Monthly Archives: June 2015

Rev. Alfred “Uncle Alf” Wraight: Prison Evangelist

In the early years of the twentieth century a prison evangelist roamed the eastern Wyoming, preaching salvation mainly to inmates of local jails.  His name was Rev. Alfred Wraight, better known as “Uncle Alf.”

Born in England in 1838, he claimed to have been a cook, scout, frontiersman, hunter, and dealer in hides and antlers.   According to one account, he arrived in Cheyenne in 1870 but he seemed to favor haunting Crook County for reasons that we can only guess.  His most notable personal memory in that part of the state was not an evangelical achievement but the killing of a rare white deer.

Newcastle in 1903. (WSA JE Stimson Collection Neg 436)

Newcastle in 1903. Uncle Alf seems to have centered his activities
(WSA JE Stimson Collection Neg 436)

By August 1900, according to the Crook County Monitor, Uncle Alf had been a prison evangelist for six and one-half years, and is now “a pleasant old gentleman.”

(WSA Crook County Monitor August 8, 1900 p1)

(WSA Crook County Monitor August 8, 1900 p1)

The newspaper learned that his past was anything but stellar.  Unfortunately no particulars were given, so we can only speculate that he some past dark event made him devote his life to ministering to incarcerated individuals.  According to the Monitor, he preached “entire freedom from sin and that Christian ministers should have the same power with God that the apostles had to heal the sick.”

Uncle Alf occasionally made visits to Cheyenne, as this 1905 article notes.  (WSA Wyoming Weekly Tribune 6-13-1905 p2)

Uncle Alf occasionally made visits to Cheyenne, as this 1905 article notes.
(WSA Wyoming Weekly Tribune 6-13-1905 p2)

From the mid-1890s through the early 1900s, Uncle Alf traveled around much of eastern Wyoming, preaching to jail inmates, church members, and cowboys.  Sometime after 1910, he moved to Los Angeles where he continued his prison ministry up and down the Pacific Coast.   Most observers suspected he was a retired clergyman from the East who had taken up prison work to round out his career.  He died in Walla Walla, Washington on June 17, 1919.

Itinerant ministers, including Uncle Alf, cowboy evangelists and the like, were quite common in the American West.   They were often colorful characters whose personal quirks and idiosyncrasies drew a lot of public curiosity.

Uncle Alf was well known in some press and religious circles, but the surviving, published accounts only give us a glimpse into the man.  It would be nice to know more about him.   Sadly, like many of his contemporaries and counterparts, Uncle Alf may remain only as a footnote in history.

— Carl Hallberg, Reference Archivist

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Wyoming’s Bachelor Governor: Dr. John E. Osborne

John E. Osborne (WSA Sub Neg 2757)

John E. Osborne
(WSA Sub Neg 2757)

John E. Osborne was born in Westport, Essex County, New York, June 19, 1858.  He studied medicine at the University of Vermont.  He moved to Rawlins, Wyoming, shortly after graduating in 1880.  There he served as a Union Pacific Railroad surgeon and opened a wholesale and retail drug store in Rawlins in 1882.  He branched out to sheep ranching in 1884 and was credited with being the largest sheep owner in the Territory a few years later.

It didn’t take the young doctor long to get involved in politics.  He was elected to the territorial legislature in 1883.  However, he resigned the seat when he had to leave the Territory for a while.  His delayed public service career began when he was elected Mayor of Rawlins in 1888.  In 1892, at the rather tender age of 34, he was elected Governor of Wyoming, giving the young state consecutive frontier surgeons in the executive office (see Amos W. Barber: An Army Surgeon as Governor).  Also in 1892, Osborne was named as an alternate to the Democratic National Convention.

Despite Secretary of State and Acting Governor Amos Barber's insistence that he must wait for all of the election results to come in from the counties, Osborne declared himself governor on December 2, 1892 with this proclamation. He issued it from the . (WSA B-764)

Despite Secretary of State and Acting Governor Amos Barber’s insistence that he must wait for all of the election results to come in from the counties, Osborne declared himself governor on December 2, 1892 with this proclamation. He issued it from the governor’s office where he had barricaded himself.
(WSA B-764)

The 1892 election saw a fusion of members of the Democratic Party with those of the new Populist Party.  Fallout from the Johnson County War aided this group against the Republican Party, where the political interests of most of the state’s big cattlemen resided.  Democrats supporting the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, some of whose members planned the Johnson County invasion, were expelled from the Party.  Controversy following the 1892 gubernatorial election is recounted in the previously cited Postscript. In his first message to the state legislature Osborne blamed the state’s lack of growth in prosperity and population on publicity about the invasion and Republican leaders who excused the actions of the invaders.

Osborne own the first "horseless carriage" in Rawlins. Here he is in the driver's seat with W.A. Heath, Yellowtail, No Sleep, Shakespeare and Yellow Eagle in 1902.  (WSA Sub Neg 24794)

Osborne own the first “horseless carriage” in Rawlins. Here he is in the driver’s seat with W.A. Heath, Yellowtail, No Sleep, Shakespeare and Yellow Eagle in 1902.
(WSA Sub Neg 24794)

Osborne’s political star continued to rise when he was elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1896, narrowly defeating Frank Mondell.  An unsuccessful attempt at a Senate seat in 1898 ended his string of victorious election campaigns.   In 1907, at the age of 49, he married Selina Smith, a native of Kentucky. (Osborne is one of only 2 unmarried governors in Wyoming history. John Campbell married during his term and Nellie Ross was a widow during her administration.)

Salina Smith Osborne  (WSA Sub Neg 18387)

Salina Smith Osborne
(WSA Sub Neg 18387)

Under the Woodrow Wilson administration Osborne was appointed First Assistant Secretary of State and held the office from April 21, 1913 to December 14, 1915.  His time in the nation’s capital, as congressman and in the Secretary of State’s office, provided opportunities to mingle and correspond with current and future presidents and other powerful political figures, such as William Jennings Bryan, with whom Osborne developed a friendship.

When Osborne resigned from the assistant secretary position, he cited a desire to return to private life.  However, he was back in the political arena in 1918, when he was nominated for the U.S. Senate by the Democratic Party.  He lost in the general election to Francis E. Warren, who had decided to run for the office again after initially talking retirement.

Osborne called Rawlins home for over 60 years and served as Chairman of the Board of the Rawlins National Bank.  He maintained an office there until his death on April 24, 1943.  He was buried at Princeton, Kentucky beside his wife.

The Osborne Building in Rawlins, Wyoming, 1905.  (WSA J.E. Stimson Collection Neg 989)

The Osborne Building in Rawlins, Wyoming, 1905.
(WSA J.E. Stimson Collection Neg 989)

The records of Governor Osborne maintained by the Wyoming State Archives include correspondence, appointment records, petitions for the pardon of convicted criminals, proclamations, requests for the extradition of fugitives, and records concerning Indian and military affairs.  Some small privately donated collections document various aspects of his career and include a small amount of correspondence from prominent public figures.

Leave a comment

Filed under WSA Collection Highlights, Wyoming Governors

“My Ignorant Notion of the Whole Gigantic Muddle”: D.C. Nowlin & WWI

Nowlin's solitary life gave him an abundance of time to contemplate, as this 1914 letter shows.  (WSA Sub Neg 9971)

Nowlin’s solitary life gave him an abundance of time to contemplate, as this 1914 letter shows.
(WSA Sub Neg 9971)

Daniel C. Nowlin (1857-1925) was a Texas Ranger , rancher, farmer, state legislator, state game warden and superintendent of the National Elk Refuge in Jackson, Wyoming.  When war broke out in Europe in 1914, Nowlin was an employee at the National Elk Refuge.  In a letter he wrote to his brother, Henry, on October 25, 1914 from Jackson, Wyoming he talks about his view of the war.

Very briefly, here’s my ignorant notion of the whole gigantic muddle.   Morally, the guilt may be divided amongst all the great powers.  All have been preparing for this struggle for many years.  Germany – being the most thorough in all things – had the initial advantage and is making the most of it.  Great Britain will use any nation and any means to check Germanic growth, influence and trade.  Did anybody ever hear of any British qualms of conscience? Has the world forgotten the unholy war on China to protect English opium dealers?  Nevertheless, our people – and all the neutral, enlightened nations, – distinctly favor the Allies – not because of prejudice against the German people but because of an instinctive preference for Anglo-Saxon civilization as exemplified by the British!  The liberal world hates the autocratic “blood and iron” policy – initiated by Bismarck and accentuated by William II.  Unfortunately for the German people, Germany had to impose upon Belgium (it was a military necessity if Germany was to win rapidly) and thus generated an intense prejudice – a prejudice that has been – + will be – “worked to a finish” by the British.

