Bryant B. Brooks, Wyoming’s seventh state governor, was born on February 5, 1861 in the small town of Bernardston, MA. After the Chicago fire of 1871, the Brooks family moved to the Windy City where his father, a lock manufacturer, took advantage of the demand during the city’s rebuilding efforts. Brooks attended a business college there.
Not long after graduating, he headed west and spent some time on his father’s cousin’s farm in Nebraska. In the spring of 1880 he took a train to Cheyenne, where he signed up with an outfit hired to roundup cattle that had wintered in the Snake River region of Idaho. After the roundup, he returned to Chicago for a brief stay to study assaying, then resumed cowboy life in Wyoming, trapping to supplement his income.
In his memoirs, Brooks stated that he settled in the location that would eventually become his ranch site, about 20 miles southeast of present day Casper, after acquiring a trapper’s cabin for six beaver traps and a sack of flour. A ranch house was constructed in 1883. He partnered with his father and brother under the business name B.B. Brooks & Co. The company started with 80 heifers shipped from Wisconsin.
Brooks married Mary Naomi Willard, daughter of his father’s cousin, in 1886 and the couple settled in at the ranch, which would eventually encompass 7,000 acres.
Brooks’ livestock interests developed and expanded to include other companies and, in 1892, wool growing. He was active in a number of civic and fraternal organizations. He was appointed to a three member commission to organize Natrona County, and served as County Commissioner from 1891to 1892. Brooks was elected to the 2nd state legislature and served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention three times (1896, 1904, and 1908). His political career culminated with his election as Governor to fill the unexpired term of DeForest Richards, who died a few months into his 2nd term.
Brooks was re-elected in 1906. His family had the distinction of being the first to occupy the Governor’s Mansion in Cheyenne.
Under the Brooks administration a mineral leasing act was passed, which provided for access to the state’s mineral resources and generated revenue for the state. The leasing of federal lands for grazing was a hotly debated issue during Brooks’ tenure as Governor, in Wyoming and in the nation’s capital. In 1907 he opposed resolutions by the Wyoming Stock Growers Association in favor of leasing. His message to the 1909 state legislature supported the Homestead Act. He spoke against leasing for grazing, believing it would negatively affect homesteading efforts. The debate lasted well beyond Brooks’ gubernatorial years.
Brooks continued to expand his business interests after leaving the state’s executive office. He was president of the Wyoming National Bank in Casper. He became president of the Consolidated Royal Oil Company of Casper and of the Grass Creek Oil and Gas Company. He also had interests in other oil companies and served as President of the Rocky Mountain Oil and Gas Association for many years. In this role, he opposed federal plans to suspend the issuance of permits for oil exploration on the public domain in 1929, and in the 1930s supported an oil pipeline between Fort Laramie and Salt Lake City. The line was eventually built despite protests from Wyoming labor organizations, which feared the line would negatively impact railroad employees and laborers in related fields.
Brooks also worked to preserve Wyoming’s historical record as chairman of the Wyoming Historical Landmarks Commission. He had special interest in preserving information about the Oregon Trail and marking its location. Governor Brooks died on December 8, 1944 at his home in Casper.
In addition to routine records associated with the Governor’s Office, the records of Governor Brooks at the Wyoming State Archives include correspondence related to the opening of the Wind River Reservation to settlement and efforts to irrigate the area, the Hanna mine explosions of 1908, raids on sheep camps, a visit by President Theodore Roosevelt, and woman suffrage. Governor Brooks’ published memoirs are also maintained by the Archives. An inventory of his gubernatorial papers can be found in the Rocky Mountain Online Archives (RMOA).
— Curtis Greubel, State Imaging Center Supervisor