Brigham Young’s Promotion of the Deseret Alphabet

Brigham Young is best known as a religious leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of LatterDay Saints. In his capacity as president of the church, he was also the force behind an intriguing educational reform. In the early 1850s, in his second term as Utah Territorial Governor, he announced that he would like a new phonetic alphabet, called Deseret, taught in the schools.

Regents of the university in Salt Lake City, including George D. Watt, W.W. Phelps, Parley P. Pratt, and Heber C. Kimball, developed the new system of orthography. It was still English, but just a different written form of it that President Young believed would make more sense, as well as take up less space and, therefore, save paper. Also, the early days of the Church, pioneers came to Utah Territory from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, England, Scotland, and other countries. Once in Utah, they found it hard to understand each other. And English, with its many inconsistencies, was difficult to learn, especially in its written form.

The original Deseret alphabet had 40 letters; a copy of it was reproduced in an 1861 book in the AHC’s Toppan Rare Books Library by Jules Remy called Journey to Great Salt Lake City. After slight revision to some of the letters, a 38-letter alphabet was used in three primers. The Toppan Library has copies of all three of these. The first and second primers were published in 1868; the third, published in 1869, was the first book of Nephi (usually referred to as First Nephi or 1 Nephi) from the Book of Mormon.

The new system was slow to catch on, however. This was partly due to cost. Early on, in 1859, it had already been estimated that the cost of supplying all Utah Territory schoolchildren with suitable textbooks would be more than $5,000,000. By 1870, the effort was largely abandoned.  

In July 1877, Young tried one more time at a spelling reform, ordering lead type designed for the orthography of Benn Pitman with the intention of printing an edition of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants using it. Most of the type had arrived by August, but with Young’s death on the 29th of that month, the translation was never undertaken and the type never used. His death marked the end of Mormon experimentation with English spelling reforms.

For more detailed information on this subject, see the article by Stanley S. Ivins “The Deseret Alphabet,” in the Utah Humanities Review (1, 1947: pp.223-239), the entry with that title in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (Vol.1, 1992: pp.373-374), and another one with the same title by Sam Weller and Ken Reid in True West (Sept./Oct., 1958: pp.14- 16). The latter article has an illustration of the front page of the Salt Lake City newspaper, Deseret News, in 1859, showing use of this alphabet.

This post is based on an article originally published in the American Heritage Center’s Heritage Highlights, Summer 2001.


Posted in Educational reform, History of religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Blacklisted! – The Albert Maltz Papers

Brooklyn-born Albert Maltz grew up in affluence. His Russian immigrant Jewish parents had made good in their new American home. Maltz’s education credentials were those of an elite. He studied philosophy at Columbia University, graduating in 1928. He then attended the Yale School of Drama, where he earned a master’s degree in the craft of playwriting.

Despite his well-to-do beginnings, the plight of those less fortunate tugged at him. His own father had begun as a grocer’s boy before becoming a successful contractor and builder. Maltz was also influenced by fellow Yale student George Sklar, whose radical politics ignited his own budding leftist leanings.

Albert Maltz, ca. 1930. Box 60, Albert Maltz papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Adding to the mix, Maltz read the works of political philosopher Karl Marx and later told journalist Victor Navasky, “I still think it to be the noblest set of ideals ever penned by man…. Where else in political literature do you find thinkers saying that we were going to end all forms of human exploitation? Wage exploitation, exploitation of women by men, the exploitation of people of colour by white peoples, the exploitation of colonial countries by imperialist countries. And Marx spoke of the fact that socialism will be the kingdom of freedom, where man realizes himself in a way that humankind has never seen before. This was an inspiring body of literature to read.”

As a young playwright in the New York theater community, Maltz became known for staging pointed dramas acted by progressive companies such as the Theatre Union and the Group Theatre. By 1935, Maltz had joined the American Communist Party. Professional people, journalists, teachers, writers, artists and working people on factories and farms had come to respect the Communist Party for their words and deeds over the past decade in support of the working man. Maltz channeled his political views into his writing. His short story “The Happiest Man on Earth,” about unemployment during the Depression, won the 1938 O. Henry Award.

Actors of the Group Theater performing Waiting for Lefty, a play of vignettes about cab drivers planning a labor strike, ca. 1935. Photo from

Soon, in 1941, Maltz moved to Los Angeles to take a job with Warner Brothers. His first screenwriting credit was for the gritty noir film This Gun for Hire (1942). For his script for Pride of the Marines (1945), Maltz was nominated for an Academy Award. He received an Academy Award for his 1942 work on The Defeat of German Armies Near Moscow and in 1945 for The House I Live In, a 10-minute film with singer-actor Frank Sinatra opposing anti-Semitism through the use of a staged incident of young bullies chasing a Jewish boy, prompting Sinatra to speak and sing about why such behavior is wrong.

Meanwhile Maltz had not abandoned his career as a writer of published fiction and stage drama. In 1944 he published the novel The Cross and the Arrow chronicling German resistance to the Nazi regime. It was distributed in a special Armed Services Edition to more than 150,000 American fighting men during World War II.

Despite his contribution to the war effort, Maltz was subpoenaed in 1947 to testify at hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was created to investigate alleged disloyalty and subversive activities on the part of private citizens, public employees, and organizations suspected of having Fascist or Communist ties. While refusing to answer questions on First Amendment grounds, Maltz was able to get a statement on the record: “I am an American, and I believe there is no more proud word in the vocabulary of man.” Nevertheless, he was tried and convicted of contempt of Congress.

Mug shot of Albert Maltz taken at Mill Point Federal Prison in West Virginia on July 17, 1950. Albert Maltz papers, Box 1, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Before he was sent to the federal lockup in Ashland, Ky. — the same facility that housed Adrian Scott, a fellow member of the Hollywood Ten — he recruited his friend Michael Blankfort to front for him on an adaptation of his 1944 novel The Cross and the Arrow, which became the film Broken Arrow, starring James Stewart. The sympathetic treatment of Native Americans in the Western earned Maltz an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay.

After prison, Maltz moved to Mexico City, where he wrote novels and uncredited screenplays for The Robe (1953) and other films. By 1970, producers agreed to give Maltz credit for writing Two Mules for Sister Sara, a Western starring Clint Eastwood.

His papers at the American Heritage Center include material pertaining to the Hollywood Ten and Maltz’s blacklisting from Hollywood, including photos, correspondence, court documents, advertisements, and pamphlets. Reel-to-reel audio tapes of his testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 is also included.

Post contributed by AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener


Posted in Authors and literature, Blacklisting, Cold War, Communism, Hollywood history, Hollywood Ten, Motion picture actors and actresses, motion picture history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Living Through a Pandemic: Eight Months of Donations to the American Heritage Center’s COVID-19 Collection Project

The AHC COVID-19 Collection Project began in April 2020 as an effort to collect stories, photographs, poems, and other creative works that show the impact coronavirus has had on our community. Not just the University of Wyoming employees, students, and alumni, but the larger Laramie, and Wyoming communities as well. In March 2020, the University of Wyoming closed its campus to in-person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The students received an extra week of spring break giving instructors time to move all courses to an online format.

These unprecedented events in our own community and the global impact of this crisis inspired the AHC COVID-19 Collection Project. As the pandemic continues to evolve and effect everyday life (professional and personal), the AHC encourages our community to continue the conversations, support for each other, donate descriptions of what you see, feel, and hear, and take our survey as your observations change.

Pop Up Paint Party in Laramie, Wyoming started hosting free online paint parties to foster safe community interactions. Photo taken by Hanna Fox and Amanda Wells, April 2020.

To date, the AHC has received forty-two survey responses from people of a variety of demographics including age groups, genders, ethnicities, and nationalities. The survey has sixteen questions including “what were your first thoughts when you heard about COVID-19”; “what are some things that are making you feel happy or hopeful”; and “what are some things that are making you feel frustrated, anxious, or angry.”

One response to our question about what people 100 years from now should know about the impact of COVID-19 in our community is as follows:

For me, the pandemic has deepened ideological, cultural, and political divisions more than uniting us as a society. The pandemic has revealed the lack of national leadership, the dearth of resources and programs to protect the most vulnerable in US society, and the historically high levels of economic inequality that currently exist in the US. It’s shameful that the pandemic has stripped bare the illusion that the US, as a society, is a shining beacon for other countries to emulate (Germany, for instance, responded very well & had inspiring, uniting leadership). When all is said & done, the US will be remembered as the country with the least effective national response and the highest death toll.

Another response to the same question is as follows:

It has been nice to see people come together to support each other. It also needs to be remembered how small groups of people can make a big impact, positively or negatively.

People view this crisis differently and reactions are diverse. Members of the community have taken to supporting each other through hosting virtual events or even simply placing a bear in the window of their house to bring a smile to their neighbors’ faces.

Sally Sarvey from Casper dressed up William “Shakesbear” Shakespeare and displayed him in the window for children passing her house. Photo taken by Sally Sarvey, May 2020.

Others have turned to creating artwork or photographing visual representations from the community to express the pandemic’s impact.

VISCERAL, charcoal and pastel on prepared polyester, 43″ x 43″, 2020. This is drawing is of a gut pile from a pronghorn antelope harvested fall 2019 just outside Laramie, WY. The animal fed the artist’s family through the continuing lock down. Artwork created by Shelby Shadwell.
Downtown Laramie mural depicting a jackalope and pronghorn wearing masks. Photograph taken by Hanna Fox and Amanda Wells, April 2020.

Here are a few last thoughts from our survey responses to keep in mind as we continue living through these strange times:

This has been a trying time for many people, and I am happy to see those that are trying to make the best of it, through whatever means necessary. I’ve seen family and friends come together to help where possible, whether that shopping for compromised people, sewing masks, using 3D printers to make needed things, help teach students online, or any number of things. Communities are coming together and it shows.

Always be kind to yourself and others. We are all doing our best within our current capacity to do so. Those actions are what will be remembered and have the most impact.

To contribute to the historical record of this momentous time or learn more about the project, please visit the AHC COVID-19 Collection Project webpage at All donors can elect whether to remain anonymous and even to keep their contributions from being viewed for up to five years. #COVID19WY #alwaysarchiving

– Post contributed by AHC University Archivist Sara Davis

Posted in Coronavirus outbreak, Current events, Local history, Pandemics, popular culture, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

UW American Heritage Center Receives IMLS Grant to Digitize Primary Sources for Wyoming History Day Students

The AHC has received $180,000 from the IMLS CARES Act Grants for Museum and Libraries to be spent over two years. The funds will assist us in supplying primary sources to middle and high school students competing in Wyoming History Day (WHD), the state affiliate of the National History Day (NHD) contest. AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener will be the project director. The AHC has been home to WHD for more than two decades.

IMLS – the Institute of Museum and Library Services – is an independent federal government agency that supports America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. The agency received CARES Act funds to help their constituents expand digital network access, purchase Internet accessible devices, and providing technical support services to their communities.

Competition for IMLS CARES Act funds was stiff; there were more than 1600 applications for just $13 million of CARES Act money.

The 2021 National History Day theme of “Communication in History: The Key to Understanding” offers the AHC an opportunity to digitize a wide variety of materials from nearly 90 collections covering about 30 topics, including the Pony Express, wartime journalism and propaganda, the comics industry, and transmission of Native American cultural values. Primary source sets will be placed on an easily accessible website and accompanied by essays and explanations to assist students in comprehending and contextualizing the historical documents.

Not only will this project support Wyoming’s school-age participants, but a further opportunity—a national one—significantly increases its importance. A marketing campaign using email, internet, and social media to spread awareness of the website of primary sources will inform NHD participants in all 50 states about the digitized materials, giving them access to primary sources provided by the AHC for their projects.

Additionally, the marketing campaign will emphasize to teachers that the digitized resources are not just for History Day but can also be used for instructional projects for individual students while under lockdown, quarantine, or isolation.

The WHD website will continue to be updated each year to enable the AHC to provide a location for distributing digitized materials to solve Wyoming’s problem of rural access to primary sources, even when Covid-19 finally recedes.

To learn more about the project, contact Leslie Waggener at or 307-766-2557.

Posted in announcements, K-12 education, Wyoming History Day | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Cheyenne Women of the Ku Klux Klan

In 1924 Denver residents Laurena H. Senter, Metta L. Gremmels, and Dr. Esther B. Hunt incorporated a chapter of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado. Senter was a pillar of the Denver KKK community as well as the president of numerous Colorado clubs and organizations. Her husband, Gano Senter, was the Great Titan of the Northern Province (which meant half of Colorado) of the Colorado Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.1

Since 1921, Colorado homeopathic doctor John Galen Locke had grown the Colorado branch of the KKK into an extremely powerful organization of 35,000 to 40,000 members, the second-highest per capita Klan membership of any state after Indiana.2 The Klan had been revived nationally in 1915 and was growing by leaps and bounds.

Papers of University of Wyoming history professor Larry Cardoso contain photocopied documents from the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office indicating that on December 9, 1924, Laurena Senter, along with Gremmels and Hunt, also incorporated the WKKK in Wyoming, with Cheyenne as its headquarters.

Document incorporating the Women of the Ku Klux Klan into Wyoming on December 9, 1924.
Box 9, Lawrence Cardoso papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Nationally, the Women of the Ku Klux Klan was a relatively new organization, only recently organized in Little Rock, Arkansas in June 1923. Their stated goals upon organizing were respect for law and order, upholding of the constitutions of the U.S. and their resident states, furtherance of American principles, ideals, and institutions, and charitable works.

However, their agenda was also to incorporate racism, nationalism, traditional morality, and religious intolerance into everyday life. To qualify for membership in the WKKK, one had be a native-born, white Protestant woman.3

A women’s auxiliary was a natural component to the KKK in that, as historian Kathleen Blee explains, much of the Klan’s energy went into guarding the home with its members seeking to protect “the interests of white womanhood.”4

When Wyoming Governor William B. Ross died on October 2, 1924, the Cheyenne Women of the KKK sent a sympathy card to his widow, future governor Nellie Tayloe Ross. The WKKK sought always to present themselves as good, charitable, white Christian American women.

By 1925, internal dissension had dissipated the Colorado Klan, which also impacted the area’s WKKK.5

A note on the Wyoming incorporation papers states that the WKKK was revoked as a corporation on July 19, 1927.

The WKKK in Wyoming was revoked on July 19, 1927.
Box 9, Lawrence Cardoso papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Not much is known about the work of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan in Wyoming. In general, the KKK had a wide reach in Wyoming with a chapter (klavern) in many towns and cities. But that is another story to be told…

  • Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


1 “Women of the Ku Klux Klan,” Colorado Encyclopedia. Accessed September 18, 2020.

2 John Galen Locke,” Historica Wiki, Fandom. Accessed September 18, 2020.

3 “Women of the Ku Klux Klan,” Wikipedia. Accessed September 18, 2020.

4 Blee, Kathleen M. Women of the Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), p. 47.

5 Women of the Ku Klux Klan, Colorado Encyclopedia.

Posted in Uncategorized, Western history, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Amigos de la Comunidad of Torrington, Wyoming

In box 9 of the Lawrence Cardoso papers housed at the American Heritage Center is a booklet dating to the mid-1970s titled “Amigos de la Comunidad.” I was leafing through that particular box searching for something totally unrelated. But the booklet drew my eye and I couldn’t resist thumbing through it.

The Amigos booklet was most likely part of Dr. Cardoso’s research materials. He was a University of Wyoming professor and an expert in the field of Latin American history. In 1989 his life was cut short at the age of 49 by a heart condition. At the time of his death he was nearing completion of “White and Brown,” a study of American attitudes toward Latinx persons. He had previously published Mexican Emigration to the United States, 1897-1931 (1980).

The spiral-bound booklet contains biographical sketches and personal anecdotes of thirty-two persons of Latinx heritage living in Torrington, Wyoming. It is broadly representative in terms of occupation, age, gender, special interests, point of view, and community activity.

Many of those profiled were children of migrant workers who came to Torrington to harvest sugar beets. Holly Sugar Corporation had been a major employer since 1925 when the Union Pacific Railroad constructed a spur line into South Torrington.

Compilation of the portfolio was done as an educational and inspirational resource for K-12 up to college level, as well as for the public, to introduce them to the “wealth of human resources which can be tapped to enrich the educational experience of students as well as community life as a whole.”

Suggested classroom activities included adding the students’ stories or their families’ stories to the portfolio, discussing selected profiles from the book, and reading aloud only part of the stories and allowing students to tell their version of how the stories ended. Teachers were encouraged to invite the individuals to their classrooms to talk about their occupations, cultural activities, hobbies, philosophies, etc.

It was recommended that the community ask those profiled to participate in special task forces to address community needs or to serve as “talent scouts” in identifying other persons to assist in community development. Another idea was to host an “Amigos” night in which young people and members of the public might invite certain persons from the portfolio and others who they wanted to honor or with whom they wanted to become better acquainted.

The project’s coordinator was Anne Gardetto. She had graduated in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and Spanish from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. For a short time, she worked at Head Start, which is where she began to form her philosophies of how education could lift individuals and whole families out of poverty. She moved to Torrington in 1974 and began her career at Eastern Wyoming College, retiring 36 years later in 2010 as the associate director of student services at the college. She won the Wyoming Woman of Achievement Award in 1987, the Outstanding Young Women of America Award in 1976 and 1986, and the Outstanding Community Service Award in 1977.

It was serendipitous that I poked around in that box of archival materials and discovered such a wonderful project created around Torrington’s Latinx community. It gave me the opportunity to learn about the town’s rich heritage and to share Anne Gardetto’s work with you.

Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener


Posted in Agricultural history, community collections, Immigration, Latin American history, Local history, Mexican-American history, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Men of Mystery: Tom Horn, William A. Pinkerton, and Frank Canton

Tom Horn’s enduring reputation rests on the moment in 1903 when he was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the murder of fourteen-year-old Willie Nickell. It was, in some ways, an ironic end, for Horn was not an “outlaw” like Jesse James or Butch Cassidy or any lesser-known thief. He took nothing from his victim. He was not a murderer with any personal motive. He had very slight acquaintance with Willie Nickell or any of his family and no personal quarrel with any of them. Tom Horn was hanged because his jury believed he was an assassin, a killer-for-hire.

Tom Horn braiding a rope in the Laramie County jail office in Cheyenne, 1902. Photo File: Horn, Tom, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

For most of his life, Tom Horn had been a lawman, or, at least, he had acted in the service of the law. He had been a civilian scout for the United States Army in Arizona in the 1880s. In 1890 he became an agent for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Pinkerton’s, founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton and carried on by his sons William and Robert, was a private detective agency with a wide reputation. Allan Pinkerton reported on assassination plots against President Abraham Lincoln and organized spies for General George McClellan during the Civil War. William Pinkerton developed a large clientele in the U.S. West, primarily among railroads and big business interests. The Pinkerton operation worked closely with government law enforcement but preferred to use undercover agents. “Rumors persisted that detectives secretly worked on both sides of the same case, kidnapped witnesses, bribed juries, [and] commonly used violence to break strikes and coerce confessions[.]”[1] As a result, the Pinkerton Agency’s reputation was somewhat mixed.

Horn remained less than five years with Pinkerton’s. However, he seems to have left on good terms with his employer. On April 12th, 1895, William Pinkerton recommended him to Frank M. Canton, undersheriff of Pawnee County, Oklahoma:

“Dear Sir:

I am in receipt of your very full and complete letter of April 7th and note contents. As we have not got the right kind of a man for this rough work out there, I have referred the matter to Supt. McParland at Denver, sending him copy of your letter. I was greatly pleased to hear from you and did not know of your change of place. I imagine that whoever goes out on this work will find it rather difficult to do and we have not got at this office available such a man as I feel satisfied would fill the bill in every particular.

Tom Horn who used to be with our Denver office would be a good man for the place, and I will ask McParland to communicate with him and see if he cannot be got for the service and for the length of time you want him. He is not in our service now. You probably know of him. He is well acquainted all through the western country among cattle rustlers and all that class of men, and is a thorough horseman and plainsman in every sense of the word. I note particularly that you want to get Jack Treganing [sic] who excaped [sic] from the Laramie penitentiary where you sent him for life and that he is down in that country. I should be very glad indeed to hear of his capture.

I trust Mr. McParland will be able to fit you out with the right kind of a man to go down there.”

Letter from William A. Pinkerton to Frank M. Canton recommending Tom Horn for a position. Letter housed at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Frank Canton, who received this letter, was another man with a checkered past. When he left Texas in 1877 his name was Josiah Horner, and he was considered a bank robber, cattle rustler, and killer. In Wyoming, though, Canton became a detective for the Wyoming Stock Gowers Association and a U.S. Deputy Marshal. In 1892 Canton was in charge of a contingent of Texas men imported to Wyoming to kill suspected rustlers in an extra-legal fiasco known as the Johnson County War.[2] Canton went on to law enforcement positions in Oklahoma and eventually became Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard.

Frank Canton, ca. 1895. Photo File: Canton, Frank, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Canton apparently retained an interest in Wyoming. The escape of John Tregoning from the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary on November 15, 1894, was, strictly speaking, no affair of an undersheriff in Oklahoma. Tregoning (going by the name of Smith) had shot and killed George Henderson (formerly known as John Powers), who was manager of the 71 Cattle Company on the Sweetwater River in Wyoming, on October 8, 1890 “in a dispute over employment.” Tregoning was believed to have returned to the Sweetwater area where he was assisted by friends.  He was never recaptured.[3]

It is not clear that Horn engaged in the search for Tregoning, but he was certainly in the Horse Creek area of southern Wyoming in the summer and fall of 1895, where, he later boasted, he had killed two men accused of stealing cattle.[4]  These murders, as much as the Nickell killing, established his reputation as an assassin.

Connections between these three ambiguous men, Tom Horn, William Pinkerton, and Frank Canton, are clearly shown by this letter, previously a part of the important Robert J. McCubbin Collection of Western historical materials. The William A. Pinkerton letter to Frank Canton about Tom Horn now resides in the collections of the American Heritage Center.

[1]Frank Richard Prassel, The Western Peace Officer: A Legacy of Law and Order (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972), 134.

[2], accessed August 10, 2020;, accessed August 10, 2020.

[3] Elnora L. Frye, Atlas of Wyoming Outlaws at the Territorial Penitentiary (Laramie: Jelm Mountain Publications, 1990), 121; Alfred James Mokler, History of Natrona County, Wyoming, 1888-1922 (Chicago: R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company), 272-275.

[4] Larry D. Ball, Tom Horn in Life and Legend (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), 175-186.

  • Post contributed by D. Claudia Thompson, Supervisor, American Heritage Center Arrangement and Description Department.


Posted in outlaws, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Searchlight Club: Elevating Cheyenne’s African American Women

August 26 marks the date in 1920 when American women were enfranchised equally with their male counterparts. Nonetheless, African American women continued facing barriers to voting for decades, as well as negative stereotypes, harassment, and unequal access to jobs, housing, and education. Black women banded together to form their own clubs and organizations where they could try to effect change and focus on issues they cared about.

One such organization was Cheyenne’s Searchlight Club. A Club president, Sudie Smith Rhone, explained the group’s purpose to a local reporter in 1969,

We the Negro women of the city of Cheyenne, feeling the need of a systematic effort along social, charitable and intellectual lines, in order to elevate our people, to help others as well as ourselves, organized the Searchlight Club.1

April 1969 article in which Sudie Smith Rhone explains the founding of the Searchlight Club. Mrs. Rhone was the mother of the State of Wyoming’s first African American legislator – Harriett Elizabeth Byrd. Box 10, Harriett Elizabeth Byrd papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The organization was formed on December 4, 1904, as a literary and service-based group and was the first women’s club in Cheyenne specifically for African American women. Its goal each year was to have a minimum of 20 members, and they maintained that membership goal through the years.2

The Searchlight Club provided an avenue for Cheyenne’s African American women to have intellectual discussions on social and cultural topics of interest to them. The women also formed friendships and supported the African American community. One of the projects they especially enjoyed was giving baskets of fruit and candy to the sick and shut-ins during the holidays. They prepared the baskets themselves and personally delivered them.3

The Searchlight Club also gave scholarships to students. For instance, along with the Cheyenne Women’s Club, the club contributed to the education of Marjorie Witt Johnson who was born in Cheyenne in 1910, the daughter of a Buffalo Soldier. Witt Johnson went on to earn a B.S. degree in social work from Oberlin College in 1935 and founded a Black dance company, the Karamu Dancers, that stole the show at the 1940s World Fair in New York.4

Some of the charter members of the Searchlight Club. Back row, l-r: Mrs. Hudie Crutchfield, Mrs. Claton Landers, Mrs. James Ward, Mrs. James Smith. Front row, l-r: Mrs. Ollie Reed, Mrs. Cordelia Mitchell, Mrs. DeMarge Tolliver. Source: History of Cheyenne, Wyoming, (Curtis Media Corp., 1989), p. 432.

Activities of the Club are described in briefs found in Cheyenne newspapers beginning in 1905. The ladies met at each other’s homes on Thursday evenings to hear presentations and discuss topics with titles such as “Music: Its Use in Churches, Homes, Schools and on Public Occasions,” “Are We as a People Less Devoted to Singing than the Europeans?” “Heredity vs. Environment,” “The Press: Its Recent Developments,” “Irrigation in the West,” “Egypt and Its Customs” as well as to talk about notable African Americans and even vacation experiences.

At times the Searchlight Club joined with Cheyenne’s Colored Civic League to host events, such as one held at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in May 1919 to honor Lieutenant J.R. Leonard, an African American who had recently fought with the American expeditionary forces in France.5

In 1921, after a massacre of Black residents and the destruction of their homes and businesses by whites in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma during the summer, members of the Searchlight Club issued a newspaper notice asking Cheyenne residents to donate clothing for the almost 10,000 African Americans who had been left homeless. 

Article dated September 27, 1921, placed by the Searchlight Club in the Wyoming State Tribune/Cheyenne State Leader asking for clothing donations for victims of racist killings and property destruction in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, from May 21 to June 1, 1921.

The Club participated in annual multi-day meetings held in June of the Federated Clubs of Colored Women of Colorado and Wyoming. At the 1909 convention in Cheyenne, “a most cordial invitation [was] extended to all race lovers and those interested in the race to attend the meetings…to see the rapid strides these women have made in forty years…”6 Governor B.B. Brooks welcomed the conventioneers to Cheyenne in an evening address that began the conference. The ladies discussed such topics as the overall importance of education, the role of higher education for Black women, and livelihoods for African American graduates in the West.

By 1926, Wyoming had formed its own State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Their first annual convention was held at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Casper on June 10, 1926. Casper Mayor John T. Scott welcomed the ladies to his town on the first evening. The Searchlight Club was represented by Fannie Butler and was one of nine organizations at that first convention. Other clubs represented were the Cheyenne-based groups of Needlecraft, the Cheyenne City Federation Reciprocity Club, American Beauty Ceramic, and the Young Matrons Culture Club; Casper-based groups were the Wyocolo Art and Literary Club, Juvenile Literary and Art, and the Mutual Uplift Club; and from Sheridan came the Joliet Art and Literary Club. Ollie Reed of Cheyenne was elected as the organization’s first president with Emma Sander (Casper) as vice president, Mrs. DeMarge Tolliver (Cheyenne) as recording secretary, Julia Newsome (Sheridan) as corresponding secretary, and Ethel Henderson (Casper) as chairman of the executive board.7

There was also a Searchlight Club in Rock Springs with both men and women members that was first mentioned in the Rock Springs Miner in January 1904 and, like the Cheyenne-based club, held discussions on topics of interest that included everything from socialism and race problems to Darwinism, discoveries in physics, and early aviation. The Rock Springs club frequently shared presentation and study topics with the Cheyenne group.

As of 1988, the Searchlight Club in Cheyenne was still active.8 If you have more information about the Searchlight Clubs in Wyoming, please let us know at the AHC.

Post by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


  • 2. Field, Sharon Lass (ed.), History of Cheyenne, Wyoming, Dallas, TX: Curtis Media Corp., 1989, p. 432.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 5. Cheyenne State Leader, May 01, 1919, p. 8.
  • 6. Cheyenne State Leader, June 29, 1909, p. 7.
  • 7. Casper Star-Tribune, June 10, 1926, p. 9.
  • 8. Field, 1989.
Posted in African American history, Uncategorized, Western history, Women -- suffrage, Wyoming, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Sharpshooter Annie Oakley Aimed at the High Mark

“Aim at a high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second, and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting, for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s eye of success.” These wise words from Annie Oakley are as inspiring as she was herself. Annie Oakley is one of the most remembered female icons from the 19th century. Though she started with humble beginnings, her accomplishments and experiences paint a colorful history.  

Born August 13, 1860 in Darke County, Ohio, Annie got her start in shooting at a very young age. By age eight she began using a cap and ball Kentucky rifle that had belonged to her father. She not only shot game for her family to eat but was proficient enough that she sold surplus game to a local storekeeper.

At age 15, Annie performed in her first professional shooting match with a man named Frank Butler. The match was set up by her brother-in-law with Butler, who was a guest visiting his hotel. They each shot at 50 targets; Butler missed the final target and Annie scored a perfect 50. Roughly a year later in 1876, Annie and Frank were married.

Annie Oakley shooting over her shoulder as she appeared at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Annie Oakley Photo File, UW American Heritage Center.

Annie Oakley’s real name was Phoebe Ann Moses. Her sisters didn’t like the name, so they called her Annie. While visiting her sister and brother-in-law near Cincinnati, she spotted a section of the Ohio River called Hyde Park and Oakley. Susan M. Pajak wrote, “Phoebe Ann, who was called Annie by the family, very much liked the sound of ‘Oakley.’”[1]

When Frank’s show partner fell ill, Annie joined his show and began using the name “Annie Oakley.” She quickly became the star as her shooting ability outshone her husband’s.  As they traveled from town to town performing for local crowds, Frank would also set up matches between Annie and local champions. Annie almost always won, with Frank betting on her success. Soon Annie and Frank started joining wild west shows and circuses to display their talents. Although they had their start in small shows, they eventually joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in March 1884, where Annie soon became a celebrity.

E.B. Mann, in his article “Shooting’s Skirted Starlet” wrote, “When she became the protégé of Buffalo Bill Cody and Sitting Bull, when she shot before the crowned heads of Europe, when she was internationally famous and her name a byword in the language, these local triumphs would seem picayune and hardly more than amusing.”[2]

As her career progressed, her skills became world-renowned and she became known as “Little Miss Sure Shot.” Annie performed not only throughout the United States, but also toured in several European countries displaying her marksmanship for royalty such as Queen Victoria of England, the Sultan of Turkey, and the Grand Duke Michael of Russia to name a few.  

Annie Oakley shown on a tour through Italy. Annie Oakley Photo File, UW American Heritage Center.
Annie Oakley’s dressing room trunk she used on tour for seventeen years. Annie Oakley Photo File, UW American Heritage Center.

Even after two separate injuries that would have been crippling for most, Annie continued to beat the odds, shooting and performing well into her fifties. From 1915 to 1922, Annie managed the Pinehurst Gun Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and taught people of all ages how to shoot.

Photo taken in Annie’s later years when she taught shooting to children and adults as an employee of resort hotels in Pinehurst, N.C. Annie Oakley Photo File, UW American Heritage Center.

As a noted female icon, Annie was portrayed in multiple movies, television series, novels, and even a Broadway musical commemorating her life and career success.

One famous actress who played Annie Oakley was Barbara Stanwyck in the 1935 film Annie Oakley. The movie is based on the events of Annie’s life, although it takes liberties with details, especially with regard to Annie’s love-life.  

Cropped screenshot of Barbara Stanwyck from the trailer for the film Annie Oakley. Public domain image.

Annie Oakley is one of the most well-known women in American history, widely remembered for excelling in a male-dominated sport. A pioneer in her field, she was made famous by her own skills and determination to succeed. It can certainly be said that Annie Oakley aimed at a high mark and hit it.

[1] Susan M. Pajak, “Remembering One of America’s Heroines – Annie Oakley,” Pennsylvania Magazine (1996): 49.

[2] E.B. Mann, “Shooting’s Skirted Starlet,” GUNS Magazine (1966): 8.

– Post contributed by AHC Archives Aide Sarah Kesterson.


Posted in Hollywood history, Motion picture actors and actresses, popular culture, Uncategorized, Western history, women's history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

From Manhattan Project Scientist To Anti-Nuclear Crusader

Dr. Harrison Brown found ways to separate plutonium to devise the world’s first atomic weapons and then spent the rest of his life urging the abolition of those same deadly devices.

He was born in Sheridan, Wyoming, on September 26, 1917, the son of Harrison H. Brown (1880-1927), a rancher and cattle broker, and Agnes Scott Brown (1889-1963), a piano teacher and a professional organist. His father died when he was ten years old, and mother and son moved to San Francisco, where Mrs. Brown supplemented her income as a dental assistant by teaching music and playing piano for silent movies.

Trained as a chemist, Brown did undergraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, and then earned a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The subject of his thesis, thermal diffusion of argon and construction of a spectrometer for isotope analysis led, in 1942, to an invitation by Manhattan Project chemist Glenn Seaborg to join him in the Metallurgical Laboratories at the University of Chicago. Brown joined the project and moved later with the research group to Clinton Engineer Works in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where he devised ways to produce plutonium. The techniques he helped develop were used to produce the plutonium used in the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki, 75 years ago on August 9, 1945.

Dr. Harrison S. Brown, ca. 1945. Photo courtesy Atomic Heritage Foundation.

After the two bombs were exploded and the war with Japan ended, Brown and other Manhattan Project scientists expressed their grave concern about the future. Although they had strong justifications for their involvement in the bomb project, they were powerfully committed to preventing further development and spread of nuclear devices. To that end, Brown joined the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS), becoming its executive vice chairman alongside its chairman, Dr. Albert Einstein. The Committee was formed to aid the public’s understanding of atomic issues by raising and directing funds for public education. 

In this 1946 discussion, Dr. Harrison Brown states, “We all must realize that the very existence of the atomic bomb jeopardizes [man’s freedom] in all its aspects. The fundamental issue before us now, as I see it, is that at all costs we must prevent another war. Nothing must be permitted to divert our attention from that fact.” Box 1, Harrison S. Brown papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By December 1945, Harrison had completed a 160-page book, Must Destruction Be Our Destiny? (Simon and Schuster, 1946), warning about the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons. His passion led him to give 102 lectures within three months throughout the United States. He used royalties from the book sales to support the work of ECAS, which later became a working committee within the Federation of American Scientists whose aims and efforts were directed to proper regulation of atomic power and weapons.

On February 27, 1950, the New York Times published an article titled “Ending of All Life by Bomb Foreseen” in which scientists ponder the central question of the Cold War, that of mutually assured destruction if the Soviet Union or the United States employ nuclear weapons. Box 1, Harrison S. Brown papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

He maintained his anti-nuclear posture for the rest of his life and at his death in 1986 was editor in chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a publication produced by many who had helped develop nuclear bombs but who had become adamant in their opposition to them.

Learn more about Dr. Harrison Brown’s career and activism in his papers at the American Heritage Center. His papers contain his publications including books and journal articles as well as correspondence, subject files, a scrapbook, and audiotapes of interviews with Brown.

  • Post by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener


Posted in Cold War, military history, Political history, Politics, Post World War II, Science, World War II | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment