Remembering Lowell O’Bryan: First Year Seminar Class Hopes to Revive Significant Piece of History on Campus

The start of school in fall 1922 was no ordinary University of Wyoming experience. A new “prexy” had been hired and was to arrive in October. The board of trustees had announced that Dr. Arthur G. Crane, then serving as president of a college in Pennsylvania, had accepted the UW presidency. Eager to introduce the Easterner to life in the “wild west,” a group of students and faculty devised a welcome fit for the theme. They would dress as cowboys and, on horses, meet Crane as he neared Laramie and “abduct” him into a waiting stagecoach for the drive onto campus. Their prank went off smoothly, except for one tragic exception. Earlier in the day, one of the best horsemen on campus, Lowell O’Bryan, a junior studying agriculture, was critically injured as he helped ride out the mounts for the Crane reception—meaning that he rode them until they calmed down and stopped bucking. O’Bryan intentionally made one mount buck; then, suddenly, the horse broke toward a wire fence. Fearing the horse would break through and into a group of students, O’Bryan started to dismount, but the saddle slipped and he was thrown underneath the horse, badly kicked and dragged about 30 yards before being rescued. He died a week later. He was 23.

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University of Wyoming memorial fountain for Lowell O’Bryan, 1927. Photo from the Ludwig-Svenson Collection, American Heritage Center

O’Bryan’s death cast a pall of sadness over the university. Later in the decade, friends and classmates of O’Bryan raised funds to construct the memorial fountain we now see just west of Old Main’s front entrance. Yet the only commemoration is a cryptic bronze plaque over the fountain basin that states: “He gave himself to insure the safety of others.” Also, the monument has steadily fallen under disrepair; the stonework has chipped, effloresced, and faded over time. Last fall, Leslie Waggener and Rick Ewig of the American Heritage Center introduced the prospect to their First-Year Seminar of raising awareness and finding funds to repair the monument and to add a plaque explaining its significance. Through class efforts, more than $1,500 has been raised. But more funds are needed to get the work done by UW Physical Plant.

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Plauqe that is currently on the monument that reads: “He gave himself to insure the safety of others. This plate erected by his classmates”

Why does it matter to save this monument? Students in the First-Year Seminar speak best on the subject. “We think it is important to preserve this monument as an important piece of UW history,” said Dusten Strock. “If this monument was important to O’Bryan’s classmates in the 1920s, it should be important to us today.” Morgan McDonnell adds, “Given the inclusiveness of the ASUW Memorial Plaza, some may find it hard to justify a monument to just one deceased student. However, at the very least, it is justifiable to preserve the monument in the memory of not just O’Bryan, but also in memory of his classmates, who cared enough to have the monument erected in the first place.”

A GoFundMe site has been established to raise funds for the restoration and a plaque. You can find it at https://www.gofundme.com/xpatbkf7. Please consider donating. We hope to have the work done by the end of 2016. The First-Year Seminar that established the project will be noted on the commemorative plaque.

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Students from the American Heritage Center’s First-Year Seminar class stand in front of the Lowell O’Bryan monument with their instructor, Rick Ewig.

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