Art of the Hunt: Jake Korell’s Story

Jacob “Trapper Jake” Korell (1914-2013) was a legendary Wyomingite who had a bright personality and a passion for trapping. He was skillful and thoughtful in his work and held great respect for the animals he caught. He began trapping when he was seven and did not stop until his death at 99. So devoted was he that it even kept him out of school. His schooling was cut short due to his trapping of skunks; the odor making his teachers send him home, combined with the working of beet fields for his parents.

Jake Korell in front of a taxidermy exhibit at the Wind River Heritage Center. Taken by Jessica King.
Digital Art of the Hunt Collections, Wyoming Folklife Archive, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Jake was born in Nebraska and moved to the Lingle-Torrington area of Wyoming when he was two years old. Korell said in a 2011 interview for the “Art of the Hunt” project conducted by the University of Wyoming American Studies program: “[I] kind of grew up with a trapping family. A lot of those things, I picked up and learned on my own. I really didn’t have a teacher on a lot of it.” His father had trapped wolves in Russia; the Korell family is of German Russian descent, immigrating to America via Ellis Island in 1911.

He spent many years of his life in Riverton, where he helped found the Wind River Heritage Center. Jake knew the value of cultural heritage and preservation, and donated thousands of dollars to the Center. In addition to founding and financially contributing, he would give his time, often helping visitors or teaching the next generation how to trap. He believed that there was a lot to learn about Wyoming animals, so his taxidermy ended up in the Wind River Heritage Center as well.

Antique trapping equipment at the Wind River Heritage Center. Taken by Jessica King.
Digital Art of the Hunt Collections, Wyoming Folklife Archive, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Respect for the animal, integrity in the hunt, and knowledge of the area were valuable concepts to Korell. He knew which animals he should not trap, down to letting mothers go or watching for rare ones that should not be killed, even though they would have more monetary value. Korell ensured that he was trapping what and where he should. He did not belittle taking the life of the animal.

“They say the traps are cruel to animals,” said Korell in the 2011 interview, “but if you know what you’re doing you use a trap according to the size of the animal and it don’t really hurt them all that much. I turn a lot of ‘em loose…like female bobcats, I pert near turn all of them loose ‘cause I just don’t believe in over killing. If I catch a kitten or a female, I turn ‘em loose. I keep a tom once in a while.”

Korell’s hands, showing nearly 90 years of trapping. Taken by Jessica King.
Digital Art of the Hunt, Wyoming Folklife Archive, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Jake Korell worked hard to be ethical in his work. Trapping was his life. He knew and followed the laws for when certain animals were in season and how often to check his traps. Learning on the fly and gaining practical experience was of utmost value to him.

Korell is featured in the “Art of the Hunt” project found in the Wyoming Folklife Archive at the American Heritage Center. There is also a book written about him titled The Last of the Breed: The Story of Trapper Jake (2013) by western author Kit Collings.

Post contributed by Elena Lompe, AHC Wyoming Folklife intern.


Posted in Digital collections, oral histories, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Holy Spectacle, Batman! Campy Fun with the 1960s Batman Television Series

As September 19 would have been Adam West’s 94th birthday, let’s look back on one of his best-known roles, Batman.

The campy, smash hit of the 60s was loathed by some and loved by many more. But the people who loved it the most were the ones who created and produced it. And that enthusiasm can be sensed in the final product. It’s a truism that people who enjoy their work tend to put out a better product. But you don’t have to trust my word on this because the William Dozier papers at the American Heritage Center can back me up.

Catwoman (Julie Newmar) kneeling over Batman (Adam West) tied to a giant mousetrap in the episode “That Darn Catwoman, Season 2, Episode 40, air date January 19, 1967.” William Dozier papers, Collection #6851.

A prime example of this enthusiasm is the joking nature of correspondence between executive producer William Dozier and head scriptwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. In one such letter Dozier begins by addressing Semple as Robin and ends the letter with “Batblessings.” In many of his letters to Semple, Dozier includes a bat-pun as a signoff. Even their correspondence feels camp. This jovial form of communication serves as a precursor to the entertaining use of camp for which the series became known.

This letter from William Dozier to Lorenzo Semple Jr. discusses the possibility of Burgess Meredith playing the Penguin, some production notes, and the start of scripting for the Green Hornet. Box 6, Folder 1965, William Dozier papers, Collection #6851, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The co-creators of Batman for DC Comics, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, were just as excited about this new take on the Dark Knight. Kane was very vocal in his support for the series. Finger even drafted a few episodes for the series with “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” making it to production. The Dozier papers include a copy of this script in case you’d like to read it.

This first page of a letter from Bob Kane to William Dozier expresses his excitement for the series. Box 6, Folder 1965, William Dozier papers, Collection #6851, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Adam West was an excellent choice for the Caped Crusader, and not just because of his skill at dancing the Batusi. Yet, while filming the pilot there was another potential Batman suited up. Lyle Waggoner lost the role to West, but a decade later wound up in another television show based on a comic book. He played Colonel Steve Trevor in the Wonder Woman series. Dozier apologized through correspondence to West for not telling him about Waggoner. West’s response was appropriate to the tone of the series: “Gotham City ain’t big enough for both of us Batmans, Batman…. (or is it Batmen?)”

To learn more about the production of the Batman series and maybe find correspondence from such stars as Kirk Douglas and Bruce Lee, see the William Dozier papers at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by Rob Kelly, AHC Reference Department.


Posted in Actors, Comic book history, Superheroes, television history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Powell Tribune’s La Pagina Español

National Hispanic Heritage Month, which spans the period from September 15 to October 15, was first observed as a heritage week under President Lyndon Johnson in 1968 then became a federally recognized heritage month under President Ronald Regan in 1988.

Wyoming has much to celebrate during Hispanic Heritage Month. Much of what is today Wyoming’s Red Desert remained part of Mexico until the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo forced the Mexican government to cede what is now much of the southwestern U.S. in 1848. But that change of legal borders didn’t change the fact that people of Mexican heritage continued to live and work throughout Wyoming. In the 20th century, many new residents who were either Mexican Nationals or Mexican Americans from California, Texas, and New Mexico (primarily) migrated to Wyoming to work on the railroads and in agricultural industries. With a boom in the 1920s, the sugar beet industry of northern, central, and southeastern Wyoming drew a large population of Mexican and Mexican American field workers.

On the American Heritage Center’s online digital database, researchers can view the Powell Tribune’s La Pagina Español (The Spanish Page) in the Gonzalo Guzman Newspaper Collection (Collection #12782). The section in Spanish only ran for one season in 1927, then disappeared. So, why would the Powell Tribune run a page for its Spanish-speaking residents for a few months in 1927, then never again? The answer lies in the history of the Great Western Sugar Company and the early migrant workers to Powell’s sugar beet fields.

The Great Western Sugar Company was founded in northern Colorado in 1900. They operated facilities throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Montana. The Lovell, Wyoming processing facility was opened in 1916 to accommodate the harvests coming in from the area beet farms, including those around the town of Powell.

This photo of the sugar beet field in front of the processing facility in Lovell in 1925 is from the Hugo G. Janssen Photographs (Collection #11712). The digitized images from this collection can be viewed here.

Because they were having trouble finding enough local laborers to staff the fields and the factories, they hired recruiting agents to bring Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans from the southwestern states to work in the sugar beet fields of Wyoming and neighboring states. Since there was also a housing shortage in the Lovell and Powell areas during this time, they also began establishing Mexican “colonies,” which were essentially clusters of company-built or employee-built (with company supplies) housing for Mexican migrant workers to live in while working the fields. Other workers were provided housing by individual sugar beet farm owners, of varying quality and size.

This photo shows the back of a housing unit build for sugar beet workers in or near Torrington, Wyoming, in the 1920s. The photo is from the AHC’s photo files and can be viewed here.

As the sugar beet acreage and yield continued to grow, the Great Western Sugar Company recognized the dire need for Mexican and Mexican American laborers. They set out in several ways to appeal to these workers and their families and encouraged the local community to make them feel welcome. In 1929, the company took out a very large ad in the local newspaper, the Powell Tribune, with a detailed list of eight ways sugar beet farmers could make their Mexican laborers feel welcomed and cared for. These suggestions included providing “reasonable living accommodations,” access to food and other necessities, providing good tools to work with, and treating them with “friendliness and patience,” particularly since many of them could “understand English only very imperfectly or not at all.”

This image from the Hugo C. Janssen collection at the American Heritage Center shows members of Lovell’s “Mexican Colony” dressed up as much as each could afford at a celebration in the 1920s. They are displaying both American and Mexican flags.  The photo can be viewed here.

In 1927, the company went so far as to publish an entire page in Spanish in the Powell Tribune and called it, simply, La Pagina Español. It ran from May 26 through October 27, 1927, roughly covering the agricultural season from planting to harvest when Spanish-speaking migrant workers increased the population in the Powell area by several hundred.

The first issue welcomed “seven hundred and more Spanish speaking residents to the Powell valley.” The Great Western Sugar Company enlisted two of their worker agents, a Mr. Fernandez and a Mr. Pacheco, to write the articles that would be of interest to the migrant workers and “bring these beet workers into closer contact with our way of life.” The company introduced La Pagina Español: “We want you to be interested in this community, in our beautiful valley, in our schools and churches, and we know no better way than to take a page out in the Tribune in your own language.”

