Category Archives: Events

Bombs Over Wyoming

By: Jessica Cosgrove

The Japanese Bomb Balloons, courtesy of the Library of Congress,  LC-USZ62-34568.

At approximately 6:15 p.m. on December 6, 1944 three men and one woman at Ben Goe coal mine west of Thermopolis witnessed a strange event. They saw a parachute in the air with lit flares, a few moments later they heard a whistling noise then the sound of an explosion. They saw smoke rising from a draw near the mine. Notified of the event Sheriff Kem Moyer proceeded to investigate that night and into the following day. He searched for a man believed to be with the parachute; no man was found but something else was. Moyer told the Thermopolis Independent Record a heavy bomb had exploded leaving its fragments behind about a mile and a half from the mine, near the Meeteetse-Thermopolis highway.[1]

An undated birds eye view of Thermopolis. If the bomb had been dropped a mere fifteen miles to the north of where the fragments were found it would have hit this sleepy town.

When word of the bomb fragments reached Casper Air Base an investigator for the base was dispatched to Thermopolis to investigate the incident. The investigator sent the fragments to Casper to be examined and the word came back that no bombs of this make were in Casper. The investigator flew over the area where the reported parachute was spotted. He did not find any sign of a parachute. Louis Artman, a sheep herder, claimed to have seen a parachute land in an area Northwest of Thermopolis and stated that the flares burned for at least ten minutes. The base investigator came back out to fly the area a second time, but no parachute was found.[2]

Finally, the search for the parachute was called off by Sheriff Moyer. The running theory was that the parachute seen was a landing flare. No planes were heard or seen the night the bomb exploded, and no planes were reported missing. Some claim a plane that can carry the type of bomb dropped could be flown so high it would neither be seen nor heard. [3]

Thermopolis Independent Record, December 14, 1944

This bomb did not come from a careless United States pilot. This bomb came from, in the time of 1944, a far more sinister force. The bomb came from Japan.

Six days after the bomb incident in Thermopolis on December 12, 1944 a large paper balloon with Japanese ideographs and armed with incendiary bombs capable of starting a major wildfire was found 17 miles southwest of Kalispell, Montana. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was dispatched to investigate the balloon and warned the Kalispell population not to talk about the balloon. The five hundred people who saw the balloon heeded the FBI’s warnings. The entire town clammed up about this incident because they all had sons and husbands in the service and did not want to give away valuable information to the enemy. This censorship expanded to the rest of the country. Not many people knew about the balloon bombs except for law enforcement, newspaper writers, and publishers.[4]

The Laramie Republican Boomerang, December 19, 1944

On May 22, 1945 the Laramie Republican Boomerang ran an Associated Press story stating the Japanese had been making an effort to bomb the western U.S. mainland with unmanned balloons. The article stated: “The balloons, which carry a few small bombs, were described as being of gray, white or greenish-blue paper and about 33 feet in diameter. The main purpose of the bombs, it was said, is believed to be to set brush and forest fires. The balloons are unmanned and cannot be controlled by the enemy.”[5] The war and navy department also stated negligible damage had been done; but some of the balloons had landed or dropped explosives in isolated sections of the country, like in Thermopolis, Wyoming.[6]

In an August 22, 1945 article found in the Cody Enterprise the stories of these balloons over Wyoming finally started to come out. According to unofficial reports at least 16 of the bombs bearing Pacific crossing balloons were sighted or landed in Wyoming. One of the first reported sightings was in Thermopolis. The last reported sighting was near Cheyenne where residents reported to see what they claimed to be a “Jap balloon.” This particular sighting took place in June of 1945. Other sightings came from Cody, where on January 15, 1945 people claimed to have spotted a balloon over the Cody refinery. Another was reported on February 8, 1945 by Kenneth Adkins about 25 miles west of Newcastle. This balloon was taken to Newcastle and placed under guard in a state armory. On February 22, 1945 a former Park County Treasurer by the name of Harry Barrows and several others heard an explosion and felt the concussion near Ralston. [7]

According to T.A. Larson’s book Wyoming’s War Years: 1941-1945, Japanese officials who were interviewed after the war claimed the balloon bombs were a reaction to the Doolittle fire bombings in Tokyo, April 18, 1942. There were two years of experimentation before 9,000 balloons were launched from three sites near Tokyo. This mission cost the Japanese $2,000,000. Due to a lack of evidence of success the operation was deemed a failure and called off April 20, 1945. In fact, Japanese officials had only heard of one balloon landing in America. The censorship of information pertaining to these balloon bombs in the United States worked. The Japanese officers said the aim of the operation was to “create confusion by starting wildfires and frightening civilians.”[8]

An August 15, 1945 Casper Tribune Associated Press article titled “Japanese Bomb Balloons Come Down in 16 States” prove these bomb balloons were widespread across the western portion of the North American Continent. The states where a bomb balloon made land included Oregon, Washington, California, South Dakota, Idaho, North Dakota, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Iowa, Michigan, Alaska and of course Montana and Wyoming. The article also stated balloons were found in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territory and one or two were found in Mexico.[9]

No lives were lost in Wyoming due to these Japanese balloon bombs, but Oregon wasn’t so lucky. In Lakeview, Oregon on May 5, 1945 the Japanese balloon bombs claimed six lives. Elsie Mitchell and five neighborhood children with her, Edward Engen, Sherman Shoemaker, Jay Gifford, Richard Patzke, and Ethel Patzke, were dragging the Japanese balloon out of the woods when the bombs exploded. Elsie and the children were the only civilians to be killed on the continental United States during WWII. By the end of the war with Japan approximately 500,000 Japanese civilians were killed due to bombings by the United States and its allies.[10]

[1] Thermopolis Independent Record, December 14, 1944; Thermopolis Has Airplane Mystery; Bomb Dropped Nearby

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] The Laramie Republican Boomerang, December 19, 1944; Mysterious Balloon Bearing Jap Insignia and Armed with Bomb Uncovered in Montana Forest.

[5] The Laramie Republican Boomerang, May 22, 1945; Jap Efforts to Bomb Western U.S. with Balloons Is Revealed

[6] ibid

[7] The Cody Enterprise, August 22, 1945; Story of Jap Balloons Over Wyoming Being Told by Informed Press

[8] T.A.Larson, Wyoming’s War Years: 1941-1945 p76-78 (Stanford: Stanford University Press,1954)

[9] Casper Tribune, August 15, 1945;  Japanese Bomb Balloons Come Down in 16 States

[10] Editors, Six killed in Oregon by Japanese bomb, February 9, 2010;

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Filed under Events, Eyewitness to History, Japanese, WWII, Wyoming at War

Exile on Main Street

Exile on Main Street002 (1)

Rolling Stones 1972 Album Exile on Main Street inside sleeve of the album. Top of the image shows Casper, Wyoming.

Have you ever found people from your hometown staring back at you when you opened up a book or looked at the illustrations on the music album you were playing?

Hidden on the inside sleeve of the Rolling Stones 1972 album “Exile on Main Street”’ is a picture of servicemen saluting during an event. This photograph was taken in Casper, Wyoming, and the servicemen saluting were identified as men stationed at the Casper Filter Center* in 1956. How do we know it was taken then? Enterprising researchers used motor vehicle records to determine the photo was taken in 1956 by using the visible license plate on the KSPR panel truck.

Over time some of the saluting soldiers and spectators have been identified. A serviceman standing in the middle of the photo was identified as a Sgt. Maxwell by a Mrs. Claude Key, who gave a call to the Casper Star-Tribune with the identification. The spectator holding his hat in the middle of the photo has been identified to the Casper Star-Tribune by two Mills, Wyoming residents as Perry Abar. Abar lived in Mills, Wyoming, at the time of the photo.

This Casper picture is called a mystery photograph. Nobody is sure what the occasion of the photo was or who took the picture. A further mystery is, why was this specific photograph chosen for the album sleeve? What connection do the Rolling Stones have to Wyoming? These questions have no answers as of yet. Still, maybe one day, with the public’s help or with a Rolling Stone’s tell-all book, this small photographic mystery will have a satisfying conclusion.

Do you know anything more about this photograph? Leave your comments here!

Casper Star-Tribune, May 8, 1973; Partial ‘Mystery’ Solved

Casper Star-Tribune, May 9, 1973; Mystery Picture Clearer

* The Casper Filter Center is the location where volunteer civilian Ground Observer Corp plane spotters from all over the state of Wyoming call in planes spotted flying in Wyoming air space. The Casper Filter Center volunteers plot and track the planes. Necessary information about the planes are then relayed to the Air Defense Corp who make the decision if the incoming planes are hostile.

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Filed under Events, music, Mystery, Photographs

Combating a Contagion

By: Carl Hallberg, Wyoming State Archives

No Neg, WY General Hospital X-Ray Department, Rock Springs, WY, nd, C6, ROCKS-9

Wyoming General Hospital, interior, X-Ray Department, unidentified man laying on an X-Ray bed, anatomical chart on the far wall. (WSA, Cities & Towns–Rock Springs, Wyoming #1 of 4)

Controlling infectious diseases has been a daunting task facing Wyoming physicians and public health officials since the state was first settled. Readers may find echoes of the current day  in this account of the fearful ailment, smallpox. In later years, containing smallpox was a particularly troublesome endeavor for health officials, when it could be readily prevented beforehand through vaccination. However, educating the public on this preventive measure proved to be a significant public relations hurdle.

Smallpox is characterized by disfiguring blisters and pustules on the body, notably on the face and hands. The skin rash creates a burning sensation, and sores develop in the throat. Infected individuals become even more uncomfortable with the onset of severe chills, aches, pains, and sometimes convulsions, delusions, and nightmares. Many people survived with only pockmarks on their face. In more severe cases, smallpox can cause blindness or death.

Because it was so contagious, local physicians took all reports of smallpox very seriously. Infected individuals were immediately quarantined in their homes or the county pest house. A sign was placed at the site to warn away visitors and travelers. Both measures – quarantine and public notification – were “not a form of punishment,” noted Dr. John Hinds of Buffalo, “but a public duty for the protection of others.” Until the disease had run its course, doctors tried to make the patient as comfortable as possible. Also, clothes, furniture, and buildings at the place of infestation were fumigated and disinfected. Anyone in contact with the infected person was advised to be vaccinated.

Rock Springs miner 11-5-1903_page-0001

The Rock Springs Miner, Nov. 11, 1903

Newspapers published notices about local outbreaks. When such occurred, readers were warned to avoid the respective homes and areas until public health officials said otherwise. Frequently, publishers reaffirmed the severe nature of the disease and urged readers to take proper precautions. Following a report of smallpox in Laramie in 1902, the Laramie Boomerang commented that there was no need for residents to be alarmed. The report also said, “but it is a good time to look up that old [vaccination] scar.”

Smallpox did not discriminate between large and small towns or urban and rural areas. Wherever an infected individual went, there was a high probability that others would contract the disease. In 1875 an infected man was found on a train to Rawlins. The railroad car was disconnected from the train. The man and his fellow passengers were quarantined outside of town.

A Campbell County health official determined that a Rozet teacher contracted smallpox from clothing worn by a visiting girls’ basketball team. The disease had been reported in the neighboring town. Smallpox outbreaks could disrupt communities. An outbreak in Savery in 1902 threatened to close the school for the entire winter.

Smallpox - 3 of 3_page-0001

Session Laws, 1901, see section 9

Local physicians and health officials responded quickly to quell any fear of an epidemic. Beginning in 1902, compulsory quarantine and vaccination following the confirmation of the disease remained the standard medical practice. The State Board of health required a quarantine period of at least 30 days. If an individual died from the disease, burial was to take place within 36 hours. All people exposed to the disease were to be vaccinated and isolated for ten days, but the public imagination could run wild. In 1902 Rawlins, during the construction of the penitentiary, steamfitters immediately left the grounds on the first report of smallpox near the site. Only after being assured by a local doctor did they return to work. Following another outbreak in Rawlins in 1910, rumors spread that 79 people were ill when only about a dozen had the disease. The stories also said the disease was spreading rapidly and threatening to get out of control when, in fact, it was confined to 11 houses.

The only effective deterrent to smallpox was a vaccine developed by Edward Jenner, an English physician, in 1796. However, in Wyoming, the vaccination agent for the disease was not mandatory for the general populace. To the frustration of public health officials, many people refused it or did not take smallpox seriously. Dr. J.WS. Hunter of Gillette wryly suggested that by quarantining smallpox patients,” these [healthy] people will be anxious and willing to be vaccinated.”

In March 1919, the State Board of Health passed a rule requiring compulsory vaccination for school children against smallpox. It was a bold move. The board could “adopt such measures for the general vaccination of the inhabitants of any city, town, or county in the state” in order “to prevent the introduction or arrest the progress of smallpox.” Even so, the board questioned whether its policy could be applied to schools. Nonetheless, the order was sent, and in the fall of 1919, it was challenged in Natrona County District Court.

In Brokus vs. Wheeler, et al., the plaintiff argued that the rule was arbitrary because other children who had not been vaccinated were attending school. The school district countered that given the prevalence of the disease in the plaintiff’s residential area, the action was a prudent one. Judge Ralph Kimball concurred with the defendants and dismissed the case.

P2009-4_1 crop, Ralph Kimball WY Supreme Court Chief Justice, portriat

Ralph Kimball, WY Supreme Court Justice. (WSA, WY Supreme Court Time Capsule Collection (P2009-4/01)

Shortly afterward, in Root vs. Wheeler et al., the plaintiff’s argument was much the same; the defendants could not prove that their action was based on a real public health need. Subsequently, Judge Kimball ruled that compulsory vaccination would not be mandated when the disease was not prevalent. For the State “Board of Health, the judgment was a tremendous setback. Dr. C.Y. Beard, secretary of the board, said that insufficient funds prevented the board from allowing a state health officer to be present throughout the entire trial. As a result of Root vs. Wheeler, only the legislature could prescribe vaccination as a prerequisite for school attendance. A mandatory immunization law was not passed until 1979.

In the meantime, health officials campaigned heartily for voluntary immunization. Their efforts had mixed results. Some years no cases were reported, and then suddenly cases flared up. For example, the State Board of Health reported 486 smallpox cases in 1921, 179 in 1922, and 20 in 1923. Epidemics occurred in 1929 and 1935 when 347 and 321 people were infected, respectively. Eventually, through perseverance, health officials won the battle, and the majority of the population was vaccinated. By 1930, the number of smallpox cases began to drop dramatically. The last report of the disease in Wyoming was in 1953. Several years later, since no cases were being reported, the Department of Health decided not to keep statistics on smallpox anymore. By then, the disease was non-existent in the United States.

In 1971 the smallpox immunization for children was discontinued. The disease was declared eradicated worldwide in 1980.


Board of Health Annual Reports

Local Ordinances

Wyoming Newspapers from

Wyoming Statutes

1901 Session Laws

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Filed under Events, In The News, Pandemics, Smallpox, Vaccines

Make Tracks to the WSA this Archives Month!

October is Archives Month, the time when archival institutions around the country make a special effort to promote the important work archives do in preserving and providing access to America’s documentary heritage.

Wyoming Archives Month 2017 Poster. Make Tracks to the Archives

Here are the things we at the Wyoming State Archives will be doing to celebrate the month:

  • We are pleased to kick the month off by launching our new website later this week. The new design has been many months in the making and its goal is to provide users easier access to information about the State Archives, the services we provide, and our collections. We are very excited about the changes and I hope you will visit the site and let us know what you think.
  • We will join archivists from around the country on Twitter October 4 for #AskAnArchivist. I encourage everyone to jump on Twitter and ask us any of those lingering, burning, nagging Archives questions.
  • October 10 is Electronic Records Day (#ERecsDay), so watch this space for an update on what the State Archives is doing to help state agencies and political subdivisions manage and preserve their electronic records. We will also pass along some good information on preserving electronic records from the Council of State Archivists.
  • Rick Ewig, a historian who has recently retired after a distinguished career as an archivist at the State Archives and the American Heritage Center, will be the State Museum’s fall lecture series speaker in October. Rick’s presentation titled, “Settling the Sterile and Desolate Plains: The Founding of Cheyenne and Then Some” is at 7pm, October 12, at the Wyoming State Museum. Rick published a book about the history of Cheyenne this summer. In researching the book, Rick used documents and photographs from several archives in the area, including the State Archives.

Our Archives Month activities always remind me what a privilege it is to be the Wyoming State Archivist. The staff, the collections, and our constituents make the job so rewarding. The State Archives provides valuable records management and imaging services to state agencies and political subdivisions. Our archival collections are a treasure trove for genealogists and historians and they help people resolve issues that come up in their daily lives. From photographs and historic documents to school transcripts and court records, the documentary heritage we preserve is incredibly diverse and important.

And with that, make tracks to the Archives and help us celebrate Archives Month!

— Mike Strom, Wyoming State Archivist

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Filed under Archives Month 2017, Events, Welcome

October is Archives Month!

Welcome to Archives Month!

October is Archives Month, the time when archival institutions around the country make a special effort to promote the important work archives do in preserving and providing access to America’s documentary heritage. We take particular pride in the fact that the Wyoming State Archives has one of the best collections of Wyoming history anywhere. Our holdings include the State Constitution, the Suffrage Act, thousands of photos, hundreds of maps, governors’ records, and tens of thousands of feet of records that document all levels of government throughout the state. And those are just a few of the highlights.


It would be a mistake, however, to focus solely on the historical research aspect of the material in our care. One of the things that makes working in a state archives so rewarding is the opportunity to help people resolve issues that come up in their daily lives. We processed nearly 4,200 research requests from the public last year and thirty-two percent of them involved school records. Year after year, school transcripts are our most-used records. People request them when they are going back to school or are applying for a job and need verification that they have graduated from high school. Other records in our collections have similar immediate uses. People use court records to document land ownership and mineral rights, to complete background checks, and to file for pensions and social security.  People often use marriage and divorce decrees when renewing driver’s licenses and applying for social security.  In these cases and others, the State Archives has the information citizens need to complete fundamental tasks.

My favorite example of the importance of the records in the archives occurred several years ago, soon after I arrived in Cheyenne. A woman in her seventies was attempting to locate her brother and sister with whom she had not had contact during her lifetime due to adoption. State Archives staff members found records in the District Court adoption files and school censuses that made it possible for a confidential intermediary to reunite her with her brother and sister.

Archives Month is all about telling those kinds of stories and promoting what we have and how to use it. Below is a list of the activities the State Archives staff will be participating in or organizing themselves this month.  I hope you will check in with all of our social media outlets throughout October for more information.


Mike Strom

Wyoming State Archivist

Calendar of 2016 Archives Month activities at the Wyoming State Archives


Ask an Archivist Day – October 5, social media

On October 5, archivists around the country will take to Twitter using #AskAnArchivist to answer your questions about any and all things archives. 

electronic records logo_2015Electronic Records Day – October 10, social media

Sponsored by the Council of State Archivists, the purpose of Electronic Records Day is to raise community awareness of our digital records and of the need to manage and preserve them.


Preserving is Not Just for Vegetables: Caring for Your Family Records – 7pm, October 13, Wyoming State Museum Multi-purpose Room

Staff archivists will review recommended methods for handling and storage of your treasures, and offer advice on digitizing your collections. How-to handouts will be available. This event is a part of the Wyoming State Museum fall lecture series.


Finding Your Wyoming Roots in the Archives – 9am to noon, October 29, Wyoming State Archives reading room

State Archives staff will present a three-hour workshop on “Finding Your Wyoming Roots in the Archives.” Staff members will guide you through the search for your family in vital records, city directories, and school records.  Following the presentations, attendees will be invited to stay for an hour and begin their research in the Archives. This workshop is free but registration is requested as space is limited. 

For more information or to register for the workshop, call us at 307-777-7826 or email us.

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Dr. Phil Roberts to Give Lunchtime Talk About 1913 County Organization


“They Voted Every Cat, Dog and Canary Bird”:
Wyoming County Organization in 1913

Join the Wyoming State Archives for a lunchtime talk by in Dr. Phil Roberts, professor of History at the University of Wyoming, on October 24th from 12-1 pm in the Wyoming State Museum Multi-Purpose Room. The talk is FREE and open to the public. Feel free to bring your lunch to enjoy while you listen.

2013 marks the centennial of seven of Wyoming’s counties, the largest group of counties organized at one time in the state’s history. The transformation of formerly barren areas of the state through advances in dry land farming techniques and the completion of two large irrigation projects led to one last homesteading boom and the need for new local governments. Dr. Roberts will share his wealth of knowledge about this unique time in Wyoming history.

This talk is brought to you by the Wyoming State Archives in celebration of Archives Month.

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