New History of Wyoming

Chapter 12: Into the 20th Century

Growth in the North: Wyoming, 1885-1910

The Union Pacific Railroad "created" southern Wyoming, but in the last two decades of the 19th century, others railroads were built in Wyoming that led to establishment of numerous other Wyoming towns. Two of these lines, the Chicago and Northwestern (C&NW) and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy (CB&Q) were major national railroads controlled by directors in board rooms of the East.

The first rail line to enter central Wyoming was originally named the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley (later, Fremont, Elkhorn and Pacific). In the middle 1880s, the road built west from the Nebraska line, bringing about the creation of Lusk, Douglas, Glenrock, and Casper, along with other smaller railroad stops. Lusk and Douglas became important livestock shipping points for the line. Casper, established partially on CY Ranch lands on the site of long-abandoned Fort Caspar, started as a wool-shipping center.

The C&NW aspired to connections to the West Coast, planning to build west from Casper and, eventually, all the way to the Pacific. After the national economic depression of the early 1890s, the railroad eventually built west from Casper and, in the pre-World War I years, managed to build tracks through Wind River Canyon, connecting with a line built south through the Big Horn Basin. Several towns grew once rails connected them to the rest of the world. The rail line promoted the growth of Worland, formed by the Hanover Canal Company as an irrigation project center. Greybull and Thermopolis also profited from the rails being laid to the towns.

The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy built into northeastern Wyoming a few years after the C&NW entered from Nebraska. The CB&Q made it possible for the coal fields near Newcastle (and the coal camp of Cambria) to prosper. Later, the line established rail depots around which the towns of Gillette and Moorcroft grew. (At a time when the massive coal beds around Gillette were judged to be unsuitable due to its low quality, both towns were livestock shipping centers Coal was not exploited there until the 1920s)

Rail construction through Sheridan County contributed to Sheridan’s growth as well as a burst of prosperity from the mines nearby. By the first decade of the 20th century, coal company towns of Acme, Kleenburn, Kooi and Monarch flourished.

Unlike many states, at no time in the state's history were the majority of the Wyoming populace engaged in agriculture-related employment. According to the U. S. Census, almost one in three Wyomingites in 1900 worked in agriculture (30.3 percent), but the percentage was lower than in the rest of the United States (35.6 percent). The number included ranchers, farmers and those employed in associated industries such as stockyards and grain elevators. Agricultural employment did rise slightly in the first two decades of the 20th century, but never reached half of the total employment in the state.  Farmers from Midwestern states were lured into homesteading on lands near the railroads, contributing to the growth of population in Goshen, Niobrara, Weston and Crook counties. Torrington, like neighboring Wheatland, came into existence because of the potential for farming. Irrigation projects propelled their development and, until late in the 20th century, both were primarily agricultural centers.

Mormon colonies irrigated croplands in the northeast Big Horn Basin. Church adherents established the Big Horn Basin towns of Cowley, Byron; Lovell, and built the Sidon Canal. Mormons also settled the Star Valley, founding the towns of Afton and Thayne. They also moved in large numbers to the Bridger Valley, forming such towns as Lyman.

Other religious groups started colonies in Wyoming although none as successfully as the Mormons. Jewish farmers started communities near present-day Huntley and at Irma Flats near Cody; a Congregational Church group from Ohio founded Jireh and even built a four-year college there.

Several towns were formed during the period as a result of irrigation projects. Examples include Shoshoni, Pavillion, Crowheart, and Riverton, all established when the Wind River Indian Reservation was diminished by federal order. (The drawing for town lots was held in Riverton on Aug. 15, 1906). Powell, named for John Wesley Powell who never visited the town named for him having died before the town was founded, was laid out as a result of the irrigation potential from the Shoshone project. Proposed irrigation projects started new towns of Eden and Farson; and spurred growth in existing towns of Guernsey, Glendo, and Casper.

Tourism was reserved only for the wealthy in the 19th century because travel by rail to national parks and other scenic areas then coach tours of the places were expensive. That all changed with the coming of automobiles as the 20th century dawned.

Tourism increased in importance, aided by Theodore Roosevelt’s designation of Devils Tower as the first national monument in the United States. Automobiles brought more visitors to the state, even though they were banned in Yellowstone National Park until 1915. Dude ranching, first started by the Eaton brothers who ranched near Wolf, Wyoming, became an important component in the tourism industry after World War I.

Edward Gillette Describes How Gillette Was Named

At the head of Donkey creek a contractor had been let a mile of work for the purpose of holding that pass against any opposition. We camped close to where the contractor was located, and were astonished to note what little effect his horses had made in grazing, as the grass was knee high and thick enough to cut for hay. Thousands of buffalo had been killed in this vicinity, and men were piling up the bones to be shipped later on the railroad. These piles of bones looked like tents in the distance and were numerous.

We ran the preliminary line through Stone Pile draw, joining the located line on Wild Horse creek at the mouth of Hay creek. This line proved to be five miles shorter, a saving of 30 bridges and some grading. It was adopted as the final location, much to the consternation of the contractor who wanted to know what was the use of his grading the mile he was on if we did not use it. We told him he would get paid for all the work he did and and to keep on until word was received from the company.

The saving made by this new line was so great that we had some curiosity as to the action of the company. The raise in pay previously made, excited new sensations, and we wondered if our pay check would be further increased. In due course of time a letter came from the Chief Engineer stating that higher officials than himself appreciated the good work we were doing and he was glad to inform me that the company had decided this time to name a town after me. ....

Gillette was a live town from the start. The cowboys and followers of the railroad saw to that, like many a frontier town in the West, until finally it settled down to an orderly development and is now one of the best county seats on the railroad, in which the state takes much pride. It commands the trade of a large section of country. Its stock raising, farming and coal resources, with the probability of oil fields adjacent, will, no doubt, cause the town to have a considerable growth in the future. The elevation of Gillette is 4546 and track was laid into the town on August 12, 1891.

--Edward Gillette, Locating the Iron Trail (Boston: Christopher Publishing House, 1925), pp. 74-76.

Lovejoy’s Toy: Wyoming’s First Car

The automobile age arrived in Wyoming almost unnoticed. While the Spanish American War dominated headlines and editorial pages, Elmer Lovejoy was building Wyoming’s first car in his Laramie bicycle shop during the winter of 1897-98.

Lovejoy, owner of a bicycle and novelty company, was occasionally mentioned in the "personals" of the Laramie newspapers during the period.

He apparently began work on his car during December 1897. The Laramie Boomerang on Dec. 17, 1897, reported that: "Elmer Lovejoy is doing but little on his horseless carriage. He is waiting to get the wheels. He will have inch and three-quarters solid rubber tires on the wheels. He is afraid the pneumatic tire would not be practical." (A look at the unpaved, rough Laramie streets that year would seem to bear out Lovejoy’s initial decision).

Lovejoy’s project continued to be mentioned from time to time in newspapers over the next three months. In February 1898, the newspaper reported that he was "putting in full-time on his horseless carriage." Two weeks later it was reported that "W. H. Holliday Company is thinking of having Elmer Lovejoy build them a horseless carriage for delivering goods." (Others were less farsighted about the practicality of Lovejoy’s "toy." One observer noted that "the machine was regarded as an interesting toy by the townsfolk.")

On Washington’s Birthday, 1898, Lovejoy reportedly told a Boomerang reporter that he expected to have his "horseless carriage ready for operation by May 1." He was awaiting the arrival of the one-cylinder, two-cycle marine engine.

On May 4, 1898, the Boomerang reported: "Elmer Lovejoy, who has received his engine for his horseless carriage, is now hard at work completing the vehicle." The first test drive was scheduled for Saturday, May 7, 1898.

Lovejoy had reconsidered his decision not to use pneumatic tires. For the test run, however, he decided to use iron tires because the pneumatic tires were expensive. He had them specially built by Morgan and Wright Bicycle Tire Company of Chicago and there "wasn’t a spare in the world."

The first car ride in Wyoming was not reported on the front page. The Spanish American War and the Battle of Manila Bay covered page one. Back on page three in the "This, That and the Other" column, the Lovejoy machine received one paragraph.

"Elmer Lovejoy exercised his horseless carriage Saturday night and Sunday. It was the first trial of the machine and was entirely satisfactory to Mr. Lovejoy. He learned by the test that it will be necessary for him to have pneumatic tires on the wheels. The carriage weighs 940 pounds and with the little iron buggy tires cut into the soft places so that progress was very slow. The pneumatic tires will be four inches wide and will make the vehicle run easier in addition to preventing it sinking into the soft places."

The news account added that "there were two speeds in use on the machine yesterday, one of five and one of ten miles per hour. When the machine was on good hard places it acquired a speed of ten or twelve miles per hour." It was noted that with the pneumatic tires, the "speed of fifteen miles per hour may be attained."

By summer Lovejoy’s machine was a common sight on Laramie streets, even though it was still considered a toy. The machine "wore out" after two years.

Lovejoy continued his interest in the automobile. In 1905, the year after he became a dealer for Franklin Motor Car Company, he invented the steering mechanism still used in today’s cars. Unable to raise the $350 needed to patent the idea, he traded his plan to the Locomobile company for $800 and one of their cars.

He published a travel guide for motorists and continued in the car business for many years. In 1917 he invented the automatic door opener and manufactured them for several years.

Lovejoy was born in Illinois in 1872 and came with his family to Laramie when he was twelve. He stayed in Laramie until 1953 when he moved to the West Coast. Wyoming’s pioneer motorist died in Santa Ana, California, in January 1960.