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Today in Wyoming History: 1886, The Beginning of the End of the Open Range

130 years ago today, on November 1, 1886, heralded the first snowfall for the disastrous winter of 1886-87. It was unusually cold and wet, with record snowfall and temperatures shattering left and right across the region. This winter also put the final nail in the coffin for the open range cattle industry, killing much of the livestock on the range and decimating the fortunes of many “cattle barons.”

nws-cheyenne-station-daily-record-journal-may-1885-march-1888-nov-1886

Official weather observations for one of the most historically significant winters in the history of Cheyenne are missing due to the severe illness and eventual death of the station attendant. Thankfully data exists from other stations in the region. (WSA National Weather Service, Cheyenne Station, daily record journal May 1885 – March 1888)

No one knows if any temperature records were official broken in Cheyenne that winter. The National Weather Service station observer, Corporal Stephen R. Richey, was sick and unable to record his observations. According to the log book, Corporal Richey came down with Malignant Erysipelas, also known as St. Anthony’s Fire, which is an acute streptococcus bacterial infection. His last entry was October 23, 1886, just days before that first snowfall. Apparently the US Signal Corp had held out hope for Corporal Richey’s recovery because they did not send his replacement until after he died on March 5, 1887, at the end of the brutal winter. Richey was interred in the Fort D.A. Russell (now Warren Air Force Base) Cemetery. [1]


1. Stephen R. Richey memorial, FindAGrave.com

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Feeding Their Wards: Farming at WY State Institutions, 1931

Its been a while since we had a Friday Foodie post, so without further adieu…

It was a big job keeping the inmates at Wyoming’s institutions fed during the lean years of the Great Depression. Nearly every state institution had a farm operation in the 1930s. This allowed them to be nearly self-sufficient. Some even turned a profit on the food and forage they produced. They used the cheap and abundant inmate labor to reduce production  costs. The symbiosis benefited the inmates by teaching them a trade and building their confidence and sense of responsibility. These photos and accompanying information come from a state institutional survey photo album complied by the state in 1932. Several copies are on file in the Wyoming State Archives collection.

The Wyoming State Hospital in Evanston was the crown jewel of the productive institutions during the early 1930s. In an effort to provide affordable, quality food for the institution, a dairy herd was established in 1922.

Dairy Barn and herd at WY State Hospital (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 47b)

Dairy Barn and herd at the Wyoming State Hospital
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 47b)

By 1930, this herd of registered Holstein cattle had grown to 41 cows whose anticipated production for the year would top 600,000 pounds of milk (approximately 75,000 gallons.) Not only did this supply the hospital with its entire dairy needs, it provided an income from the sale of surplus dairy goods and animals, which helped to defer other costs. The herd was regarded as one of the best in the Inter-mountain region. One of thier prize bulls was loaned to the University of Wyoming’s Stock Farm at Afton to help improve its Holstein herd.

5-year-old Champ C Class Producer of the US 1930 Holstein at the WY State Hospital, 1931 (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 56a)

This 5-year-old Holstein cow in the State Hospital herd was named 1930 Champion C Class Producer of the United States. That year she produced nearly 12 gallons of milk per day!
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 56a)

In addition to the cattle herd, the State Hospital also kept a large flock of chickens to provide all of the eggs and meat served at the hospital. A large garden plot behind the superintendent’s residence supplied all of the vegetables used by the institution. The grain and hay fed to the animals was produced on the 550 acre farm purchased in 1919.

In 1929-30, the farm produced:

Hay 880 tons
Grain 8879 bushels
Rutabagas 225 tons
Cabbage 61 tons
Potatoes 9,000 bushels
Milk 884, 000 pounds (about 110,500 gallons)
Eggs 10,500 dozen
Meat 117,000 pounds

Flock of White Leghorn chickens in front of Chicken house at the Wyoming State Hospital in 1931. (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 57b)

Flock of White Leghorn chickens in front of Chicken house at the Wyoming State Hospital in 1931. The chicken house behind them was constructed in 1930 to house 1,200 to 1,400 chickens.
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 57b)

All was not roses, though. The pigpens were unfortunately located directly behind the main building. The hospital secured $3,000 in 1931 from the State Legislature to construct new pens and move the swine down wind from the buildings to cut down on the odor permeating the site.
Pig pens at WY State Hospital, to be moved in 1932, 1931 (WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 42a)

Pig pens at Wyoming State Hospital in 1931. They were to be moved farther away (and up wind) from the main buildings in 1932 because of the stench.
(WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 42a)

The Industrial Institute (now called the Boy’s School) in Worland also maintained a productive and lucrative farming operation manned by inmates and was a model of institutional self-sufficiency. The mainstay of the Industrial Institute was its Hereford cattle feed operation. Cattle were purchased on the open market and then fattened for sale in their lots. The institution made a concerted effort to not compete with local farmers in the marketplace. A dairy herd, flock of sheep, hogs, and chickens rounded out the livestock operation at the institution.
Cattle feeding pens at the Wyoming Industrial Institute (now Boys' School) in 1931 (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 91b)

Cattle feeding pens at the Wyoming Industrial Institute (now Boys’ School) in 1931. These Hereford steers were fattened at the Institute then sold. Feed lot operation and livestock management was seen as a business/occupational skill for the boys. 
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 91b)

Extensive gardens and large fields of sugar beets for livestock forage were also planted and the boys were employed in a small, on-site cannery where they preserved the bounty for use over the winter. This institution in particular saw their farm and livestock operations as tools to teach their wards, boys ages 16-25, life skills and a useful trade.

Back of Main Old Building showing attendant's garden, WY Industrial Institute, 1931 (WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 97b)

Back of Main Old Building showing attendant’s garden, Wyoming Industrial Institute, 1931. That year, the institution was able to raise nearly all of the food for their wards and sold the surplus for a staggering $86,700.
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 97b)

All told, sale from the excess products equaled $86,700 for the 1928-1930 biennium, more than $1.1 million dollars today! In fact it was so productive that little more than building funds and partial wages were needed from the State budget to run the entire institution by 1930, amounting to just $54,150 that year. If you account for inflation, that would be approximately $700,000 today.

The Girl’s Industrial Institute (now called the Girl’s School) in Sheridan, was a newcomer to the State, having been establish in 1920. Still, by 1931 almost all of the dairy, chicken and eggs, and many of the vegetables consumed by the 50 girls residing there were produced on site. Much of the hay and grain for the livestock was also raised on site. Like the Boy’s School, the Girl’s School used inmate labor to not only keep costs low but to provide instruction.

Chicken coop built in 1931, Girl's Industrial Institute, 1931 (WSA  BCR State Institutional Survey Album 109a)

This “thoroughly modern” chicken coop built in 1931 at the Girl’s Industrial Institute (now Girls’ School)
(WSA BCR State Institutional Survey Album 109a)

Even the Sheridan County Fish Hatchery boasted a large vegetable garden and pasture.
Barn and garden, Sheridan County Fish Hatchery, 1931 (WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 65)

Barn and garden, Sheridan County Fish Hatchery, 1931
(WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 65)

The State Tuberculosis Sanitarium (now the State Retirement Home) in Basin used its crops in a slightly different way. Because their wards were usually unable to work outdoors due to their respiratory condition, they did not have the cheap, abundant labor like the other institutions. No livestock was kept on site as they would have aggravated the delicate systems of the patients. Still, they planted acres of alfalfa and long rows of trees to keep the dust down for their patients.
WY Tuberculosis Sanitarium, 1931 (WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 122a)

WY Tuberculosis Sanitarium, 1931
(WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 122a)

What about the Wyoming Honor Farm outside of Riverton? Originally called the Penitentiary Farm, the 880-acre parcel was purchased by the Legislature in late spring 1931 and did not become fully functional for a couple of years. The original buildings were little more than shacks and inadequate for occupation, much less security. Most of 1931 was given to building a dormitory and an adequate water system, both completed with inmate labor from the State Penitentiary in Rawlins. They did manage to harvest 40 acres of sugar beets, their only product that first year, with plans to greatly increase production in the following years.

Penitentiary Farm showing on of the original buildings (right) and dormitory under construction (center), Riverton, June 1931 (WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 27a)

Penitentiary Farm showing on of the original buildings (right) and dormitory under construction (center), Riverton, June 1931
(WSA SOS State Institutional Survey Album 27a)

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Don’t Fence Me In: A Baxter Sets the Record Straight

To fence in or fence out…that is the question. At least it was one of the major questions early Wyoming lawmakers grappled with when it came to landowners’ rights.

Large cattle operation relied upon open range grazing on government lands to sustain their herds. These savvy businessmen could control much more land than they actually owned by controlling the water and access to it on the semi-arid plains. There was still bickering among these large outfits, mostly about said water rights, but the major disputes did not erupt until fences began to appear, cutting up the wide open spaces and making it hard for open range cattle to access grazing and water.

The construction of fences eventually contributed to the end of the large scale open range cattle industry. The question became was this fence to keep the cattle in or out? (WSA Sun Neg 9338, B-183_37, Hereford calves, photo by CD Kirkland, 1870s-1880s)

The construction of fences eventually contributed to the end of the large scale open range cattle industry. The question became was this fence to keep the cattle in or out?
(WSA Sun Neg 9338, B-183_37, Hereford calves, photo by CD Kirkland, 1870s-1880s)

Cattlemen argued that their livelihood relied upon the open range and they were entitled to the use of government lands and thus fencing was detrimental, if not criminal. Settlers, farmers and smaller producers argued that fences helped to protect their lands and herds from the damage done by open range herds (and their handlers). Tempers flared, sides were chosen, and lawyers hired (and some gunmen, too) as the situation escalated. Eventually, it was decided that Wyoming would be a “fence out” state, meaning that if you owned property you were expected to construct and maintain fences that kept whatever it was you did not want on your property out, rather than building fences to keep what you wanted in, or on your property.[1] This decision favored the open range cattle industry who continued to use their money and influence to protect this right.

Roundup at Heaton Warm Springs near Douglas, 1887.  (WSA Sub Neg 17589)

Roundup at Heaton Warm Springs near Douglas, 1887.
(WSA Sub Neg 17589)

On November 5, 1886, President Cleveland appointed George W. Baxter as governor of the Territory. This decision was made in deference to the plea that he choose someone from the Territory to fill the position rather than bringing in a politician from back East. They argued that the territory needed a local executive who was familiar with local issues and players. The implication, of course, was that the big cattlemen wanted one of their own to protect their interests. Baxter was in fact a resident and a cattleman, too. He and his brother, John, ran a ranch (later called the LU) near Fort Washakie and he had recently served as president and founding member of the American Cattle Company. Baxter was also a graduate of West Point (class of 1877) and his appointment as 2nd Lieutenant brought him to Fort Washakie. According to his brother, “While there he saw so much of the cattle raising on the public domain, he resigned his commission… and became a cattleman.”[2]

Territorial George W. Baxter  (WSA Sub Neg 1395)

Territorial George W. Baxter
(WSA Sub Neg 1395)

But his time as governor was not long. Baxter’s opponents almost immediately accusing him of illegally fencing government land and he was removed from office December 20th, less than two months later. Secretary of State Elliot S.N. Morgan took over until Thomas Moonlight of Kansas, a vocal opponent of cattlemen in general, was appointed in January 1887. Baxter was later a delegate from Laramie County to the Wyoming Constitutional Convention and made an unsuccessful run for governor in 1890 against Francis E. Warren.

In 1936, Edith Alger of Lander contacted John A. Baxter requesting information about his time in Wyoming.[3] Alger was employed by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writers Program. This program was designed to provide jobs to the unemployed while collecting the history of their area through the Stories of Pioneer Life project. Baxter and Alger exchanged several letters that year, one of which included this defense of his brother’s actions.

September 16, 1936
Tulane Hotel
Nashville, TN

When Cleveland was president of the US and Wyoming a territory, and the governors were appointed by the president, the people of Wyoming requested he appoint someone who resided in Wyoming instead of sending some on from some eastern state out to Wyoming to be governor; so Cleveland consented, and he tendered the honor to my brother, who, while a Democrat, was not a strict partisan, but he was classed as a businessman.

Now, some of the active Democratic politicians, no doubt hoping to be the lucky man, began to complain and told Cleveland that Baxter had fenced in unlawfully government land. He was removed as governor and Moonlight of Kansas was named instead. You may know that the United States gave the Union Pacific Railroad as a subsidiary every other square mile for twenty miles both north and south of the survey of said railroad. The railroad held said land for about twenty years after they had finished their road before offering it for sale. My brother sought advice from the best lawyers in the east, and was assured that he would have the right to fence the same.

Now this grant of every other section of one mile square made a checkerboard condition, so I herewith hand you a diagram, showing clearly, that it was impossible to fence his land purchased of the railroad, without fencing thereby the government sections. On this map I enclose you will notice the little black spots at the corners of each section represents the cornerstones that marked and defined each section, and to make it clear to your mind I have used red ink marking a dotted line around four sections, and the same necessarily enclosed the one section of government land (where there is a blot of red ink) and that was the cause of their saying he had unlawfully enclosed government land. Now to remove any impression upon the minds of the public that he had unlawfully fenced government land and to remove the implied stigma, my brother forced the question after his removal up to the US Supreme Court, and they decided in my brother’s favor, and that the same was Not Unlawful as every post hole was on his own land, and the wires from post to post were over the land he had purchased and owned. So you see he was removed for a charge which did not exist.

In spite of their political trickery and a false accusation, my brother’s name is respected by all that knew him as an honorable upright man.

Your truly,
Jno. A. Baxter[4]

Diagram sent by John Baxter showing how his brother's fences were constructed.  (WSA WPA Bio File 45)

Diagram sent by John Baxter showing how his brother’s fences were constructed.
(WSA WPA Bio File 45)

____________

1. To be precise, Wyoming is a “fence out” state for cattle (and domestic buffalo), but a “fence in” state for sheep. For more information, see “You Fence It, They’ll Stay Out” from the University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service.

2. “Letters from John A. Baxter, Concerning his brother, Territorial Governor George W. Baxter” September 6, 1936. WPA Bio File 45, Wyoming State Archives.

3. Governor Baxter had died at his home on Long Island, New York, in 1929. He is buried in the family plot in Knoxville, Tennessee.

4.  “Letters from John A. Baxter, Concerning his brother, Territorial Governor George W. Baxter” September 18, 1936. WPA Bio File 45, Wyoming State Archives. Minor formating and spelling changes, but the emphasis is his own.

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Greetings From… Trail End!

It seems appropriate that we end our Wyoming tour at Trail End. This was Governor John B. Kendrick’s luxurious home on top of the hill in Sheridan, Wyoming, and is now open to the public as a state historic site. P2003-21_35, Kendrick Residence, Sheridan, exterior, color postcard Kendrick’s life reads like a fairy tale  He was born in Texas and orphaned early in life. In 1879, he trailed a cattle herd from there to Wyoming. It was said that he was so keen on saving money that he actually washed and mended his socks rather than just throwing them out like most cowboys of his day. Those pennies kept adding up and in 1883, he used his savings to start the Ula Ranch. Kendrick worked as foreman and manager for several other ranches while building his own empire. He married Eula May Wulfjen of Greeley, Colorado, in 1891, and they raised 2 children, Rosa Maye and Manville.

Governor and later Senator John B. Kendrick on the OW Ranch, 1895 (WSA Sub Neg 22685)

Governor and later Senator John B. Kendrick on the OW Ranch, 1895
(WSA Sub Neg 22685)

In 1910 Kendrick entered politics and was elected Senator of Sheridan County. He was elected Governor in 1914 and served until February 1917 when he resigned to serve as a senator in Congress. He proudly served in this capacity until his death in 1933. Throughout his political career, Kendrick was influential in politics and defending Wyoming’s water rights. Only weeks before his death, he succeeded, almost single-handedly, in gaining final approval for the Casper-Alcova (Kendrick) Irrigation Project.

The Kendrick family on the porch of the LX Bar Ranch house (WSA Trail End Neg 22305)

The Kendrick family on the porch of the LX Bar Ranch house
(WSA Trail End Neg 22305)

The LX Bar Ranch outside of Gillette became the family’s home ranch, though Kendrick’s holding included 7 ranches scattered throughout Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana. Several buildings, including the house and barn, were constructed around 1910 using locally quarried native stone. In 2012, property containing the buildings was gifted to the State of Wyoming and is now administered by the Department of State Parks & Cultural Resources. Trail End itself is an impressive edifice. Built in 1911, the three-story mansion includes 5 entrances, a formal drawing room with French silk covered walls, a hidden cabinet (purportedly used to stash liquor during prohibition), an elevator, a walk-in vault, intricately carved woodwork, and six bedrooms with private baths. Nearly the entire third floor was used as a ballroom, complete with a musicians loft. Visit the Trail End Historic Site website for a virtual tour of the house.

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