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Monument Dedication Ceremony for UW Student Killed in 1922 Scheduled Sept. 15

September 6, 2017
vintage photo of two people with saddles in front of them sitting in front of a period car
Circa 1920, this is a photo of UW student Lowell O’Bryan and his fiancée, Esther. A dedication ceremony at a monument site commemorating the death of O’Bryan, killed in a freak accident on campus in 1922, will be held Friday, Sept. 15, at 11 a.m. (American Heritage Center Photo)

A dedication ceremony at a monument site commemorating the death of a University of Wyoming student killed in a freak accident on campus in 1922 will be held Friday, Sept. 15, at 11 a.m.

The ceremony is at the Lowell O’Bryan stone monument, located on the campus walkway leading to Ninth Street and west of the front entrance to Old Main. The ceremony will dedicate a descriptive plaque honoring O’Bryan. The ceremony is free and open to the public.

In fall 2015, students in a first-year seminar, taught by former American Heritage Center (AHC) faculty member Rick Ewig and current Associate Archivist Leslie Waggener, helped to restore a fountain west of Old Main near the Williams Conservatory. The fountain was erected in 1927 to commemorate the life and death of O’Bryan, an agriculture student who died when he was thrown from a horse at then-UW President Arthur G. Crane’s welcoming ceremony.

News accounts of the accident tell how students rode out in Western regalia to stop Crane’s car at the outskirts of Laramie, “abduct” him by “posse” and transfer him to a stagecoach for the remainder of the trip to campus.

An expert horseman, O’Bryan made it his job to ensure each horse was a safe mount for posse members. In the process, one of the horses began to buck and charge toward a group of students. O’Bryan, attempting to dismount and lead the horse away, caught his foot in a stirrup and was dragged and kicked for 30 feet, knocking him unconscious and putting him in critical condition. He died eight days later at the age of 23.

Shaken by his death, O’Bryan’s classmates raised the money and support necessary to erect a monument to memorialize the young man. Built in 1927, it originally stood where the Biological Sciences Building is today, but was moved to its present location to accommodate campus restructuring. Now, it stands as a long-forgotten reminder of one of the few, if not the only, student who died during a university-sponsored activity.

a plaque set in the ground
The plaque to be dedicated explains how UW student Lowell O’Bryan was killed on campus in a freak accident in 1922. The plaque is placed on a stone monument, located on the campus walkway leading to Ninth Street and west of the front entrance to Old Main. (American Heritage Center Photo)

A bronze plaque over the fountain basin was placed at the site and reads, “He gave himself to insure the safety of others.” Yet, despite O’Bryan’s sacrifice, the fountain has fallen under disrepair. The fountain no longer works, having long been disconnected from any water source, and the stonework has chipped and faded over time. Since then, O’ Bryan’s story has remained a mystery.

The monument’s disrepair and lack of knowledge about its story inspired the students from the AHC class to raise awareness about the memorial. Their primary goal was to garner enough support to initiate the monument’s restoration.

Since then, students have raised more than $1,500 to repair the plaque and monument to exemplify O’Bryan’s significance. With the help from UW Facilities and others, the story of O’Bryan is no longer a secret, Waggener says.

“It’s such a good feeling to know that O’Bryan’s history is no longer a mystery. We hope that people who pass by the monument will pause for a moment and read O’Bryan’s story. He was an amazing young man,” Waggener says about the significance of the newly finished monument.

About the UW American Heritage Center

The AHC is UW’s repository of manuscripts, rare books and university archives. The AHC was officially established in 1945. In the decades that followed, nearly 70,000 cubic feet of historically important documents and artifacts have been acquired. The AHC is among the largest nongovernmental archives in the nation. Its diverse collections support casual inquiry and international scholarship. Most importantly, the AHC plays an active role in the teaching and research missions of the university.

For more information about the dedication event or the AHC, call Waggener at (307) 766-6640 or email lwaggen2@uwyo.edu.


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