Articles often included news on the beet fields and harvest but also included community news such as marriage and death announcements, a recipes section, sports news (the beet workers had baseball teams as well), and advertisements for local businesses (in both English and Spanish).

This image shows other members of Lovell’s “Mexican Colony” at the same celebration as the previous image. The photo can be viewed here.

Beyond the page in the newspaper, the company also sponsored dances and picnic dinners for the Spanish-speaking population. They held meetings in Spanish and tried to encourage them to become permanent residents (so as not to lose them to other farms in the next season). In the final issue with a page in Spanish, the company wrote:

Now, knowing that some of our esteemed subscribers have resolved to leave for other regions, we have found ourselves in the painful necessity of suspending this page in Spanish, sincerely regretting that their determination has been to venture, instead of settling in this place where the honorable and hard-working Mexican, or those of any other nationality, is also appreciated, and where every man already established with his family always finds the necessary help to survive, and when he has already established his work and demonstrated that he is a worthy man, everyone enjoys the general esteem of Powelanders. Our best wishes to them, hoping to see them here next spring.

In the company’s estimation, treating the field workers with friendliness and patience increased the likelihood that they would do a good job. However, discrimination was present in the community and efforts to help the Spanish speaking population was tinged with condescension. For instance, an article published in the January 1929 Tribune was titled “Pitty [sic] the Poor Mexican.” It articulated that those beet workers who did not leave in the winter lived on the company’s dole during the winter months and, being from “southern climes” had no idea how to live through winter. The article claimed they wore light clothing and “lacked the ingenuity” to better the poor housing they were provided to make it through the winter. Though the article called them “good-natured, accommodating, peaceful citizens,” they claimed they must learn to “better provide for themselves” if they wished to stay in Powell during the winter months.

It was also reported in 1929 that Mexican children were being segregated in school. Earl Collins, who was tasked to teach the Spanish-speaking children and even went to Laramie for extra training to teach these children, thought it best to keep them separated. They claimed that he students “respond much more” in a class by themselves than with “American” children (by which they meant English-speaking since some of these children were Mexican American) and they saw it as their duty to make sure children ages six to nine were “in school as much as possible” because after that, they would be working the beet fields with the parents and would get no education.

Mexican and Mexican-American migrant workers continued to travel to Powell and the other sugar beet farming areas of Wyoming, and many stayed to become permanent residents of those towns. The Great Western Sugar Company changed hands a few times in the mid-20th century and in 2002, it was acquired by growers who formed the Western Sugar Cooperative. Sugar beet farming is still a major industry in the Powell area today. Although the sugar beet industry attracted a large Spanish-speaking population, La Pagina Español was never again published after 1927.

Note: All the editions of the Powell Tribune that contain La Pagina Español and more can also be viewed in full, thanks to the Wyoming Newspaper Project at

Translations by the author.

Post contributed by Brigida Blasi, Public History Educator, American Heritage Center.


About. National Hispanic Heritage Month.

“Earl Collins, who is to teach.” The Powell Tribune, May 23, 1929.

Killough, Kevin. “After difficult years, beet growers wary,” The Powell Tribune, March 12, 2020.

“Pitty the Poor Mexicans.” The Powell Tribune, January 31, 1929.

Redwine, Augustin. “Lovell’s Mexican Colony.” The Annals of Wyoming 51, no. 2 (1979): 26-35.

“Spanish-Americans and Mexicans to Picnic Sunday at the Fair Grounds,” The Powell Tribune, May 26, 1927.

“Sugar Company Holds Meetings in Spanish.” The Powell Tribune, May 12, 1927.

“The Important Work of Thinning Now Ready to Begin,” The Powell Tribune, May 30, 1929. “There are seventeen children,” The Powell Tribune, September 26, 1929.

Posted in Agricultural history, community collections, Digital collections, Hispanic Heritage Month, Immigration, Immigration Policy, Mexican-American history, Racial bias, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Trek: Creating the Cultural Phenomenon

The 1960’s television show Star Trek spawned a long lived and beloved cultural phenomenon. Here at the American Heritage Center, we are fortunate to have photographs, scripts, and music scores from some of the original seventy-nine Star Trek episodes that were broadcast beginning in September 1966 on NBC.

Star Trek was set in the Milky Way galaxy more than 200 years into the future. Gene Roddenberry created the program and was aided by a talented and imaginative group of script writers, composers and actors. They were tasked with bringing to life an entire universe of characters and situations, all of which revolved around the U.S.S. Enterprise, a spaceship capable of intergalactic travel. Star Trek was notable for its diverse cast and for a story line that followed, as the opening credits promised, “the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

Captain James Kirk, played by William Shatner, holds a phaser gun as he protects Dr. Elizabeth Dehner, played by Sally Kellerman. This scene is from the episode titled “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” September 22, 1966.
Box 108, Forest J. Ackerman papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In addition to Gene Roddenberry, dozens of other writers contributed to Star Trek. Some of the scripts were the collaboration of two writers, but the majority were completed by a single author. Script writers changed from episode to episode, to the degree that it’s a wonder the program had any continuity at all.

List of Star Trek scripts and authors from the first two seasons, May 1968.
Box 21, Samuel A. Peeples papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In an effort to ensure some consistency, Gene Roddenberry provided writers with detailed character analyses and instructions regarding the structure needed for each episode. He specified that scripts must be 65 pages in length in order to produce a program that lasted exactly 50 minutes. It is a testament to the craftsmanship and expertise of the scriptwriters of era that they could produce a coherent script while sticking to an exact page limit and using only a typewriter.

The American Heritage Center’s collections include the papers of four of the scriptwriters that contributed to Star Trek – Sam Peeples, Jerry Sohl, Gene L. Coon and Robert Bloch. Robert Bloch was the most famous. Bloch was a respected author of crime, horror and fantasy before he was asked to try his hand at writing Star Trek scripts. He was a prolific writer and rose to fame as the author of the 1959 book Psycho, which was then made into the renowned Alfred Hitchcock film. Bloch also wrote more than 400 short stories, a few of which proved to be inspiring material for Star Trek. Bloch wrote three episodes for Star Trek: “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” which aired in 1966 as part of season one as well as “Catspaw” and “Wolf in the Fold” which aired in 1967 as part of season two. Star Trek and horror aficionados consider all three episodes to be among the most memorable examples of televised science fiction crossing over into the horror genre.

Bloch’s papers provide interesting perspective on the development of a Star Trek teleplay – starting with a short basic premise through to the finished script. “Wolf in the Fold” in particular went through extensive revision. Studio executives had requested that Bloch write a Jack the Ripper story set in the future. (After Psycho, Bloch’s second most famous story was “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” written in 1943.) Bloch started with several paragraphs of story premise, then wrote a nine-page story outline.

Page of the story outline for Star Trek episode “Wolf in the Fold” written by Robert Bloch, April 21, 1967.
Box 5A, Robert Bloch papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

A draft version of the outline, full of mark-ups and edits, shows the evolution of the storyline. It is interesting that early drafts of the story feature third officer Sulu as the main character, while in the final version of the script it is Scotty, the chief engineer, who becomes the focal point of the episode.

Less than a month after the outline was submitted, and with studio approval of the storyline, Bloch finished a draft script. But after submitting his first draft to studio executives, Bloch received a sixteen-page memo from Gene Coon loaded with suggestions for changes.

Page of a memo from Gene Coon to Robert Bloch regarding Star Trek episode “Wolf in the Fold,” May 18, 1967.
Box 5A, Robert Bloch papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The edits were not all well received. Bloch’s frustration shows through in his handwritten notes in his papers, which state, “Another horrible example of teleplay development – ‘Wolf in the Fold’ – showing how 1967 network and studio executives arbitrarily call the tune – and, in this instance, then proceed to change their own directions when they see that what they suggest will not work. You might call this a lesson in how NOT to write a teleplay.” “Wolf in the Fold” turned out to be Bloch’s last contribution to Star Trek.

Gene Coon, who was Star Trek’s showrunner, also lent a considerable hand with script writing. Of all the Star Trek scriptwriters, he was the most prolific, having written or contributed to thirteen episodes. He is credited with fleshing out the personalities of the show’s main characters and for much of the humor in the first two seasons. His papers at the American Heritage Center include two Star Trek scripts written by Coon, “The Devil in the Dark” and “Metamorphosis.”

Page of the script for Star Trek episode “Metamorphosis”, May 3, 1967.
Box 24, Gene L. Coon papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Coon is also credited in “Metamorphosis” with introducing the character of Zefram Cochrane. Cochrane proved to be a crucial figure in the Star Trek “universe” as he was the fictional scientist who originally discovered the space warp or “warp drive” technology. Without “warp drive,” interstellar travel and the whole premise of Star Trek would be impossible.

Supplemental to the scripts, music played an important role in Star Trek, heightening suspense and viewers’ perceptions. And as with script writers, multitudes of composers were involved. The American Heritage Center’s collections include the papers of two of the many composers who contributed to the program during the 1960s. Composer Gerald Fried lent his considerable musical talents to Star Trek. Among his thousands of compositions are the scores for five of the early Star Trek episodes, including “Catspaw.” Another composer, Sol Kaplan, wrote the scores for two additional Star Trek episodes, “The Enemy Within” and “The Doomsday Machine.” Notably, both composers also served as conductors of the orchestras which recorded the incidental music associated with each episode. The musically inclined can see scores handwritten by both Fried and Kaplan at the American Heritage Center.

Part of the score for Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine” titled “Approach of the Enterprise” composed by Sol Kaplan.
Box 30, Sol Kaplan papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Beyond the talented script writers and composers, it was the Star Trek actors that brought the show to life. One of those actors, Nichelle Nichols, broke ground in Star Trek as the first African American women cast in a major, continuing role on primetime television. To paraphrase the Star Trek credits, she boldly went where no woman has gone before. Initially asked to read the part of Spock during an audition, she ultimately played Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer on the Enterprise. Her character’s name, which is a variant of the Swahili word for freedom, was inspired by a book Nichols was reading at the time of her audition. While the character Lieutenant Uhura was a specialist in linguistics and cryptography, she was also a capable bridge officer who sometimes assumed control of the helm, navigation and science stations on the bridge of the Enterprise. Nichols was a talented singer, and scriptwriters capitalized on that, including scenes that called for Lieutenant Uhura to sing, often accompanied on the Vulcan lyre.

Star Trek Communications Officer Uhura played by Nichelle Nichols, November 10, 1966. This scene is from the episode titled “The Carbomite Maneuver.”
Box 108, Forest J. Ackerman papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Nichols appeared on Star Trek for three seasons, and in six of the movies that followed. Millions of people watched her fly through space while breaking barriers and stereotypes. She used her platform to illustrate what could be possible for Black people and for women. Later in her career, she helped recruit women and people of color into NASA’s space program. Nichols passed away on July 30, 2022, at the age of 89.

Despite the strong cast and imaginative story lines, ratings for Star Trek fluctuated. The studio cut the budget, production values were compromised, and the network decided to cancel the program in 1969 after the third season. But in the 1970s, it was syndicated and soon became a cult classic. The Star Trek phenomenon propagated follow-on television shows, 13 movies, a franchise of comic books, magazines, games and toys and legions of fans who were known as “Trekkies.”

Cover of the first issue Star Trek comic, 1967.
Box 22, Samuel A. Peeples papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Star Trek has been televised around the world, and Star Trek conventions still draw thousands both here at home and overseas. Today, Star Trek is widely considered to be one of the most influential and popular television series of all time. If this blog post has piqued your interest, we encourage a visit to the American Heritage Center to view our various collections related to Star Trek and indulge the curiosity of your inner “Trekkie.”

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


Posted in Actors, popular culture, science fiction, television history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

American Heritage Center Exhibit Celebrates Buddy Ebsen, 1908-2003

Do you remember the TV comedy series The Beverly Hillbillies? How about the mystery series Barnaby Jones? More recently the series King of the Hill? No doubt you’ve seen the classic films The Wizard of Oz or Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Know what they all have in common? Buddy Ebsen.

Buddy Ebsen in his iconic role as Jed Clampett in the television comedy The Beverly Hillbillies, which ran from 1962 to 1971.
Buddy Ebsen papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Ebsen, who was both a talented actor and dancer, enjoyed a show business career that spanned more than seventy years. He performed on stage, film, and television and is the subject of this fall’s exhibit at the American Heritage Center, “The Entertaining Life of Buddy Ebsen.” The exhibit extends from his early years as a song-and-dance man to his decades as a film and TV star.

Born Christian Ludolf Ebsen, Jr. in Belleville, Illinois, Ebsen moved with his family to Florida at age ten. His father, Christian Ludolf Ebsen, Sr., a former choreographer, ran a dance studio in Orlando, where Ebsen and his four sisters learned to dance. Moving to New York City in the late 1920s, Ebsen and sister Vilma began appearing on stage in the Northeast, ultimately working with Ziegfeld’s Follies.

In 1935, Buddy and Vilma were signed by MGM studios and the two headed to Hollywood. He hoofed it through back-to-back films that include Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935) with Jack Benny, Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, and sister Vilma; Captain January (1936) with Shirley Temple; Born to Dance (1936) with Eleanor Powell and Jimmy Stewart; Banjo on My Knee (1936) with Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea, and Walter Brennan; and Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) with Robert Taylor, Eleanor Powell, George Murphy, and Judy Garland.

Shirley Temple and Buddy Ebsen take a charming turn in the musical comedy-drama Captain January (1936). Ebsen played January’s friend Paul Roberts.
Buddy Ebsen papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Ebsen’s big break was on the horizon when he was cast in The Wizard of Oz (1939), first as the Scarecrow and then as the Tin Man. Unfortunately, the aluminum dust in his makeup caused him to suffer major health problems, so much so that he was hospitalized and forced to leave the production. As he explained in his autobiography, The Other Side of Oz, “I had ingested pure aluminum; it had coated my lungs like paint.” For the next fourteen years, Ebsen used nebulizers to help him breathe.

In an interview included in the DVD release of The Wizard of Oz, Ebsen said that the studio heads did not believe he was ill during the production. They ordered him back to the set only to be intercepted by an angry medical professional. Ebsen was replaced with Jack Haley. The aluminum dust was replaced by a safer aluminum paste.
Buddy Ebsen papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

A break from the entertainment industry came during World War II when he joined the Coast Guard as an officer. But he returned to Hollywood in the 1950s and was busy once again acting  in films such as Night People (1954) with Gregory Peck and Broderick Crawford and Attack (1956) with Jack Palance, Lee Marvin, and Eddie Albert. He took on a serious role in the romantic comedy Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) with Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, where he played Holly’s former husband, Doc Golightly.

Meanwhile, as television was gaining ground in America, so was Ebsen’s career on the small-screen. While continuing his movie and stage acting, he also began appearing on TV in the late 1940s. Notably, his rugged visage was seen in episodes of several popular television westerns, including Maverick, Have Gun–Will Travel, Rawhide, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, and Alias Smith and Jones. In 1955, he co-starred with Fess Parker in the Disney serial Davy Crockett.

Fess Parker (left) played Davy Crockett in the mid-1950s television series of the same name. Buddy Ebsen played his friend George Russel. The two men enjoyed a 50-year friendship outside production as well.
Buddy Ebsen papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By 1962, Ebsen had been acting for almost thirty years and was considering retirement. But producer Paul Henning couldn’t imagine anyone but Buddy Ebsen playing an anchor role in his new TV sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies. For the next nine years, Ebsen performed as Jed Clampett, a hayseed (but nobody’s fool) who strikes oil and, now a wealthy man, moves his family to star-studded Beverly Hills, California. No sooner did Hillbillies end than he was cast as folksy private detective Barnaby Jones in the eponymous television series that ran 1973 to 1980. In 1999, Ebsen made his last television appearance when he voiced aged firefighter Chet Elderson for an episode of the animated program King of the Hill.

Buddy Ebsen as Jed Clampett with his co-stars from The Beverly Hillbillies: Nancy Kulp (Jane Hathaway), Raymond Bailey (Milburn Drysdale), Irene Ryan (Granny), Max Baer, Jr. (Jethro Bodine) and Donna Douglas (Elly May Clampett).
Buddy Ebsen papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

A Renaissance man, Ebsen also found time to pursue his passions for sailing, singing, and painting. He even published a romance novel at age 92 titled Kelly’s Quest about a rebellious, but standup young actress who flees Hollywood for the Rocky Mountain West to find Mr. Right.

The Buddy Ebsen papers at the AHC, donated by his wife Dorothy Ebsen, contains materials relating to all aspects of Ebsen’s life and his film, stage, and television career. The collection includes correspondence; photographs, clippings; scripts, contracts, and promotional materials from film and television; and stage shows, songs, and music he performed, wrote, or co-wrote. Also included are documents and artifacts relating to his hobby of sailing and artwork created by Ebsen.

Like Ebsen’s papers, the exhibit will feature highlights from all areas of his career. It will be on display in the AHC’s Loggia from September 6, 2022, to January 15, 2023.

The entirety of the Buddy Ebsen papers (more than 165 cubic feet) is available for research at the American Heritage Center.

By the way, Buddy still had what it takes at the age of 70 as you can see in this television clip from 1978.

Post contributed by AHC Processing Archivist Roger Simon with contributions by Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in Actors, exhibits, Hollywood history, Motion picture actors and actresses, television history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Wyoming’s Nuclear Response to Project Plowshare

Vice President Richard Nixon delivered these words in October 1960 to a Toledo, Ohio, fraternity group: “Our plan to develop peaceful constructive uses of nuclear explosives has been given the name of Project Plowshare, because it is literally an attempt to convert the most destructive weapon in history into a tool for human betterment. Through Project Plowshare, we now have a great opportunity to turn our atomic armory into a tool for peace.”[1]

Between 1957 and 1974, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) spent millions of dollars studying the feasibility of using nuclear devices for construction ventures under a program called “Project Plowshare.” One proposed use was to stimulate natural gas production in tight underground reservoir formations. Nonporous shale formations in the sparsely populated Rocky Mountain West seemed a prime target to test the idea. Shale fields in this region are rich in natural gas; however, unlocking those riches had been a continuing dilemma.

