Mable Wyoming Cheney was born on May 2, 1878, in Atlantic City, near South Pass, Wyoming. Her father, Ervin F. Cheney (1844-1922), came west to Fort Sanders as a soldier after the Civil War. He helped survey the town of Laramie and entered the lumber business there in partnership with John Connor. In the 1870s, he moved to the South Pass area, where he operated a wagon and blacksmith shop. He married Mathilda Jane Henry in 1875, and the couple had four daughters and one son.
The family moved to Lander shortly after Mable was born in 1878. She graduated from Lander High School and entered the University of Wyoming in 1897, where she took a normal (teaching) degree in 1900. While Mable was at UW, the sole building was Old Main.
She married fellow UW alum Roscoe “Ross” Moudy in 1903, and they settled in Laramie, where Ross taught chemistry at the University of Wyoming and held the appointment of state chemist.
Because of her family background, Mable took a great interest in the state’s history, and she soon began to collect manuscripts and write stories particularly about the Lander area. She wrote and collected materials about her father’s life, and she wrote an autobiography of her own life, including her childhood in Lander. Chief Washakie was a frequent visitor to the Cheney home, and Mable recalled that she learned Indian words before she learned English and always wore moccasins as a child because they were easier to get than children’s shoes and far more comfortable.
The autobiography also covers the years when Mable Cheney was a UW student and the adventures she had traveling between Laramie and Lander. One of the passengers with whom she traveled was a young priest from Ireland, who expressed amazement that a young woman would travel so far without a chaperone. “I am very well chaperoned,” she replied, citing two other male passengers, the driver, and the priest himself, all of whom she was sure would protect her in any case of difficulty. The other passengers “loaded” the stranger as much as possible with stories of storms, wild animals, and robberies, but the stage reached Lander safely without encountering any of these dangers, although one team of horses ran away after being harnessed and nearly overturned the coach.
According to Wyoming native, author, and museum professional James H. Nottage, Mable told interesting stories to his Laramie Junior High class in 1964. She thrilled the students with stories of her intrepid father who was involved in scrapes with Native Americans who were conducting raids along the newly constructed transcontinental railroad. He later became a friend of the Shoshone and, according to Mable, hunted with them. She also recalled for the students the first motorcycle in Laramie and how she and others cheered as the driver went around and around the block, waving and yelling. It turns out he could not figure out how to stop the beast!
Mable was a diligent diarist in her later years, and her annual diaries from 1947 to 1972, the year of her death, form part of her papers at the American Heritage Center. Her papers also contain manuscripts and letters of other early residents of Wyoming. Many of these items were solicited by the Jacques Laramie Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (Laramie, Wyoming) to record the history of the state’s people, and they contain rare first person accounts of late 19th and early 20th century Wyoming.
Post submitted by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.
What an interesting set of archives!
Thoroughly enjoyed reading this history. I grew up in Lander knowing Ervin Cheney (Jr ?), father of Mary Kay Cheney, a classmate at FCVHS, Lander, later went to U. of Wyo. Erv owned and ran a bar in Lander, the name I’ve forgotten. Mary Kay was a pharmacy student, a KKG, and married Bill French, an All American basketball player from Kansas jr college. Bill and MK were married and expecting their first child and living in western Kansas. There was a vehicle accident and were both killed in the accident.
Your recollections are fairly accurate – Ervin Cheney played football for the C U Buffaloes and was an All American. The bar in Lander you’re referring to was the Avalon which was located in the 200 block of Main Street next to Hy’s Barber Shop. Ervin was married to Thelma and when Mary Kay was tragically killed in the auto accident both Ervin and Thelma were devastated – Mary Kay was their only child – and neither of them ever recovered from that loss.