The Infamous Johnson County War – The papers of Fred G.S. Hesse

This month is the 124th anniversary of the culminating conflict of the Johnson County War. On the morning of April 9, 1892, small-time rancher Nate Champion and itinerant cowboy Nick Ray were beset by an army of cattlemen and Texas hired guns, numbering about fifty, who had come to Johnson County to clear out the “rustlers.” Champion and Ray were shot and killed during the day long siege. Trouble between small-time ranchers, recalcitrant cowboys,  and owners of larger holdings had been brewing for nearly a decade . Problems arose out of the loss of open range and by alleged rustling by small “nesters.” Large-scale ranchers took steps, sometimes violent, to maintain their dominance in the industry, using arrests, hangings, blacklisting and more, but the small growers managed to find ways around them. Nate Champion had been a particular thorn in their sides. Among other offenses, he had recently formed the Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stock Growers’ Association to meet the needs of small-time ranchers and farmers.

Enough was enough in the minds of the large-scale ranchers, who were some of the leading men in Wyoming. Their primary network, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA), was composed of the state’s wealthiest and most influential residents, and the WSGA held a great deal of political sway in the state and region. WSGA members were accustomed to getting their way.

Early in 1892, a group of WSGA ranchers and supporters devised a plan to send an expeditionary force into Johnson County to clean out the rustlers. The “Invaders” as the force came to be known organized in Cheyenne and proceeded by train on April 8, 1892 to Casper and then toward Johnson County on horseback. Nate Champion and Nick Ray were their first victims. After their deaths, the group went on toward Buffalo to continue its show of strength. By now a posse led by Johnson County Sheriff Red Angus composed of small-time farmers and ranchers and state lawmen had formed to fight back. The posse met the Invaders at the TA Ranch on Crazy Woman Creek and a stand-off ensued. Wyoming Governor Amos Barber was contacted by a member of the WSGA group and frantic efforts to save the Invaders followed with the governor telegraphing U.S. President Benjamin Harrison with a plea for help. United States Cavalry were sent to diffuse the situation. Ultimately, the Invaders were never tried for their actions. Many left the country before prosecution could occur, but one prominent Invader, Fred G.S. Hesse, remained in Wyoming and, after several years, returned to Johnson County with his family to manage his ranch. It was a risky move and he and his family suffered the aftereffects for years, from social ostracism to bullying of the Hesse children.


Photograph of the Johnson County Invaders, taken at Fort D.A. Russel, May 4, 1982. Hesse is identified in the photograph as #33.  From the AHC photographic files.

Recently the AHC processed the papers of Fred G.S. Hesse. The collection covers the period beginning in 1881, a time when the cattle industry was flush with capital and land was open for the taking. Hesse was British-born and immigrated to the U.S. in 1873. In 1876 he became foreman at the 76 Ranch belonging to brothers Moreton and Richard Frewen, who were members of an English landed-gentry family. In 1882 Moreton established the Powder River Cattle Company with Hesse as foreman. In 1884, Hesse filed for his own homestead and established the 28 Ranch while remaining foreman of the 76 Ranch. Both ranches were located on Crazy Woman Creek near the town of Buffalo. Soon Hesse became a major figure in Wyoming’s cattle industry and was seen as someone not to mess with.  It was rumored in Johnson County that Hesse was behind the bushwhacking of two local cowboys, one of whom had embarrassed Hesse in a local saloon and the other who had voiced opposition to the large ranchers.

What you can find in this collection are Hesse’s detailed notes and correspondence during the years leading up to the events of 1892 in which he discusses incidences of rustling, hiring and firing of cowhands, and, generally, the activities of the Powder River Cattle Company and the growth of his ranches. One of the most interesting items is a manuscript written by Fred G.S. Hesse’s son Fred W. Hesse about his life, the experiences of the Hesse family, and the effects of the Johnson County War on the family. It is in this manuscript that you find evidence of how the family experienced and dealt with the consequences of Fred G.S. Hesse’s stand during the range conflict.

In addition to the Hesse papers, other AHC collections to consult about the Johnson County War include the Wyoming Stock Growers Association records, Hay family papers, Carey family papers, Charles B. Penrose papers, J. Elmer Brock papers, Mark A. Chapman collection, and Dean Fenton Krakel papers.

– Leslie Waggener –  Associate Archivist

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C.J. Box returns to the AHC next week!

Join us on Tuesday, March 8 when best-selling author, C.J. Box, will be at the AHC! Copies of his newest book, Off The Grid, will be available for purchase. See you there!OffTheGridTwitter.jpg

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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.


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.


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 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.


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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AHC Welcomes New Director, Bridget Burke


Photo Courtesy of Bridget Burke

Bridget Burke has been named director of the University of Wyoming American Heritage Center. She begins the position July 1.

“She has a passion for fostering collaborative scholarship, and she will continue to promote the accessibility of the AHC’s internationally recognized archival collections to the people of Wyoming and to researchers of national and international prominence,” says David Jones, UW vice president for academic affairs.

Burke comes to UW from North Dakota State University, where she has been dean of libraries since 2014. She began her career in the New York Public Library and the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution. Burke was an assistant curator at Yale University with the Western Americana Collection of the prestigious Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Collection, a premier collection internationally recognized for its significance regarding study of the American West. Additionally, Burke curated the Art of the Book Collection of the Sterling Library at Yale, and directed the Alaska and Polar Regions Collection at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

“The American Heritage Center has been a compass point in my professional landscape for as long as I can remember. As a center of excellence, with collections of distinction and exceptional programs serving citizens and scholars, the impact and range of the AHC cannot be overstated. The breadth of activity is impressive, from AHC’s leadership role in archival theory and practice, to it’s coordination of History Day events directly touching the lives of children around the state. I’m excited to become a part of that, and look forward to reconnecting with some familiar faces, as well as getting to know the many new faculty and staff at the Center.  Finally, I’m delighted to be joining the University of Wyoming community at a time when opportunities for collaboration are especially rich. My visit made it clear that support for the American Heritage Center is pervasive on campus, and that many points of engagement already exist. I’m honored to be selected as the next director of the AHC.” – Bridget Burke

Burke is recognized for bringing people together with archival collections for memorable public events. At Boston College, for example, she brought archival specialists together with musicians to perform and record a piece of choral music that had been identified in her archival collection.

“Our success is gauged not only by the metrics of what we hold (in collections), but by the conversations we prompt, the stories we elicit, and how we model ways to think about the past and live in the present,” Burke says.

Burke received her B.A. in English from the University of Wisconsin in 1984, an M.L.S. in library and information studies from the University of Wisconsin in 1986, and an M.A. in liberal studies (American history) from Wesleyan University in 2001.



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A Very Short History of Drag Queens in Laramie, Wyoming – Part One

On February 13th the United Multicultural Council of the University of Wyoming will be hosting its first Drag Show. However, the history of drag performance in Laramie can be traced to the Cowboy Saloon on October 22, 2005. On that day Laramie’s homegrown drag troupe, the Stilettos, took the stage and entertained Laramie audiences for the first time.

Although drag in Wyoming has only been popular since the 1990’s the practice of men dressing up as women has been a performance tradition for over three hundred years.  Traces of this practice can be seen in ancient Roman and Chinese theater productions. At that time, men would appear as women in theater productions because women were not allowed to perform on stage. To be an actress was seen as crude and un-lady like. The etymology and application of the term drag queen is uncertain, but scholars believe that it derives from the usage of hoop skirts, by men dressing as women, in the late 1800s. It is believed that the term emerged because these hoop skirts dragged along the floor.

Modern day drag shows, like the one performed in Laramie on that October day, most often consist of a variety show that include performances and sketches. This particular aesthetic can be traced to the early 20th century with vaudeville artists like Julian Eltinge. These types of vaudevillian performances were quite popular, so much so that by the 1920s drag balls were being hosted by theaters and local establishments.

In the 1930s and 40s a double standard emerged in American and British society. On the one hand, if a drag queen was perceived to be a homosexual, or was seen as dressing as a woman for enjoyment, she was shunned and could face retaliation resulting in arrest and violence. However, if a man was seen as wearing drag for the sole purpose of entertainment, then it was possible to maintain an audience and make a living as a drag performer. The public was comfortable with men in women’s clothing, as long as the sole purpose was entertainment that did not radically subvert gender roles.

In the 1950s the stigma of drag performance heightened due to an increase in conservative values brought about by the era of McCarthyism and fear of subversion of the postwar American national identity. Although some drag performers continued to be popular in the mainstream limelight, trans women like Marsha Johnson, gay men who impersonated women, or who enjoyed presenting as female for pleasure, suffered great discrimination. By the late 50s and early 60s safe spaces such as the Casa Susanna, Stonewall Inn, and Compton’s Cafeteria we established as violence and discrimination against the LGBTQ community became prominent. These safe spaces functioned through obscurity, attempting to be ignored by the largely intolerant mainstream communities they inhabited.

During the 1960s drag queens became more prominent in the public eye, due to evolving social and moral standards. Locations like Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco and the Stonewall Inn in New York City were the epicenters of LGBT activism and visibility, in part due to being targeted for police violence for their acceptance of drag performers, trans men and women, and sex workers. It should be noted that although these spaces began to emerge and be established, the LGBTQ community itself still faced immense amount of discrimination in societal and lawful settings that persists to this day.

The emergence of drag in Wyoming in the 1960s and 70s is quite uncertain, because of lack of documentation. However, Jim Osborn believes that drag queens did exist here in Wyoming in the 1970s because, as he chuckled in an interview, “the 70s happened here in Wyoming too.” Jim Osborn, also known as Martina Gras, has been a drag performer in the Laramie community for over a decade, and is a founding member of the drag troupe the Stilettos.  He is one of the brainchildren behind the first drag show in Laramie, Wyoming; and he gave us the pleasure of allowing AHC archivists to interview him for the Out West in the Rockies collecting initiative.

The idea to have the first drag show in Laramie emerged out of the annual AIDS walk. In 2001, Laramie hosted that annual event for the first time. As a means of promotion, a group of Laramie residents including Osborn went down to Tri City Shots, one of the popular lesbian bars in Fort Collins, Colorado. It was at Tri City Shots that they encountered a group of drag queens, and it was this meeting that sprung the now known, and beloved, annual Laramie event of Drag Queen Bingo.  The first few years Drag Queen Bingo was hosted by drag queens, from Denver, Colorado, that would drive up to Laramie to participate in the event. However, in 2005 Osborn and two of his friends decided that they could, and wanted to, partake in the art of performing in drag.  The idea was to host a drag show that would serve as a fundraiser for the Rainbow Resource Center at the University of Wyoming.

The show was held at the Cowboy Saloon on 2nd street on October 22, 2005.  According to Osborn, the crowd was such that it only allowed for standing room and featured one of “the most gay and diverse audiences the Saloon has ever seen.” The Stilettos opened the performance with a video which told the story of how the queens had gotten to Laramie and it featured, among other acts, a version of “You Don’t Own Me” from the film the First Wives Club.


Image courtesy Jim Osborn

Prior to 2005 and the AIDS walk, drag queens had had an appearance in Osborn’s life. The first drag queens that he remembers hearing about in Wyoming were involved in an incident in the mid-1990s at the Ranger Bar. It was an otherwise ordinary day in Laramie, Wyoming. The local movie theater was playing The Adventures of Prisicilla Queen of the Desert (1994), one of the prominent films about drags queen released that year. Apparently, a group of drag queens had gone to see the film, in drag, and afterwards headed to the Ranger Bar. At that time the Ranger was regarded and seen as the safe place for members of the LGBTQ community. At some point during the drag queens visit at the Ranger there was an altercation. This resulted in the drag queens being asked to leave, and told that they were not welcomed at the Ranger any longer.

In the mid-nineties the Ranger was regarded as one of the de facto gay bar of Laramie; the others being Club Retro (now Shocktoberfest) and the Fireside (now the Library). Laramie has never had a bar, bookstore, or location (outside the University) that has been regarded as an official space for members of the LGBTQ community. Meaning, that there has never been a space claimed by the LGBTQ community in spoken and institutionalized policy, in Laramie or Wyoming for that matter. When asked to comment about why that is, Osborn states that he believes it is the lack of population “there just isn’t enough people to sustain something.”

The issue of creating a safe space for the LGBTQ community has been taken up by members of the LGBTQ community in Laramie, including Osborn. The University of Wyoming Rainbow Resource Center and Safe Zone training are examples of the initiatives that have been put in place due to the lack of community safe spaces. It was one of the reasons why the fundraiser for the Rainbow Resource Center resonated with the Laramie community, and why the presence of drag queen in Laramie is so astonishing, yet necessary and important.

The community of drag queens in Laramie is small but strong. The Stilettos take their art quite seriously to the point of ensuring that their performance, their imitation of women, is empowering to females in body and mind. They use their stage time to educate and entertain individuals about the issues surrounding the LGBTQ community. They include the trans community and ensure that people understand the difference between performing femininity and living womanhood.

Jim Osborn and the Stilettos will not be taking the stage on February 13th at the University of Wyoming, but their contribution to the show cannot go unnoticed. They are the first home grown drag troupe of Laramie, Wyoming, and they can be credited for bringing drag to Wyoming. The Stilettos broke down barriers that have allowed for the show that will be hosted Saturday night to happen. Although they will not grace the stage with their presence, they will grace it with their historical contribution, and later in the year with the fantastic Drag Queen Bingo.

We here at the American Heritage Center Out West in the Rockies, are extremely lucky to  now have a tiny piece of the Stilettos history and hope to continue to document the incredible history of Wyoming and the West LGBTQ community.  If you or someone you know has information about drag queens and/or drag history in Wyoming please contact us!

-Irlanda Jacinto, University Archivist

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Holy half century, Batman! Celebrating 50 years of the Batman TV show

“Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed!”

Fifty years ago today, January 13, 1966, Batman and Robin faced off against the Riddler in the televised premiere of Batman on ABC. The day after the first episode, the New York Times stated “Bob Kane’s heroes of the comic strip came to television last night as real people, and it looks as if the American Broadcasting Company has something going for it.”  The Los Angeles Times wrote that Batman and Robin “have become new high priests of Camp.”  Many Hollywood actors wanted to become villains for the show.  The most well-known and most used villains in the program were Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Cesar Romero as The Joker, Julie Newmar as Catwoman, and Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.


Catwoman (Julie Newmar) kneeling over Batman (Adam West) tied to a giant mousetrap in the episode “That Darn Catwoman.” William Dozier Papers, American Heritage Center.

The papers of William Dozier, the executive producer of the Batman television series, are held at the American Heritage Center. Born 1908 in Omaha Nebraska, Dozier started out as a writer in Hollywood during the 1930s and 1940s.  In the 1950s he worked for CBS and produced shows such as Danger, a dramatic anthology show which ran from 1950 to 1955, and which starred such luminaries as James Dean, Jack Lemmon, Carroll Baker, Grace Kelly, and Paul Newman.

In 1964, Dozier founded Greenway Productions, which went on to produce such shows as The Loner starring Lloyd Bridges and The Tammy Grimes Show.  Of course, Dozier’s best known show is Batman, starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  The show ran for two-and-one-half years and became a cultural phenomenon.

In November 2014 all 120 episodes of the television series were finally released on remastered Blu-ray and DVD.  The long delay was due to the split ownership of the series.   Rights were held by the creator and producer of the series William Dozier, DC Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox, and Warner Brothers.  It wasn’t until John Stacks, who began selling model kits of the characters in Batman in 1998 and was then told by DC to stop and desist with his efforts, that he began researching the William Dozier Papers here at the American Heritage Center which then led to what described as the series escaping “legal purgatory.”

Stacks began researching the Dozier papers for own reasons, but the documents he uncovered and passed along to the Dozier family proved “to be pivotal to bring Batman to home video.”  Eventually, Fox became sole owner of the series and agreed that Warner Home Video would be the distributor of the DVD and Blu-ray set.  Stacks did not benefit in any way from the release of the video.


Catwoman (Julie Newmar) kneeling over Batman (Adam West) tied to a giant mousetrap in the episode “That Darn Catwoman.” William Dozier Papers, American Heritage Center.

William Dozier donated his papers to the AHC during the 1980s.  The collection includes materials relating to Dozier’s production of television programs with Greenway Productions and other television studios and companies. There are scripts, budgets, cast lists, fan mail, photographs, posters, production reports, shooting schedules, story outlines, titles and credits for mainly “Batman” and for other television programs. Also included is correspondence with actors and others involved in Dozier’s productions, with Lorenzo Semple (Batman writer) and Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason writer). There are related legal documents, memos, notebooks, speeches and articles by Dozier.  The inventory of the collection is available here.

The 50th anniversary of the premiere of Batman on the air has not gone unnoticed by the media. Both CNN and Smithsonian Magazine have covered the occasion, and toymaker Lego has even released a set of the 1966 Batcave and Batmobile in honor of the anniversary.

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Rockwell Polar Flight

Boeing 707-349C flown on the Rockwell Polar Flight

Image of the Boeing 707-349C flown on the Rockwell Polar Flight. From the Anderson Bakewell collection, American Heritage Center.

On November 14, 1965, the Rockwell Polar Flight began what has often been described as the last of the great firsts in polar travel. It was the first round-the-world flight to pass over both the North and South Pole, establishing eight world records for jet transports along the way. The American Heritage Center houses the Anderson Bakewell papers which contain many documents about the Polar Flight.

Mass in the Wilderness - High Sierra

Image of the Boeing 707-349C flown on the Rockwell Polar Flight. From the Anderson Bakewell collection, American Heritage Center.

Anderson Bakewell (1913-1999) was a Jesuit priest who served communities in India, Maryland, Alaska and New Mexico. During his life, Bakewell gained fame as an explorer. Before joining the Society of Jesus, he lived in South America for several years collecting specimens of rare reptiles, mammals and flora. The “adventure priest” took part in many expeditions, many of them documented in photographs and film in his papers including slides taken during trips to Alaska and Yukon Territory, and a film of “Trek to Everest”. He had advanced degrees in astronomy, mathematics and philosophy, and these studies fed his exploration trips.

He was listed as an official observer on the Polar Flight, saying a prayer at the beginning and end of each flight and a special world prayer as the plane flew over the South Pole and each of these prayers is documented in the papers. Also included are details about the flight including the navigation record, maps of the journey and newspaper clippings about the expedition. The flight began in Honolulu, flying over the North Pole to London. After an unscheduled fueling stop in Lisbon, they flew to Buenos Aires before passing over the South Pole on the way to Christchurch and the final leg back to Honolulu. Total flying time clocked in at 51 hours and 20 minutes.

Map of Polar Flight

Map of the Rockwell Polar Flight. From the Anderson Bakewell collection, American Heritage Center.

Upon completion of the trip, Anderson Bakewell sent a crucifix that he had carried with him throughout the trip with a prayer that “truly the world may resound from Pole to Pole with one cry, “Praise to the heart that wrought our salvation.”” An inventory of the Anderson Bakewell Papers can be found here.

-Chido Muchemwa, Graduate Assistant

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