Rock Springs and Laramie, Wyoming: May 11-15, 2012

Our next phase was to get from Salt Lake City to Cabot, Arkansas, with a firm arrival date of May 30. If we’d adhered to our original schedule, we would have had time to head north to visit a few missed stops in Idaho, Montana and South Dakota. But after staying late in Tucson, enjoying extra time in New Mexico and Arizona, and dallying a bit more in Nevada than we’d planned, push was coming to shove. So we planned 2 stops in Wyoming, 3 in Nebraska and 2 in Missouri.

That put the average stay at just under 3 days, so this was not the happiest part of the journey. We started out by landing for two nights in Rock Springs, Wyoming at a nice KOA campground. We grabbed the local brochures in the office and discovered that there was more to be seen than we realized.

I can’t remember another place when we’ve actually visited five different sites in such a short stay, but the camera and the credit cards prove it. In fact, it was even more difficult, because the city of Green River, 15 miles back down the road, was just as important. The entire area was significant coal mining country, mostly run by the Union Pacific’s Mining Division.

There were two museums of note in Rock Springs. The first one, officially known as the Western Wyoming Community College National History Museum, is less a museum and more an exhibit, housed throughout the administration building of the college. We asked the attendant at the desk where to find the museum and she pointed down both corridors! Picking one, we met a prehistoric life size life form in the hall – followed by two others. As we wove on through the hallways, there were additional presentations of both art and artifacts. Along one side of the large student lounge was a granddaddy dinosaur and, near its entrance, a multi-story Foucault Pendulum. A uniformed security guard (also a former student) spent a full 20 minutes touring us around,unlocking the door into the geology lab where relics in every stage of recovery were stored and revitalized, and effectively expanding our knowledge.

After absorbing as much as we could there, we headed to downtown Rock Springs to the city’s Historical Museum, housed in the 1894 City Hall. It was built not with funds from the UP Coal Company but from the proceeds from liquor licenses! It was the town municipal center until 1982, when a newer facility was built. But within less than a decade, it reopened as the history center. It has numerous exhibits, many documenting the coal industry and the polyglot of nationalities that settled there. Shown below in pictures: Archives of the city (first 4), Plains Indian heritage (2), quilt making (2), coal mining (2), multi-nationality (4), a famous local named Robert Leroy Parker (2), old jail cells, including a padded one (2), and bootlegging equipment (2).

There is also coverage of a tragic incident that was a subject of every museum in the area: the Chinatown Massacre. Many Chinese worked the mines and the railroads, and one September day in 1885, two of them began working a lode they thought was authorized. Two whites who had taken a break came back to their claim, and they beat up the Mandarins so badly that one died. That evening, the white miners became increasingly incensed while the residents of Chinatown hunkered down. But to no avail; the whites attacked, leaving 28 Chiunese dead and three missing, and their town destroyed. Some Chinese hopped trains that were passing through to escape.

Hyped up, we headed west back to Green River to inhale the Sweetwater County Museum. It was so comprehensive that I did more note-taking than usual with photos of descriptive signs. I’ll give you several of the museum’s valuable lessons.

The Museum starts out heralding the other end of the John Wesley Powell adventure, previously covered in the Page, AZ and Grand Canyon posts. Powell and company started out here, in large part because the railroad provided a method for getting his men and all of his outfitting to the river. They joined the Colorado near today’s Moab, Utah and the rest is history already covered. The area was significant in the 1800’s because it’s on the path of three major trails – Oregon, California and Mormon. Not only was it a major coal mining center, it was a source of trona, a.k.a. sodium sesquicarbonate, a mineral that simplifies the production of soda ash. The railroad passed through in 1868, and the Lincoln Highway – Rte 80 – also bisects the county. It owes its existence to numerous explorers, including Jim Bridger, one of the foremost trappers and explorers of the mid-18th century; William Ashley, leader of the famous Ashley’s Hundred expedition and later a Congressman; and John Fremont, son of Thomas Hart Benton a mapper and surveyor who has more western U.S. features named for him than any other person.

Prior inhabitants of the area were known as the Freemont People, an offshoot of the agrarian Anasazi who developed to the south around the Four Corners. Disappearing by AD 1300, they were succeeded by Native American tribes with the Shoshoni dominant. Despite the fact that Chief Washakie supported the invaders in their battles with the belligerent Sioux, he and is people were trampled along with the others. I urge you to open the last picture below and read the Chief’s address to national and state representatives.

The railroad arrived in 1868 and the Lincoln Highway in the 1920’s. Law and order was a big issue for many years; the confluence of booze, gambling, prostitution and corruption during the boom times in the 2oth century left black marks.

I could go on and on, but, I urge you, instead, to go to for the rest of the story. On their home page, you’ll find a list of subjects that are covered by their exhibits on the left side of the home page that will keep you fascinated for hour

Northeast of the city stands the Reliance Tipple. The monument, managed by the Sweetwater Museum, is the second coal loading system built on the property. It was erected in 1936 on the sandstone foundations of the previous 1910 wooden edition. As rail transportation improved and underground mining gave way to pits, he Tipple outlived its usefulness in 1955.

Our final attraction, discovered on the way back to Rock Springs, was the Bureau of Land Management Mustang and Burro Roundup. Hundreds of equines are brought there for protection, birthing offspring and adoption into new homes. The sign below right can be enlarged to learn the terms of ownership.

Tired but satisfied, we blew town the next day for an brief stay in Laramie, where our activities were considerably more curtailed. We traveled ten miles or so east of town to view the Monument at the highest elevation of the Lincoln Highway, a bust of the Great Emancipator himself and a small museum about the highway bearing his name. The bust is the output of Robert Russin, a UW professor and sculptor who traveled to Mexico to cast it, because uniform temperatures there allowed the pieces of the hollow image to mesh after completion. Shipped under guard by rail to Denver and then by truck to Sherman, WY, it reached its original site in 1958. Actually it isn’t quite at the apogee anymore; it was moved here in 1969 when the highway underwent alignment with the finalizing of Rte. 80. In 2008, Russin was buried on this site near the statue, as he had requested.

The drawing card in town was the Wyoming Territorial Prison. Built in 1872, it fulfilled its intended purpose for 31 years, when all of its inmates were transferred to a new facility in Rawlins. It was then turned over to the University of Wyoming, which operated an agricultural science center on the grounds and in the buildings until 1989. It was restored during the 1990’s and opened as an historic building; recently, it became the home of a Science on the Range exhibit in its historic horse barn that chronicles UW’s 86 years of research in genetics, nutrition, environment and productivity.

Over a thousand men and a dozen women cycled through the prison during its tenure. The most notorious, of course, was Butch, himself, Robert Elroy Parker. He was incarcerated there on a two year sentence for rustling in July, 1894. He was released six months early on January, 1896 by promising the governor that he would “never offend Wyoming again.” It wasn’t long before he organized the Wild Bunch, to which he recruited Harry “Sundance Kid” Loganbaugh. You probably know the rest through sensational imagery, but history clearly is undecided. Anyway, Butch and Sundance weren’t anywhere near as handsome as Paul and Robert.

The prison system required the inmates to work. They grew potatoes, cut ice blocks, quarried stone and manufactured bricks. Artisan skills either came in with inmates or was learned; they produced carved furniture, braided bridles, cigars, and other items that they could sell. And they made and sold brooms and candles in a workshop, which has since been reconstructed and manned by docents who show you the ropes – or, more accurately, the wicks and straws.

The photos below show unique construction. It is the Shepherd’s House, built out of a railroad boxcar. The inside reveals its origin.


We went up the eastern edge of Wyoming in 2011, and now we’ve traveled along its southern border on this trip. New northwest corner will reveal Cody and the eastern limits of Yellowstone on a future trip.

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