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A University of Wyoming class wants to restore a long-neglected monument to a student who was killed in 1922 while celebrating the arrival of Arthur G. Crane, one of the university’s longest-serving presidents.
Students in a first-year seminar taught by American Heritage Center faculty members Rick Ewig and Leslie Waggener want to restore a fountain west of Old Main near the Williams Conservatory. It was erected in 1927 to commemorate the life and death of Lowell O’Bryan, an agriculture student who died when he was thrown from a horse at Crane’s welcoming ceremony.
Cryptically, a bronze plaque over the fountain basin states, “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.
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, students who died during a university-sponsored activity.
The monument’s disrepair and lack of knowledge about its story have inspired students from the American Heritage Center’s first-year seminar to raise awareness about the memorial. Their primary goal is to garner enough support to initiate the monument’s restoration.
The class also wants to raise money to add a plaque to the monument, explaining O’Bryan’s story to those who pass by.
“We think it is important to preserve this monument as an important piece of UW history,” says class member Dusten Strock, of Lakewood, Colo. “If this monument was important to O’Bryan’s classmates in the 1920s, it should be important to us today.”
Class member Morgan McDonnell, of Cheyenne, adds, “Given the inclusiveness of the newly completed ASUW Memorial Plaza, some may find it hard to justify a monument to just one deceased student. However, at the very least, it is justifiable to preserve the monument in the memory of not just O’Bryan, but also in memory of his classmates, who cared enough to have the monument erected in the first place.”
“The monument is associated with the beginning of an important period in UW history when Dr. Crane began his almost 23-year tenure as president,” she says. “The monument is a piece of UW history that deserves restoration and explanation.”