloomy Cold War with the Soviet Union (Russia) that could last 1,000 years.

         Today the national focus is on the economy.  Our country is enduring massive debt and inflation is probably in our future.  These factors could make getting and holding a good job look dismal.

         But there are jobs out there, lots of them.

         If you are a mess, then you will have a problem.  And probably what I am writing here is not for you.

But if you are a hard worker with wonderful work habits and good ethics, the future is very bright.

         Employers are looking for good workers.  And they are looking for good people. And most of them want to hire you for a long, long time. They are looking as hard for you as you are looking for them.

         I always tell young people that it is not who you know OR what you know.  It is who you know AND what you know that will ensure your future.

         Time is on your side.  It helps that 25 million baby boomers are retiring in the next ten years.

         Another big tip is to locate mentors who are in the career field of business you are interested in. Cultivate friendships with them and ask for advice.  You will be surprised at how helpful they can be to your career.

         You grads heading out into the world of new jobs need to be alert and savvy to trends in your fields.  Endeavor to stay ahead of the curve.

         I see a future that is as bright as ever for the young person wiling to work hard, make friends and perhaps, most of all, “keep learning” as you grow into your careers.



1521 - Serial killers in Wyoming . . . or not?

It is hard to find any evidence of some mysterious serial killings that allegedly occurred in Wyoming 147 years ago.

         According to a couple of books, a notorious family named Bartlett killed 22 young men before being hunted down and killed back in historic South Pass City.

         Following is the straight story, according to the authors of the books. At the end of this, we have some dissenting comments.

         Most of the crimes centered on pretty Polly Bartlett who was adept with arsenic.

         From 1866 to 1868, South Pass City was known both for gold deposits and for the passage through the area by thousands of folks heading west to Oregon, California and Utah.

         This sordid tale starts when Stephen Bartlett left his hometown of Cincinnati for Colorado. That move did not pan out well so they headed north to South Pass City.

         The family consisted of daughter Polly, a young son and a niece named Hattie, who was the housekeeper and paramour of old man Bartlett. The family had acquired a substantial supply of arsenic, used presumably to kill mice

         They set up camp in the South Pass area. Their first victim was a young man, Louis Nichols. He was one of the few people heading east. He had some gold with him and was headed home.

         He offered Polly $10 if she would make him a steak, which she promptly did (with some extra seasonings).  Nichols went into convulsions and died.

         Like folks new to the hospitality industry, this looked like quick money and easy pickings to the former Ohioans.  They soon set up shop.

         The Bartletts built a barn with a big hayloft plus a large house called the Bartlett Inn. They also had corrals.

         Then they waited. It did not take long.

         The next victim was an Omaha man, Tim Flaherty. A collection agent who worked in the cattle business, he had been calling on folks in the area.  

         Then there was Edmund Ford of South Pass City who told a story about his brother, who was staying at the Bartlett Inn, and who subsequently disappeared.

         Many other young men disappeared before Barney Fortunes, 23, showed up. He disappeared after staying at the Bartlett Inn. The Pinkerton Detective Agency did a thorough investigation but the trail went cold after they tracked young Fortunes to the ill-fated Inn.

         This prompted the Bartletts to pack up and skip. A $13,000 reward was posted for them. An ex-lawman, who was a pretty good shot, named Sam Ford, tracked down old man Bartlett, and out-dueled him, shooting him in the chest. Ford claimed the reward.

Meanwhile, Polly had been apprehended and was in the Atlantic City jail awaiting trail.

         On Oct. 7, a person who looked a lot like Fortune’s mine boss, Otto Kalkhorst, rode his horse down Smith Street at dusk with a sawed off 10-gauge shotgun.  He emptied both barrels into Polly through a window, ending her investigation and the need of a trial.

         Later, the authorities reportedly dug up the 22 bodies of unlucky young men who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.  They had been murdered and then buried in the corral on the Bartlett place.

         Two entertaining books detail these events.  One is Jim Sherlock’s South Pass and its Tales. Other is by Ed Hudson called An Evening at the Bartlett’s. Both are quoted extensively on the Internet. Sherlock is dead and Hudson says, “this is my story and I’m sticking to it.” 

         My friend Jim Smail, the well-known desert rat and South Pass authority, says the story is true.

Or fiction? The curator at South Pass City Historical Site, Jon Lane, says he has looked extensively for proof of any aspects of the story and can’t find any. He prefers to sit on the fence when it comes to taking a position.

         The state’s leading historian Phil Roberts of Laramie calls the tale, “Good story. Too bad that it is utterly fiction.”

         Famous crime writer Ron Franscell (a Casper native) includes Polly’s story in his book about crime in the Rockies. He even includes GPS coordinates of the crime scene.

         Contending authenticity, Hudson concludes, “I was not writing a history book. It is a novel based on historical facts. Jim Sherlock wrote the original version of this tale.”

         Accordingly, we would agree that it is a great yarn. Heck, it might even make a great movie.  Clint Eastwood, are you listening?


1520 - Wyoming was land of dinosaurs, volcanoes

My favorite all-time tourism slogan for our state was the short-lived BIG WYOMING, which described our towering mountains, vast high plains, amazing deserts and long distances.

         Just about everything about Wyoming over the last 180 million years has also been BIG. Although it was vast, the Wyoming of 180 million years ago sure looked different from today.

         Instead of high plains with semi-arid desert lands and towering mountains, that earlier place was wet. Very wet.

         Wyoming is a land of giants today. It truly was a land of giants back in its earliest days.

`        Dinosaurs roamed Wyoming as much as anywhere on earth. Literally thousands of dinosaur specimens can be found in museums all across the planet that were found here in the Cowboy State.

         Fantastic dinosaur displays can be found at the Knight Museum at the University of Wyoming, the Tate Museum in Casper and the Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis.

         And to show just how long dinosaurs dominated our planet, it is interesting to note just how long dinosaurs lived here. One way to reveal dinosaurs’ long dominance of this place is to consider that modern man today is closer, time-wise, to a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which disappeared 65 million years ago than that same Rex is to the lumbering Brontosaurus that was pounding the turf here 150 million years ago.

         Wyoming is home to Como Bluff, a relatively nondescript outcropping just off Highway 30 near Medicine Bow.  That area has yielded a treasurer trove of dinosaur bones over the past 125 years, or during the time that Wyoming has been a state.

         There are wonderful sites all over Wyoming for people to experience sites formerly occupied by extinct dinosaurs and giant mammals and get involved in real archeological digs.

         Besides the pitfalls of evolution, super volcanoes wreaked havoc on those ancient creatures. Wyoming has been home to the famous Yellowstone Supervolcano during most of these years. Three of the most recent explosions occurred two million years ago, 1.1 million years ago and 650,000 years ago.

         It is due to explode again and could blow, give or take, in a millennium. Scientists are watching its every move. Books, movies and TV specials in recent years have fostered this notion of imminent catastrophe.

         And yet for 180 million years, Wyoming survived as a land of dinosaurs and then giant mammals.

         Early man arrived here 13,000 years ago. Most experts think these were Asian people who crossed the Bering Strait on a land and ice bridge.

         From the time man arrived in our space known as Wyoming people have wanted to record their personal stories.

         Long before writing was developed, ancient people recorded tales of their daily lives on Wyoming’s rock walls.

         Perhaps these were holy sites where people would study in hope of receiving a vision to guide their way into their uncertain futures. Wyoming is full of these wonderful places, which can inspire both awe and mystery to present-day visitors.

         The ancient tribes of hunter-gatherers traditionally recorded their stories by scrawling messages on rock walls and creating eerie rock monuments. Were these sites created or built to honor some long-forgotten god or celestial celebration?

         When they first arrived, it is assumed they hunted ancient mammals to extinction. These included the mammoth and other giant beasts, which had evolved into super-large versions of their kind because of no natural enemies – until man, arrived, that is.

         The Medicine Wheel in the Bighorn Mountains is often called America’s Stonehenge because of the mystery it portends. It is hundreds, maybe thousands of years old.  Although its purpose is unknown to us but it definitely lines up with certain bright stars, solar solstices and constellations in the sky.

         Without horses, those early tribes used natural features of the landscape as a means to provide food and skins for their survival. Two of the most famous are the Vore Buffalo Jump near Sundance and the Wold site near the Hole-in-the-Wall between Moneta and Kaycee.

         Other sites exist where earlier Wyoming residents trapped and killed the gigantic mammoth, ultimately driving it to extinction. The Tate Geologic Museum in Casper has one of the biggest skeletal specimens of these giant Wyoming mammoths.

         Native peoples dominated Wyoming until about 1720 when it is speculated Spanish invaders barely touched the southeast corner of present-day Wyoming.

         This had been a glorious time for these hunter-gatherers before the onset of the European invasion of their vast homelands.

         Once the white man arrived, life would never be the same again.