Rentshler Lecture Monday, March 26: “Do Trees Still Have Standing: The Environmental Legacy of Justice William O. Douglas and the Wyoming Muries”

McKeown Promo

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The 1980s Texas Oil Crisis and Changing Perceptions of Industry Contamination

The AHC presents Sarah Stanford-McIntyre, a cultural and environmental historian. She is the 2017-18 Bernard Majewski Fellow at the AHC and a UW history instructor. She will discuss “The 1980s Texas Oil Crisis and Changing Public Perceptions of Industry Contamination.” Please join us tomorrow, March 22, for this free presentation at 3:30 p.m. in the Stock Growers room.

For more information, contact Leslie Waggener at or 766-2557.

Majewski lecture


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Johanna Gostas’ POW-MIA Papers

Johanna Gostas served as Wyoming coordinator for the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia.

Her husband, U. S. Army Maj. Theodore W. Gostas, was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive in February 1968.


Cover of leaflet created by the American Legion No. 6, 93, Cheyenne Jaycees/Jayshees, Families of POW/MIAs, V.F.W. 1881, 1881A, 4343, 4343A, and VIVA (Voices in Vital America). UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 3.

Upon his capture, the Vietnamese discovered that Gostas was a counter-intelligence officer through an article in the Stars & Stripes. His treatment greatly suffered as a result.

Johanna Gostas worked with the national and state POW/MIA groups beginning in 1968. She later recalled, “I remember when Ted came up missing. The dreaded military guy came to our door to tell me he was MIA. I couldn’t just sit there and do nothing!”

She organized letter writing, petition signing, and phone calling campaigns, sit-ins and parade floats, and distributed the POW MIA bracelets for “Voices in Vital America” endlessly reminding America, “Don’t Let Them Be Forgotten!” Johanna was a National League of Families representative to a 1971 conference on prisoner of war treatment held in Geneva, Switzerland.



Mailer to raise awareness of POW/MIAs. UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 8.


Milk carton with POW/MIA message. UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 4.

Ted’s brother, George Gostas, wrote a speech in 1971 that appeared in a POW/MIA newsletter for Iowans (Box 1 of the Gostas collection) in which he tells of the heart-wrenching experiences of the families waiting for word from their loved ones. George explained that, “My brother has never written. Letters sent to [Ted] in care of the Viet Cong in France or Algeria simply vanish from sight. We do not know if they have been delivered. A Christmas package came back from Cambodia marked ‘refused.’”

Even before the agony of waiting for word on captured or missing loved ones, the families of soldiers many times received letters of despair about the war, such as one Ted wrote to George before his capture at Hue. George noted that

Some of the things written by Ted were very terrible and detailed war in all its hellish brutality. In [Ted’s] words, “Death has stepped closer to Hue. The VC killed marines (near) here and of the boys had six days before rotation. Oh well, it is all in a day’s dollar…Write about man’s inhumanity to man. I can’t write it because I am too bitter…Bleed not for me. Bleed for life and all its meaningless meanings…let there be light, intense and burning…The mortars come and blast away flesh…eat life or it will eat you…dead bodies.”

Ted was finally released in March 1973, following the signing of the Paris peace agreement in January that same year. He was one of only five Americans to serve more than four years in solitary confinement.


Stickers to be placed on mailing envelopes.  UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 8.

Ted Gostas later recalled during an interview with the Casper Star-Tribune, “My psychiatrist considered me the most tortured prisoner of war in the Vietnam War … because I was the highest-ranking intelligence officer captured. And (I had) the worst attitude. I laughed at everything. Even when they were killing me I was laughing, because I was crazy. I went completely ka-flooey in prison.” According to the newspaper article, it took many electroshock treatments and months of psychiatric care before Gostas was capable of leaving the hospital. Only after years of rehabilitation did he become able to reflect intelligently on his prisoner-of-war experience.

He became an artist to help people understand the prisoner-of-war experience. In the process, he produced 10,000 drawings, sketches, paintings, poems and a book, Prisoner.

The Gostas POW/MIA Papers contain correspondence, news releases, pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and printed materials from various state and national groups relating to Johanna’s work on POW/MIA issues. Also included is correspondence from other POW wives and families, posters depicting Wyoming POWs, and materials related to the Geneva conference.


Cover of leaflet issued by Wyoming Cares POW-MIA. UW American Heritage Center, Johanna Gostas papers, Box 9.

Johanna recently passed away on January 20, 2018.

Rest in peace.

Posted in military history, Politics, Prisoners of War, Uncategorized, Vietnam War, Wyoming history | Tagged | Leave a comment

Celebrating a Wyoming Irishman: U.S. Senator Joseph C. O’Mahoney

On St. Patrick’s Day, the AHC celebrates one of Wyoming’s most famous Irishmen, Joseph Christopher O’Mahoney.

Joseph O’Mahoney (1884-1962) was a journalist, lawyer, and politician. A Democrat, he served four complete terms as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming on two occasions, first from 1934-1953 and then again from 1954-1961.


A serious young Joseph C. O’Mahoney, ca. 1905. UW American Heritage Center, Joseph C. O’Mahoney Papers, Accession #275, Box 390, Folder 45

O’Mahoney was Irish to the core. He was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, to Denis and Elizabeth (née Sheehan) O’Mahoney. His parents were both Irish immigrants; his father, who came to the United States in 1861 from County Cork, worked as a furrier and fought for the Union of his adopted country in the Civil War as a member of the 28th Massachusetts Volunteers, a regiment of the famed Irish Brigade.

Even his wife was of Irish ancestry. He married Agnes Veronica O’Leary (1885-1963), also of Massachusetts, in 1913. She was the daughter of Michael E. O’Leary and Annie M. O’Leary. Michael O’Leary had also immigrated from Ireland.


Agnes and Joseph O’Mahoney celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary, 1951. UW American Heritage Center, Joseph C. O’Mahoney Papers, Accession #275, Box 390, Folder 59.

O’Mahoney recalled in an oral history interview later in life: “Oh, I was intensely interested in history and politics. I wouldn’t say it was predominantly the interest of my father. My mother was extremely well interested in current affairs, and was a very intelligent and able woman. But perhaps I would say that it was the heritage of a young man who was born into a family of Irish blood. The Irish people have always been interested in public life.”

Joseph O’Mahoney was referred to more than once as “a man who speaks for the wide-open spaces of Wyoming with a Boston accent.”


Joseph O’Mahoney in 1937 during his first term as a U.S. Senator, UW American Heritage Center, Photo File: O’Mahoney, Joseph C.

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All Things Wyoming: The Wyoming Pioneers Oral History Project

In 2014, the American Heritage Center completed a project funded by a generous grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund. The largest part of the project was to digitize the Wyoming Pioneers Oral History interviews which were recorded during the late 1940s and early 1950s under the leadership of Lola Homsher, one of the first employees of what is today the American Heritage Center.


Lola Homsher. Photo courtesy Wyoming State Archives

During her time at the University of Wyoming, Homsher conducted a program of oral history interviews with early residents of the state. Homsher noted proudly at the time that only a few other institutions, including the Library of Congress, were making such recordings.

The interviews were recorded onto SoundScriber discs, a dictation format introduced in the 1940s. The machine recorded sound by pressing grooves into soft six-inch vinyl discs, which can be played on turntables.


SoundScriber machine from 1944 advertisement. Photo courtesy Radio News Magazine, Vol. 32, No. 3 (September 1944): p. 43.  

Some of the topics of the project’s interviews include the Johnson County War, Cheyenne Frontier Days, the trial of Tom Horn, the University of Wyoming, the exploits of train robber Bill Carlisle also known as the “Gentleman Bandit,” and even the establishment of the Camp Fire Girls in Wyoming.

Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Allen of Laramie (unfortunately first names were not included) discussed the Camp Fire Girls program coming to Wyoming. The national Camp Fire Girls of America began in 1910, emphasizing camping and other outdoor activities for its members. Mrs. Allen moved to Laramie in 1913 to teach in the high school and she was “also made sponsor for the sophomore class.” Her class had several girls who wanted to organize a Camp Fire group. They started with four girls and presented their charter in spring 1914 and by the end of the year had ten members.

The program continued to grow, providing many activities for the girls, and at the end of the interview Mrs. Allen remarked that the Camp Fire program

…fits so nicely into the home life and it does a great job in the developing of girls…I don’t know of any other program that does so much in making fine womanhood…


Camp Fire Girls in Laramie, 1918 or 1919. UW American Heritage Center, Ludwig-Svenson Collection, Accession #167, Negative  #5009.

Several of the interviews mention the trial of Tom Horn. T. Joe Cahill, who was at the hanging of Horn on November 20, 1903, had this to say about Horn in his interview:

Personally I just absolutely bet, I bet anything yet in the world he was guilty. To my knowledge of the case, yes I do, I say very definitely he was guilty. Very definitely. Don’t think there’s any, there’s no question in my mind at all. I sat with him at four thirty in the morning just before we, before he took the jump off, tried my best to get something out of him but all he said was ‘just take it easy, now, take it easy.’ I sat down at four thirty and went on home, come back the next morning about eight o’clock and oh about ten, that when it was all over.


Tom Horn in the Laramie County Jail in Cheyenne braiding a rope while waiting for execution for the murder of a 14-year-old son of a sheep herder. The rope was actually a lariat and not the actual rope used to hang him as some stories speculate. UW American Heritage Center, Photo File: Horn, Tom


Photograph titled “Hanging of Tom Horn” showing the mob around the jail. UW American Heritage Center, Photo File: Horn, Tom

All of the interviews can be accessed through the UW Libraries online catalog.


Posted in Digital collections, found in the archive, Local history, oral histories, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming, Western history, Wyoming history | Leave a comment

Wyoming native and UW alumna returns to become AHC’s University Archivist

The American Heritage Center has appointed Sara Davis as the new university archivist.  The university archivist serves as a liaison between the AHC and University of Wyoming departments, faculty, staff, and student organizations to assist in records retention schedules, which are critical in terms of the legal value of records as evidence and the reliability of information, as well as collecting materials that help document UW. The AHC is the University of Wyoming’s official archival repository.

Sara Davis.jpg

Sara Davis, AHC University Archivist

Davis, a Wyoming native and UW alumna, left Wyoming to attend Simmons College in Boston to pursue a higher education at a nationally renowned American Library Association accredited program. Her intention was to one day return to her home state and share her experiences and knowledge to advance public information services.

While in Boston, Davis gained experience in the archives management field by working with the Appalachian Mountain Club, the University of Massachusetts Boston, and the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site and participating in professional organizations such as the New England Archivists and Society of American Archivists.  Additionally, Davis served as a consultant for the National Association of Olmsted Parks performing services for the National Park Service at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site as their digital archivist and project manager.

“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to return to a community that I feel dear to my heart — Wyoming, the Rocky Mountain Region, and the University — to help in the preservation of our history,” Davis says. “I look forward to engaging our community in preserving our history and playing an active role in collecting materials that document campus culture, the history of the University of Wyoming, its administration, programs, services, and members of its communities.”

The university archives are divided into three categories: official records of the University of Wyoming, the papers of UW faculty, and records of student and affiliated organizations.  Types of materials found in the university archives include class syllabi, departmental or committee minutes and records, diaries, scrapbooks, audiovisual materials, publications, announcements, and correspondence.  Overall, the university archives aim to collect documentation on the seven functions of an academic institution: convey knowledge, advance knowledge, confer credentials, foster socialization, maintain and promote culture, sustain the institution, and provide public service.

Davis holds an Associate of Arts in music from Laramie County Community College and two degrees from the University of Wyoming (Bachelor of Arts in humanities and fine arts and Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in psychology). Additionally, she has a Master of Science in library science with a concentration in archives management from Simmons College and a digital archives specialist certificate from the Society of American Archivists.

Davis can be reached at or at 307-766-6832.

Posted in announcements, Current events, faculty/staff profiles, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming | Tagged | 1 Comment

Talk and book signing, The Snow Chi Minh Trail

Snow Chi Minh

The AHC will host a talk and book signing by AHC Associate Archivist John Waggener on Friday, March 9, 2018, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Stock Growers room (room 219) at the American Heritage Center. 

A 77-mile stretch of Interstate 80 between Laramie and Walcott Junction has been dubbed the “Snow Chi Minh Trail.”

Long-haul truck drivers named it after a notorious mountainous roadway used by North Vietnamese soldiers to reach South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

Residents warned highway officials of the adverse weather conditions around Elk Mountain and advised them not to build a road there.

In fact, the Union Pacific Railroad almost built in that area 100 years earlier and decided not to, even though it was more direct.

Despite the warnings, on October 3, 1970 the newly constructed stretch of Interstate 80 was dedicated.

It wasn’t but four days later that a winter storm wreaked havoc on travelers of the new road.

Some Wyomingites have since referred to the road as a “monument to human error.”

Come hear the fascinating history of this notorious stretch of interstate highway.

Posted in announcements, Authors and literature, events, faculty/staff profiles, Local history, Politics, Transportation history, Uncategorized, Western history, western politics and leadership, Wyoming history | Tagged | Leave a comment