Four nuclear stimulation projects were proposed during the Plowshare years, three of which were detonated. The first, Project Gasbuggy in rural New Mexico near Dulce, was detonated on December 10, 1967; the next on September 10, 1969, was Project Rulison near Rulison, Colorado, and another, Project Rio Blanco near Rifle, Colorado, was detonated on May 17, 1973. The AEC partnered with the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory as well as corporate entities that included El Paso Natural Gas Company for Gasbuggy, CER Geonuclear Corporation and Austral Oil Company for Rulison, and CER Geonuclear for Rio Blanco. Each test employed greater intensity of nuclear power in an attempt to unlock stores of natural gas. However, due to safety concerns, public goodwill went in the opposite direction, to the point that after the Rio Blanco test, Colorado voters amended the state’s constitution to require that any project to detonate a nuclear device in the state must first pass a statewide vote.[2]

Photograph of Project Rulison test site taken June 16, 2012,

Two Plowshare projects were on the horizon for Wyoming, one of which, Project Wagon Wheel, was to be the most ambitious nuclear gas stimulation project to date. The planned host site was Sublette County, a section of southwestern Wyoming with several small communities, the largest being Pinedale with a population of about 950. The blast site was within the Pinedale Unit, an area of about 90,000 acres of land owned by the U.S. and Wyoming governments, El Paso Natural Gas, and two other gas companies. El Paso Natural Gas had been interested in the area for many years before nuclear stimulation was considered. In 1954, the company had drilled six wells into the low permeability sandstone formation and used available technology to fracture the rock, but with little results.[3] They held on to the property and, when Gasbuggy proved promising, signed a contract in 1968 with AEC and the U.S. Department of the Interior Department to do a commercial feasibility study.[4]

Map of the Wagon Wheel Site from Environmental Statement: Wagon Wheel Gas Stimulation Project, Sublette County, Wyoming, 1972.
Box 53, folder 16, Teno Roncalio papers, Collection No. 2160, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The scope of the nuclear detonations for Wagon Wheel was on a previously unimagined scale. Five 100-kiloton nuclear devices stacked vertically between 9,220 and 11,570 feet underground would collectively create a blast 25 times greater than the bomb that almost destroyed Hiroshima. Theoretically, sequential firing from bottom up in a single well would triple gas production over firing a single nuclear device, although these plans were made before poor results from Project Rio Blanco cast doubt on this theory.[5] The experiment was planned for fiscal year 1974.

Sublette County residents became aware of the possibility of an experiment in their area as early as 1967. An article in the local newspaper, Pinedale Roundup, dated October 26, 1967, mentions the proposed detonation of Project Gasbuggy, noting that such methods would be needed to recover natural gas in El Paso NG’s Pinedale Unit Area located near the town of Pinedale. The article also quotes encouragingly from a Gasbuggy report that the estimated cash value of Pinedale Unit gas was 65 million dollars.[6]

In May 1969 El Paso formally introduced the project and began open public meetings to discuss plans for nuclear stimulation tests in the area.[7] The company’s announcement, which did a good job of relaying scientific information in laymen terms, reassured local residents that “Radioactivity would not be expected to be a problem in any experiment that might result from the study, since Project Gasbuggy and more than 250 other subsurface nuclear explosions have demonstrated that all radioactivity can be contained completely underground” and that “No experiment will be proposed unless [various tests] show it to be both worthwhile and safe.”[8] The company invited three members of the Wyoming Department of Economic Planning and Development to the detonation of Project Rulison to further reassure Wyoming citizens of the complete safety of nuclear stimulation efforts.[9] That same month, Wyoming Governor Stanley Hathaway offered further reassurances at an annual meeting of the Federation of Rocky Mountain States where he expressed confidence in the AEC and its industry partners who were preparing similar tests in his state.[10]

Sublette County residents and media appeared largely dispassionate, although questioning, of the planned experiment in their backyard. During a meeting between U.S. Department of the Interior personnel, Wyoming state legislators, and Sublette County residents on April 6, 1970, the only concern raised was possible damage to water supply in the northern Green River Basin.[11] However, the next month at least one increasingly concerned citizen began the process of gathering more information. In records held at the American Heritage Center, a synopsis exists of a Laramie-based symposium sponsored by a University of Wyoming ecology committee in which the nuclear stimulation project was discussed. With the synopsis are a quantity of handwritten notes by Pinedale resident C. L. Rawlins, who would soon take action against Project Wagon Wheel.[12]

In the summer of 1971, Wyoming’s lone U.S. Representative Teno Roncalio quizzed El Paso about specific details of Project Wagon Wheel. He received a lengthy and detailed reply from the company in July 1971, which was subsequently published in its entirety in three issues of the Pinedale Roundup.[13] The reply spurred C. L. Rawlins and other Sublette County citizens to form a small grassroots group named the “Wagon Wheel Information Committee” (WWIC) based in Pinedale. The committee’s purpose was to “give the Public a chance to ingest all it can about the various opinions and problems of such an experiment, and the attending advantages and disadvantages.”[14]

An alarming prediction for the WWIC was, if the Project Wagon Wheel blast was successful, El Paso NG projected more than one hundred nuclear-stimulated wells in the scenic Green River Basin. Also, the company claim that, by the 1980s, field development and operation could support a local population of about fifteen to twenty thousand people, several times the population to date. Adding to the alarm was a letter to the Pinedale Roundup editor that appeared in the newspaper’s September 23, 1971, issue. California geologist Robert P. Barnes wrote that, if Project Wagon Wheel was detonated, “Sublette County can justly claim to be the earthquake capital of the world.”[15] Other major concerns included ground motion from the blast, radioactivity from the process of flaring, and disposal of radioactive drilling mud. One Sublette County stockman wrote to Wyoming Senator Clifford Hansen of his entirely pragmatic concern that “…no rancher in this entire area…could afford to buy feed for 325 days of flaring.”[16]

Green River Lakes and Square Top Mountain, near the headwaters of the Green River. Courtesy Pinedale Online.

WWIC quickly began the use of meetings, petitions, flyers, school surveys, fund raising “blasts,” straw votes, and letter writing campaigns at the local and national level to prevent the testing. Despite low population numbers in Sublette County, meetings about Project Wagon Wheel were well-attended by at least 600 local citizens and invited guests such as scientific experts and industry personnel.[17] Quite a few residents felt they were being disregarded, even exploited, in the search for gas to fill the nation’s growing needs.[18]

Not everyone in Sublette County was against the project. El Paso NG promised direct employment for 1,500 to 2,000 as the nuclear stimulation of gas wells continued to progress. Some felt this was more important than unsubstantiated environmental concerns from “well-meaning, but usually misinformed Prophets of Doom” who predicted dire consequences if Wagon Wheel was detonated.[19] AEC scientist Edward Teller chipped in his advice during a September 1972 speech in Sheridan: “If you have something others need, you just might make – please excuse the dirty words – but you just might make some money,” adding, “…Wyoming is quite rich in energy resources. One way to use them to your advantage would be to pursue the Pinedale experiment. Then with appropriately-placed explosions over the years, you can utilize the resources found in these tight gas formations – where Wyoming now has fully one-half of all such resources in the United States.”[20]

Wyoming’s congressional delegation had a mixed response to Wagon Wheel. In March 1971, U.S. Senator Clifford Hansen testified, “We are too reliant on foreign sources of oil…The plowshare program…offers one of the quickest and surest solutions to our gas and energy shortage problems.”[21] Hansen would later change his stance with the project’s increasing unpopularity. U.S. Senator Gale McGee was initially non-committal but would later join in the opposition. U.S. Representative Teno Roncalio was against the project from the start and became  the most prominent advocate for Sublette County residents in Washington, D. C. He saw nuclear gas stimulation as environmentally harmful and a waste of natural gas, which he saw as “a unique and extremely important chemical resource, and that by burning more than 97 percent of our production each year, we are literally throwing away a vital resource, a resource that once it is gone, can never be replaced.”[22] He attempted to cut congressional funding for Project Wagon Wheel in mid-1972. When that failed, he sought and won membership the next year on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy to give uranium-rich Wyoming a voice in atomic energy development.[23] 

Roncalio’s failure to kill Plowshare gave the program’s defenders some hope they might yet save it and Wagon Wheel. Among them was Edward Teller. During his Sheridan speech, he attacked Wagon Wheel’s opponents, focusing his vituperation not against Roncalio but his Democratic colleague McGee: “By exploiting this scare, and behaving like a Democrat, McGee makes it difficult for us to go ahead with it.” Teller implied that the Wyoming lawmaker was anti-progress, for Wagon Wheel was “underground mining, without the miners going underground.” He then pulled out his well-worn Cold War card, asserting that the Soviets had progressed much further than the United States in their peaceful-use program. “The Russians don’t let their Senator McGees write idiotic letters,” he declared. “I don’t like Sen. McGee, but I vastly prefer him to the USSR.”[24]

El Paso NG also went on the offensive. In August it announced that it had hired two scientists, Keith Schiager, a radiation ecologist from Colorado State University, and H.G. Fisser, a plant scientist from the University of Wyoming, to gather data to augment the final environmental impact statement and prove Wagon Wheel’s harmlessness. Also, El Paso’s director Philip Randolph, in a show to prove his company had locals’ interests in mind, promised that if the people living nearby did not want Wagon Wheel, his company would not pursue it.[25]

List of panelists discussing Project Wagon Wheel at the annual meeting of the Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association, April 29, 1972. Box 53, folder 12, Teno Roncalio papers, Collection No. 2160, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The effort to change minds had little effect. Teller’s comments angered Sylvia Freeman, the chairperson of Sheridan County’s Democratic Central Committee, who described the physicist’s remarks “particularly disturbing, coming from someone who is supposed to be motivated by the standards of scientific objectivity…Teller’s position seems to be that since he, personally, is in favor of Wagon Wheel, no one should question it.” The two scientists hired by El Paso had previously spoken in favor of Wagon Wheel, the High Country News pointed out. “With men like Schiager and Fisser, why even have a study? It’s like having Lyndon Johnson do an independent evaluation of our involvement in the Vietnam War.”[26]

The tension between the two sides increased in November 1972 when the WWIC held a straw poll for Sublette County residents on election day. Of the 1,230 who participated, an overwhelming 71 percent expressed opposition. El Paso NG rejected the results with Randolph charging that the WWIC “distributed large amounts of misleading and erroneous information even before the current studies [were] concluded.” Calling the survey “premature,” he added, “Under these conditions we do not feel the poll accurately reflects the feeling that the citizens of Sublette County will have after consideration of factual and unbiased information.” When reminded that El Paso had promised not to conduct Wagon Wheel if locals did not want it, Randolph remained unmoved. He stated that the company had not yet made up its mind on whether to conduct the blast; only if El Paso decided to proceed would public opinion matter.[27]

Randolph’s remarks left the WWIC indignant. Recently reelected U.S. Senator Cliff Hansen met with WWIC members a few days later and accepted a suggestion that he set up a meeting in Washington between Wyoming’s congressional delegation, AEC Chairman James Schlesinger, El Paso representatives, and the WWIC. Paying either out of pocket or with the help of donations, eleven WWIC delegates went to the nation’s capital in February 1973, where they held discussions with Roncalio, McGee, Hansen, and representatives of the AEC, EPA, and El Paso. WWIC’s Floyd Bousman also took the opportunity to appear on NBC’s Today show, where he used the forum to express his group’s opposition to Wagon Wheel. By the time they left, whatever goodwill existed between the WWIC and its allies on the one hand and the AEC and EPNG on the other was gone. The WWIC delegates had assumed Schlesinger would meet them only to have someone else from the AEC do so. Meanwhile officials from El Paso, recalled Bousman, “did a lot of quibbling over semantics.” He explained, “The attitude of the AEC and El Paso officials at this February 7 meeting in Washington destroyed for us what little credibility they had left.”[28]

McGee, himself incensed, sent a formal letter of protest in February 1973 to recently appointed AEC Chairperson Dr. Dixy Lee Ray hoping to find a more receptive ear.[29] On April 19, 1973, the Dr. Ray sent the WWIC a statement explaining that there were “no funds in the fiscal year 1974 budget presented to Congress by the President…for the Wagon Wheel Project or any preparatory development and testing of explosives capable of sequential detonation.” She did not exclude the possibility of the AEC pursuing funding for fiscal year 1975 but if that happened, “the Wagon Wheel Project could not be scheduled until late 1977 – at the earliest.”[30] The next year, in April 1974, the AEC’s Acting Director of the Division of Applied Technology Edward Fleming assured WWIC member Doris Burzlander that, even if funds were made available in 1976, the AEC “could not do a project such as Wagon Wheel before fiscal year 1979.”[31] With the exception of a handful of follow-up studies, Plowshare was quietly defunded entirely in 1974.[32]

Mostly likely if Project Rulison and Project Rio Blanco had worked as the AEC and its industrial partners anticipated, projects such as Wagon Wheel would have been detonated and possibly expanded, particularly as the energy crises became grimmer in the 1970s. Sparsely populated areas of the country such as western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming may not have been able to fight off the brunt of success. A Washington official made the comment to Congressman Roncalio that “Wyoming has everything needed for energy. Why not move the mere 300,000 residents and make the whole state one big excavation?”[33] The WWIC could not by itself stop Project Wagon Wheel, but it did accomplish something just as powerful. The group raised serious concerns and delayed the project long enough to reveal poor results of similar but smaller scale projects. In Rio Blanco, the detonation of three 30-kiloton nuclear devices did not produce the desired effects to extract gas and was, by-and-large, considered a failure. By 1975, the idea of nuclear blasting for natural gas production was at an end. But it was only when the AEC and government officials saw the financial writing on the wall with the pullout of industrial partners and the inadequate return on investment did the nuclear gas stimulation program finally die. What would have happened if Rulison and Rio Blanco had succeeded? We may still be dealing with the effects of that success today.

The American Heritage Center has a number of collections related to Project Wagon including the papers of Teno Roncalio, Gale McGee, Clifford Hansen, the records of the Wagon Wheel Information Committee, and the Project Wagon Wheel records. There are also many digitized materials ready for research,

Post submitted by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


[1] Richard M. Nixon. “Excerpt of a Speech by Richard Nixon, the Vice President of the United States, Prepared for Delivery before Meeting of Sigma Delta Chi, Toledo, Ohio (October 26, 1960),” The American Presidency Project.

[2] Yates, Scott C. “The Day They Bombed Colorado.” Westword, February 26, 1998, p. 27.

[3] Owen, Frank, “Only Way to Get It Out,” Casper Star Tribune (Casper, WY), May 9, 1972.

[4] El Paso Natural Gas Company; U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Project Wagon Wheel: Technical Studies Report; a compilation of technical studies performed prior to design of the Wagon Wheel experiment (El Paso, TX: El Paso Natural Gas Company, 1971), p. ii.

[5] Kreith, Frank and Catherine B. Wrenn. The Nuclear Impact: A Case Study of the Plowshare Program to Produce Gas by Underground Nuclear Stimulation in the Rocky Mountains. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1976, p. 17.

[6] Pinedale Roundup (Pinedale, WY), “Pinedale Area has over $650 Million Stored Gas, October 26, 1967.

[7] El Paso Natural Gas public meeting flyer, May 1969, Wagon Wheel Information Committee [WWIC] Records, Collection No. 10428, Box 1, Folders 2 and 5, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Pinedale Roundup. “Jim Greenwood to be a Guest at Rulison, Colo., Atomic Stimulation Explosion,” September 4, 1969.

[10] United Press International (Casper, WY), “Fuel Reserves Vital: Love Defends Rulison Project,” Denver Post, September 12, 1969.

[11] Memo from F.W. Stead of U.S. Dept of the Interior Geological Survey, Denver to Project Wagon Wheel file regarding surveillance of producing water wells and springs, April 9, 1970. Wagon Wheel Project, Collection No. 10739, Box 1, unlabeled folder. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

[12] Notes and releases from symposium sponsored by the Environmental Action Group, Laramie, Wyoming, May 12, 1970, WWIC Records, Box 1, Folder 15.

[13] Pinedale Roundup, “Does Pinedale Want 20,000 People?” July 15, 22, 29, 1971.

[14] Letter from Phyllis Birr, WWIC member, to Dr. Philip L. Randolph, Manager, Nuclear Group, El Paso Natural Gas Company, March 24, 1972, WWIC Records, Box 5, Folder 18.

[15] Robert P. Barnes, letter to the editor, Pinedale Roundup, September 23, 1971.

[16] Letter from Mary Ann Steele, WWIC member to U.S. Senator Clifford Hansen, March 30, 1972, WWIC Records, Box 1, Folder 46.

[17] Ibid.

[18] League of Women Voters, “Laramie League News & Views” newsletter, Vol. 16, No. 7 (April 1972), WWIC Records, Box 2, Folder 4.

[19] Judson Whitman, letter to the editor, The Riverton Ranger, March 22, 1972.

[20] Gillette News Record, “’Make money’ Teller advises Wyomingites,” September 21, 1972.

[21] U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, AEC Authorizing Legislation Fiscal Year 1972, p. 2307.

[22] Congressional Record, 92nd Congress, 2nd session, 1972, 118, pt. 16; “Roncalio Loses Fight to Stop Wagon Wheel,” Casper Star-Tribune, June 10, 1972.

[23] Wyoming Eagle (Cheyenne, WY), “Teno Appointed,” January 27, 1973.

[24] Kaufman, Scott. Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012, p. 219-220. Kaufman quotes from: Judy Skalla, “Dr. Edward Teller Defends Wagon Wheel,” Casper Star-Tribune, September 17, 1972.

[25] Kaufman, Project Plowshare, p. 220. Kaufman cites Lederer, “Project Wagon Wheel,” 30-31; “Press Conference, Nov. 30, 1972 with Dr. Philip Randolph, EPNG, during Wyoming Association of Soil Conservation Districts State Meeting at the Hitching Post in Cheyenne, WY,” Project Wagon Wheel Correspondence, Box 54, Teno Roncalio papers.

