Breathing New Life Into An Old Cinema Dinosaur

On June 2, 1983, 54 boxes of materials arrived at the Western History Research Center, now the American Heritage Center. It’s always exciting to open boxes of new materials to find out what surprises might be in store. So, those AHC archivists 37 years ago most likely were in turns delighted, puzzled, and concerned when one of the boxes revealed the rusted model of a dinosaur known as a triceratops whose stiffened foam body was shedding its “skin” onto every surface it touched.

The triceratops’ donor was Sam Peeples, a television script writer and author whose most common genre was westerns. He had been a regular collection donor to the AHC since 1958 and went on to contribute 567 boxes of his papers by the time of his death in 1997.

Author Samuel A. Peeples, 1976.
Photo of Sam Peeples for his book The Man Who Died Twice (1976).

Peeples was also a literary science fiction enthusiast who provided advice and reference material to his friend and colleague Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the original Star Trek television series. Peeples wrote for the series as well as other science fiction series.

The triceratops was first used in an uncompleted 1931 film titled Creation, which was a project of renowned stop action animator Willis O’Brien. RKO studio producer Merian C. Cooper dismissed Creation as boring, but was impressed with O’Brien’s work. Cooper hired O’Brien to create effects for his 1933 film King Kong. Dinosaur miniatures and armatures, even some footage, from Creation was salvaged and reused for King Kong.

Poster from the film King Kong (1933).
Poster from the 1933 film King Kong. Box 111, Forrest J Ackerman Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Unfortunately for the triceratops, its scenes from King Kong were left on the cutting room floor, although the original Creation test footage can be found on the R1 King Kong DVD released by Time-Warner in 2005 and on YouTube.

It’s not known how the triceratops model came to be in Peeple’s possession. He may have purchased it, or it may have been given to him due to his love of science fiction. Once it arrived at the AHC, the triceratops found a comfortable, protective home in a dark archival box. It was again in the spotlight for a time as a display in the AHC’s Loggia where it helped tell the story of stop action animation technology.

Triceratops model on display at the UW American Heritage Center.
Triceratops on display at the American Heritage Center.

In 2020, 100 years after its creation, the sponge rubber and latex armature is finding new life as a set of 3D computerized images. The AHC seeks to make all of its collection material available to researchers, but the aging triceratops was simply too fragile to handle safely. After all, it wasn’t built for permanence. AHC’s Digital Archivist Rachel Gattermeyer and University Archivist Sara Davis joined with the team at UW’s Shell 3D Visualization Center to make a digital copy of the triceratops before any additional deterioration could happen, as well as to create a new way for researchers to interact with it. With the 3D scan rendering almost complete, viewers will soon be able to rotate the model, zoom in, and examine it in greater detail on a computer screen.

Sara and Rachel were interviewed by the Viz Center team to give some background and context to this fascinating collaborative project, resulting in this interesting visual. Take a look to find out more.

– Post by AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener from contributions by AHC archivists Rachel Gattermeyer and Sara Davis.

Much appreciation to the team at the University of Wyoming’s Shell 3D Visualization Center for their help in this project.


Posted in Animation, announcements, Authors and literature, behind the scenes, Collection donor, motion picture history | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wyoming’s Woodmen of the World

I’ve walked through Laramie’s Greenhill Cemetery many times over the years and have been curious about the headstones carved to look like tree stumps. I finally decided to do a little research. You may already know this, but each intricately carved tombstone indicates that the deceased was a member of the Woodmen of the World fraternal society.

As is the way nowadays, I googled to find out more. I came across an interesting descriptive article from 2016 about fraternal orders, particularly the Woodmen organization, by Lisa Hix of the Houston Chronicle. I’ve excerpted from the article below.

Death was everywhere in 19th-century America: Fatal injuries, disease epidemics, and the Civil War made families acutely aware of mortality. For women and children, the death of a husband and father could tumble them into poverty. Only the wealthiest Americans bought private life insurance. Women were not allowed to take out policies on their husbands, and if the husband bought the policy on himself, the money wouldn’t be protected from creditors. 

And then, grieving families faced another layer of shame. In 19th-century America, taking charity was perceived as weakness. The thinking was, if a lack of industriousness made you destitute, well, then you got what you deserved. 

However, the middle and working classes did have a workaround. Men could join secretive clubs like the Freemasons and Oddfellows that provided networking, entertainment, and a moral education. If a man proved himself to be hardworking and of good character through his initiation trials, his social standing meant his family could quietly receive financial support from the lodge without the stigma of accepting charity.

Newspaper posting showing a note of thanks to Woodmen of the World for a $3,000 insurance payout in 1897 to a Laramie widow.
Permelia Roberts, the widow of Laramie resident John S. Roberts, received $3,000 in benefits from the Woodmen of the World organization after the death of her husband in 1897. Today this would be about $85,000. Article from the Laramie Boomerang, May 21, 1897.

After the devastating Civil War, well-established fraternal orders began to formalize their benefits into insurance subsidiaries. New secret societies known as “mutual beneficiary societies,” created with the explicit purpose of offering life insurance policies, sprang up around the U.S. Largely excluded from the original fraternal orders, women and African Americans even launched their own aid societies. Still, to join any fraternal order and receive its insurance benefits, you had to prove that you were no slouch — a hard worker with high morals such as thrift, self-reliance, discipline, and generosity. 

Parade float in Laramie in 1926 for Camp 2838 of the Royal Neighbors of America, an insurance society founded by women to benefit other women.
Royal Neighbors of America was founded by women in 1895 and was one of the first to offer life insurance to women. Shown is a parade float from 1926 for Camp 2838 of Laramie.
Box 8, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, American Heritage Center,University of Wyoming. 
(I see another blog post in my future. I have to find out more about the RNA.)

But fraternal orders weren’t all about restraint. Before the days of TV, radio, or fantasy football, fraternal lodges offered plays, rituals, and camaraderie, and allowed men to let loose, which kept members coming back for more. The clout of being an insider and the endless pursuit of mystical, esoteric knowledge ensured that men would make their insurance payments for decades to come.  The Woodmen came late to the party—incorporating in 1883 as the Modern Woodmen of America—but their leaders’ entrepreneurial innovations breathed new life into the fraternal insurance game. Founder Joseph Cullen Root, a Lyons, Iowa, businessman, seized the opportunity to create his own fraternal order when the mutual aid society Knights of Honor, which almost went under due to the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic, was selling its local lodge. 

To avoid a similar financial pitfall, Root made fitness a requirement to join his order, recruiting rural young men from the “healthiest states,” which meant those outside industrial New England. In the Woodmen, he fused Christian philosophy and pioneer values with ancient agricultural rites. “At that time, Root’s thought was that a cleared conscience and a cleared forest were synonymous,” says Bruce Lee Webb, who co-authored the 2015 book, As Above, So Below: Art of the American Fraternal Society with Lynne Adele. “The axe is an instrument that clears the forest but is also useful for constructing buildings and making progress.”

Musical band of Pilot Camp No. 46 of Woodmen of the World, 1917.
Band of Laramie’s Pilot Camp No. 46 of Woodmen of the World, 1917.
Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Box 33B, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

After an internal dispute with the other Modern Woodmen of America leaders, Root left the organization in 1890 and moved to Omaha to form a nearly identical “speculative woodcraft” order: Woodmen of the World. One of his innovations was to provide free tombstones—Root believed passionately that no member of his order should be buried in an unmarked grave. So, for 10 years, the Woodmen gave its members grave markers in the shape of tree stumps, inspired by the Victorian Rustic movement. (For another two decades, the members put down $100 apiece to reserve theirs.)

At a Woodman’s funeral, his personalized 4- to 5-foot tall tree stump headstone would be revealed in an elaborate ritual. The local stone carver, who might alter the pattern, would add embellishments reflecting the Woodman’s personality, such as axes and doves. 

Laramie wasn’t the only Wyoming town with a Woodmen chapter. A search in the Wyoming State Library’s digitized newspaper database “Wyoming Newspapers” reveals that there were Woodmen camps in Douglas, Rawlins, Sheridan, Green River, Newcastle, Casper, Grand Encampment, Big Piney, and most likely other towns I may have missed.

Woodmen of the World exists today as WoodmenLife (officially Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society) and is still based in Omaha, Nebraska.

By the way, if you’re looking for images related to fraternal orders in Southeastern Wyoming, a great resource is the Ludwig & Svenson Photographic Collection at the American Heritage Center.

– Post contributed by AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in community collections, Laramie, Local history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Digital Preservation 101: Demystifying the Digital

Have you ever wondered about what happens to the digital files that get donated to the American Heritage Center? Or what happens with files that were created on software that no longer exists? Can the AHC deal with 5” floppy disks and ZIP disks? What about email and websites?

