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UW Graduate’s Latest Book Aids Teaching on Wyoming Constitution

March 23, 2011
Mike Mackey

For years, Mike Mackey heard the same gripe from Steve Thulin, one of his former professors at Northwest College in Powell.

"He was always bemoaning the fact that there was nothing to use to teach the Wyoming Constitution," Mackey says with a smile.

So, Mackey did something about it.

The University of Wyoming graduate (B.A., 1992; M.A., '93) recently published his eighth book, "Meeting in Cheyenne: Wyoming's Constitutional Convention," a 232-page account of the 1889 gathering in which 49 delegates created Wyoming's state law.

The book provides a detailed background on the events of the convention, including recaps of key debates on subjects such as severance taxes, labor issues and water, and features a full version of the state constitution in the appendix.

Not surprisingly, Thulin applauds Mackey's writings. He says the book fills "an important research gap" by using "hitherto neglected records of the actual constitutional convention."

"It illustrates an important theme that I have endeavored to convey in my classes inasmuch as it documents the fact that the men who gathered in Cheyenne in 1889 to write the constitution were rather well-informed men of their day and equipped to incorporate what were, for their times, the most modern concepts and tools of government found elsewhere in the United States," says Thulin, who has taught U.S. and state history at Northwest College for some 20 years.

"All too often, I find that even Wyomingites tend to characterize their founders as men who plagiarized other state constitutions and to misunderstand that they were generally well-informed thinkers of their day," he says. "I can use Mike's book to reiterate in a Wyoming context what I teach in my course about national issues. And my students can see that Wyoming was, indeed, not so isolated from the main currents of political and social thought."

While working on the book, which he heavily researched at UW's American Heritage Center and the Wyoming State Archives in Cheyenne, Mackey says he was struck by how the problems of yesteryear remain the problems of today.

"It really is surprising how little things have changed in 120 years," says Mackey, who lives in Sheridan. "They're still arguing the same stuff and there seems to be no resolution."

"Meeting in Cheyenne: Wyoming's Constitutional Convention" is simply the latest of Mackey's books to become a valuable teaching tool. Five of his eight books, which all focus on Wyoming and western history, are required texts in classes at several universities and college across the United States.

He published his first book, "Black Gold: Patterns in the Development of Wyoming's Oil Industry," in 1997. His other writings include "The Equality State: Essays on Intolerance and Inequality in Wyoming," "Heart Mountain: Life in Wyoming's Concentration Camp," and "Inventing History in the American West: The Romance and Myths of Grace Raymond Hebard."

"Meeting in Cheyenne: Wyoming's Constitutional Convention," by Western History Publications, is for sale at bookstores across the state. Cost is $22.95.

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