[26] Kaufman, Project Plowshare, 220. Kaufman cites “Democrats are Irked by Physicist’s Talk,” Casper Star-Tribune, Sept. 26, 1972, and “This Week’s Offering!,” High Country News (Paonia, Colo.), Sept. 29, 1972.

[27] Kaufman, Project Plowshare, 220. Kaufman cites Lederer, “Project Wagon Wheel,” 32; “Press Conference, Nov. 30, 1972 with Dr. Philip Randolph, EPNG, during Wyoming Association of Soil Conservation Districts State Meeting at the Hitching Post in Cheyenne, WY,” Project Wagon Wheel Correspondence, Box 54, Teno Roncalio papers.

[28] Kaufman, Project Plowshare, 220-221. Kaufman’s cites “Tape transcription of a Meeting with Senator Hansen and the Wagon Wheel Information Committee—on Saturday, December 2, 1972, at 7:00 p.m. in the Sublette County Library, Pinedale, Wyoming” and “Monday—February 5, 1973,” Chronological File, Wagon Wheel, Box 3, WWIC records; Statement by H.F. Steen, Feb. 7, 1973, Correspondence: Corporations, Box 5, WWIC records; “KK Notes from Wagon Wheel Meeting, Feb. 7, 1973,” and “Transcript of Wagon Wheel Information Committee/AEC Meeting,” Feb. 7, 1973, Wagon Wheel meetings—Pinedale, Box 54, Roncalio papers; interview with Bousman; U.S. Congress, Nuclear Stimulation of Natural Gas, 40-41; interview with Steele; Lederer, “Project Wagon Wheel,” 32.

[29] Kaufman, Project Plowshare, 221.

[30] Letter from Edward H. Fleming, AEC Assistant Director to Sally H. Mackey, Chairwoman of WWIC, April 19, 1973. WWIC Records, Box 4, folder 14.

[31] Letter from Edward H. Fleming, Acting Director, Division of Applied Technology, AEC to Doris Burzlander, WWIC member, April 5, 1974, WWIC Records, Box 4, folder 49.

[32] Kirsch, Scott. Proving Grounds: Project Plowshare and the Unrealized Dream of Nuclear Earthmoving. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005, p. 204.

[33] Summary of Wagon Wheel Information Committee Efforts, 1974, WWIC Records, Box 5, folder 7.

Posted in Cold War, energy resources, environmental history, Nuclear energy, Political history, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wrangling the Western Metaphor: Charles Belden’s Wyoming Imagery

Reaching the Pitchfork Ranch in the 1920s wasn’t easy. In fact, it was arduous. Imagine yourself on the trek. After transferring at the Billings, Montana, branch line to the end of the rails in Cody, Wyoming, a light horse-drawn stage drives you over rutted dirt roads to Meeteetse, a little town some forty miles to the southeast. The delights of Meeteetse entail a hotel room shared with two to three other guests, a barber shop with a wood burning stove boiling hot water for the town’s only public bathtub, a disreputable Chinese short order diner serving the worst food for miles around, a general store, a lively saloon and another one not so spirited, and a livery stable.1 After a look around town and a greasy lunch, you find yourself keen to continue your trip to the Pitchfork Dude Ranch, not anticipating another journey of twenty-five miles on a flimsy two-horse wagon over even more eroded roads to get there.

Street scene in Meeteetse, ca. 1920. The building located front and center is the Pioneer Pharmacy, which began operations at this site in 1919. The building is now home to the Belden Museum. Charles J. Belden Photographs, Collection No. 598, Box 12, Item 1327, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

A bit worse for wear, you arrive at the Pitchfork’s guest quarters. After brushing off the road dust, you are escorted to an inviting canvas deck chair and offered a drink by the ranch manager, a trim man named Charley who is wearing a rather outsized beaver Stetson hat. Charley takes his leave, and you now notice the intense quiet of the remote location while taking in a breathtaking view of the Absaroka Range. The travails of the journey fall away as you settle into your comfortable chair dreaming of the next day’s pack trip somewhere on the Pitchfork’s 240,000 acres in the scenic Greybull River Valley. The western experience awaits with a chance to interact with real-live cowboys who you know from movies and magazines spend a romantic life trailing cattle through gorgeous grassy meadows, singing western ditties by the campfire, and curling up for the night beneath a starlit sky.

Many of the elements of the picturesque West of the imagination are visible in this staged photograph taken at the Pitchfork Ranch. Charles J. Belden Photographs, Collection No. 598, Box 10, Item 1012, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

You knew the Pitchfork Dude Ranch was the place to experience the real West because you had heard so much about it. How could you not? It was advertised in all the leading magazines and newspapers of the day. This ranch’s popularity was the result of one man, and you already knew his name. Charles Belden.

Dude ranching had existed at the Pitchfork since the early 1900s, but it was Charles Belden who made the ranch famous. Belden had married into the Pitchfork family in 1912. When his father-in-law died in 1922, he became co-owner of the ranch with his brother-in-law. Inheritance taxes took a large bite from the ranch proceeds and extra cash was desperately needed. This is where Belden found his niche. Being neat, personable, articulate, and well-educated, he was good at marketing the ranch to potential guests. He made many trips by air, car, and railroad to encourage Eastern visitors to visit the Pitchfork. While on these trips, he used his passion for photography to promote the ranch as the best place for an authentic western experience.2

Belden understood the fascination for the Rocky Mountain West and the sentimentality Americans felt for their homespun beginnings, which lived on in western ranch life. The secret to his success in photography was his intimacy with the western theme; he had a great advantage in living with his subject matter and thoroughly understanding every detail of it. The pictures he took of the Pitchfork for many newspapers in Los Angeles, Denver, Billings, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, New York and for magazines such as National Geographic, Life Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post made the Pitchfork Dude Ranch renowned.

Charles Belden knew how to please his Eastern audiences. His keen sense of drama and design comes through, even when photographing himself. He’s holding a large-format (4×5) but portable Zeiss Minimum Palmos camera. Charles J. Belden Photographs, Collection No. 598, Box 5, Item 1, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Like dime novels westerns, Belden’s most famous images did not depict the everyday life of the working ranch hand as much as they did the romance of a cook fire sing-along on the range, a picturesque pond with a cowboy taking a drink using his wide-brim hat, or lighting up a cigarette in a setting right out of a Marlborough cigarette ad. Belden recognized that these were the scenes Eastern and foreign visitors expected at a western ranch, and he knew these images would sell magazine copy and attract dudes.

Belden employed this motif of everyday ranch life a number of times in his photography.
Charles J. Belden Photographs, Collection No. 598, Box 8, Item 578, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Belden’s photography was so iconic of the West that advertisers sought him out. His photographs were used for Solitaire coffee ads (such as this photo), cigarette ads, restaurant menus, and other commercial ventures. According to his daughter Lili, Belden became so famous that the post office delivered a letter to him addressed only with a drawing of a man behind a camera wearing a cowboy hat next to a pitchfork with the word “Wyoming.” This delivery was noted on Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Charles J. Belden Photographs, Collection No. 598, Box 7, Item 405, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Yet Belden’s imagery of the Pitchfork and surrounding area did not just concentrate on western fables. He was also interested in capturing the West of the 1920s and 1930s as a place caught between the old and the new. Often, he juxtaposed symbols representing the new and old such as a horse-drawn wagon meeting an automobile at a crossroad, a sheepherder holding a Scientific American magazine while listening to a battery-powered radio, a cowboy on horseback looking up at a low-flying plane.

Example of Belden juxtaposing the West of the past with the West of the future. Charles J. Belden Photographs, Collection No. 598, Box 8, Item 598, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By the 1930s, the Pitchfork Ranch and Charles Belden were as famous as any of the celebrities of the day. Dudes were frequently arriving during the summer and early fall at the ranch. Wyoming’s tourism industry in general had grown rapidly after World War I as thousands of tourists could hop into automobiles and travel on increasingly better roads to western destinations.3 Belden’s photographs assisted Wyoming promoters in its self-identification as the “Cowboy State.” Wyoming towns, large and small, exploited the romantic western image to attract visitors eager to experience the “last frontier” as Wyoming billed itself.4 Dude ranches, such as the Pitchfork, jumped on the bandwagon by plying prospective guests with an increasing amount of magazine ads and colorful brochures that emphasized the sublime western experience. Ease of travel to the ranches by rail was promoted by northern U.S. railroad company brochures, particularly the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad, known as the Burlington Route. Belden photographs were frequently used by the Burlington Route to illustrate the delights awaiting the Eastern or overseas visitor.5

The dude ranch experience was advertised as fun for all ages, whether you were a dude or a dudine. Charles J. Belden Photographs, Collection No. 598, Box 8, Item 543, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Despite incoming dude dollars, mismanagement of the Pitchfork as well as problems caused by the deepening Depression were enough to cause the ranch to go into receivership. Additionally, other family members resented the time and expense involved with Belden’s photography and lecture tours.6 In 1940, Belden left the ranch and moved to Florida with a new wife. His daughter Annice and her husband Doug began the task of operating the guest ranch and kept it open until World War II involved the United States. The doors were closed for five years and then reopened in 1946 for about only one year before closing permanently.7

Although Belden left the West and dude ranching permanently, he still identified with the western mystique through his dress and mannerisms. He continued to market his Pitchfork Ranch images, although he did not retain ownership of any of the ranch property. His images brought about by his experiences as a rancher and dude-wrangler have become part of the reality and the fantasy of western ranch life.

