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

No Room at the Inn: Owen Wister Encounters Wyoming, July – August 1885

Portrait of Owen Wister taken in Yellowstone National Park, 1890s. Box 7, folder 4, Owen Wister papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In July 1885, Owen Wister visited Medicine Bow in Wyoming Territory as part of his tour of the region, only to discover there were no rooms available in town to sleep. Instead of moving on when he arrived on July 19, Wister decided to stay, and ended up sleeping on the general store’s counter for the night. In his journal entry for July 21, he wrote, “I slept from ten to twelve thirty on the counter of the store at Medicine Bow and then the train came in bringing the lawyer and the fish…” The lawyer was his traveling companion, and the fish their dinner.

Wister then continued his tour, having noted earlier in his journal that calling Medicine Bow a town was being generous. He even went so far as to create a town inventory, which consisted mostly of what he termed “shanties” and something else he slated as “too late for classification.”

From Medicine Bow, Wister and his companion set out across the plains, camping out at various points. They encountered, and hunted, all types of animals, which were usually eaten or fashioned into mementoes. Wister notes that he was not feeling well over the course of this trip but felt better by the first of August, when they made camp on Upper Deer Creek in what would soon become Converse County. They were joined by nearby rancher Frank Wolcott, later of Johnson County War notoriety, and his wife. Although Wolcott proved a boon companion, Wister had a different opinion of the wife, noting in his diary, “Mrs. Wolcott has the Puritan virtues and she congealed early…It’s a bad thing to have no humour – and she hasn’t a grain.” By August 14, Wister was off again, continuing his travels and falling in love with the West.

Owen Wister was a famous writer and historian. He is credited as the “father” of western fiction. His most notable titles are The Virginian: A Horseman of the High Plains and a biography of Ulysses S. Grant. He was born July 14, 1860, to Sarah Butler and Owen Jones Wister in Germantown, a neighborhood in the northwestern part of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Young Owen spent his youth traveling through Europe with his parents, learning French, and developing a love for music. He attended Harvard University and graduated summa cum laude in 1882 before traveling back to Europe to study music.

His adventures were cut short when Owen Sr. told him to come home to be a banker. Owen hated banking and convinced his father to let him return to Harvard, this time to the law school. He graduated in 1888 and was admitted to the bar in 1890.  During his law school years, Wister took his first trip West, to Wyoming, as a restorative for a near nervous breakdown. It was also the birth of his appreciation for the region that would inspire his writing for the remainder of his life. He would make fifteen trips out west from 1885 to 1900 and would keep meticulous notes of each that would help him write his western stories.

Manuscript of first page of The Virginian written by Owen Wister.
Box 3, folder 19, Owen Wister papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 1902, what is considered the first western, The Virginian, was published. Set in Wyoming Territory in the 1880s, it is about a cowboy who falls in love with a Vermont schoolteacher and the cowboy’s search for justice set against the backdrop of the Johnson County War. Wister wrote the book in Wyoming, where he often spent the summers to improve his health. He wrote most of the story in his cabin near Jackson, Wyoming, as well as various other locations scattered around the state.

The 1885 trip described in part above played a large role in the creation of The Virginian. During Wister’s travels he discovered a range of characters and events that later became part of the novel, as well as short stories. The Virginian includes a section in which the story follows a rustler’s trail from Casper through the Teton Range and into Idaho, closely mirroring some of Wister’s 1885 trip through the region. During his Wyoming stays Wister also spent a lot of time camping and hunting in both Yellowstone National Park and Jackson, which also inspired the novel’s storylines.

Owen Wister with a hunting party in camp at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 1887.
Box 7, folder 4, Owen Wister papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Wister continued to travel back and forth from the East to the western plains, writing and capturing the essence of the West in short stories, at times bringing his family and friends to see the beauty of the West. His love letters to the region in the form of his writings and stories led him to become the father of western fiction and encouraged the image of a wild and untamed West.

To discover more about Owen Wister, his writings, and his trips out West and to Wyoming, please visit the American Heritage Center’s digital materials website. There you can view many photographs, as well as Wister’s journals and notebooks that have been digitized.

Post contributed by AHC Archives Intern Brittany Heye.



Vannoy, Cynthia. “Owen Wister’s Wyoming.” True West Magazine. March 30, 2018.

