The AHC has received $180,000 from the IMLS CARES Act Grants for Museum and Libraries to be spent over two years. The funds will assist us in supplying primary sources to middle and high school students competing in Wyoming History Day (WHD), the state affiliate of the National History Day (NHD) contest. AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener will be the project director. The AHC has been home to WHD for more than two decades.
IMLS – the Institute of Museum and Library Services – is an independent federal government agency that supports America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. The agency received CARES Act funds to help their constituents expand digital network access, purchase Internet accessible devices, and providing technical support services to their communities.
Competition for IMLS CARES Act funds was stiff; there were more than 1600 applications for just $13 million of CARES Act money.
The 2021 National History Day theme of “Communication in History: The Key to Understanding” offers the AHC an opportunity to digitize a wide variety of materials from nearly 90 collections covering about 30 topics, including the Pony Express, wartime journalism and propaganda, the comics industry, and transmission of Native American cultural values. Primary source sets will be placed on an easily accessible website and accompanied by essays and explanations to assist students in comprehending and contextualizing the historical documents.
Not only will this project support Wyoming’s school-age participants, but a further opportunity—a national one—significantly increases its importance. A marketing campaign using email, internet, and social media to spread awareness of the website of primary sources will inform NHD participants in all 50 states about the digitized materials, giving them access to primary sources provided by the AHC for their projects.
Additionally, the marketing campaign will emphasize to teachers that the digitized resources are not just for History Day but can also be used for instructional projects for individual students while under lockdown, quarantine, or isolation.
The WHD website will continue to be updated each year to enable the AHC to provide a location for distributing digitized materials to solve Wyoming’s problem of rural access to primary sources, even when Covid-19 finally recedes.
To learn more about the project, contact Leslie Waggener at email@example.com or 307-766-2557.
In 1924 Denver residents Laurena H. Senter, Metta L. Gremmels, and Dr. Esther B. Hunt incorporated a chapter of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan in Colorado. Senter was a pillar of the Denver KKK community as well as the president of numerous Colorado clubs and organizations. Her husband, Gano Senter, was the Great Titan of the Northern Province (which meant half of Colorado) of the Colorado Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.1
Since 1921, Colorado homeopathic doctor John Galen Locke had grown the Colorado branch of the KKK into an extremely powerful organization of 35,000 to 40,000 members, the second-highest per capita Klan membership of any state after Indiana.2 The Klan had been revived nationally in 1915 and was growing by leaps and bounds.
Papers of University of Wyoming history professor Larry Cardoso contain photocopied documents from the Wyoming Secretary of State’s office indicating that on December 9, 1924, Laurena Senter, along with Gremmels and Hunt, also incorporated the WKKK in Wyoming, with Cheyenne as its headquarters.
Nationally, the Women of the Ku Klux Klan was a relatively new organization, only recently organized in Little Rock, Arkansas in June 1923. Their stated goals upon organizing were respect for law and order, upholding of the constitutions of the U.S. and their resident states, furtherance of American principles, ideals, and institutions, and charitable works.
However, their agenda was also to incorporate racism, nationalism, traditional morality, and religious intolerance into everyday life. To qualify for membership in the WKKK, one had be a native-born, white Protestant woman.3
A women’s auxiliary was a natural component to the KKK in that, as historian Kathleen Blee explains, much of the Klan’s energy went into guarding the home with its members seeking to protect “the interests of white womanhood.”4
When Wyoming Governor William B. Ross died on October 2, 1924, the Cheyenne Women of the KKK sent a sympathy card to his widow, future governor Nellie Tayloe Ross. The WKKK sought always to present themselves as good, charitable, white Christian American women.
By 1925, internal dissension had dissipated the Colorado Klan, which also impacted the area’s WKKK.5
A note on the Wyoming incorporation papers states that the WKKK was revoked as a corporation on July 19, 1927.
Not much is known about the work of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan in Wyoming. In general, the KKK had a wide reach in Wyoming with a chapter (klavern) in many towns and cities. But that is another story to be told…
Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.
In box 9 of the Lawrence Cardoso papers housed at the American Heritage Center is a booklet dating to the mid-1970s titled “Amigos de la Comunidad.” I was leafing through that particular box searching for something totally unrelated. But the booklet drew my eye and I couldn’t resist thumbing through it.
The Amigos booklet was most likely part of Dr. Cardoso’s research materials. He was a University of Wyoming professor and an expert in the field of Latin American history. In 1989 his life was cut short at the age of 49 by a heart condition. At the time of his death he was nearing completion of “White and Brown,” a study of American attitudes toward Latinx persons. He had previously published Mexican Emigration to the United States, 1897-1931 (1980).
The spiral-bound booklet contains biographical sketches and personal anecdotes of thirty-two persons of Latinx heritage living in Torrington, Wyoming. It is broadly representative in terms of occupation, age, gender, special interests, point of view, and community activity.
Many of those profiled were children of migrant workers who came to Torrington to harvest sugar beets. Holly Sugar Corporation had been a major employer since 1925 when the Union Pacific Railroad constructed a spur line into South Torrington.
Compilation of the portfolio was done as an educational and inspirational resource for K-12 up to college level, as well as for the public, to introduce them to the “wealth of human resources which can be tapped to enrich the educational experience of students as well as community life as a whole.”
Suggested classroom activities included adding the students’ stories or their families’ stories to the portfolio, discussing selected profiles from the book, and reading aloud only part of the stories and allowing students to tell their version of how the stories ended. Teachers were encouraged to invite the individuals to their classrooms to talk about their occupations, cultural activities, hobbies, philosophies, etc.
It was recommended that the community ask those profiled to participate in special task forces to address community needs or to serve as “talent scouts” in identifying other persons to assist in community development. Another idea was to host an “Amigos” night in which young people and members of the public might invite certain persons from the portfolio and others who they wanted to honor or with whom they wanted to become better acquainted.
The project’s coordinator was Anne Gardetto. She had graduated in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and Spanish from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. For a short time, she worked at Head Start, which is where she began to form her philosophies of how education could lift individuals and whole families out of poverty. She moved to Torrington in 1974 and began her career at Eastern Wyoming College, retiring 36 years later in 2010 as the associate director of student services at the college. She won the Wyoming Woman of Achievement Award in 1987, the Outstanding Young Women of America Award in 1976 and 1986, and the Outstanding Community Service Award in 1977.
It was serendipitous that I poked around in that box of archival materials and discovered such a wonderful project created around Torrington’s Latinx community. It gave me the opportunity to learn about the town’s rich heritage and to share Anne Gardetto’s work with you.
Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener
Tom Horn’s enduring reputation rests on the moment in 1903 when he was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the murder of fourteen-year-old Willie Nickell. It was, in some ways, an ironic end, for Horn was not an “outlaw” like Jesse James or Butch Cassidy or any lesser-known thief. He took nothing from his victim. He was not a murderer with any personal motive. He had very slight acquaintance with Willie Nickell or any of his family and no personal quarrel with any of them. Tom Horn was hanged because his jury believed he was an assassin, a killer-for-hire.
For most of his life, Tom Horn had been a lawman, or, at least, he had acted in the service of the law. He had been a civilian scout for the United States Army in Arizona in the 1880s. In 1890 he became an agent for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Pinkerton’s, founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton and carried on by his sons William and Robert, was a private detective agency with a wide reputation. Allan Pinkerton reported on assassination plots against President Abraham Lincoln and organized spies for General George McClellan during the Civil War. William Pinkerton developed a large clientele in the U.S. West, primarily among railroads and big business interests. The Pinkerton operation worked closely with government law enforcement but preferred to use undercover agents. “Rumors persisted that detectives secretly worked on both sides of the same case, kidnapped witnesses, bribed juries, [and] commonly used violence to break strikes and coerce confessions[.]” As a result, the Pinkerton Agency’s reputation was somewhat mixed.
Horn remained less than five years with Pinkerton’s. However, he seems to have left on good terms with his employer. On April 12th, 1895, William Pinkerton recommended him to Frank M. Canton, undersheriff of Pawnee County, Oklahoma:
I am in receipt of your very full and complete letter of April 7th and note contents. As we have not got the right kind of a man for this rough work out there, I have referred the matter to Supt. McParland at Denver, sending him copy of your letter. I was greatly pleased to hear from you and did not know of your change of place. I imagine that whoever goes out on this work will find it rather difficult to do and we have not got at this office available such a man as I feel satisfied would fill the bill in every particular.
Tom Horn who used to be with our Denver office would be a good man for the place, and I will ask McParland to communicate with him and see if he cannot be got for the service and for the length of time you want him. He is not in our service now. You probably know of him. He is well acquainted all through the western country among cattle rustlers and all that class of men, and is a thorough horseman and plainsman in every sense of the word. I note particularly that you want to get Jack Treganing [sic] who excaped [sic] from the Laramie penitentiary where you sent him for life and that he is down in that country. I should be very glad indeed to hear of his capture.
I trust Mr. McParland will be able to fit you out with the right kind of a man to go down there.”
Frank Canton, who received this letter, was another man with a checkered past. When he left Texas in 1877 his name was Josiah Horner, and he was considered a bank robber, cattle rustler, and killer. In Wyoming, though, Canton became a detective for the Wyoming Stock Gowers Association and a U.S. Deputy Marshal. In 1892 Canton was in charge of a contingent of Texas men imported to Wyoming to kill suspected rustlers in an extra-legal fiasco known as the Johnson County War. Canton went on to law enforcement positions in Oklahoma and eventually became Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard.
Canton apparently retained an interest in Wyoming. The escape of John Tregoning from the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary on November 15, 1894, was, strictly speaking, no affair of an undersheriff in Oklahoma. Tregoning (going by the name of Smith) had shot and killed George Henderson (formerly known as John Powers), who was manager of the 71 Cattle Company on the Sweetwater River in Wyoming, on October 8, 1890 “in a dispute over employment.” Tregoning was believed to have returned to the Sweetwater area where he was assisted by friends. He was never recaptured.
It is not clear that Horn engaged in the search for Tregoning, but he was certainly in the Horse Creek area of southern Wyoming in the summer and fall of 1895, where, he later boasted, he had killed two men accused of stealing cattle. These murders, as much as the Nickell killing, established his reputation as an assassin.
Connections between these three ambiguous men, Tom Horn, William Pinkerton, and Frank Canton, are clearly shown by this letter, previously a part of the important Robert J. McCubbin Collection of Western historical materials. The William A. Pinkerton letter to Frank Canton about Tom Horn now resides in the collections of the American Heritage Center.
Frank Richard Prassel, The Western Peace Officer: A Legacy of Law and Order (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972), 134.
 Elnora L. Frye, Atlas of Wyoming Outlaws at the Territorial Penitentiary (Laramie: Jelm Mountain Publications, 1990), 121; Alfred James Mokler, History of Natrona County, Wyoming, 1888-1922 (Chicago: R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company), 272-275.
 Larry D. Ball, Tom Horn in Life and Legend (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), 175-186.
Post contributed by D. Claudia Thompson, Supervisor, American Heritage Center Arrangement and Description Department.
August 26 marks the date in 1920 when American women were enfranchised equally with their male counterparts. Nonetheless, African American women continued facing barriers to voting for decades, as well as negative stereotypes, harassment, and unequal access to jobs, housing, and education. Black women banded together to form their own clubs and organizations where they could try to effect change and focus on issues they cared about.
One such organization was Cheyenne’s Searchlight Club. A Club president, Sudie Smith Rhone, explained the group’s purpose to a local reporter in 1969,
We the Negro women of the city of Cheyenne, feeling the need of a systematic effort along social, charitable and intellectual lines, in order to elevate our people, to help others as well as ourselves, organized the Searchlight Club.1
The organization was formed on December 4, 1904, as a literary and service-based group and was the first women’s club in Cheyenne specifically for African American women. Its goal each year was to have a minimum of 20 members, and they maintained that membership goal through the years.2
The Searchlight Club provided an avenue for Cheyenne’s African American women to have intellectual discussions on social and cultural topics of interest to them. The women also formed friendships and supported the African American community. One of the projects they especially enjoyed was giving baskets of fruit and candy to the sick and shut-ins during the holidays. They prepared the baskets themselves and personally delivered them.3
The Searchlight Club also gave scholarships to students. For instance, along with the Cheyenne Women’s Club, the club contributed to the education of Marjorie Witt Johnson who was born in Cheyenne in 1910, the daughter of a Buffalo Soldier. Witt Johnson went on to earn a B.S. degree in social work from Oberlin College in 1935 and founded a Black dance company, the Karamu Dancers, that stole the show at the 1940s World Fair in New York.4
Activities of the Club are described in briefs found in Cheyenne newspapers beginning in 1905. The ladies met at each other’s homes on Thursday evenings to hear presentations and discuss topics with titles such as “Music: Its Use in Churches, Homes, Schools and on Public Occasions,” “Are We as a People Less Devoted to Singing than the Europeans?” “Heredity vs. Environment,” “The Press: Its Recent Developments,” “Irrigation in the West,” “Egypt and Its Customs” as well as to talk about notable African Americans and even vacation experiences.
At times the Searchlight Club joined with Cheyenne’s Colored Civic League to host events, such as one held at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in May 1919 to honor Lieutenant J.R. Leonard, an African American who had recently fought with the American expeditionary forces in France.5
In 1921, after a massacre of Black residents and the destruction of their homes and businesses by whites in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma during the summer, members of the Searchlight Club issued a newspaper notice asking Cheyenne residents to donate clothing for the almost 10,000 African Americans who had been left homeless.
The Club participated in annual multi-day meetings held in June of the Federated Clubs of Colored Women of Colorado and Wyoming. At the 1909 convention in Cheyenne, “a most cordial invitation [was] extended to all race lovers and those interested in the race to attend the meetings…to see the rapid strides these women have made in forty years…”6 Governor B.B. Brooks welcomed the conventioneers to Cheyenne in an evening address that began the conference. The ladies discussed such topics as the overall importance of education, the role of higher education for Black women, and livelihoods for African American graduates in the West.
By 1926, Wyoming had formed its own State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Their first annual convention was held at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Casper on June 10, 1926. Casper Mayor John T. Scott welcomed the ladies to his town on the first evening. The Searchlight Club was represented by Fannie Butler and was one of nine organizations at that first convention. Other clubs represented were the Cheyenne-based groups of Needlecraft, the Cheyenne City Federation Reciprocity Club, American Beauty Ceramic, and the Young Matrons Culture Club; Casper-based groups were the Wyocolo Art and Literary Club, Juvenile Literary and Art, and the Mutual Uplift Club; and from Sheridan came the Joliet Art and Literary Club. Ollie Reed of Cheyenne was elected as the organization’s first president with Emma Sander (Casper) as vice president, Mrs. DeMarge Tolliver (Cheyenne) as recording secretary, Julia Newsome (Sheridan) as corresponding secretary, and Ethel Henderson (Casper) as chairman of the executive board.7
There was also a Searchlight Club in Rock Springs with both men and women members that was first mentioned in the Rock Springs Miner in January 1904 and, like the Cheyenne-based club, held discussions on topics of interest that included everything from socialism and race problems to Darwinism, discoveries in physics, and early aviation. The Rock Springs club frequently shared presentation and study topics with the Cheyenne group.
As of 1988, the Searchlight Club in Cheyenne was still active.8 If you have more information about the Searchlight Clubs in Wyoming, please let us know at the AHC.
Post by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.
“Aim at a high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second, and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting, for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s eye of success.” These wise words from Annie Oakley are as inspiring as she was herself. Annie Oakley is one of the most remembered female icons from the 19th century. Though she started with humble beginnings, her accomplishments and experiences paint a colorful history.
Born August 13, 1860 in Darke County, Ohio, Annie got her start in shooting at a very young age. By age eight she began using a cap and ball Kentucky rifle that had belonged to her father. She not only shot game for her family to eat but was proficient enough that she sold surplus game to a local storekeeper.
At age 15, Annie performed in her first professional shooting match with a man named Frank Butler. The match was set up by her brother-in-law with Butler, who was a guest visiting his hotel. They each shot at 50 targets; Butler missed the final target and Annie scored a perfect 50. Roughly a year later in 1876, Annie and Frank were married.
Annie Oakley’s real name was Phoebe Ann Moses. Her sisters didn’t like the name, so they called her Annie. While visiting her sister and brother-in-law near Cincinnati, she spotted a section of the Ohio River called Hyde Park and Oakley. Susan M. Pajak wrote, “Phoebe Ann, who was called Annie by the family, very much liked the sound of ‘Oakley.’”
When Frank’s show partner fell ill, Annie joined his show and began using the name “Annie Oakley.” She quickly became the star as her shooting ability outshone her husband’s. As they traveled from town to town performing for local crowds, Frank would also set up matches between Annie and local champions. Annie almost always won, with Frank betting on her success. Soon Annie and Frank started joining wild west shows and circuses to display their talents. Although they had their start in small shows, they eventually joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in March 1884, where Annie soon became a celebrity.
E.B. Mann, in his article “Shooting’s Skirted Starlet” wrote, “When she became the protégé of Buffalo Bill Cody and Sitting Bull, when she shot before the crowned heads of Europe, when she was internationally famous and her name a byword in the language, these local triumphs would seem picayune and hardly more than amusing.”
As her career progressed, her skills became world-renowned and she became known as “Little Miss Sure Shot.” Annie performed not only throughout the United States, but also toured in several European countries displaying her marksmanship for royalty such as Queen Victoria of England, the Sultan of Turkey, and the Grand Duke Michael of Russia to name a few.
Even after two separate injuries that would have been crippling for most, Annie continued to beat the odds, shooting and performing well into her fifties. From 1915 to 1922, Annie managed the Pinehurst Gun Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and taught people of all ages how to shoot.
As a noted female icon, Annie was portrayed in multiple movies, television series, novels, and even a Broadway musical commemorating her life and career success.
One famous actress who played Annie Oakley was Barbara Stanwyck in the 1935 film Annie Oakley. The movie is based on the events of Annie’s life, although it takes liberties with details, especially with regard to Annie’s love-life.
Annie Oakley is one of the most well-known women in American history, widely remembered for excelling in a male-dominated sport. A pioneer in her field, she was made famous by her own skills and determination to succeed. It can certainly be said that Annie Oakley aimed at a high mark and hit it.
 Susan M. Pajak, “Remembering One of America’s Heroines – Annie Oakley,” Pennsylvania Magazine (1996): 49.
Dr. Harrison Brown found ways to separate plutonium to devise the world’s first atomic weapons and then spent the rest of his life urging the abolition of those same deadly devices.
He was born in Sheridan, Wyoming, on September 26, 1917, the son of Harrison H. Brown (1880-1927), a rancher and cattle broker, and Agnes Scott Brown (1889-1963), a piano teacher and a professional organist. His father died when he was ten years old, and mother and son moved to San Francisco, where Mrs. Brown supplemented her income as a dental assistant by teaching music and playing piano for silent movies.
Trained as a chemist, Brown did undergraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, and then earned a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The subject of his thesis, thermal diffusion of argon and construction of a spectrometer for isotope analysis led, in 1942, to an invitation by Manhattan Project chemist Glenn Seaborg to join him in the Metallurgical Laboratories at the University of Chicago. Brown joined the project and moved later with the research group to Clinton Engineer Works in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where he devised ways to produce plutonium. The techniques he helped develop were used to produce the plutonium used in the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki, 75 years ago on August 9, 1945.
After the two bombs were exploded and the war with Japan ended, Brown and other Manhattan Project scientists expressed their grave concern about the future. Although they had strong justifications for their involvement in the bomb project, they were powerfully committed to preventing further development and spread of nuclear devices. To that end, Brown joined the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS), becoming its executive vice chairman alongside its chairman, Dr. Albert Einstein. The Committee was formed to aid the public’s understanding of atomic issues by raising and directing funds for public education.
By December 1945, Harrison had completed a 160-page book, Must Destruction Be Our Destiny? (Simon and Schuster, 1946), warning about the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons. His passion led him to give 102 lectures within three months throughout the United States. He used royalties from the book sales to support the work of ECAS, which later became a working committee within the Federation of American Scientists whose aims and efforts were directed to proper regulation of atomic power and weapons.
He maintained his anti-nuclear posture for the rest of his life and at his death in 1986 was editor in chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a publication produced by many who had helped develop nuclear bombs but who had become adamant in their opposition to them.
Learn more about Dr. Harrison Brown’s career and activism in his papers at the American Heritage Center. His papers contain his publications including books and journal articles as well as correspondence, subject files, a scrapbook, and audiotapes of interviews with Brown.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.