A trip to the Born Digital unit reveals a trove of equipment and software that lets the AHC care for digital files – whether common or obscure. Among its assortment of hardware are drives and players that read both 3” and 5” floppy disks, Zip disks, Blu Rays, SATA and HDD internal computer hard drives, and DAT tapes. Its collection of software programs likewise opens a wide variety of files from the defunct – ClarisWorks and Lotus Word Pro – to the popular – Photoshop and Word – to the emerging – Microsoft Outlook email and WARC website files.

Assortment of obsolete and current storage media for digital files including floppy disks, Zip drives, CDs, and flash drives. Files on these disks are transferred to readable formats by the American Heritage Center's Born Digital unit.
Assortment of obsolete and current media that the AHC’s Born Digital unit handles on a daily basis.

In a strange sense, digital files are very fragile. It might not seem that way given how widespread they are, but it’s very easy to accidentally delete a file or make an unintended edit. It’s also not uncommon for a computer to make an error and corrupt a file so that you can’t open it, or the font suddenly looks like Wingdings characters – ehimrtvyz.. It’s the responsibility of the Born Digital unit to protect the digital files in the archive so that researchers can read them, be inspired, and make discoveries now and far into the future.

What steps does the Born Digital unit take to preserve digital files?


Computer errors can come up when you transfer files between folders or across devices. To prevent this, the Born Digital unit checks the digital fingerprints of each file that gets transferred from a disk, like a CD or a flash drive, and put onto the workstation computer. If the fingerprint remains the same after the transfer, all is good. If the fingerprint is different, the digital archivist will investigate what went wrong and fix it.


Digital files have a lot of metadata. Simply put, metadata is data about data. It tells us who created a file, when it was created, what software it was created on, how big it is, and so on. This information gives archivists clues about how to preserve it, as well as context into how one file might connect to a second file within a folder. The Born Digital unit collects this metadata and organizes it to prepare the file for researcher access.

Current and outmoded computers in the stock of equipment held in the American Heritage Center's Born Digital unit.
Do these look familiar? The AHC keeps a trove of current and outmoded equipment in order to ingest born digital files and then transfer them to formats readable by today’s researcher.


Files need to be in a stable format that can be opened twenty plus years into the future. This means migrating old or obscure formats from their original type to one that is very commonly used or open source. Open source means that the software code is openly available and if it becomes necessary, software developers can look at the code to recreate a way to read the file. In practice, this means converting an old .doc file into a .pdf. Microsoft may let you open a .doc file on Word now, but it’s an old format and it’s very probable that the company will no longer support it at some time in the future.

At this point, files get renamed as well. Renaming involves replacing spaces and special characters, like an ampersand or an asterisk, with safe characters, like an underscore or a dash. Some special characters or sequences of special characters mean a specific thing to a computer. By replacing them with safe characters, we remove the potential risk of a computer misreading a file.

American Heritage Center Digital Archivist Rachel Gattermeyer preserving a born digital file.
AHC Digital Archivist Rachel Gattermeyer preserving born digital files for research use.


Sometimes a file won’t open or tell you what kind of format it is. Sometimes you have a corrupted file and you want to dig around for clues to see if you can open any part of it. In these cases, digital forensics tools are used to take a deeper, computer-level look at a file.

Storage and Maintenance

Once a file is stable and renamed, and all the metadata is collected, it gets saved into three identical copies that have the same digital fingerprint. The three copies act as backups in case one of the files gets deleted or accidentally altered.

It might seem at this point that everything is finished and there is no more work to be done. This is not so. Digital files require ongoing maintenance. The files’ digital fingerprints need to be continually checked to show that they haven’t been corrupted or changed. File formats might need to be converted as software versions are updated or as companies go out of business. The servers or hard drives where the three copies are stored need to be replaced every 5-7 years before they die or crash. The care for digital files is an ongoing task.

The AHC works hard to makes sure that digital files are ready for you now and far into the future. Ask us how you can access our many exciting digital collections. To learn more about digital preservation, contact the AHC’s Digital Archivist Rachel Gattermeyer at

– Post contributed by Rachel Gattermeyer.


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Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher Leads at World War II’s Battle of Midway

The Battle of Midway occurred June 3 to June 7, 1942 – six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of Japan’s main goals during World War II was to remove the United States as a Pacific Power in order to gain territory in East Asia and the southwest Pacific Islands.[i] 

Unlike Pearl Harbor, the Americans were aware of Japan’s attack plan at Midway as U.S. Navy crypto analysts had begun breaking Japanese communication codes early in 1942.[ii]

Map indicating military action at the Battle of Midway.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the commander in chief of the U.S. Navy Fleet, had time to plan his defense and put Adm. Raymond A. Spruance as commander of Task force 16, including carriers Hornet and Enterprise, and Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher as commander of Task Force 17, including the carrier Yorktown. A month prior, in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Yorktown suffered damages, but fortunately was repaired in a few days instead of a couple of months as anticipated and was able to join the fleet. 

First photo of the Battle of Midway showing a Japanese heavy cruiser after having been bombed by U.S. carrier aircraft, official U.S. Army photograph. Box 2, Frank Jack Fletcher papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In the morning of June 4, Spruance’s Task Force 16 was about 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Fletcher and Task Force 17, placing it closer to the Japanese fleet. Fletcher ordered Spruance to sail southwest and engage the enemy. [iii]

There had always been some confusion about who was in command, but Fletcher explained to Samuel Eliot Morison, official Navy historian and writer of History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II [iv], that arriving at Midway on the eve of the battle, although he was in overall command, he gave Spruance command of his two task forces. Fletcher said lack of time for preparation and organization brought him to make that decision. Later, Fletcher again put Spruance in command when the USS Yorktown was hit by planes from the Hiryu and a pair of torpedoes brought the Yorktown to a stop.[v]

Fire on the USS Yorktown, official U.S. Navy Photograph. Box 2, Frank Jack Fletcher papers,
American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The credit is often given to Spruance for the victory at Midway as he was in command at the end of the battle, but Admiral Fletcher was in command when the first three Japanese carriers were sunk, and it was Yorktown‘s VB-3, the Dauntless dive-bomber squadron that would sink the Akagi and the Soryu.[vi]

No matter Fletcher’s change of flagship to the Astoria, the Yorktown destroyed, and Spruance in command at the end of the battle, Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher played a key role in the victory over Japan. The U.S. Navy’s decisive victory in the air-sea battle and its successful defense of the major base located at Midway Island dashed Japan’s hopes of neutralizing the United States as a naval power and effectively turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific. [vii]

  • Letter from Samuel Eliot Morison asking Fletcher to clarify who was in command. Box 1, Frank Jack Fletcher papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

To learn more about Admiral Fletcher’s naval career, see the Frank Jack Fletcher papers at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Commendation from President Harry S. Truman to Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. Box 1, Frank Jack Fletcher papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

[i] “The Battle of Midway.” The National WWII Museum, Accessed May 7 2020.

[ii] “Battle of Midway.” History, Accessed 19 May 2020.

[iii] “Battle of Midway.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Accessed May 19, 2020

[iv] Morison, Samuel Eliot, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II

[v] “Battle of Midway.” Encyclopaedia Britannica.

[vi] Rickard, J (14 May 2008), Admiral Frank Jack “Black Jack” Fletcher, 1885-1973,

[vii] “Battle of Midway.” History.

Post contributed by AHC Processing Archivist Alexandra Cardin.


Posted in aviation history, International relations, military history, Uncategorized, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saying Goodbye to AHC Friend Hugh Downs

Radio and television broadcaster, announcer, television host, news anchor, TV producer, author, game show host, music composer, and AHC friend Hugh Downs died at his home in Scottsdale on July 1, 2020. He was 99.

Hugh was one of the few television personalities who remembered the medium’s earliest days in the 1950s. By that time, he was already a radio veteran. His smooth baritone voice was heard on TV shows like Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Sid Caesar’s Caesar’s Hour and, most notably, The Tonight Show where he was Jack Paar’s co-host. During those years he was also host of the popular daytime game show Concentration, a job he held from 1958 until 1969.

Although it meant double duty, he could not pass up the opportunity in 1962 to host NBC’s Today Show, which he performed ably until 1971. It was his most high-profile and prestigious assignment to date, one that established him as not only an announcer but a respected journalist. He then went on from 1975 to 1976 to co-host Not for Women Only with a young Barbara Walters, whose career he championed.

Hugh Downs standing next to an NBC TV van, ca. 1962.
A young Hugh Downs on the job as NBC Today Show anchor, ca. 1962. Box 196, Hugh Downs papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Later, while hosting Over Easy, a PBS TV program about aging that aired from 1977 to 1983, he earned a postgraduate degree in gerontology from Hunter College.

He became most known in later years as the Emmy Award-winning co-anchor, again paired with Barbara Walters, of the ABC TV show 20/20, a prime time news magazine program, from the show’s second episode in 1978 until his retirement in 1999.

His strong work ethic may have come from his childhood when his father Milton, a Lima, Ohio, machinist and battery salesman, lost work during the Depression, forcing Hugh to drop out of college after his first year to help support his family. He was hired as an announcer at WLOK, a radio station located not far from the family farm, for $12.50 a week. Within a year he was promoted to program director at twice the salary. He then moved on to Chicago where he joined the NBC radio network at WMAQ as an announcer, where he stayed until 1954.

He married Ruth Shaheen in 1944 during World War II, a time that saw her decorated by Naval Intelligence for her work on an undercover assignment. She graduated from college, moved to Chicago, and became a radio actress, as well as a director and producer. One of her employees was young Hugh Downs. The two fell in love and married, a union that lasted 75 years until her death in 2017. Their children are Deirdre and H.R.

Hugh Downs, son H.R., daughter Deirdre, and wife Ruth having a musical evening in the publicity photograph from the 1960s.
Son H.R., Hugh, daughter Deirdre, and wife Ruth cutting a rug in the family’s living room, ca. 1960. Hugh was a talented musician and a published composer. Box 195, Hugh Downs papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In an AHC introductory video Hugh narrated in 1993, he explained why he donated his papers to the Center:

Several years ago, I was asked to place my letters, photographs, manuscripts at the American Heritage Center. My staff said, ‘Well, you ought to look at some other archives. There are a lot of them and leave your papers with the best one.’ Well, I said, ‘Research it.’ And they did and they came back to me and said that first one was the best choice—the American Heritage Center. That’s where my collection is placed.

In the same video, he noted that he kept track of the AHC. And, indeed he did. He served on the AHC’s Board of Advisors from 2008 to 2010 during a time of great growth of the Center marked by the establishment of upgraded acquisition policies and a resurgence in public programming.

Hugh Downs was kind enough to narrate an overview video of the American Heritage Center in 1993.

His papers give an excellent overview of all aspects of the public life he led. There are extensive general correspondence files, files about his public appearances, and photographs and audiovisual materials that document his multi-faceted career.

The American Heritage Center has been fortunate to call Hugh not only a donor of materials related to his legendary career, but also a good and gracious friend. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Post submitted by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in announcements, Collection donor, Composers, Current events, found in the archive, Hollywood history, Journalism, Obituaries, radio history, television history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Celebrating LGBTQ Pride: The S.J. Moffat Collection

While Pride celebrations have changed to accommodate pandemic restrictions in June 2020, we are highlighting the AHC’s “Out West in the Rockies” LGBT collections. “Out West in the Rockies” seeks to preserve and highlight narratives of LGBTQ people and communities from the Rocky Mountain West.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this month that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Title VII’s new protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender employees are an important legal victory for civil rights.

Shannon Moffat, known professionally as S. J. Moffat, was not able to witness this milestone. Born as Samuel in 1927, she moved with her mother to New York in 1930 after her parents’ separation. Moffat graduated from high school in 1945 and decided to enlist in the Navy, becoming an electronics technician and later attending the U.S. Naval Academy. After her military service, she attended Amherst College and became engaged to Mary Kirkpatrick. The couple married in August 1950.

Shannon Moffat as a U.S. Navy ensign, 1953. Box 14, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Shannon as a young Navy ensign in 1953. Box 14, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Shannon worked as an assistant science editor for the publisher Henry Holt and Company after graduating from Amherst in 1950, until 1952. During this time, she also served in the U.S. Coast Guard. Mary gave birth to their first son Bruce in 1953, and the family moved to Palo Alto, California, in 1954 where Shannon worked as a reporter. Their second son Bennet (Ben) was born in 1956, and their third child arrived stillborn the following year.

Shannon Moffat during her time as a reporter for the Palo Alto [California] Times, ca. 1955. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Shannon during her time as a reporter for the Palo Alto Times, ca. 1955. Box 14, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Shannon expressed great love for her sons, proudly writing in her diary of Bruce’s first steps in 1954. Her need for mental and physical affection became tiresome for Mary, and the couple grew distant from each other, eventually separating and divorcing in 1962. In a diary entry from February 4 that year Shannon wrote, “I had not been given much love as a boy [and] I want it most urgently now.”

Shannon had first worn a dress three years earlier. It likely belonged to her mother or her aunt Mildred. Shannon wrote of the experience, describing her emotions flickering from “compulsive desire to erotic high to anxiety about putting it back in the box to avoid discovery.” She cross-dressed at home and at first feared being discovered. She would marry Kay Cranston in 1966, and over the next two decades, work to become comfortable with purchasing and presenting herself in feminine clothing. Shannon realized her identity as female and began gender affirmation procedures in 1981.

Transitioning in her 50s, she continued her career as a freelance technical and medical writer working for private businesses and universities, including the University of Wyoming. She had donated much of her research and publication material to the AHC. The S.J. Moffat collection, totaling 86 boxes, also contains personal diaries before and after her transition which offer her perspective of how gender transition was perceived and presented in the 1970s and 80s. Shannon passed away peacefully in January 2009 at her home in Palo Alto.

Shannon Moffat in a formal portrait with a fur stole, ca. 1980. Photo courtesy of her son Ben Moffat.
Shannon in a formal portrait, ca. 1980. Photo courtesy Ben Moffat.

For additional insight into her transition, researchers can look in her collection for a file about Jan Morris, a transgender author and British soldier in the Second World War. Her collection also mentions the Venus Castina, a book from 1928 about famous female impersonators throughout history, celestial and human. A copy of Venus Castina is also available in the AHC’s Toppan Rare Books Library.

Shannon Moffat with her son Ben Moffat, 2006. Photo courtesy of  Ben Moffat.
Shannon with her son Ben, 2006. Photo courtesy Ben Moffat.
Shannon's signature soon after her transition reading, "Shannon (formerly Sam)." Box 25, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

– Contributed by Morgan Walsh, AHC Archives Aide


Posted in LGBTQIA+, Out West in the Rockies, Transgender people, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Eyewitness to Racism: Andrew Bugas and the Rock Springs Massacre of 1885

Andrew Bugas (Andrej Bugos) was not quite 20 years old in 1885 when he arrived in Rock Springs to work in the Union Pacific’s coal mines. Born in Austria, he came to the United States in 1880 to join his father in Mahoney, Pennsylvania, where young Andrew worked as a “slate picker” and a “trapper” in the coal mines. Slate picker and trapper were menial jobs usually performed by boys. Slate pickers plucked sharp-edged pieces of slate and other impurities from the coal. Trappers sat underground, usually in total darkness, opening and closing wooden doors (trap doors) located across the mine.

“Boys Picking Slate in a Great Coal Breaker, Anthracite Mines, Pennsylvania.” Photo from Coal Region History Chronicles.

It’s not certain what led Andrew to Rock Springs, but he probably heard of the coal boom in southwestern Wyoming. He had an adventurous spirit, which showed itself in 1888 when he left Rock Springs to travel the United States for eight years.

In 1885, Andrew walked into a situation in the Rock Springs mines that was about to spin out of control. The tensions between white and Chinese miners had reached a breaking point.

Chinese men had worked in the Union Pacific’s mines since the early 1870s. They had proven themselves to be hard workers who would labor for less pay. Even though they were paid less than whites, Chinese miners could earn many times more in the United States than they could in China. If they were careful, in a few years they could save a lifetime’s fortune to take back home.

By 1882, anti-Chinese sentiment was rampant and Congress limited the number of Chinese immigrants. But the new law was full of loopholes, and the immigration question was open-ended and confusing.

Union Pacific Railroad policies did not help an increasingly tense situation. Pay cuts and paycheck gouging by UP company stores led to unrest among the white miners. And, although white and Chinese miners worked side by side every day, they spoke different languages and lived separate lives.

As the anger of the white miners intensified, they staged a number of strikes but with no results. At the end of an 1884 strike, mine managers in Rock Springs were told to only hire Chinese. By the time Andrew arrived, there were nearly 600 Chinese and 300 white miners working the Rock Springs mines.

On the morning of September 2, 1885, Andrew was at his house located only a short way from Bitter Creek,  which was one of the staging areas for a mob of men, women, and even children determined to drive the Chinese from Rock Springs.

In a recollection held at the American Heritage Center, Andrew wrote that at 10:00 AM he was looking through his window and saw that the “[Chinese] dinner carriers, who daily carried the dinners on poles across their shoulders…were being stoned with rocks and chased by boys and men until they had to drop their loads and flee for safety.”

Rock Springs
View of Rock Springs, Wyoming, undated. Photo File: Wyoming – Rock Springs, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Andrew continued watching as “the mob with guns on their shoulders began their march towards Chinatown.” He left his house to follow the brigade “½ curious and ½ scared.”

When the mob came to a place of worship in Chinatown known as a joss house, Andrew saw them halt and send a committee to tell the Chinese inside of the mob’s intent. Confusion reigned among the Chinese men in the building; some seemed to want to stay and others to leave. Andrew heard and saw “loud jabbering and swinging of arms, etc. etc., that could be observed from outside…through the windows.”

As the time to evacuate the joss house neared, the mob grew impatient and moved toward the building. Andrew “saw some Chinese jump out the window upon a bundle of what looked like blankets.” By then, members of the mob were against the house and “some one hit the locked door with an axe or sledge from the way it sounded.” Chinese men (only a few women lived in Rock Springs) poured out through the doors and window while “the mob started shooting into the house and toward the fleeing men.” Andrew noticed that “hundreds of shots must have been wasted for the scare.”

He continued to follow the mob as they advanced into Chinatown “driving out of the houses those that were too frightened to run and setting fire with kerosene oil to all houses after first plundering each house of everything valuable.” He watched as some of the Chinese men were killed inside their houses while most were shot in the back as they ran.

“Here’s a Pretty Mess!” (in Wyoming) – 19 September, 1885 by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly. Thomas Nast Source: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Soldiers were brought in to restore order. Andrew observed that “at first the soldiers and whites were distrustful of one another and many fist fights took place in the saloons.” But later, soldiers and miners began to fraternize. Discipline was not a strong suit among the soldiers. Andrew reported that “[on] several occasions a Chinaman was caught in darkness and his ‘pigtail’ cut off by soldiers.” That act, he noted, “was held to be a very grave offense by the Chinese and a soldier proven to have committed it was given severe penalty.”

The “blue coats” as the soldiers were known spent their money freely in Rock Springs and “were missed by Rock Springs businessmen when they finally left in 1898 after 13 years in Rock Springs.”

Andrew goes on to write that “…a year or so prior to the final withdrawal of the army from R.S…[o]ne or two companies or detachments of companies of colored soldiers came, the white army leaving. The colored army sojourn in R.S. while brief, was the most trying period for the peace officers as well as citizens in general…R.S. drew a breath of relief when this colored army was replaced by a white one…” He doesn’t elaborate on the what took place except to note that the town peace officers’ “resourcefulness in their line saved R.S. a dangerous outbreak and killing of probably many citizens and negro soldiers.”

Federal troops, shown here on Front Street in 1885, stayed in Rock Springs for 13 years. Wyoming Tales and Trails photo.

Andrew Bugas lived in Rock Springs until 1888 when he began his travels in the United States. But Rock Springs must have been home because he returned there in 1896, married a local girl in 1902, and raised a family. He opened a saloon, invested in a coal mine at Point of Rocks, and served as a state legislator, school district treasurer, and precinct committeeman. But he never forgot what he witnessed upon his arrival in Rock Springs. His account of the Rock Springs Massacre was written in 1933, many years later. The account can be found in the papers of his son John Bugas, which are held at the UW American Heritage Center.

AP Bugas
Andrew P. Bugas, undated. Find a Grave photo.


This post is edited from a previous American Heritage Center blog published in 2018.

Posted in Chinese Americans, found in the archive, International relations, Labor disputes, Local history, mining history, Railroad History, Rock Springs Massacre, Uncategorized, Violence - history, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Commemorating a 60th Anniversary: Psycho by Robert Bloch

June 16th is the 60th anniversary of the release date of the film Psycho.

Alfred Hitchcock’s film is based on a novel by Robert Bloch. It is the story of Norman Bates, a lonely motel caretaker who is seething with psychotic rage due to his mother’s domination.

Robert Bloch was an author of pulp science fiction and crime stories. A protégé of H.P. Lovecraft, he grew up reading Weird Tales magazine and after high school began writing science fiction stories for the magazine himself.

Bloch moved away from science fiction and into horror themes like black magic, voodoo and demon possession. He began writing crime stories and in 1959 wrote Psycho which would be adapted into the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film.

Psycho is strikingly similar to the story of infamous murderer Ed Gein. However, Bloch wrote most of the book before Gein was caught. Strangely, while writing Psycho, Bloch lived only 35 miles away from Gein in Wisconsin.

The film’s screenplay is relatively faithful to the novel, although there were some significant changes to the character of Norman Bates. In the novel, Bates is a middle-aged alcoholic who is overweight and blatantly unstable. Screenwriter Joseph Stefano sought a more sympathetic character. In the film, Anthony Perkins portrays Bates as an awkward, shy, semi-adolescent.


Author Robert Bloch wrote Psycho, which was later adapted into the Alfred Hitchcock film. Robert Bloch papers, American Heritage Center.

Although Bloch wrote sequels to Psycho, the sequels to the movie are completely different stories. Bloch wrote a speculative screenplay for his own sequel, but it was never made.

Robert Bloch’s papers are available at the UW American Heritage Center. The collection consists of materials related to Bloch’s personal life and professional career, as well as the development of the horror and science fiction genres. Contents of the collection include extensive personal and professional correspondence, a large selection of science fiction and horror books and periodicals, convention announcements and programs, and annotated screenplays, scripts, and manuscripts produced by Bloch and his contemporaries, among other materials.

Posted in Authors and literature, found in the archive, motion picture history, popular culture, Uncategorized, writers and poets | Tagged | Leave a comment

AHC Supports the Society of American Archivists’ Statement on Black Lives and Archives

On June 2, 2020, the Council of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) issued a statement condemning harassment and violence against the Black community. The American Heritage Center expresses solidarity with SAA in its condemnation.

SAA Council’s statement reads in part:

During this time of dramatic and traumatic historical significance, the Society of American Archivists remains committed to its core organizational value of social responsibility, including equity and safety for Black archives workers and archives of Black Lives. A truly open, inclusive, and collaborative environment for all members of the Society cannot exist without justice for those affected by anti-Black violence.  As the Council, we are committed to developing and advocating for solutions that contribute to the public good and affirm the importance of Black Lives.[1]

The vitality of American archives depends on the safety of archives workers and an explicit commitment to social responsibility, justice, and anti-racism in the work that we do and the organizations we work within. We intend to create and convene a space for constructive discussion toward progressive change in the archival profession and true inclusivity of the archival record, in a profound engagement with our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

You can read the full statement at

The American Heritage Center endorses the SAA Council Statement on Black Lives and Archives. The AHC believes in inclusivity and equity. The Center practices respect and provides our best service to everyone who comes in our doors.

[1] SAA Position Brief, “Police Mobile Camera Footage as a Public Record”: Approved by SAA Council November 2017.

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In A World Not Like Our Own

The Science Fiction or Si-Fi world has expanded and captured the minds of many due to its striking details, other worlds, and personable characters. Today it produces TV shows, box office features, and conventions that bring visitors from around the world, but the phrase “Si-Fi” as we know it today was not always common tongue. Forrest J Ackerman, science fiction writer, editor, and avid collector of Si-Fi memorabilia was the first to coin this phrase.

Forrest J. Ackerman, ca. 1970s.
Forrest Ackerman, ca. 1970s.
Box 105, Forrest J. Ackerman papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

While in college at the University of California Berkeley, Ackerman worked as a movie projectionist at various companies before being enlisted in the U.S. Army.  He rose to the rank of staff sergeant and became the editor of the base’s newspaper. This editing experience helped with his next career shift as editor and principal writer of the American magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. This magazine, published from 1958-1983, included brief articles, publicity stills, and graphic illustrations that highlighted horror movies and their histories throughout its publication.

In 1947, Ackerman created a science fiction literary agency and collaborated with many Si-Fi writers such as Ray Bradbury, L. Ron Hubbard, and A. E. van Vogt. These connections through the Science fiction community also provided Ackerman the opportunity to gather memorabilia from shows, films, conventions, and fans. All of which was housed in his 18-room home and museum known as the “Son of Ackermanison” until his death.

Throughout Forrest J Ackerman’s life, he represented more than 200 writers through his literacy agency, published over 50 books, contributed to film magazines around the world, and introduced the world to the history of science fiction to inspire many artists to pursue their careers in Si-Fi. He has won several awards including the prestigious Hugo Award for “#1 Fan Personality.” Ackerman was the first and only celebrity to receive this special award.

Forrest Ackerman speaks to a meeting of the Count Dracula Society, which was founded in 1962 for the study of horror films and Gothic literature, ca. 1960s.
Forrest Ackerman speaks at a meeting of the Count Dracula Society, which was founded in 1962 for the study of horror films and Gothic literature.
Box 105, Forrest J. Ackerman papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The American Heritage Center’s Forrest J Ackerman collection consists of material relating to Ackerman’s long career in science fiction and a portion of his memorabilia collection, including correspondence, fan mail, speeches, and scripts for movies and television shows.

Forrest Ackerman engulfed in sci-fi memorabilia in his home which he called the "Son of Ackermansion," ca. 1960s
Inveterate collector Forrest Ackerman engulfed in memorabilia
at “Son of Ackermansion,” ca. 1960s
Box 105, Forrest J. Ackerman papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
  • Post contributed by AHC Accessioning Unit Supervisor Kelly Miller


Posted in Fantasy, Hollywood history, Horror, Motion picture actors and actresses, motion picture history, popular culture, science fiction, television history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment