Wyoming History

The Old West Continues, Wyoming's Equality Heritage, Statehood, Organization, Historic Sites

Native Americans in Wyoming

There is evidence of more than 12,000 years of prehistoric occupation in Wyoming. Among these groups were Clovis, 12,000 years ago, Folsom, 10,000 years ago, and Eden Valley, 8,000 years ago. The latter were the big game hunters of the Early period. Following these, and remaining until about 500 A.D., were many groups with a mixed hunting and gathering economy. These were followed by the predecessors of the historic Indians.

On the crest of Medicine Mountain, 40 miles east of Lovell, Wyoming, is located the Medicine Wheel which has 28 spokes and a circumference of 245 feet. This was an ancient shrine built of stone by the hands of some forgotten tribe. A Crow chief has been reputed as saying, "It was built before the light came by people who had no iron." This prehistoric relic still remains one of Wyoming's unsolved puzzles.

Southwest of Lusk, covering an area of 400 square miles, are the remains of prehistoric stone quarries known as the "Spanish Diggings." Here is mute evidence of strenuous labor performed by many prehistoric groups at different times. Quartzite, jasper and agate were mined. Artifacts of this Wyoming material have been found as far away as the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys.

The historic Indians in Wyoming were nomadic tribes known as the Plains Indians. They were the Arapaho, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kiowa, Nez Perce, Sheep Eater, Sioux, Shoshone and Ute tribes. Of all of these tribes, the Cheyenne and Sioux were the last of the Indians to be controlled and placed on reservations.

Among the Plains Indians, art is found in the actual form of the object as well as in its decorative value. The Indian artist is concerned with the technology or function of an object more than with the purely artistic merits of what he produces.

Plainsmen were the hunters, warriors and religious leaders of their tribes, therefore, their crafts were related to these occupations. Both men and women were artists and craftsmen traditionally, each producing articles for everyday use as well as for ceremonial purposes. Usually, quilling and beading were done by women and carving was done by the men.

It is as difficult to separate art from the Indian's daily life as it is to separate his religion from his daily life. All are tightly interwoven. There is one Indian reservation in Wyoming, the Wind River Reservation, with headquarters at Fort Washakie. The reservation is the home of some 2,357 Shoshone and 3,501 Arapaho Indians. The total acreage of the reservation is 1,888,334, exclusive of lands owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and other patented lands within the exterior boundaries.

The Shoshone occupy the south central, western and northern portions of the reservation, with settlements at Fort Washakie, Wind River and Crowheart. The Arapaho live mainly in the southeastern part in settlements at Ethete, Arapahoe and St. Stephens.

Sacajawea, a female Shoshone guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, is buried west of Fort Washakie and the grave of Chief Washakie is located in the old military cemetery in town. The popular chief lived on the reservation until his death in 1900 at the age of 102. He was buried with military honors – the first ever given an Indian chief.

The Old West Continues

One of the earliest explorers of Wyoming was John Colter in 1807. While exploring the Rocky Mountains, he discovered a region of steaming geysers and towering water falls so unusual that his written reports nicknamed the area "Colter's Hell." The same area, in 1872, was set aside forever as a place to be enjoyed by everyone. It became known as Yellowstone, the world's first National Park.

Wyoming owes its early settlement in part to the gentlemen of Europe. Their fondness of beaver top hats sent early-day trappers to the Rocky Mountains in search of the prized pelts. Famous mountain men such as Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Davey Jackson and Jedediah Smith were among the trappers, explorers and traders to first roam the Wyoming territory.

Gold in California and the lure of rich land in Oregon brought increasing numbers of pioneer wagon trains rolling over the Oregon Trails through Wyoming. Pony soldiers came to protect the wagon trains from hostile Indians, and the soldiers established forts along the trails.

The most important of the western military posts was Ft. Laramie in southeastern Wyoming. Ft. Laramie became a haven for gold seekers and weary emigrants. It was also an important station for the Pony Express and the Overland stagecoaches, and it served as a vital military post in the wars with the Plains Indians. Ft. Laramie witnessed the growth of the open range cattle industry, the coming of homesteaders and the building of towns which marked the final closing of the wild, western frontier in 1890.

Wyoming was the scene of the end of the great Indian battles. Ft. Phil Kearny in northern Wyoming had the bloodiest history of any fort in the West. Thousands of well organized Indians from the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux tribes fought battle after battle with the U.S. Cavalry. A famous battle took place in 1866 when 81 soldiers set out from Ft. Kearny and were drawn into a classic military ambush by Indians led by Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. None of the "blue coats" survived.

Great herds of buffalo once grazed on the rolling hills of Wyoming, giving rise to one of the state's best known citizens, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Today in the town he founded, Cody, near Yellowstone National Park, is an enormous museum dedicated to Buffalo Bill and the West he loved and helped settle. Near the turn of the century, Buffalo Bill took his Wild West Show to Great Britain and the European continent to give audiences a brief glimpse of the cowboys, Indians and other characters who lived in America's west during Wyoming's early days.

Wyoming's Equality Heritage

Wyoming is also known as the "Equality State" because of the rights women have traditionally enjoyed here. Wyoming women were the first in the nation to vote, serve on juries and hold public office.

In 1869, Wyoming's territorial legislature became the first government in the world to grant "female suffrage" by enacting a bill granting Wyoming women the right to vote. The act was signed into law on December 10 of that year by Governor A.J. Campbell.

Less than three months after the signing of that act, on February 17, 1870, the "Mother of Women Suffrage in Wyoming"-Ester Hobart Morris of South Pass City-became the first woman ever to be appointed a justice of the peace. Laramie was also the site for the first equal suffrage vote cast in the nation by a woman-Mrs. Louisa Swain on September 6, 1870.

In 1894, Estelle Reel (Mrs. Cort F. Meyer) became one of the first women in the United States elected to a state office, that of Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In 1924, Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross was the first elected woman governor to take office in the United States. She took office on January 5, 1925, 20 days before "Ma" Ferguson of Texas (elected on the same day) took office. Mrs. Ross went on to become the first woman to be appointed Director of the United States Mint-a position she held for 20 years, from 1933 to 1953. In 1991, women held three of the state's five top elective positions and a total of 23 women hold seats in the Wyoming Legislature, three in the Senate and 20 in the House.


Talk of statehood for Wyoming began as early as 1869 after the organization of Wyoming Territory in that year. The road to statehood, however, did not begin until 1888 when the Territorial Assembly sent Congress a petition for admission into the Union. Bills were introduced in both houses of Congress, but did not pass.

Though no legislation passed Congress enabling Wyoming to follow the steps that lead to statehood, Governor Francis E. Warren and others decided to continue as if an "enabling act" had passed. On July 8, 1889, Wyoming Territory held an election of delegates to Wyoming's one and only Constitutional Convention. Forty-nine men gathered in Cheyenne during September, 1889, and wrote the constitution. The voters approved the document November 5, 1889, by a vote of 6,272 to 1,923.

Bills for Wyoming statehood were introduced in both the U.S. Senate and House in December, 1889. The House passed the bill March 27, 1890. President Benjamin Harrison signed Wyoming's statehood bill, making Wyoming the 44th state.


Carved from sections of Dakota, Utah, and Idaho territories, Wyoming Territory came into existence by act of Congress on July 25, 1868. The territorial government was formally inaugurated May 19, 1869. The first territorial governor, John A. Campbell, appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant, took his oath of office on April 15, 1869.

At the time of its organization, Wyoming had already been divided into four counties: Laramie, established January 9, 1867; Carter (later Sweetwater), established December 27, 1867; Carbon and Albany, December 16, 1868. These counties extended from the northern to the southern boundaries of the territory. Upon the organization of Wyoming Territory, a portion of Utah and Idaho, extending from Montana (including Yellowstone Park) to the Wyoming-Utah boundary, was annexed and named Uinta County. As the territory and later the state became settled, the following counties were carved from the original five until there are now twenty-three counties in Wyoming.

July 10, 1890, the territory consisting of the thirteen counties was admitted into the Union as a State.

Cheyenne, the State Capitol

Wyoming's State Capitol, a classically designed building of Corinthian architecture resembling the National Capitol in Washington D.C., is located in the heart of Cheyenne.

The Ninth Territorial Legislative Assembly authorized the construction of the building in 1886, and on May 18, 1887, the cornerstone was laid.

Flagstone for the building's foundation was quarried near Fort Collins, Colorado, 45 miles south of Cheyenne, while sandstone from quarries near Rawlins, Wyoming, was used in the construction of the upper floors. Additional wings on each side of the original structure were completed in 1890 and the final two wings were finished in 1917. The interior is finished in cherry, oak and butternut woods. The original cost and the two later additions totaled $389,569.13. The murals in the Senate and House chambers were painted by Allen T. True. They depict industry, pioneer life, law and transportation. The ceiling of each chamber is stained glass with the State Seal in the center.

Historic Sites

Oregon Trail Ruts - Located near Guernsey, the "signature ruts" provide a vivid physical reminder of the old Oregon Trail. Here, thousands of wagon wheels and oxen hooves passed during the emigration period of the mid-1800s, gradually grinding the deep ruts into a layer of soft sandstone.

Independence Rock - Fifty miles southwest of Casper, Independence Rock was a well-known landmark on the Oregon Trail. Father Peter DeSmet called it "the great registry of the desert," since thousands of westbound emigrants scratched their names on its surfaces. The rock is now home to Wyoming's Centennial Acre.

Ft. Bridger - In the summer of 1842, Mountain Man Jim Bridger announced he was building a trading post, "...in the road of the emigrants on Black's Fork of Green River." From its beginnings as a log and mud trading post, Bridger's "fort" matured into a modern frontier military post. It later evolved into the town of Fort Bridger, the only town in Wyoming with direct roots to the earliest days of the Oregon Trail.

Ft. Caspar - This military post evolved from previous sites know as Mormon Ferry Post and, after Louis Guinard spanned the North Platte River with a 1,000 foot log bridge in 1859, Platte Bridge Station. This site was one of the last opportunities the pioneers had to cross the river they had followed from central Nebraska on the Oregon Trail. The post was named in honor of 1st Lt. Caspar Collins who was killed while protecting a supply train from Indian attack.

Ft. Laramie - The most significant outpost on the Oregon Trail system was established as a trading post in 1834 by fur traders William Sublette and Robert Campbell. The U.S. military purchased the Fort in 1849 as a base to protect and supply the growing emigration on the trails. It later became a major link in the Pony Express, Overland Stage Line and the transcontinental telegraph systems and served as a base of operations for the High Plains Indian Wars.

Ft. Phil Kearny - This Fort and the nearby sites of the Wagon Box and Fetterman Fight are located in an area which saw some of the most dramatic incidents in the history of the Indian Wars.

Ft. Fred Steele - Established to protect crews working on the transcontinental railroad, the fort later played an important role in protection of local settlers and the railroad tie industry. It also served as railroad town and a stopping point on the old Lincoln Highway.

Wyoming Territorial Prison - The prison was built in 1872 to house federal convicts in newly formed Wyoming Territory. Located in Laramie, the building now serves as a museum presenting details of Wyoming's western past.

South Pass City - The discovery of gold in 1867 led to the establishment of South Pass City. That same year, overland traffic on the Oregon Trail went into sharp decline in anticipation of the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Before the boom turned to bust, South Pass City was Wyoming's largest settlement. Residents led the successful fight to grant women the right to vote and hold political office, making Wyoming the first official government in the world to grant women's suffrage.