Belden left the ranch while in his fifties and moved to Florida with a new wife, Verna Stouffer Belden. Now billing himself as “Seahorse Charlie Belden,” he continued his photographic career with a change in scenery to beaches and bathing beauties. This photo by Jack Richard is held in the Belden collection at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

To see more of the Belden photographs at the American Heritage Collection, check out the digitized collection at

Post submitted by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.



  1. Morton, Charles W. Memoir. Charles W. Morton Papers, Accession #1790, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, p. 38.
  2. Edgar, Bob and Jack Turnell. Brand of a Legend. Cody, WY: Stockade Publishing, 1978, p. 163.
  3. Ewig, Rick. “Give Them What They Want: The Selling of Wyoming’s Image Between the World Wars,” Readings in Wyoming History. Ed. Phil Roberts. Laramie, WY: Skyline Press, 2000, p. 45.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Brochures published by the Burlington Route such as Dude Ranches in the Big Horn Mountains (1929 and 1930), Dude Ranches in Wyoming and Montana (1938 and 1946) and Western Dude Ranches in Colorado, Wyoming and Montana (1959) included photographs by Charles J. Belden.
  6. Edgar and Turnell, pp. 122-123.
  7. Edgar and Turnell, p. 163.
Posted in Digital collections, outdoor recreation, Photographic collections, Ranch history, Tourism, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Lover’s Day: Eighteenth-Century Women Writers

For Book Lover’s Day (August 9), the AHC’s Toppan Rare Books Library offers you a historical vignette of prominent women authors and poets of the eighteenth century. While women did not particularly write more novels over the course of the century, they were at least matching men or out-writing them in “certain subgenres, such as the epistolary novel” and the “courtship novel” by the end of the period. As modern-day author and researcher Jane Spencer states, the work of these female authors “deserves investigation.”

To understand the writers of the eighteenth-century, readers are advised first to look further back in time at the writings of Aphra Behn (1640-1689). She was a “major pioneer” of the novel. A prolific producer of poems, novellas, plays, and books, she was one of the first Englishwomen to earn a living as a writer. Her Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister is a novel preoccupied with real events of the era. It is based on the scandalous love-affair between Lord Forde Grey of Werke, or the “nobleman,” and his wife’s sister, his sister-in-law through marriage, Lady Henrietta Berkeley.

Title page of Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister by Aphra Behn, 1708. Toppan Rare Books Library, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

From a literary perspective, Behn’s book is considered an epistolary novel, in which part of the narrative is told through the construct of letters exchanged between the characters. Behn’s use of the epistolary structure certainly provided inspiration for future generations of authors.

Like Aphra Behn, Charlotte Smith (1749-1806) was both a poet and a novelist. Smith left her husband and an unhappy marriage in 1787 and published her work in order to support herself. Smith, who also wrote the novels Emmeline (1788) and Etheline (1789), published Celestina in 1791. Celestinas storyline follows the title character from humble beginnings as an orphan, through to adulthood via a series of plot twists. Celestina, the character, ultimately marries for love, having rebuffed several other suitors. Celestina, the novel, is a classic example of a “courtship novel,” in that the storyline revolves around the concept that a young Englishwoman could choose among suitors to find love. “Courtship novels” followed a trend in the period between 1740 and 1820 of female authors exploring the idea of personal agency in their heroine-centered novels. All of Charlotte Smith’s novels are said to have influenced the work of Jane Austen (1775-1817). Celestina was published as a four-volume series, and volume 1 of 4, pictured below, is available to view at the American Heritage Center. 

Title page of Celestina by Charlotte Smith, 1791. Toppan Rare Books Library, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. 

Frances Burney (1752-1840), like Charlotte Smith, published books titled by the name of her main female characters. And like Aphra Behn, Burney used the epistolary structure in her 1778 novel Evelina. As you can see from the title page below, Burney is identified as the author of both Evelina and Cecilia (1782). Burney’s Camilla (1796), however, has its own claim to fame, as Jane Austen’s name is both referenced in Camilla‘s subscription list, and Austen references Camilla specifically in her own book Northanger Abbey.

Title page of Camilla by Frances Burney, 1796. Toppan Rare Books Library, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. 

Burney’s Camilla follows the matrimonial concerns of seventeen-year-old Camilla Tyrold and her sisters and cousin, thus making it yet another “courtship novel.” Camilla falls in love but faces many misadventures and hardships before the novel ends and she is able to marry her beau, Edgar Mandlebert. All five volumes of Camilla are available to view at the American Heritage Center. In Camilla, Burney embraced a number of Gothic elements, as influenced by Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823). Radcliffe was famous for giving Gothic fiction, with its scenes of mystery and terror, an aura of respectability in the late eighteenth century. Radcliffe’s female heroines were strong characters in their own right, often overtaking the powerful male villains and heroes they were matched against.

A fuller understanding of the female authors of the eighteenth century is possible by examining some of the poetry of the period. Of note is Mary Chandler’s (1687-1745) A Description of Bath. A Poem. Humbly Inscribed to Her Royal Highness the Princess Amelia. With Several Other Poems (1755). The work was wildly popular, so much so that seven editions were published. The title poem of the collection, “A Description of Bath,” has been described as a letter to a friend. It focuses on the town of Bath, England, and its “historical, social and moral topography.” Chandler was in a unique position to draw on her own experiences in memorializing the town – in addition to being a poet, she had a hat-making shop in Bath. Chandler’s poetry has been compared with the poems of Alexander Pope (1688-1744), a contemporary who is said to have “approved” of her work. Other poems in the volume include “To Mrs. Moor, A Poem on Friendship,” which exemplifies a distinctly female genre. Such a poem, categorized as a “friendship poem,” was a type of poetry that Paula Backscheider, an expert in eighteenth-century literature, states “is the only significant form of poetry that eighteenth-century women inherited from other women.” Mary Chandler’s poetry anthology is available to view at the American Heritage Center. 

Title page of A Description of Bath by Mary Chandler, 1755. Toppan Rare Books Library, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Several other examples of poetry and poetic collections are available to view at the American Heritage Center. Poems on Several Occasions (1786) by Ann Yearsley, Poems (1816) by Hannah More – which contains poems like Florio: A Tale for Fine Gentleman and Ladies – as well as The Spleen (1709) by Anne Finch are but a few illustrations of the type of poetry that existed in the eighteenth century. 

Title page of The Spleen. Together with A Prospect of Death by Anne Finch, 1709. Toppan Rare Books Library, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. 

The female authors and poets of the eighteenth-century highlighted in this article often influenced one another and it is through their work that we get a glimpse into the attitudes and mores of the era. Women were influenced by the existing, often male, literary culture, but also forming their own.

All of the books featured here are part of the collections of the Toppan Rare Books Library at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center.

This article was written by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington and based on a Virmuze virtual exhibit curated by University of Wyoming English Department Graduate Student Lydia Stuver in conjunction with the American Heritage Center.


Posted in 18th century, Authors and literature, Book history, Poetry, Uncategorized, women's history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wyoming Statesman Alan K. Simpson

Al Simpson is pillar of Wyoming politics, a well-known name across the country, and a benefactor of the American Heritage Center. Simpson enjoyed a long political career spanning the years 1964 to 1997. He is both a politician and a statesman and has held a wide variety of positions in local, state and national government. 

Alan “Al” Kooi Simpson was born in Denver, Colorado, on September 2, 1931. His parents were Milward Simpson, a former United States senator and Wyoming governor, and Lorna Kooi Simpson.

Milward and Lorna Simpson, ca. 1955.
Box 242, Alan K. Simpson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. 

A self-described “rebellious” youth, Simpson attended public school in Cody, Wyoming. In 1950 he enrolled at the University of Wyoming, where he studied law. At UW, Simpson was a member of the student senate and the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. He played both varsity football and basketball and was president of the “W” Club for athletic lettermen. Simpson graduated with Bachelor of Science in 1954 and that same year married Ann Schroll from Greybull, Wyoming.

Alan K. Simpson’s senior photo in high school, 1949.
Box 646, Alan K. Simpson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. 

After graduation, Simpson joined the U.S. Army, where he was a second lieutenant. Simpson served in Germany, was discharged from the Army in 1956, and returned to Wyoming. Once stateside, Simpson reenrolled at the University of Wyoming to study law and went on to receive a Juris Doctorate degree in 1958. 

Simpson joined the Cody-based law firm owned by his father and Charles G. Kepler, making it the firm of Simpson, Kepler and Simpson. Simpson practiced law in Cody until 1976. He also served from 1959 to 1969 as a Cody city attorney and during the year 1959, as assistant attorney general of Wyoming. 

Alan Simpson’s statewide political career began in 1964. He was elected to the Wyoming State Legislature as a representative of Park County. Simpson spent 13 years as a representative, serving in several different capacities. He held the positions of majority whip, majority floor leader, and speaker pro tempore during his time in the Wyoming House.  

In 1978, Simpson entered the race for a U.S. Senate seat. He ran as a Republican and was elected that same year.

Newly-elected U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson and his wife Ann Simpson in Washington D.C., April 1979. Simpson inscribed the photo to his parents.
Box 142, Alan K. Simpson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Simpson was re-elected twice, for a total of three terms, serving as one of Wyoming’s two senators for eighteen years.

Wyoming’s U.S. senators Malcom Wallop and Alan Simpson presenting a belt made by Donald King of Sheridan, Wyoming to President Ronald Reagan, August 3, 1981.
Box 143, Alan K. Simpson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Simpson sponsored 338 bills and amendments and co-sponsored more than 2000 other pieces of legislation. The bills and amendments included the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1985, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Work on the act was bipartisan (Romano Mazzoli was a Democrat in the House of Representatives) and considered a model for congressional problem solving.

While Simpson had working relationships with Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton, it was his connection with George H.W. Bush that was the most significant.

Alan Simpson enjoying a laugh with George H.W. Bush.
Box 143, Alan K. Simpson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Simpson’s relationship with Bush dated back to 1962, when their fathers were both senators. Over time, the two men and their wives developed a deep and abiding friendship, which blossomed while Bush served as vice president under Ronald Reagan. Simpson was asked to eulogize Bush in 2018. Simpson remembered delighting in joining Bush and his wife, Barbara, in the president’s box at the Kennedy Center. The two men shared a love of show tunes and the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Simpson admitted that they “didn’t tell people how close we were.” But it was Al and Ann Simpson who joined the Bushes at the White House for their last night there, and Al and Ann who walked the Bushes to the helicopter that carried them away from the White House for the very last time. It was during that last night at the White House that the two couples went up to the White House roof, and Al and George tossed snowballs, to the amusement of their wives.

The list of positions held by Simpson during his time in the U.S. Senate is long. He was Senate majority and minority whip for ten years and the chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He also served on the Judiciary Committee and co-chaired its Subcommittee on Immigration and Refugee Policy. Additionally, he served on the Environmental and Public Works Committee, the Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy, the Special Committee on Aging, and the Select Committee to Investigate Undercover Operations of the FBI and Department of Justice.

Unafraid to reach across the political aisle to get things done, Simpson was friendly with Democrats, including Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy. Kennedy and Simpson co-hosted a popular radio program called Face-Off in which the two debated national issues and socially important topics in two-minute segments. The program was aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System five days a week for eight years during the 1980s and 1990s.

U.S. Senator Simpson squaring off against U.S. Senator Kennedy in a photo to promote Face Off.
Box 145, Alan K. Simpson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Simpson retired from the Senate on January 3, 1997, but his career as a stateman was far from over. He went on to serve as the Director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He also took time to author Right in the Old Gazoo: A Lifetime of Scrapping with the Press, published in 1997. It was replete with vividly told anecdotes and written in his distinctive “pull no punches” style.

In 2000, Simpson returned to Cody to continue practicing law. Then, after the September 11 terror attacks in 2001, he was selected as co-chairman of the Continuity of Government Commission. He also served on the American Battle Monuments Commission.

He often spoke on television news programs and lectured at the University of Wyoming.

Simpson and Representative Robert H. Michel on NBC’s Meet the Press, November 8, 1992.
Box 145, Alan K. Simpson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Additionally, Simpson served on the boards of many corporations and nonprofits, including on the board of trustees for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody.

In 2010 President Obama named him co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.

Simpson, in his retirement, was also active in supporting the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation. As a twelve-year-old boy, Simpson had met Norman Mineta, who became a lifelong friend. Mineta had been interned at Heart Mountain during World War II and Simpson was there attending a Boy Scout jamboree hosted by Mineta’s Boy Scout troop. Mineta went on to become a Democrat elected to represent California in the U.S. House of Representatives. The two men reunited in Washington, D.C., and collaborated on the 1988 Civil Liberties Act, which, among other things, formally apologized Japanese Americans held behind barbed wire during the war. Simpson’s and Mineta’s long friendship was honored by the creation of the Mineta-Simpson Institute at Heart Mountain. 

Simpson has also been a longtime supporter of activities here at the American Heritage Center. The Alan K. Simpson Institute is an AHC program that focuses on the acquisition, preservation and research use of the papers of prominent individuals, businesses and organizations that have provided leadership – political, economic, social and cultural – for Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain region.

In July 2022, Simpson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his years of public service and statesmanship. He was recognized as a prominent advocate for campaign finance reform and responsible governance. President Joe Biden praised Simpson for “forging real relationships, even with people on the other side of the aisle” and for being “one of the most decent, stand-up, genuine guys I’ve ever served with.”

If you are interested in learning more about the storied career of retired U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson, see the American Heritage Center’s extensive collection of his papers.

This blog post by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington is based on a Virmuze virtual exhibit curated by American Heritage Center archives aide Tyler Rasmussen.


Posted in Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Immigration Policy, Interns' projects, Uncategorized, Western history, western politics and leadership, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Steamboat: Wyoming’s Wildest Resident

It’s Cheyenne Frontier Days, so a great opportunity to talk about one of the quintessential Wyoming images: a cowboy on a bucking bronc. Wyoming’s original bucking bronc was a horse named Steamboat. His origin story is a bit murky. Some propose that Steamboat was born on the Foss Ranch in 1896, and that his first owner, Frank Foss, was the railroad station agent at Chugwater. Other accounts place his birth on a ranch somewhere between Laramie and Bosler. Regardless, all accounts agree that Steamboat was a handsome horse, coal-black, with three white feet.

A young Steamboat with cowboy Hugh Clark.
Box 1, Andrew Springs Gillespie papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

His unique name referenced the unusual whistling sound made by his breath. He had broken some of the cartilage in his nose as a colt, possibly while resisting being gelded. When ridden, Steamboat’s whistling grew more pronounced – he sounded like a riverboat giving off a warning. He grew into a 1,100-pound masterpiece of quivering muscle, ready to challenge any rider daring enough to try to “break” him.

It is believed that Steamboat was sold by Frank Foss to the Swan Land and Cattle Company in 1899. Steamboat had already made a name for himself as a natural bucker. His first rodeo was Denver’s Mountain and Plain Festival in October of 1901. He had a signature style of bucking which included sunfishing, with his body twisting in the shape of a crescent. Steamboat developed a reputation for dismounting even the most experienced cowboys. Woe be unto those overconfident riders who underestimated the force and power of Steamboat’s jumps. He had unusual stamina and was described as exploding like dynamite.

Steamboat being ridden by A.S. “Bud” Gillespie.
Box 1, Andrew Springs Gillespie papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In the fall of 1902, Steamboat changed hands once again. John Coble and Sam Moore bought the horse for twenty-five dollars. Later that same fall, it is said that Buffalo Bill Cody, in an unsuccessful bid to buy the horse, offered two-thousand dollars for him. By 1903, Steamboat had become the main attraction at many a rodeo, saved for the most accomplished cowboys. It was September of that year when U.W. Professor B.C. Buffum of the College of Agriculture captured the now iconic photo of Steamboat with cowboy Guy Holt astraddle at the Albany County Fair.

Steamboat being ridden by Guy Holt, September 1903.
Box 35, B.C. Buffum papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Holt was a world champion cowboy, haven ridden the most challenging horses in both the Mountain and Plain Festival and Cheyenne Frontier Days. Historians regularly tout Buffum’s photograph as the best bucking horse image of the era. For his part, Holt reportedly said his back never fully recovered from his terrible twister of a ride on Steamboat.

Other riders had some limited success with Steamboat. Cowboy Otto Plaga rode the horse for a possibly record breaking, and certainly back breaking, eighty jumps in Cheyenne in 1905. But ultimately Steamboat prevailed and unseated Plaga. Cowboy Jake Maring, one of the few who successfully rode the horse, reported that Steamboat shook him so thoroughly that he was unable to eat anything for days after. Steamboat historians like to point out that Maring’s ride was only successful due to the soft mud on the ground that day which hindered Steamboat’s signature bucking.

In his later years, Steamboat was purchased by Charles Irwin for his wild west show. The horse became one of the stars of the show, billed as the “Worst Outlaw in the World – The Horse Which Threw the Best of Them”. Steamboat traveled as far west as Los Angeles and north to Canada. As he aged, he became quite gentle to handle and even appeared in parades, where he is said to have kept step to band music.

Steamboat’s last performance was in the fall of 1914. He had a nearly fifteen-year long rodeo career. Stories of Steamboat’s demise, as with his birth, vary but all agree that he had a nasty run in with some barbwire. His injuries complicated into a case of blood poisoning which ultimately proved fatal. An unsubstantiated legend persists that Steamboat is buried in Frontier Park, the site of Cheyenne Frontier Days.

It would be another seven years before Steamboat’s likeness appeared in association with the University of Wyoming. UW’s first use of the bucking bronc logo dates back to 1921. The baseball team’s equipment manager, Deane Hunton, had seen Professor Buffum’s 1903 Steamboat photograph and was inspired. He modeled the horse and rider silhouette on the photo and created felt patches that were added to the team’s uniforms.

Steamboat and his rider have come to symbolize the untamable spirit of the University of Wyoming, and indeed, the state. Learn more about Steamboat and other wild Wyoming residents at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington and AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in Agricultural history, Livestock industry, Rodeo history, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming History Day | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment