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.
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.”
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.”
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