Writing an “Authentic” History of Wyoming: Charles G. Coutant

Wyoming historian Charles Giffin Coutant was born on October 16, 1840 in Rosendale, New York.  Orphaned at seven years old, he spent the next seven years on his uncle’s farm.  At the age of fourteen, he started his newspaper career as an office boy for a New York City publisher.  Eventually, Coutant became a roving reporter, writing about life in California for his New York audience in 1859, and visiting Mexico for the same purpose. He also covered Civil War events and military conflicts with Native Americans.  Coutant’s first marriage to Carrie (maiden name unknown) ended with her death in 1863, leaving him with their two children, Clarance and Wilbur.  Coutant married Mary Elizabeth Clark of Boston, Massachusetts on Christmas Day, 1867. They had six children: George, Walter, Charles, Laura, Georgia, and May.

Charles G. Coutant collected biographical information about many of Wyoming's prominent pioneers. He had planned to publish a three part History of Wyoming, but only completed the first volume.  (WSA Sub Neg 1692)

Charles G. Coutant collected biographical information about many of Wyoming’s prominent pioneers as well as the general history of the state. He had planned to publish a three part History of Wyoming, but only completed the first volume.
(WSA Sub Neg 1692, from History of Wyoming, Volume 1)

Moving west, Coutant continued his journalism career in Kansas, where he served as editor of a Topeka newspaper.  He originally came to Cheyenne in 1890.  After brief stays in Lander and Laramie, he returned to Cheyenne in 1899.  That same year, Coutant published the book, The History of Wyoming From the Earliest Known Discoveries, Volume I.  He did not complete the anticipated second and third volumes.

The title page of Coutant's History of Wyoming, Volume 1. He inscribed the book to "the memory of those pioneers, living and dead, who explored our mountains and valleys..." Coutant claimed in the preface that "it will be observed that, with a single exception, every account given is based upon authentic history; the exception being the chapter devoted to "Spanish Occupation"."

The title page of Coutant’s History of Wyoming, Volume 1. He inscribed the book to “the memory of those pioneers, living and dead, who explored our mountains and valleys…” Coutant claimed in the preface that “it will be observed that, with a single exception, every account given is based upon authentic history; the exception being the chapter devoted to “Spanish Occupation”.” This first, and only, 700+ page tome covered the pre-territorial period, from earliest exploration through about 1869.

Coutant was the Wyoming State Librarian from 1901 to 1905.  He also held the position of Secretary of the Wyoming Industrial Convention for four years.  After a lengthy visit to Alaska, Coutant relocated to Grants Pass, Oregon in 1908, where he edited the Daily Courier newspaper.  Coutant died at his home in Grants Pass on January 17, 1913.

H74-9, examples of notebooks 2

Examples of the biography notebooks Coutant kept while researching for his history book.
(WSA H74-9)

The Wyoming State Archives’ Coutant Collection consists of biographies and assorted Wyoming history material that was probably intended for the unfinished History of Wyoming volumes.  The majority of the collection dates from the late 1890s to the early 1900s. Topics include prominent citizens, Indian Wars, Army activity, early territorial settlement, county histories, ranching, and farming. The biographies include prominent citizens, primarily wealthy and influential men, from the territorial period to early statehood.  There is also correspondence to, from, and about Coutant.  This collection is a good source for genealogical research and social history and related photographs are also available.   A complete inventory of the collection is available in the State Archives reading room or here in the Rocky Mountain Online Archive (RMOA).

by Curtis Greubel, Wyoming State Imaging Center Supervisor

 

Coutant transcribed newspaper accounts and collected stories from locals while researching for his book.  (WSA H74-9)

Coutant transcribed newspaper accounts and collected stories from locals while researching for his subsequent books, which were never completed. 
(WSA H74-9)

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