Tag Archives: Sweetwater County

In the Dark of the Sun

Though Monday’s total solar eclipse will not be the first seen in Wyoming, it will be the first in nearly 100 years. Of the 5 other total solar eclipses visible in the US since Wyoming became a territory in 1869, 3 have passed through Wyoming: 1878, 1889, and 1918. These unique events were memorable for many Wyomingites.

This maps shows past and future eclipses visible in the United States since 1503. Wyoming is highlighted in yellow. (credit NASA https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/history-along-track)


Eclipse viewing party with their telescopes at Battle Lake in 1878. Thomas Edison is standing 2nd from the right.
(Carbon County Museum Collection, WSA Sub Neg 5219)

The area near Rawlins drew scientists from around the country, including Thomas Edison, for the 1878 eclipse. (Unsubstantiated) legend has it that Edison was inspired to create the filament for the incandescent light bulb while camping that year. (Read more about the 1878 eclipse here)

Scanned by Scan2Net

In Cheyenne, the Weather Service observer recorded a 4 degree drop in temperature during the event (WSA H90-1, National Weather Service – Cheyenne Collection, 1878 Daily Observations)


In 1889, the eclipse coincided with New Year’s Day festivities in many communities and viewing parties sprang up everywhere. In the larger towns, newspapers gave their residents some warning of the event. The Big Horn Sentinel wrote:

“If you have not prayed for a year, do not get scared and fall on your knees Tuesday afternoon when it begins to grow dark. It is not the day of judgement only an eclipse which will begin about two o’clock and become nearly total.” [1] 

But the event surprised many in rural communities. In in the Big Horn Basin near Hyattville, Gus Allen remembered a horse race being delayed by the eclipse. The race  between his brother and their horse wrangler was held at a track at Joe Adle’s ranch.

“I do not recall the day, or the month, but feel rather confident that it was in 1888[2] ; anyway, when the time came the world was there. At least all of our world was there. How vivid is the memory yet, of all the excitement among the gathering of frontiersmen. Everyone was so keyed up over the race that no one knew or had noticed that an eclipse was coming over the sun; but when all was in readiness and the two brother jockeys were getting their racers on the mark, it got so dark that everyone was appalled. The race was delayed, and we all gazed in awe at one another. I have no idea how long it lasted, but believe you me, it really got plenty dusky. Then it began to get light once more, and I can still hear those old roosters crowing, as all of Adle’s chickens had gone to roost. That must have been the shortest night those chickens had ever experienced in their lives. You can well imagine how shady it got that bright clear day, and how astonished we people were, being more familiar with cows than with astronomy.

After the sun got real bright once more, and we all had brightened up too, the two determined disciples of the turf once more lined up at the barrier and were off!…” [3]  

Many newspapers mention the use of smoked glass to view the eclipse. The Rawlins paper even reported young boys breaking windows with rocks to procure the glass. [4] (PLEASE NOTE: Smoked glass is NOT RECOMMENDED for safe viewing of eclipses. Find ideas for viewing safe viewing here)

Though the path of totality cut through only the Northeastern corner of the state, the eclipse was nearly complete in the rest of the state. Several papers mentioned  it was so dark that Venus (the morning star) was visible.

Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device

The Weather Service observer in Cheyenne recorded a 10 degree drop in temperature during the event (WSA H90-1, National Weather Service – Cheyenne Collection, 1889 Daily Observations)

1918 – The Last “Great American Eclipse”

On June 8, 1918, the total solar eclipse passed across the United States from coast to coast, as it will on Monday. One of the best places in Wyoming to view the eclipse was around Green River and Rock Springs. Two astronomical observatories were set up in the area by the Yerkes Observatory at the University of Chicago and the Carnegie Institution at Mt. Wilson, California. A small tornado narrowly missed the observatory in Green River on the 3rd, but thankfully it was operational on the 8th for the main event.[5] 

Cheyenne photographer Joseph Shimitz captured this image of the solar eclipse on June 8, 1918. The eclipse is not total at this instant. The clouds, which made for a striking photograph, created less than idea viewing conditions. Several people can be seen in the foreground at the very bottom of the frame.
(WSA Meyers Neg 6162)

On the day of the eclipse, the view from Rock Springs was clear, but at Green River the sun was obscured by cloud cover. This dampened spirits a bit, but they were soon revived when Dr. E.E. Barnard, who was in charge of the Yerkes observatory, observed a new star that night which he named “Nova Aquilae”, as reported by the Rock Springs Miner.[6]

1.  Big Horn Sentinel, December 29, 1888, page 3

2. Allen was only off by a year and New Year’s Day would have been a logical date for a community celebration. WPA Bio 9, Gus Allen, page 5-7

3. ibid.

4. Carbon County Journal January 5, 1889, page 3

5. Green River Star May 17, 1918 page 1, and  Cheyenne State Leader June 4, 1918, page 3

6. Rock Springs Miner June 14, 1918, page 1. Nova Aquilae 1918 is also known as V603 Aquilae. For more information about Dr. Barnard, the 1918 eclipse and Nova Aquilae, see The Immortal Fire Within: The Life and Work of Edward Emerson Barnard, by William Sheehan, page 405-407.

Further Reading:

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Creating Newly Minted Citizens in Sweetwater County

Sweetwater County boasts an amazing variety of ethnicities, thanks in large part to the abundance of coal mines in the area. Starting in 1867, with the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, young men from all over Europe and Asia flooded into the area seeking quick cash in the mines. They came from Austria, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Great Britain, China, Hungary, France, and elsewhere. Some of these young men saw potential in these mining communities and decided to stay and build their lives in the area. For many, this included gaining citizenship.

Certificate of Citizenship issued in Sweetwater County to Romedio Anselmi, 1900.  (WSA, Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

Certificate of Citizenship issued in Sweetwater County to Romedio Anselmi, 1900.
(WSA, Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

During the heyday of immigration to Sweetwater County, the naturalization process was organized by the Department of Labor but actually carried out by the counties, which means that many of the naturalization records are filed at the county level rather than the national level. In Sweetwater County, this meant that the district court retained the letters of intent, petitions and citizenship oaths between approximately 1900 and 1930. These records were eventually transferred  to the Wyoming State Archives for permanent storage.

The process to gain citizenship was simple, if lengthy. The first step was to file a Declaration of Intent, which many immigrants filed almost immediately upon stepping foot in America. After 5 years of continued residency, they could apply to their county of residence for naturalization. As proof, they were required to produce 2 character witnesses, each of whom was interviewed and their answers documented on a form. Once all of the information and documentation was verified, they could be granted citizenship, renouncing all allegiance to their former homes and gaining all of the rights and privileges of a US citizen.

Sweetwater Naturalizations, CO certificate of intent

Some of the Declaration of Intention certificates include beautiful artwork. This one is from Arapahoe County,  Colorado.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

Sweetwater Naturalizations, John Berchiero, Declaration of Intention from Will Co, IL 1892

An example of a Declaration of Intention certificate from Will County, Illinois.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

The naturalization files provide a fascinating peek into the lives of those immigrants who were applying for citizenship. The records show immigrants from Austria, Finland, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Greece, Russia, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, France and Spain.  Most of these men were miners or railroad workers, but  others worked as barkeeps, shoemakers, hotel owners, and even a Catholic priest. The Fact for Petition of Naturalization forms provide wonderful biographical information, including when and where they were born, where and how they arrived in the country, their present occupation, family members, and if they were sponsored by anyone.

The Facts for Petition of Naturalization form for Angelo Signorelli states that he was from Italy and worked as a shoemaker in Rock Springs. He arrived by himself, but at some point must have sent for his wife and children as they are shown living in Rock Springs as well.

The Facts for Petition of Naturalization form for Angelo Signorelli states that he was  Italian and worked as a shoemaker in Rock Springs. He arrived by himself, but at some point must have sent for his wife and children as they are shown living in Rock Springs as well.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

Citizenship was a family affair. A man’s wife and minor children were also granted citizenship under his name. Matters could be complicated if the husband died after he filed his declaration but before he was granted citizenship. Once the requisite time had past, the widow would file her forms under her husbands’ name rather than her own. Their minor children would still be granted citizenship under their parents.

Sweetwater Naturalizations, Mrs William Preece, English widowed housewife, facts for Petition 2pg

According to her Facts for Application for Naturalization form, Mrs William Preece was widowed before her husband was granted citizenship, which meant that she had to apply under her husbands name in order for the names on the paperwork to match.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

While minors (those under 21 years of age) could not become citizens on their own, they could file a declaration of intent at age 18 and for citizenship at age 21, if they met the 5 year residency requirement.

Every once in a while, new citizenship would be revoked, sometimes even after the person’s Certificate of Citizenship had been issued. According to the paperwork filed in Sweetwater County, in most, if not all, of these instances in the county were because the applicant had not met the necessary residency requirement.

Sweetwater Naturalizations, John Berchiero, Rules & Regs, revocation, Giovanni Corazzo

This letter gives the specific reasons Giovanni Corrazo’s naturalization was revoked.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

Sweetwater Naturalizations, cancelled citizenship certifs

Cancelled citizen certificates. In both of these cases, citizenship was revoked because officials found out that the applicant had not lived in the US long enough to qualify for citizenship.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)

The men who arrived at the mines were often sponsored by representatives of the mine. The sponsors would meet and escort the new recruits to Sweetwater County, help them find lodging and report for work. They often also acted as witnesses when the men applied for citizenship.

Sweetwater Naturalizations, Notice of Application for Admission to Citizenship

The same two men stood up as witnesses for nearly all of the applicants of this page. These two were probably employees at the mine. Since they would have seen the applicants at work on a regular basis, they were qualified to say whether the men had indeed met the residency requirement.
(WSA Sweetwater County District Court Naturalization Records)


Filed under WSA Collection Highlights