Give Them What They Want:
The Selling of Wyoming's Image Between the World Wars
By Rick Ewig
"Give them what they want" has been an often-used battle cry in Wyoming's effort to attract tourists during much of the 20th century. "Them" refers to the tourist who will come to Wyoming to spend his/her money. "What they want" is what the average tourist expects to see in Wyoming--the "Wild West," the "Old West," the "Romantic West," "Cowboys and Indians." One recent visitor to Cheyenne supported this concept when he wrote to the Wyoming State Tribune: "Give the tourists what they want: horses, hitching rails, dirt streets, board sidewalks, cowboys, a period hotel, setting and dress. This is at least the image of Wyoming one Midwesterner envisions.
After World War I Wyoming's tourism industry grew rapidly. Thousands of tourists were beginning to jump in their new automobiles and head West. Many of those who visited Wyoming at the time went to Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons, or other scenic areas. The image of Wyoming as the last frontier, the home of rugged, self-reliant types, became an important tool in the efforts of local communities to distract the Yellowstone-bound tourists for a little while. Many towns around the state used the romantic western image after World War I to attract the people looking for the frontier which had only recently been lost, but which they still wanted to see and experience.
The West's romantic image recently has come under scrutiny by the so-called "new" western historians. Richard White, in his new history of the West, calls the West "the most strongly imagined section of the United States." This perception of the West has become such a part of the region's identity that the West's history cannot be completely understood without studying this western myth. As White so aptly wrote: "So powerful is the influence of this imagined West that its fictional creations and personas become symbols of the west, and real westerners model themselves after fictional characters."
Wyoming certainly has identified itself with this western mythic image. It calls itself the "Cowboy State", claims to be what America once was, and asks tourists to come and "Live the Legend." Wyoming's self-image, however, and the elements which have been used to define it, what implications the image has to the status of the state's history today and what it portends for the future, have not been studied in any great detail. Peter Iverson, in a 1979 address to the Wyoming State Historical Society, asked if Wyoming is still the cowboy state, and Roy Jordan, in 1990, reflected on Wyoming's first one hundred years and asked for a more realistic reassessment. These are only beginnings, however.
The tourist has been a part of the West since the 19th century. A small number of hunter-tourists came to hunt and explore the West, but it was not until the expansion of the railroad to the West did tourists, generally wealthy Easterners, come in any number. They usually visited dude ranches and resorts. By the early 1900s the automobile began to appear in the West. This new means of transportation, which promised an even larger tourist migration, needed good roads which states began to build in the 1910s. After World War I a number of factors combined which increased the West's and Wyoming's tourism industry. Wages and the amount of leisure time increased for the average American worker, allowing them to purchase automobiles and take them on vacations on the newly paved roads.
Wyoming communities set up auto camps to serve the needs of the new tourists, but the townspeople also wanted to keep the tourists a while longer, to detain them for a short time as they traveled to Yellowstone. An important part of this effort was the use of the "Old West" image, an image that was firmly established by 1920, just waiting to be exploited in the ever-competitive business of western tourism.
The Western image appeared during the 1800s. In the early years of the century, James Fenimore Cooper described his western hero in such books as The Last of the Mohicans. In 1860 the first dime novels appeared. Mostly set in the West, but written by Easterners, the books appealed to a mass audience and made heroes of the western fur trapper, scout, outlaws, soldiers, and later the cowboy, as well as such real-life personalities as Kit Carson, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, and especially Buffalo Bill Cody.
Cody, an actual frontiersman of the 1850s, 1860s, and 1870s, was one of the main western myth-makers. During the 1870s he traveled east during the winter months to act in plays which were more or less live versions of the dime novels. In 1883 he organized his Wild West show, which for many years toured the US and Europe, reenacting the rides of the Pony Express, Indian attacks on wagon trains, and trick shooting to the delight of thousands of spectators.
Bill Cody and his Wild West had become for millions of people the image, the truth, the essence of what the West had really been like, a place almost exclusively devoted to Indian fights, bronco-busting and fancy shooting. The sweat and grime of a real cattle drive, the miserable sod huts and privations of everyday life on the Plains, the true heroism of the emigrants, all these were shoved into the background.
In 1893 Buffalo Bill's Wild West show appeared at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago at the same time Frederick Jackson Turner presented his paper "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" to the American Historical Association also in Chicago. This is considered a high point of Cody's Wild West show. The commercial West has challenged the historic West ever since.
In his study of the frontier, Turner declared the frontier closed in 1890s, but a number of Easterners at the time kept it alive in the minds and hearts of many. Frederic Remington, a New Yorker, painted idealized scenes of the West, scenes he described as "the West of picturesque and stirring events." In 1902, Owen Wister published his famous Western novel, The Virginian, based in Wyoming, in which he created the basic model for the western novel and the typical western hero, the silent, independent, self-reliant cowboy, later seen in many novels and movies.
During the early part of the 20th century, the motion picture industry also hoped to capitalize on the popular image of the West. Filmmakers produced hundreds of short westerns during this time and by World War I began to create epic Westerns. Such actors as Tom Mix became stars and identified as the typical cowboys of the West, who often wore ten-gallon hats, brightly colored kerchiefs and shirts. The West they inhabited and the events they dramatized were based more upon dime novels and Wild West shows than the actual struggles of the settling of the American frontier.
As World War I ended the time was ripe for others to take advantage of the romanticized American West. More tourists were ready to head west, already with an idea of what the region had been and hoped still was. It was up to the creative Westerners to sell that image of their region to the tourists. This image may have been poorly defined, contradictory, fluid, but yet it seemed to sum up the American experience, to stand for freedom and all of the good qualities of the country. The western hero, by 1920 mainly identified with the cowboy, "was at once regional and universal, violent and gentle, boastful and modest, lawless and honorable, competitive and compassionate, savage and civilized." During the 1920s and 1930s many Wyoming communities sold this romantic version of the West to those passing through looking for excitement, thrills, a western experience, and wanting to visit the last of the "Old West," which apparently existed in many different places.
By the 1920s, the state realized that because of its lack of water, high winds, and lack of industry, Wyoming should turn its attention from attracting permanent settlers to that of drawing tourists. The Wyoming State Board of Immigration reported that in 1920, 100,000 tourist visited Wyoming. "If these tourists spent only $20 apiece in our state, a very conservative sum, the business derived is well worth fostering..." The board estimated that only two years later, 200,000 people had visited the state. A study of the tourist trade in Wyoming completed during the 1930s spoke to the value of "new money" resulting from tourism. "Few realize its value in new money income, with widely distributed benefits, amounting to many hundreds of millions of dollars annually." The report, which stated that most of the visitors were traveling to Yellowstone National Park, encouraged the citizens of Wyoming to seek tourists actively.
With these facts before us, would it not be a good business for the far-seeing citizens of Wyoming to act with greater solicitation toward tourists and the new money value of tourist travel; why not visualize this business from the same vantage point that a good merchant looks upon the trade of customers?
There is growing interest in practically every state in the Union in marking and preserving historical sites--people generally are interested in such things, and if we have something to sell the tourists, and we surely do have in Wyoming, is it not up to us to label it, put it out in front and turn on the spotlight so that the cash customers will see it?
During these decades, the state, through the Historical Landmarks Commission and the Department of Commerce and Industry, did its part to attract the tourist dollar. Much of this effort revolved around preserving some of the state's historic sites. The state purchased Fort Laramie, then turned it over the federal government for preservation. But the state also advertised Wyoming sometimes resorting to the use of western images to present its message.
During the governorship of Frank C. Emerson (1927-1931), the state published a booklet titled "Wyoming: Worth Knowing." Emerson, in his introduction to the booklet, described the
Wyoming of Yesterday,--a brief half century ago,--may be pictured as a territory struggling for recognition, a realm rich in Indian lore and frontier story; a land of sagebrush, coyote and cowboys, with vast expanse of plain and mountain area unexplored.
The booklet went on to describe the "Romantic History" of Wyoming, "which for more than three-quarters of a century was replete with tales of adventure as thrilling as any that have been written about American and its courageous frontiersman." These included those who crossed the Oregon Trail, Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express riders, and those who fought for suffrage in Wyoming. 
The Department of Commerce and Industry sponsored a tourism conference in Casper during April 1941. L. L. Newton, publisher of the Wyoming State Journal, a Lander newspaper, said that western atmosphere was the main attraction to the tourists.
Newton pointed out that when a man comes "out west" for a vacation he expects to see the things which he associates with the west--Levi pants, ten-gallon hats, rustic furnishings and decorations and all the other paraphernalia made popular by the movies and pulp magazines. He pointed out also that the use of the silver dollar rather that paper bills was typically western and should be cultivated as such. "It wouldn't even," he declared, "to have a few horses running up and down the street."
Generally, however the state promoted the state's scenery and historic sites. It was the local communities and events which heavily used the image of the "Old West" to divert people from their travels to and from Yellowstone.
The elements which comprised the selling of Wyoming's romantic image were many. The most often used device was what could be termed an historical pageant. This often included a rodeo and a parade, although sometimes there was just one or the other. The greatest example of this, and the one which delights in calling itself "The Daddy of Em All," is Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Cheyenne's Frontier Days began selling the Old West in 1897. As a number of Cheyenne businessmen returned from Greeley, Colorado's "Potato Day" celebration that summer, they wondered why Cheyenne could not have a similar show for their community. It was Col. E. A. Slack apparently who thought of the idea of Frontier Days. He said:
Let us get up an old times day of some sort, we will call it "Frontier Day." We will get all the old timers together, have the remnant of the cow punchers come in with a bunch of wild horses, get out the old stage coaches, and some Indians, etc., and we will have a lively time of it!
The Wyoming Tribune in a preview of the event reported the show would "include everything characteristic of frontier life except a hanging bee."
Cheyenne had started as a Union Pacific railroad town in 1867, but by the 1880s, much of its wealth was from cattle. The appropriate symbol of Cheyenne at this point, however, was not the cowboy, but the wealthy cattle rancher or absentee cattle rancher, oftentimes from a foreign country. The image of the transient, low-paid cowboy would not be revised and elevated to heroic proportions until such celebrations like Frontier Days were held.
Cheyenne's Frontier Days started small and it was not until after World War I that, according to its chronicler, Robert Hanesworth, it finally reached manhood and then in 1926, maturity. The celebration, which seemed to owe much to Buffalo Bill's Wild West show, by 1920 claimed to be "The Greatest Frontier Celebration on Earth." It had the "Biggest Show, More Indians, Better Program," and was the show which "Made the Cowboy Famous," a heady claim. Two years later it claimed "More Cowboys, Cow Girls, Indians, Wild Horses, Steers and Thrilling Feats of Horsemanship Than Seen In All Other Shows." The 1922 show also was filmed for advertising purposes. The advertisement for the film stated that "If you have not seen 'Frontier Days' you have not seen Wyoming."
The picture begins with scenes of the early west, showing the buffalo and other plains animals, then leads up to the days when the ranges swarmed with cattle. The Frontier Days is presented as a revivification of the old days with the veterans of the plains in the grandstand and their grandchildren in the arena.
As the show continued, Frontier Days continued to expand on the western image in its advertising. The 1924 program boasted:
Frontier Days is the oldest, the biggest, the best of 'wild west' festivals. If you haven't seen it, you haven't seen America.
Wild horses, wild riders, wild steers, wild ropers, wild Indians--wild excitement. Thrills. You'll realize when you see Frontier Days that never before had you really been thrilled.
Cheyenne Frontier Days--at Cheyenne--presents your only opportunity to see the West as it was, and the West as it was, was sure worth seeing.
The program ended with a declaration that it is "A Truthful Presentation of Pioneer Days." A year later mentions of the "virile characters of the Western frontier" were added to the advertisements. Of course, "the Frontier committee suggested that Cheyenneites 'dress up' in 'cowboy togs' at the time of the celebration and so provide the 'western atmosphere' which visitors anticipate." By this time some described Frontier Days as "a Wyoming institution, a powerful influence in making men mindful of the meaning of 'Winning the West', in keeping alive the spirit and traditions of this country." During the 1930s a typical show contained not only all of the roping and dogging one could handle, but also "Cowgirls Relay Race, Indian Buck Race, Cowgirls Cowpony Race, Indian Squaw Race, and Indian War Dances."
Frontier Days added another showpiece, the parade, in 1926. This spectacle was described as a 'pageant of western transportation," and was a popular event. It had "an appeal more romantic than that of the wild west sports."
Western rodeos at the time were numerous and the competition for the tourist dollar intense. During the mid-1920s, when Chicago also presented "a revival of early Western days," a Wyoming newspaper chided the midwestern city: "and here you come along and 'tout' yourself as 'the roundup and rodeo capital of the country.' Naturally the query, 'How do you get that way!'" Other Wyoming towns also held rodeos, some called Frontier Days, but the backers of Cheyenne's celebrations declared "some fairly good, others miserably bad," but, of course, they could not compare to Cheyenne's. "Some of these imitations are called Wild West shows, Roundups, Rodeos, Stampedes and the like, but not one of them compares with Cheyenne's Frontier Days, 'The Daddy of Them All.'"
Another pageant of the Old West was the Cody Stampede, perhaps even referred to in the aforementioned quotation. This show started in 1903 as a Fourth of July celebration. In 1920, however, Cody changed its name to the Cody Stampede. For the first time, an advertising effort was made to draw "Dudes" and "professional riders." Cody had an advantage in that it was located at the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. During the 1920s most of the park's tourists either entered or departed the park through Cody. Another advantage for Cody was its namesake, Buffalo Bill. He might have started the town with hopes of beginning an agricultural community, efforts in which he failed, but because of its heroic name the wild west spirit of the 1870s and 1880s was there nonetheless, even though the town did not begin until the 1890s. The Stampede advertised itself as "A Truly Western Celebration."
The Cody Stampede included a rodeo, a parade, and a replica of a wild and woolly frontier town. During the 1920s Cody advertised the show as "The Last and Best of the Old West." A 1927 Stampede program described it like this:
The Cody Stampede is a unique and vivid spectacle. For three days the wide main street is a surging mass of life and color; cowboys in chaps and gay shirts and handkerchiefs, riding their top geldings; cowgirls in Stetson hats and fringed gauntlets; Indians in their bright blankets astride their medicine horse--the whole making an unforgettable picture.
It is here, at these wild west celebrations, that the lives of the cowboys and Indians have become so intertwined, not on the actual frontier, where there was relatively little contact between the two groups. In 1932 you also would have seen "Injuns, cowboys, cowgirls, with dudes and dudines galore."
Cody's frontier town was Wolfville. During the celebration tourists and townspeople "whooped and shouted, fired off their blank cartridges, danced and gambled their phony money..." Of course, this was all in good fun. "It has been a long while since so much of the old time western spirit--friendly, exuberant and never offensive--has been in evidence."
Some of the people in Cody took their western image seriously. When a group of United States Congressmen visited Yellowstone in 1923, they received a "Wild West reception" upon leaving the park and entering Cody. "The members were greeted by a fusillade of blank cartridges and cowboy whoops at the Burlington Inn..."
During the tourist season, and especially during Stampede days, articles in the Cody Enterprise stressed the importance of wearing western clothes. "Get on the red shirt and top boots and help put 'er on Wild." "On June 1st the localities will be urged to don their eight-gallon hats and buckskin vests and 'go western' for the summer." This added to "creating the proper atmosphere" for the town sometimes billed as "The Old West at its best." Apparently, not everyone helped created the appropriate setting because articles in the local newspaper attempted to persuade the townspeople "...and this year those who don't come out in real western style won't find an open gate when the [sic] reach the grounds." This also could take the form of poetry:
If you belong to Cody
Wear your ten-gallon hat;
If you belong to Cody,
Why don't you sport your gat?
If you belong to Cody
Give your trimmings a chance,
And wear your boots and kerchief
To the Wolfville dance.
A local business, the Dave Jones Store, which specialized in western wear, naturally supported the wearing of the standard western uniform in its advertisements. "Be a Big Shot at the Stampede. Wear Justin Boots, Stetson Hats, shirts loud enough to scream, gay colored neckerchiefs, fringed vests and jackets."
The town of Cody also used the image of Buffalo Bill Cody to create a western image. On July 4, 1924, during the Stampede, the Buffalo Bill American Association, whose purpose it was "to keep alive the spirit of the American pioneer," dedicated the Buffalo Bill statue, which still can be seen. Sculpted by Gertrude Vanderbilt, a New York socialite, and cast in Brooklyn, New York, the statue received the "award of honor" from the French government. New York and European art critics praised the work. Exhibited briefly in New York's Central Park, the memorial traveled to Wyoming on a train and then placed on its base designed by New York architect Albert R. Ross. It was hailed as a symbol of the settling of the West and Buffalo Bill who played such an important role in that heroic endeavor.
Many other Wyoming communities staged Wild West celebrations during these two decades. Most took the form of rodeos, although some included other events as well. In 1923 Rawlins held its rodeo which was "Wild as the wildest, wooly as the wooliest." Devils Tower hosted a rodeo every July 4, "A Western rodeo 'out where the West IS.'" Lusk had Roundup Days, Jackson's Hole had its Frontier Days celebration where one experienced "Big hats, red shirts, chaps, hearty hand shakes, sincere smiles, real men and women, the last of the old west and the best grub in the whole danged country"; Shoshoni had a rodeo; Story held a three-day "Wild West Rodeo", Gillette "wanted everyone to come and participate in a real western show and roundup in a review of the passing of the west"; Moorcroft staged a "Frontier Days celebration"; Belle Fourche, South Dakota also had a "Wild West" celebration; Sheridan had a parade and rodeo; and Encampment and Dubois both had rodeos. Even Thermopolis, at the dedication of the opening of the Wind River Canyon road in 1934, put on a rodeo and Wild West show. A newspaper writer for the Pinedale Roundup took pride in the fact that cowboys who participated in that city's 1929 rodeo were "home grown." There was not a "single 'Montgomery Ward cowboy' in the lot."
Casper held its first annual Stampede in 1920, which was billed as a "Big Frontier Show." Early on, the show experienced financial difficulties, but by the late 1930s, the city staged a parade called a "Pageant of the West," which included people dressed as fur trappers, Indian scouts, covered wagon pioneers, and many others. "Just the word 'Wyoming' alone spells romance, and romance--the romance of Wyoming's colorful pioneer past--will be reviewed by the elaborate, remarkable Wyoming On Parade pageant the afternoon of August 16." During the summer of 1941, the Casper Jaycee Board of Directors started a "go western" movement. Casper Mayor I. J. Frank Cowan supported the idea and issued a "Go Western Proclamation"
...that our citizens wear western regalia, a 10-gallon hat if possible, a bright kerchief, a brilliant shirt--any distinctive 'western touch' will serve the purpose; the erection of hitching posts in front of the old post office and in front of the new county-city hall, to hitch suitable horses; for citizens of Casper to hail tourist cars and give a rousing western goodwill greeting to the tourist visitors...
During July 1924, for the third year, Buffalo created a "dramatic reproduction of life in the West in the early days." At the HF Bar Ranch near Buffalo, the American Legion and Spanish War Veterans created the main street of the fictional town of Bad Man's Gulch as it would have appeared in 1876. It was a "reproduction of the good old days in the early west," a time when
western men were red-blooded he-men and could take their likker straight without so much as the echo of a federal agent's hoof beats in the offing, and if you happened to covet your neighbors wife, she had long hair by which you could drag her to your dug-out without consent of clergy. And if a man got in your way, bang! And you were fortunate enough to be the quickest, he was buried with his boots on in the little cemetery in the willows. That's the idea! A time that men look back upon, some of them, and smack their lips, "Ah boys, them were the days."
The proceeds from the reenactment went to assist the construction of a community building in Buffalo, which was to house a gymnasium, swimming pool and auditorium.
Lander had its Pioneer Days celebration. Included were a parade and rodeo. It was "the oldest, the wildest, the woolliest wild west show in the world." This show did originate in 1896, one year before Cheyenne's Frontier Days. The parade depicted a western dance-hall scene, the capture of Big Nose George Parrott, Butch Cassidy and his gang, Cattle Kate and Jim Averill, and many others. The newspaper encouraged Landerites to "doll up." The standard dress was "Bright shirts, overalls, ten-gallon hats and boots and spurs."
The coal-mining town of Rock Springs held a rodeo as part of its Labor Day celebration. In 1930, "for two big days royalty of the old west had held the center of the stage,..." The local newspaper thanked the Guy T. Rife Rodeo association for "putting on the best exhibition that the wildest, toughest, onriest, horseflesh of the west could provide." Rock Springs never was a cowboy or ranching town. It started in 1868 as a mining community. The Union Pacific Railroad needed coal, and Rock Springs provided some of it. By 1930 it still was a mining town. Yet, it was Rock Springs' organized labor which celebrated its own national holiday by staging a rodeo, the typical western way to celebrate.
The depiction of the Indian was an other important element in the portrayal of the western image to tourists of the 1920s and 1930s. Tourists visiting Wyoming and the local townspeople were interested in the Native Americans' ways of life. Cheyenne Frontier Days used Indians in the Wild West show, in "Buck" and "Squaw" races, set up an Indian village on the grounds which tourists could visit, and in the parades. In one parade, visitors to Cheyenne saw
a long sting of braves, riding single file, with full war regalia. Their faces were long and somber, and their low voiced chants bore only a suggestion of the war whoop that once curdled the blood of the bravest and hardiest pioneer.
Oftentimes the larger shows would contract with different tribes. Cheyenne's Wild West show contracted with Sioux Indians from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. During the summer of 1937, 52 Sioux Indians visited cities in northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska advertising Frontier Days. Cheyenne was proud of the fact that it was the only city which could produce such a large number of Indians who played an important role in the show.
These Indians spend the greater part of their time making new costumes to be used at the next annual Frontier Days Show and feel highly honored by having the privilege of getting off the reservation for the show and giving their war dances for white people. They have some very fine horses and you will note that the bucks, as well as the squaws participate in many races on the tract for the benefit of spectators. Purses are offered to stimulate interest, and as the Indians do not posses much money, competition is very keen.
Some communities found other ways to take advantage of the drawing power of Native Americans. "Braves from the Cheyenne reservation" set up an Indian village in northern Sheridan during the summer of 1940. "Homefolks and tourists alike" visited the village and watched the nightly war dances. This was an attempt to "hold the tourist throng." Cheyenne also had an Indian teepee village for a tourist attraction that summer.
Lander, by the middle 1930s, realized Indians from the Wind River Reservation were important to Pioneer Days. That year, the tribes set up an Indian village at the east end of Lander's main street. About 1,500 Indians participated in the pageant's parade, and six "Indian girls" competed in a beauty contest for "the honor of being Queen of the show." Pioneer Days promoters thought the large number of Indians would make the show of national interest.
The promotional literature for Lander encouraged tourists to visit the reservation. Not only could they see the grave of Sacajawea, the Shoshone who guided Lewis and Clark on their expedition, but they also could view the Indian way of life.
You can see the advance of the Redman from the teepee to the log house of greater comfort, from the wild life of game trail and war path to the more humble pursuit of the farm. Their schools, the missions, the Agency, the stores, their cemeteries are all of interest and you may spend several days among them without time lagging on your hands.
Entire cultures were put on exhibit to draw the tourist dollar. Apparently, the Indian dances also were tourist draws. "Other dances are always of interest and their customs and manners an interesting study. The influence of the white man has affected their religion as well as their ways of living, but they are always Indians and as such claim the attention of many."
When Cheyenne's Frontier Days attempted to contract with Shoshone and Arapaho Indians from the reservation in 1935, Lander reacted vehemently. Cody's Stampede Days had used some of them already, but an editorial in the Wyoming State Journal saw these attempts as raids on Pioneer Days' "local resource." "We have often said that we do not realize the resource Lander has in utilizing the local Indians in our shows and their acting can be employed to bring thousands of visitors to Lander to see them." The writer saw the Indians as a "magnet" for tourists and something which could be depleted. "Here is a resource that needs more conservation than forests and wild life. The Indian resource ill not last long unless the streams of blood run pure."
The state of Wyoming also used the Indian image to draw tourists. The 1937 Wyoming Highway Map included photographs of Indians and cowboys. A year later, the state's Department of Commerce and Industry produced the "Paintbrush Map of Wyoming." It is a map which certainly promoted the Old West image of the state, although it also mentions the Salt Creek oil field and the transcontinental airline of its day. Some of the main features of the map are Indians who are represented as painting the map. These figures, however, are unflattering caricatures and appear to be creating the civilization which crowded them onto a reservation and destroyed their culture.
Besides supporting the "dress western" idea and publicizing the local wild west events, newspapers found another way to project the western image. They printed stories about the "Old West." This took two forms, the first being reminiscences of local pioneers, the second, heroic tales of the standard western heroes like Wild Bill Hickok.
The pioneer stories are the more interesting. The Wyoming State Journal in Lander especially used these recollections. Ernest Hornecker dominated the Feb. 28, 1928, issue in which he told "of Stirring Events in Lander when Early Day Settlers Fought Indians." Accounts like Hornecker's might discuss the early town, some inhabitants of the community, first occupations, but they always seemed to include famous Western personas for violence. Headings in Hornecker's tale include "Camped at Riverton," "Began Farming," but also "Wagon Hammer Murder," "Accursed Selling Whiskey," "Women Massacred," and "Visit Chief Washakie." The Journal published other articles with such titles as "Indians Murdered Early Freighters Along Sweetwater" and "Early Days on the Shoshone Reservation will be described by Pioneer E. A. Carter," a serial.
The Lusk Herald, in its Golden Jubilee Edition published in 1936, included such accounts as "George Lathrop, Colorful State Coach Driver on Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage Line Played an Important Role in Western History" and "The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage Line, Its Fearless Drivers and Messengers Did Their Part in Opening up the West, the Cold Springs Robbery and Other Narratives." These narratives preserved a portion of the community's history, but they usually recalled events of 40 or 50 years earlier, and did tend toward the exciting events.
Sometimes a local story would be combined with the tale of a well-known western figure. The Cody Enterprise published the reminiscences of a former Cody resident who had just returned from Argentina. He recited the Argentine exploits of one of Wyoming's most famous outlaws, Butch Cassidy. This was 1923 and Butch had long since been killed in (or escaped from) a shootout, but the engineer happily recounted the stories he had heard. Usually, though, the newspaper printed accounts of the heroic figures of the West. One could expect to read accounts of Wild Bill Hickok, Sacajawea, Big Nose George Parrott, George Custer, and, of course, Buffalo Bill.
National advertising of the wild west image, especially of a visual nature, helped Wyoming draw the tourist dollar during the 1920s and 1930s. One of the main practitioners of this was Charles Belden, a noted western photographer, who also managed the Pitchfork Ranch near Meeteetse.
Born in California, but reared in the East, Belden understood the national appeal of the western image and believed the romance of the West could be enhanced through photographs. Many of his photographs captured the harsh ranch life of Wyoming, but Belden added romantic, idealized accounts of cowboys which he knew would sell in other parts of the country. Some consider that his "romantic prose and realistic photography worked together to secure his name and his work an important place as a chronicler of western history."
Not only did Belden promote the western image of Wyoming, he also promoted himself. In 1922 he took over management of the Pitchfork and through his efforts, the ranch became "one of the best known dude ranches in Wyoming." Stetson sold a hat they called "The Belden." He pitched Camel cigarettes. In the July 27, 1936, issue of the New York Daily Mirror, columnist Stookie Allen described him as "probably the only cowboy in America that owns real estate in New York City--he owns an apartment house on Fifth Ave!--The wealthiest cowboy in the U. S. !"
If Belden could not capture an image he envisioned because of poor lighting or some other reason, he sometimes staged them or used special darkroom techniques to do so. His famous photograph of a coyote howling in front of a gravestone at night used a coyote trained to howl. To capture the "Sheepherder in Moonlight" and "Bellowing Bull," he combined the two dominant images, the sheepherder and the moon and the bull and the background of mountains. After Belden left Wyoming and the West, he settled in Florida where he captured bathing beauties on film instead of cowboys.
Wyoming used the Wild West image during the years between the world wars to draw tourists to the cowboy state. State government, although it undertook an effort to preserve some of Wyoming's important historic sites such as the Oregon Trail and Fort Laramie, sometimes promoted the romanticized West to willing tourists. However, it was the local communities which continuously created the "western atmosphere" supposedly required for the tourists. Towns held wild west shows and rodeos, and paraded, to the delight of many, famous and not so famous western pioneers through downtown streets. Newspapers heralded the exploits of famous and local personalities. Advertisers used images from artists like Belden, enhancing the romantic West through vivid images and idealized narrative.
In many respects, the selling of the Wild West to tourists during this time was tremendously positive. These years were hard ones across the state. Many, if not all, of the sectors of the economy were depressed. The efforts to bring tourist to the state brought in much-needed tourist dollars. The rodeos and parades were community events which instilled community pride and provided a common identity. By such local efforts towns provided a positive experience to vacationers who wanted to spend a little time in what they perceived as the wild west.
Nonetheless, while many of the results of Wyoming's selling of a romantic, idealized, last of the old west experience may have been positive, there are other considerations. The linking of the western myth with history, although not begun after World War I, certainly was strengthened during this time. The influx of more and more tourists and the desire to attract them brought about a greater reliance on the western myth. Grace Hebard's map, "The History and Romance of Wyoming," published first in 1926 and reprinted in 1936, illustrates the fact that history and myth were so intertwined some could not, or did not want to, tell them apart. It created an atmosphere in which the cultural insensitivity of an earlier age continued. People of the era believed the potential of tourist dollars was substantial if the communities used the appropriate western frontier image. This belief, a common one, implies history is only useful if it can draw tourists with their wallets and purses opened.
The image sold to post-World War I tourists was false. It was created though dime novels, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and the movies. The fact that so many Wyoming towns encouraged their citizenry to "dress western" in order to create the proper "western atmosphere" illustrates that the western image did not exist in the towns. The townspeople fabricated it because that is what the tourists expected. Therefore, the tourists, albeit indirectly, determined what Wyoming's history would be and how it would be portrayed, an example of the type of colonialism which can be termed "cultural colonialism." It is a more subtle brand of colonialism than the economic kind seen throughout the state's history, but colonialism nevertheless. History was only a profit-making venture, not something to understand how it affects the present and might lead into the future. This belief continues. In 1988 the leader of the "Cheyenne Gunslingers," a group which on most summer days creates violence from the past for the entertainment of Cheyenne visitors, stated: "People come here to see cowboys and Indians. Of course if we dressed like the authentic cowboys, we'd look like farmers...so we give them what they want."
See Peter Iverson, "Wyoming: Still the Cowboy state?" Annals of Wyoming 51 (Fall 1979), pp. 4-7; and Roy Jordan, "Wyoming: A New Centennial Reflection," Annals of Wyoming 62 (Fall 1990), pp. 114-130.
Earl Pomeroy, In Search of the Golden West: The Tourist in Western America. (New York: Knopf, 1957), pp. 74-82; Michael P. Malone and Richard W. Etulain, The American West: A Twentieth Century History. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989), pp. 42-44; T. A. Larson, History of Wyoming, 2nd ed., rev. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978), pp. 423-425.
Ann Fabian, "History for the Masses: Commercializing the Western Past," in William Cronon, George Miles, and Jay Gitlin, eds., Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America's Western Past. (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1992), pp. 223-238.
Second Biennial Report of the Wyoming State Board of Immigration, 1919-1920, p. 10, Department of Agriculture-Immigration, Wyoming State Archives (WSA), Dept. of Commerce, Cheyenne; and Third Biennial Report of the Wyoming State Board of Immigration, 1921-1923, p. 16, WSA.
"New Money: A Study of the Commercial Value of Tourist Travel and of Recreational Industries," Vertical File "Tourism," Historical Research and Publications Division, Department of Commerce, Cheyenne.
Warren Richardson, "Early History of Frontier Days," Works Progress Administration (WPA) file 50, Historical Research and Publications. See also Robert D. Hanesworth, "History of Cheyenne Frontier Days," Annals of Wyoming 12 (July 1940), pp. 199-212; and Robert D. (Bob) Hanesworth, Daddy of 'Em All: The Story of Cheyenne Frontier Days. (Cheyenne: Flintlock Publishing, 1967).
Cody Enterprise, June 29, 1932, p. 2; Cody Enterprise, May 1, 1935; Cody Enterprise, June 29, 1932, p. 1. The poem, titled "If You Belong," is found in the Cody Enterprise, June 29, 1932, p. 1. The last verse reads "The Stampede's going to need you. Why don't you do your part? And help put the big show over Right from the very start." It was written by Mary Frost. Dave Jones ad is in the Cody Enterprise, June 22, 1932, p. 10.
"New Pioneers for New Frontiers," Buffalo Bill American Association, in "Col. William F. Cody" vertical file no. 1, Historical Research and Publications; Christian Science Monitor, July 5, 1924, clipping also in Col. William F. Cody" vertical file no. 1, HR&P; Cody Enterprise, June 11, 18, and July 9, 1924; and "From Cody to the World: The First Seventy-Five Years of the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association," in "Col. William F. Cody" vertical file, HR&P.
Cody Enterprise, July 4, 1923, p. 6; WPA subject file 1271, HR&P; Casper Tribune-Herald, Aug. 15, 1937, p. 6; Jackson's Hole Courier, Aug. 25, 1921, p. 1; Wyoming State Journal, June 6, 1935; Buffalo Voice, June 27, 1924, p. 5; Campbell County Record, June 16, 1921, p. 1; Campbell County Record, Sept. 16, 1920, p. 7; Campbell County Record, July 15, 1920, p. 1; Casper Tribune-Herald, July 15, 1937, p. 9; Casper Tribune-Herald, Aug. 1, 1940, p. 6; Casper Tribune-Herald, Aug. 8, 1940, p. 5; Cody Enterprise, May 21, 1934, p. 1; and Pinedale Roundup, Sept. 19, 1929, p. 1.
For a discussion of the Sacajawea controversy, see Blanch Schroer, "Boat-Pusher or Bird Woman? Sacagawea or Sacajawea," Annals of Wyoming 52 (Spring 1980), pp. 46-54. Promotional brochure, "Lander Wyoming-Where Rails End and Trails Begin," ca. 1934, in "Lander, Wyoming" vertical file, HR&P.