The Germans (as we know them) are peaceable – almost timid – loyal to our flag and the leading homebuilders; and it really distresses me to hear these people (as I have lately) blatantly defending the Kaiser whom I look upon as the worst enemy of the German people!

Well, it’s a bloody mess and is playing smash with us – economically, too! . . .

AS I see it, the only hope for German success – a slim, well-nigh impossible hope – is the destruction of the British Navy.  The English will move heaven and earth, use every other nation (including own, if possible) and eventually hammer Germany to death – as they did Napoleon.  Then English diplomacy will cheat Russia of expected spoils and destroy the friendly feeling between France and Russia – for British advantage.  I hope to see Germany come out of all this (including German Austria) a democracy.  England and Russia will fight some day – with Japan in alliance with Russia – but we may not live to see this. . . .

All this presumptive speculation (about something I’m ignorant of) will serve to amuse you instead of boring you, I trust; but I’ll quit – I might give you “too much of a good thing.”[1]

In his letter, Nowlin makes some interesting observations and predictions, including that England and Russia would eventually be at war. This did not happen in a literal sense, but the two powers were opposed to each other during the Cold War and tensions continue to this day. (WSA H64-90 p3)

In his letter, Nowlin makes some interesting observations and predictions, including that England and Russia would eventually be at war. This did not happen in a literal sense, but the two powers were opposed to each other during the Cold War and tensions continue to this day. Japan did fight England during WWII, though not allied with Russia. 
(WSA H64-90 p3)

— Carl Hallberg, Reference Archivist

[1] Excerpt from letter, H64-90, Percy Nowlin Collection, Wyoming State Archives.

Leave a comment

Filed under Wyoming at War

Loneliness, Sand and Sunsets: News from Ft. Laramie, August 13, 1867

“War is sometimes described as long periods of boredom punctuated by short moments of excitement. History is often similar, if rather safer.” — John H. Arnold

Robert Patterson Hughes in his uniform, 1860s.  (WSA Sub Neg 23837)

Robert Patterson Hughes in his US Army uniform, 1860s.
(WSA Sub Neg 23837)

It appears that Captain Robert Patterson Hughes whole-heartedly agreed with Arnold’s sentiments. Life for a frontier soldier was brutal, and not just during the fights. Hughes was stationed at Fort Laramie during the summer of 1867.

(WSA H63-28, p1)

(WSA H63-28, p1)

Camp on the Laramie D.T.
August 13th, 1867

Miss Maggie

I am all alone tonight and as near homesick or sick of the wilderness as I ever allow myself to get and as [I] have no other means of communicating with civilization and feeling their influence other than  by letter will you be so very kind as to permit me to address you as one of my old friends.  I trust I may not be doing wrong in this and that you may not think it so.

[I] Have had a very troublesome visit this P.M. from Evens and our Tents were all blown into pie and have been digesting quite a quantity of Sand.  The Surgeon Says Sand is very healthy but I take notice that he is quite careful to keep away from it as far and as securely [?] as possible.  The Laramie River is a small river flowing in the North Platte near our Camp.  [It] Has a disposition to be quite fickled in its depth however , for [it] has taken several sudden notions this Summer and without notifying us of its intention has quietly drowned several people[.]

(WSA H63-28, p2)

(WSA H63-28, p2)

The Platte is decidedly a River of Islands[.]  I think without exaggeration I have seen one hundred from one point.  [It] Has no channel but [is] constantly changing as I have good reason to know for it has been nearly drowning me several times.  The Indians have not been able to operate much thus far since Spring for the Snow thawing in the Mountains has kept the Streams so high that they have been unable to cross them without great difficulty.  They have succeeded in catching a few coaches on the Overland Mail Route [and] also a few small parties of soldiers.  [They] Killed one Lieut [Lieutenant] and ten men near the Republican lately.  But the latest was near Fort Phill [sic] Kearney.[1]  We learned today by telegraph that one office and some men of our Regiment had been killed but wheather [sic] it is reliable or not I can not say.

They do not seem much afflicted with brotherly love for the whites as the peaceable people of Philada [Philadelphia] would have us think.  They are quite unreasonable I think.  The whole of this war is owing to the Government desiring a road though this country to Virginia City Montana and the gold mines in that territory and in the Yellow Stone [sic][.]   They made treaty and granted the permission but some old Squaw put mischief into their heads and they now think that they will soon have no game if we have permission to go quietly over the public highway.

(WSA H63-28, p3)

(WSA H63-28, p3)

Their reasoning is about as good as the Rebels.

Went to war to save Slavery So these people go to War to save game and their country is now being dotted all over with one and two companies of Soldiers who will destroy more game in one year than Emigrants would in ten years.  Had they gone to war to secure something to cover their nakedness or for some christian provisions it would have been reasonable but to get to fighting about a herd of Buffalo or flock of Antelope which neither of us can tame or catch is so foolish that I am almost ashamed to be one of the actors in the Scene.  But our greatest battles now are with mosquitos + Buffalo Gnats.  They come down on us at all hours and they do not use either Modern Tactics of Monoeuver [maneuver] or Logistics but seem to me to move in the old Roman Style by Phalanxes and they make us scratch our heads quite seriously to determine how to flank them.  They are quite bold until they see a Smoke and as though they scented the battle from afar they immediately beat a retreat, but apparently in good order. The only trouble is that the war Dept  does not reward us for our gallantry in this branch of our duty and we now consider it more of a Task than a military pleasure.  But I think it is little as they could do to furnish the tobacco to smoke the blood thirsty warriors out of our faces and hair.  What say you?

(WSA H63-28, p4)

(WSA H63-28, p4)

We have some peculiarities here.  We have beautiful lightning every night, but we suffer for it in heat next day.  We have the most beautiful Sunsets I ever saw.  The Sun will hide behind one of the Buttes and leave the whole western horizon a blaze of fire. Looking at it this evening I remembered a quotation from some one [sic] When?

“Mine be the eve of Tropic sun
With disk like battle Trophy Red
Dies [sic] the wide wave with ____ light
Then sinks to rest & all is night”[2]

It was very much like either a red target or a red old wood country fire and do not know which was nearest the reality.

We have had a broiling old day and I am now simply dressed in my sleeping  — (well if I must say it) Shirt.  Feel as though I would be a great deal more comfortable if I could take the marrow out of my bones and allow the air to blow through[.]  [I]Have a carpet of Wolf Skins[.]  You should see how elegant it looks out in this Sand.  What has come of Clyde.[3]  Have heard of none of your family since leaving the States, but hope you all are as happy and yourself as full of life as ever.  I would be much obliged if you deem this worthy of your notice.

Yours Truly
RP Hughes
Fort Laramie[4]

Born in 1839, Captain Hughes had enlisted as a private in the 12 Pennsylvania Volunteers in 1861 and served throughout the Civil War. By the end, he was a captain and thoroughly accustomed to Army life. He went out west as a part of the Frontier Army, serving at several posts, including Fort Laramie, and was aide-de-camp to Gen. Alfred Howe Terry at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. (Read the description of the battle he sent to his wife, now housed in the Library of Congress here) In 1898, he was stationed at Manilla during the Philippine Insurrection and retired a Major General in 1903. Hughes died in 1909.[5]


— Carl Hallberg, Reference Archivist

1. Hughes is probably referring to the Wagon Box Fight which occurred on August 2, 1867. Read more about the fight at

2. Hughes came close to remembering the poem. Below are the actual lines, an excerpt from Sir Walter Scott’s poem “Rokeby” (1813) ( p276-277)

“And now my race of terror run,
Mine be the eve of tropic sun!
No pale gradations quench his ray,
No twilight dews his wrath allay;
With disk, like battle target red,
He rushes to his burning bed,
Dyes the wide wave with bloody light,
Then sinks to rest — and all is night.”

3. Miss Maggie’s husband. According to a letter that accompanied the donation, it appears Hughes and Clyde Douds served together in Co B 85th Reg Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War. Doud had enlisted into the company and Hughes had been its captain. They seem to have kept in contact until at least 1868.

4. Letter from Capt. Robert Patterson Hughes, Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory to Maggie Douds, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, August 13, 1867, H63-28, Mrs. Earle D. Holmes Collection, Wyoming State Archives.

5. See also the Robert Patterson Hughes Papers, MSS82579, Library of Congress

1 Comment

Filed under Wyoming at War