Nesbitt, John D. “Owen Wister: Inventor of the Good-Guy Cowboy.” November 8, 2014.

Posted in 19th century, Authors and literature, Book history, Uncategorized, Western fiction, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sampling Space: Roald Fryxell and NASA’s Apollo Program

On July 16, 1969, just after half past nine in the morning, a Saturn V rocket was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was powering the Apollo 11 mission, destined for the moon.

It was a heady time for the American space program. The space race against the Soviet Union was raging, and Apollo 11 had the goal of putting the first men on the moon. When the lunar module Eagle landed four days later, on July 20, Americans heaved a collective sigh of relief. There was jubilation when astronaut Neil Armstrong announced, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Eagle had touched down on smooth, relatively level terrain, known as the Sea of Tranquility. Even more exciting was Armstrong’s first step out of the spacecraft, onto the moon. He remarked, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” and quickly noted that the surface was “fine and powdery.” That was news to scientists back on earth. One of those scientists was Roald Fryxell.

Fryxell was born February 18, 1934, in Moline, Illinois. He completed his undergraduate degree in geology at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1956. He went on to do graduate studies at Washington State University and received a Ph.D. degree in geology from the University of Idaho in 1971.

Roald Fryxell, 1967. 
Box 49, Roald Fryxell papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Fryxell’s expertise was geochronology – the branch of geology focused on dating rock formations and geological events. He was part of NASA’s Preliminary Examination Team (PET) that was tasked with studying core samples of the moon.

While the astronauts were out of the Eagle and on the lunar surface only a little more than 2 hours, they spent part of that time using a drive-tube core sampler designed by Fryxell. With it, they collected samples three quarters of an inch in diameter and about one foot in length. When the astronauts returned to earth on July 24, Fryxell and the PET team were waiting in NASA’s Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The Apollo 11 mission had collected some 50 pounds of lunar soil and rock samples.

The collection of lunar samples represented a unique scientific resource. The samples had to be carefully maintained to prevent deterioration of the material. Specially built apparatus were constructed to house the moon soil and rocks. They included enclosed chambers with nitrogen piped in to ensure that specimens weren’t degraded or contaminated by exposure to air.

NASA scientists examining a lunar sample returned by the Apollo missions.
Box 44, Roald Fryxell papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The analyses Fryxell and the PET team conducted were groundbreaking. Fryxell described the lunar drive tube core samples as “potentially the most informative samples brought to earth during the Apollo Program.” The cores shed light on the history of the moon, as well as the earth and sun. They provided evidence of the moon’s bombardment by meteors and of the flux of cosmic rays and small particles related to solar winds.

Handling the crumbly core material was tricky. Fryxell worked long hours under difficult conditions. In some cases, he patiently took each core sample apart, grain by grain. It was awkward, challenging work, made more difficult by the need to work within a nitrogen-filled glove box. In other cases, it was important to retain the stratified core layers undisturbed. Fryxell developed new techniques for treating the samples in order to retain their structural integrity. He paid close attention to the subtle layering in the samples. Layers indicated changes in the moon’s surface over time. And core sample material from the deepest part of the lunar drive tube core also provided the tantalizing prospect of offering signs of water or lunar organisms.

Apollo 14 lunar core sample, April 10, 1972. 
Box 44, Roald Fryxell papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Fryxell and the NASA team discovered that some of the lunar samples were surprisingly colorful. The photograph shown below is of a thin section of an Apollo 11 lunar sample collected at the Sea of Tranquility landing site by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, Jr. The sample shows glass and crystals of feldspar, pyroxene and olivine as they appear under polarized light.

Image of a lunar sample used as the back cover of a program for a “Seminar on Space Exploration” at Augustana College, February 10, 1972.
Box 52, Roald Fryxell papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

After working with the Apollo 11 team, Fryxell was invited back for continued research on lunar samples. He was part of the NASA team for Apollo 12 and Apollo 14 through Apollo 17. (Apollo 13 never landed on the moon, so no samples were collected – a spacecraft malfunction led to a flyby.) Each mission brought even more lunar material to study. The Apollo 17 mission returned with core samples drilled down ten feet into the moon’s surface and nearly 250 pounds of lunar rock and soil.

Astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt using a lunar rake to collect rocks and rock chip samples during the Apollo 17 mission, December 11, 1972.
Box 43, Roald Fryxell papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Fryxell’s involvement with the Apollo program gave him a new perspective about life on Earth. While he might not have called himself an environmentalist, he warned, “We are dependent for our survival on successful adaptation to the environment. Unlike our Native American predecessors, we are very near to destroying that environment; we must learn to curb our mismanagement of it. The flights of Apollo have shown us that we have no place else to duplicate it.”

Photograph of the moon taken by the crew of Apollo 16.
Box 49, Roald Fryxell papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Beyond his work with NASA, Fryxell was also a professor of geochronology in the Department of Anthropology at Washington State University. He is remembered for his infectious enthusiasm, a natural teaching ability and his cross disciplinary expertise.

Sadly, Roald Fryxell’s life was cut short. He was killed in a car accident in 1974. In memorializing his life, he was described as “a soft-spoken, unpretentious man … a scientist who easily reduced technical jargon to layman’s terms.” His name lives on in various university scholarships established in his memory and in outer space – the moon now has a crater named Fryxell.

More details on the life and work of Roald Fryxell and the Apollo space program can be found at the American Heritage Center in the Roald Fryxell papers.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


Posted in Geology, Lunar Exploraton, Space, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating 200 Years of Independence

July 4, 1976, marked the 200th anniversary of when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. It is little known that on that original day of independence, only two people signed the document – John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress and Charles Thomson, the Continental Congress’ secretary. It was not until August 2, 1776, that the other 55 signers penned their names onto parchment. John Hancock signed with a flourish, his signature large enough, he is reported to have said, so that King George of England could read it without his spectacles.

While July 4th is always a day celebrated in the U.S., in 1976 the Bicentennial celebrations lasted an entire year. Planning for the Bicentennial got underway ten years earlier under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Congress convened an American Revolution Bicentennial Commission, with senators, representatives, cabinet secretaries, leading historians and educators. At first, the concept was to have a single city exhibition in Boston or Philadelphia. That idea was soon abandoned.

By 1972 each state had formed a Bicentennial Commission. Plans for celebrations reached as far away as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa. Washington, D.C., prepared for an expected 40 million visitors, the equivalent of nearly one fifth of the U.S. population. An official Bicentennial logo was designed and every sort of commemorative souvenir imaginable was marketed.

Publicity for souvenirs to commemorate the Bicentennial featuring the official logo, September 1975.
Box 1, Daniel A. Nelson Bicentennial Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In Wyoming, $350,000 in federal grant money was awarded to Bicentennial-related projects. In all, the state organized 353 different Bicentennial-themed events. That included planting of commemorative trees on the University of Wyoming campus, constructing a Bicentennial Memorial fountain in front of the Douglas courthouse and the commissioning of a three-act opera, “The Sweetwater Lynching.” Wyoming developed its own patriotic Bicentennial logo, based on the iconic bucking horse. It incorporated the cowboy dressed in colonial era clothing and a stylized background evoking the Grand Tetons.

Logo of the Wyoming Bicentennial Commission, 1976.
Box 3, Daniel A. Nelson Bicentennial Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Eighth grade students in Laramie donned colonial garb and reenacted the signing of the Declaration of Independence, complete with quill pens.

Laramie Boomerang photo of students reenacting the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 1976.
Box 1, Daniel A. Nelson Bicentennial Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Bicentennial festivities on Independence Day in 1976 included events in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip of the United Kingdom. British interest in the celebrations extended to Wyoming, where a British Broadcasting Corporation crew was dispatched to film the Cody Stampede rodeo and parade.

In true Wyoming fashion, the town of Centennial hosted a buffalo barbeque and turkey shoot. Thermopolis celebrated with horse races. Some larger Wyoming communities celebrated with extravagant fireworks displays.

The Bicentennial also proved to be a marketing boon for enterprises across the U.S.. Local Wyoming companies like Laramie’s Cadwell Shoes gave customers free Bicentennial themed calendars.

Cadwell Shoes Bicentennial calendar, 1976.
Box 8, Daniel A. Nelson Bicentennial Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Wyoming travel agents touted Bicentennial travel opportunities. In Washington, D.C., more than half a million people turned out to watch a three-hour long parade. And across Wyoming residents joined in on a nationwide tolling of bells in celebration.

1776 Tours travel brochure, 1976.
Box 1, Daniel A. Nelson Bicentennial Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Step back forty-six years in time to our nation’s Bicentennial by visiting the American Heritage Center where you can see the Daniel A. Nelson Bicentennial Collection.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


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Hanna, Wyoming’s 1903 “Frightful Disaster”

It was a normal Tuesday morning in the Union Pacific Coal Company mining town of Hanna, Wyoming, when disaster struck on June 30, 1903. It was about 10:30 in the morning when coal gas in the Hanna No. 1 mine caught fire and the resulting explosion imprisoned about 200 men underground. Miners not on shift, family members, and people from the surrounding communities rushed to help. Forty-six men were able to escape because they happened to be near an air shaft when the explosion occurred. Many others closer to the blast would have died instantly and others still would have suffocated before rescuers could reach them. In total, 169 miners lost their lives in the Hanna No. 1 mine that day. It remains Wyoming’s deadliest mine disaster.

The Story of Hanna

The area now known as Hanna was originally named Chimney Springs. In 1889, the Union Pacific Railway Coal Department (renamed the Union Pacific Coal Company the following year), opened the first mine at Hanna. Like the other Union Pacific owned coal mining towns, Hanna was a melting pot of various American and international cultures due to the company’s widespread recruiting practices.

The first Union Pacific Coal Company (UPCC) mines were opened in 1868, and the towns surrounding them and their successors were built haphazardly with housing placed close to the mine openings for ease of getting workers to the mines. Hanna was the first planned town built by the UPCC, with neat rows of identical company houses. Regardless of how the towns were planned or built, however, they mostly functioned as company towns with many of the goods and services (including housing) all owned by the company.

Local historian Nancy Anderson summed up the history of Hanna’s mines in her article, “A Brief History of Hanna, Wyoming” on “From its inception in 1890 until the closing of its Hanna mines in 1954, the Union Pacific Coal Company opened six mines, some mere prospect holes, others long-lived collieries.” Though the last coal mine closed in the 1950s, a little over 800 people still live in Hanna today.

This image shows the neat rows of company housing in Hanna, Wyoming in 1900. Hanna was the first planned Union Pacific Coal Company town.
Box 96, Negative D4-3583 & 2227, Samuel H. Knight papers, Collection No. 400044, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Wyoming’s Deadliest Mine Disaster

Within thirty minutes of the mine explosion, the Carbon County Commissioners hired a special train to send all physicians from Rawlins to aid in the recovery effort and provide medical assistance. Once in Hanna, the physicians were taken directly to the scene where fellow miners and community members were desperately trying to dig out their entombed colleagues and loved ones. It was slow going due to the force of the explosion, which threw debris—even large timbers—hundreds of feet from the mine opening. In addition to the men who were trapped underground, about 45 mules and horses kept in the mine stable inside the mine entrance were also trapped. The underground fire continued to burn for days, making recovery even more difficult.

By July 2, twenty-three men who had died from a resulting cave-in were found, some partially buried, at entry No. 17 but by the following day, mine bosses and rescuers alike, including about thirty “experienced fire fighters” who came from Rock Springs to assist, had given up hope of recovering any miners alive. They determined the burning stables at entry no. 17 had ignited the vein of coal and it was impossible to extinguish it. Great billows of black smoke were described in the newspapers. The smoke from the burning coal and the mine gas still present made it incredibly dangerous and nearly impossible to continue the recovery efforts, but they continued nonetheless. The newspapers reported that the 4th of July was “scarcely noticed” as they worked to contain the fire. Efforts to recover bodies would continue for months.

The 1903 Hanna mine disaster made front page news of the Cheyenne Daily Leader newspapers on the day it occurred, June 30. Several other newspapers ran the story the following day. Image courtesy of the Wyoming Digital Newspaper Collection.
An interior shot of the slope into Hanna No. 1 Mine, 1900.
Box 92, Negative D3-3215 & C-41000, Samuel H. Knight papers, Collection No. 400044, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Laramie Boomerang also pointed out in their July 1, 1903 front page story that many of the men who died were married, which meant they left a large number of widows and fatherless children when they were killed. After a survey of the town, one newspaper reported that about 600 children were left fatherless. Because so many of the miners were immigrants, some of these children were left without any living relatives in the United States or relatives at all. The Rawlins Republican reported on July 1, 1903 that it was “pitiful to see the women and children weeping and wailing about the mouth of the mine, begging for a word about their loved ones.”

Private donations were collected for the families as far as the East Coast. The company provided clothes and train cars full of coffins. However, Nancy Anderson also pointed out that the company “was condemned for refusing to compensate survivors beyond a meager amount for burial expenses. The explosion and ensuing publicity also brought national attention to dangers in Wyoming mines and increased state government concern for mine safety. Unions insisted on greater compensation for dependents of miners killed in such mishaps.”

Only a few images of Hanna from this time period are currently held by the American Heritage Center. The two photographs featured here are from the Samuel H. Knight papers (Collection # 400044). S.H. Knight was an early professor of geology at the University of Wyoming and ran the university’s Geology Museum. He took many photos documenting UW and Laramie buildings, events, and people. He also took photos around Wyoming related to his work as a geologist. The Hanna mine and the Hanna Basin are featured in several photos from this collection.

More details of the 1903 Hanna mine disaster can be read by visiting the Wyoming Digital Newspaper Collection and the website of the Hanna Basin Museum.

Post contributed by AHC Public History Educator Brigida Blasi.



Anderson, Nancy. “A Brief History of Hanna, Wyoming.” November 8, 2014.

Roberts, Phil. “The Most Dangerous Occupation: The Quest for Safety in Wyoming’s Coal Mines,” November 8, 2014. 

Leathers, Bob. “The June 30, 1903 Explosion,” Hanna Basin Museum. Accessed June 23, 2022.

“213 Men Entombed,” The Rawlins Republican, July 1, 1903.

“Abandon Hope for Miners,” Cheyenne Daily Leader, July 3, 1903.

“Disaster at Hanna,” The Laramie Boomerang, July 1, 1903.

“Fire Interferes with Work,” The Rawlins Republican, July 4, 1903.

“Fire Raging in Hanna Mine,” The Cheyenne Daily Leader, July 2, 1903.

“Frightful Disaster,” The Cheyenne Daily Leader, June 30, 1903.

“Great Progress at Hanna,” The Cheyenne Daily Leader, July 6, 1903.

“Will Not Abandon Mine,” Wyoming Tribune, July 5, 1903.

Posted in Coal industry, Mine disasters, mining history, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming History Day | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Female Fire Finders of the American Forests

Standing guard atop a lookout tower dozens of feet above the forest floor, female fire finders, sometimes called “lady lookouts” have been helping to protect American forests since before World War I. Hallie Morse Daggett was the first female lookout hired by the Forest Service in California in 1913. She was the most qualified of three applicants. (The other two were ne’er-do-well men.) Daggett had grown up exploring the Siskiyou Mountains in northern California’s Klamath National Forest and was familiar with and passionate about protecting the forest. She was paid a seasonal salary of $840 and liked the job so much that she returned for fifteen seasons. In her first season it is said that she reported forty fires. Her quick reaction time kept the burn area to under five acres.

As word of her success spread through the forestry community, other women were offered lookout jobs. Some women were motivated to seek out positions during World War I, when men who were overseas fighting left behind vacant lookout towers. In 1919, Helen Dowe took up a lookout post in Colorado’s Pike National Forest. She worked for three seasons and reported fires that prevented thousands of acres from burning. Through the early 1920s there were at least eighteen other female lookouts in the West. Women proved to be capable lookouts – more than a few male foresters were surprised to discover that female lookouts took the job more seriously than some of their male counterparts. The “lady lookouts” showed more patience and vigilance and were less likely to wander off on hunting or fishing expeditions.

Here at the American Heritage Center, there are no records of female lookouts in Wyoming until World War II. Then, in the summer of 1943, it appears from photographic records, that Roberta Eads served as a Forest Service lookout in the Medicine Bow National Forest.

Lookout Roberta Eads surveying the Medicine Bow National Forest from the catwalk of the
Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower, 1943.
Box 20, Medicine Bow National Forest Supervisor records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Eads worked 55 feet above the forest floor in the Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower. Perched at an elevation of just over 10,000 feet, the tower is located seven miles west of Albany, Wyoming in the heart of the Medicine Bow National Forest. On the job, Eads would have enjoyed a panoramic view of Medicine Bow Peak, Rob Roy Reservoir, Jelm Mountain and the southern end of the Snowy Range.

It is likely that the Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. More than 3,000 lookout towers sprung up in forests across the U.S. during the 1930s. The towers were typically a metal frame topped with a fourteen-foot by fourteen-foot wooden cabin. Access was by a ladder or a staircase. The cabin was surrounded on all sides by a catwalk. The catwalk gave the Forest Service employee outside access from which to conduct their regular forest surveillance duties. Furnishings in the cabin in the sky were sparse – a chair, small table and cot for furniture and a small woodfired stove for cooking and warmth. While simple in construction, lookout towers were a critical part of forest management. In most cases, the Forest Service was responsible for staffing the lookout towers.

After the lookout construction boom of the 1930s, there was a need to staff all the new lookout towers. And with World War II drawing so many men away from forestry jobs, once again opportunities for female fire finders grew. There were as many as 600 “lady lookouts” hired in the 1940s.

Lookout Margaret R. Evens on the catwalk of the Jelm Mountain Fire Lookout Tower, 1945.
Box 26, Medicine Bow National Forest Supervisor records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Forest Service set up specially designed classes and training sessions known as Guard School. Lookouts learned how to use radio sets and other lookout equipment and became well versed in lookout station duties. Their training reviewed specific responsibilities – lookouts used binoculars to scan the landscape and horizon at regular intervals (sometimes as often as every 15 minutes), spending time on each quadrant of the cabin’s catwalk looking for smoke.

Being a lookout was not for the faint of heart. Female lookouts had to endure isolation, storms, loneliness and sometimes even wild animals prowling at the base of their lookout towers. But most of the female lookouts found the rewards of living amid wilderness worth the risk. Often, they were motivated by a sense of civic duty to protect our nation’s forests. It was the women who worked as lookouts high above the forest floor that saved lives and kept land from burning.

One of the tools “lady lookouts” would have learned to use in Guard School was the Osborne Firefinder, a circular steel disc mounted in the center or the cabin. The forerunner to the device was invented in the 1800s to help combat fires in London. William Osborne, of the U.S. Forest Service, modernized the technology in 1911. Eads and Evens used the Osborne Firefinder by peering through two sighting holes that rotated around a topographic map fixed to the disc. They could pinpoint the location of distant smoke and record the directional coordinates of the fire.

Roberta Eads using an Osborne Firefinder in the cabin of the Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower, July 10, 1943.
Box 20, Medicine Bow National Forest Supervisor records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Like all good fire finders, “lady lookouts” had to be both self-reliant and comfortable with pioneer-like conditions – hauling water, chopping wood, cooking over a primitive stove and hand washing clothes. Groceries and supplies would have been delivered to them periodically, but a lookout would have spent most of her time alone. And there were no days off or visits into town over the course of the fire season. It is likely that lookouts spent weeks on end with only radio contact with the outside world. It was by radio that they would have contacted the Forest Service to alert them of smoke spotted on the horizon.

Eads using the radio in the Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower, 1943.
Box 20, Medicine Bow National Forest Supervisor records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

For the fire season of 1944, Mary Lockett took over Spruce Mountain lookout duties from Roberta Eads.

Lookout Mary Lockett on the catwalk of the Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower, 1944.
Box 26, Medicine Bow National Forest Supervisor records, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

If you want to get a taste of lookout life yourself, you can spend the night in the Spruce Mountain Fire Lookout Tower. While no longer serving as a lookout, the tower has been refurbished and was reopened in 1977. During the summer months, for forty dollars a night and a minimum two-night stay, those not afraid of heights can enjoy a bird’s eye view of the surrounding forest. Be prepared to rough it, though. As was the case in the 1940s, lookout furnishings are basic and there is still no water or electricity at the site. And beware of electricity of the natural sort. The Forest Service website cautions, “During lighting storms, stay in the cabin and do not touch metal furnishings.”

Today, while the Forest Service relies on aircraft, drones and satellites to spot forest fires, there are still some 450 lookout towers in active use, particularly in the western U.S. The Osborne Firefinder continues to play a critical role in helping lookouts pinpoint the location of a fire. And thanks to the exemplary work of the early female lookouts, it is estimated that at least half of modern-day Forest Service lookout employees are women.

The American Heritage Center’s collection of Medicine Bow National Forest records contains the photos of used in this blog post.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


Posted in conservation, Environment, Forests, U.S. Forest Service, Uncategorized, Wildfire, women's history, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reclaiming the Colorado: The Differing Visions of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Chemehuevi

In 1931, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California praised plans to build the Parker Aqueduct, which would redirect water from the Colorado River to the rapidly growing Los Angeles metropole.

To the engineers and planners of the Metropolitan Water District, building a system to pipe water from the river was a no-brainer. To them, the Mojave Desert was a wasteland, and the people of Southern California needed the water after draining the aquifers that had originally provided water to the Californian population.

The Colorado River Compact of 1922 had divvied up the valuable water of the Colorado between seven states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming – and the district was eager to access this valuable resource.[1] This fit into American dreams of utilizing the Colorado River to sustain urban growth, create hydroelectricity, provide irrigation, and control floods. Public officials moved forward with plans to build the Parker Aqueduct alongside proposals to construct the Parker Dam. However, the public officials and engineers who devised these projects paid little attention to the Indigenous People who currently resided along the Colorado River.[2]

Map of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California showing the route of the Parker Aqueduct.
Sinclair O. Harper papers, Box 27, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Chemehuevi, the most southern group of the Southern Paiutes, had lived in the arid Mojave Desert since time immemorial. They viewed themselves as children of Coyote and believed that Coyote had placed them in a sacred landscape. Over generations, the Chemehuevi moved across the desert landscape and developed intimate relationships with other Indigenous Peoples, sacred sites, springs, and the flora and fauna within the fragile environment.[3] American settlement challenged this way of life.

From the 1860s through the 1930s, government officials suggested concentrating various Indigenous Peoples, including the Chemehuevi, on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, which Congress established in March of 1865. This effort entailed combining the Chemehuevi and Mohave onto the reservation, despite the tension that often existed between the two Peoples. Notwithstanding American intentions, the Chemehuevi continued to travel across the desert and live upon their sacred lands. Their determination led to the Secretary of the Interior recognizing the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation in 1907 along the Colorado River and just north of the Colorado River Indian Reservation.

Nevertheless, plans to build the Parker Aqueduct and Parker Dam moved forward without consideration of the Chemehuevis’ homeland. Ultimately, the construction of the Parker Dam did not simply provide the flood control, hydroelectricity, and irrigation that planners envisioned. It flooded 8,000 acres of the Chemehuevis’ 32,000-acre reservation and displaced the Chemehuevi.[4] However, the Chemehuevi did not give up on reclaiming this land with a very different vision of community development.

Image of the Parker Dam.
Sinclair O. Harper papers, Box 27, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The American Heritage Center provides researchers with a rich source of information to delve into the plans to develop the Colorado River. Wyoming is among the Upper Basin states that negotiated the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and continued to engage in reclamation projects during the twentieth century.

The AHC holds the papers of Sinclair O. Harper, an accomplished engineer who worked for the Bureau of Reclamation and oversaw the constructing of dams across the world, including the Parker Dam. His records reveal American visions of remaking the West through reclamation. The papers of Senator Joseph O’Mahoney further uncover American attitudes and strategies for development along the Colorado River.

Within these reclamation records, very little mention of Indigenous Peoples, particularly the Chemehuevi, exist. However, this very omission is revealing. American policymakers discounted Indigenous claims to the land and water despite Supreme Court decisions that affirmed Indigenous water rights. Regardless of American projects that displaced and scattered the Chemehuevi, they persisted.

In 1974 the United States government reaffirmed their right to the Chemehuevi Indian Reservation, and many moved back to their original homelands to reconstruct a community. The collections at the AHC provide vital insight into the process of American dispossession through the creation of public works. The records of engineers, public entities, and the Senatorial letters of Joseph O’Mahoney and John Kendrick reveal the conversations that altered the course of the Colorado River and changed the lives of the Indigenous residents. This rich archive is essential in reconsidering Indigenous aspects of reclamation projects in the West as Americans continue to debate the future of the Colorado River.

Post contributed by AHC Travel Grant recipient Mary Ludwig. She is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


[1] The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, “Water from the Colorado River,” (Los Angeles: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, 1931).

[2] Engineer F.E. Weymouth for the Metropolitan Water District dismissed Indigenous lands as having “low value,” in The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California: Colorado River Aqueduct, 3rd ed. (Los Angeles: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, 1937), p. 31. Sinclair O. Harper papers, Collection Number 2089, Box 13, Folder Colorado River Aqueduct, 1930-1962.

[3] Clifford E. Trafzer describes the origin stories of the Chemehuevi and their relationships with various Indigenous Peoples and other-than-humans in A Chemehuevi Song: The Resilience of a Southern Paiute Tribe (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2015).

[4] “Historical Background on the Chemehuevi Tribe,” June 1981, Folder Chemehuevi Indian Tribe Historical Information, Chemehuevi Cultural Center, Chemehuevi Indian Reservation.

Posted in Hydroelectric power, Indigenous Peoples, Natural resources, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation history, Uncategorized, water resources, Western history | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Birthday Hoppy!

William Lawrence Boyd, known throughout the world as “Hopalong Cassidy”, was born June 5, 1895 in Hendrysburg, Ohio, to Charles William Boyd, and his wife, the former Lida Wilkens (aka Lyda). Following his father’s death, Boyd moved to California to seek work. In Hollywood, he worked as an extra in Why Change Your Wife? (1920) and other films. More prominent film roles followed, including his breakout role as Jack Moreland in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Road to Yesterday (1925). Boyd’s performance in the film was praised by critics, and movie-goers alike and DeMille soon cast him as the lead in the highly acclaimed silent drama film, The Volga Boatman which firmly established him as a matinee idol and romantic “leading man.”

In 1935, Boyd was offered the supporting role of Red Connors in the movie Hop-Along Cassidy, but he asked to be considered for the title role and won it. The original character of Hopalong Cassidy, written by Clarence E. Mulford for pulp magazines, was changed from a hard-drinking, rough-living red-headed wrangler to a cowboy hero who did not smoke, swear, or drink alcohol (his drink of choice being sarsaparilla) and who always let the bad guy start the fight. Like cowboy stars Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, Boyd gained lasting fame in the Western film genre.

William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy on set.
William Boyd papers, Collection No. 808, Box 160, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The “Hoppy” films were more polished than the typical low-budget westerns of the time and usually featured superior outdoor photography and familiar supporting players from major Hollywood films. Theaters responded to the high quality of the productions by giving the series more exposure than other cowboy films of the time. When interest in the character faded the producer, Harry Sherman, abandoned the Hopalong Cassidy franchise. However, Boyd was determined to keep it alive and produced the last 12 Cassidy features himself. But in spite of his efforts the series ended in 1948. Boyd remained convinced that the character was still a viable property and, after selling or mortgaging almost everything he owned, purchased the rights and film backlog from Sherman for $350,000.00.

In 1948 Boyd offered a print of one of his pictures to the local NBC television station hoping for new exposure. The film was so well received that NBC asked for more, and soon Boyd released the entire library to the national network. The films were extremely popular and began the long-running genre of Westerns on television making William Boyd the first national TV star. Like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Boyd licensed a phenomenal amount of merchandise relating to Hopalong Cassidy including watches, trash cans, cups, dishes, Topps trading cards, a comic strip, comic books, cowboy outfits, home-movie digests of his Paramount releases via Castle Films, and a new Hopalong Cassidy radio show, which ran from 1948 to 1952.

Hopalong Cassidy astride his horse Topper. Hoppy and Toppy made for an iconic pair. So much so that during the mid-1950s, dozens of companies were making Hoppy and Topper merchandise.
William Boyd papers, Collection No. 808, Box 160, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Although Boyd’s portrayal of Hopalong made him a wealthy man, he believed in supporting his biggest fans: America’s youth. Consequently, he refused to license his name for products he viewed as unsuitable or dangerous, and turned down personal appearances at which children would be charged admission.

Hopalong Cassidy and Topper at a public event. Topper was well-known for his gentle demeanor and willingness to allow fans to pet him, stroke his mane, and even pull his tail.
William Boyd papers, Collection No. 808, Box 160, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

William Boyd passed away in 1972 leaving a legion of loyal fans who continue to follow his onscreen exploits to this day.  The American Heritage Center is proud to house, preserve, and make available to the public the personal papers and memorabilia of this amazing individual who to this day means so much to so many.

Post contributed by AHC Assistant Director and Collections Manager William L. Hopkins.


Posted in Animal actors, Hollywood history, Motion picture actors and actresses, popular culture, television history, Uncategorized, Western history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment