Welcome to the University of Wyoming’s Living Room

The Wyoming Union on the University of Wyoming opened on March 3, 1939, and soon became the “living room of campus,” as described on the Union’s website.

The university had expanded greatly since its inception in 1886 with a much higher student population. A large gathering space was desired and, by 1935, serious discussions to build a student union ensued. Bonds were issued against student fees to provide construction monies and federal funds were sought and received from the Public Works Administration, which was a Depression era recovery program created in 1933 to offer employment through the building of large-scale public works. Via the PWA, students were hired to do some of the construction work, including stone cutting. The federal agency provided a $128,250 grant toward the project, whose total cost was $295,955, which, adjusted for inflation, is $6,274,183 in today’s dollars.

Early photo of the Wyoming Union by Harold Sanborn, a commercial photographer based in Denver between the 1920s and early 1960s. He shot locations in Wyoming and Colorado and quickly turned them around into photo post cards like this one. University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

William Dubois, a prolific Wyoming architect from Cheyenne, designed the structure late in his career. UW Trustees approved the final building plans during their meeting on December 9, 1937. This swanky new three-story campus social spot would feature a soda fountain, billiard room, game room, and a large ballroom for students to shake a leg. Necessary facilities such as a post office, bookstore, and meeting spaces were also included. As student housing was still in high demand, dormitory space was incorporated onto the third floor. Construction began in November 1937 and completed in February 1939, an event celebrated by faculty and staff with a sedate formal attire banquet in the new dining room. Perhaps the students had a much livelier celebration in the new ballroom.

UW faculty, staff and their spouses at a banquet honoring the opening of the Wyoming Union in 1939. Wyoming Governor Nels Smith is in attendance as seen at the head table on the far right. Box 23, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, Negative #31345.
Photo captioned “Student rendezvous in the new Wyoming Union Fountain Room, Uni. Of Wyo.” University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Well-attended billiards demonstration at the Union, 1940. Box 24, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, Negative #32842.1.

Several additions have occurred since the Union opened. In 1956, plans moved forward to add space to the north, including the expansion of the basement. This addition included more ballroom space and the addition of a bowling alley. Also added to the plan was a 42-room hotel. This was met with resistance from business owners and was removed. The project was completed in time for the start of school in the fall of 1959.

The Union receives an addition in the 1950s. University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Testing out the lanes at the Union’s bowling alley. University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
The Wyoming Union Lounge in 1955. The university’s living room indeed. University of Wyoming Photo File, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The Union holds several noteworthy murals, the best known of which is in a ballroom located on the second floor – Lynn Fausett’s 7 x 28-foot depiction of the “western welcome” of President Arthur Crane to UW in 1922 in which the new president and his family were greeted with a mock hold-up and kidnapping from their Laramie-bound automobile by students dressed in cowboy regalia.

Incoming UW President Arthur Crane and his wife looking rather shell-shocked at their rowdy welcome by UW students in October 1922. As described by UW historian Deborah Hardy: “Out from the window he peers like a prisoner; he is neither smiling nor waving nor eagerly surveying the sagebrush around him. If anything, the camera catches a tone of disapproval for this youthful, high-spirited prank.” Photo File: Crane, Arthur Griswold, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The mural was dedicated in 1940, while Crane was still the university’s president. The artwork originally hung in the student lounge and later in the grand staircase of the union but was moved to its present location in the West Ballroom in 2003 following restoration funded by the class of 1958.

Five individuals significant to UW history are depicted in Fausett’s mural—Crane, front and center; outgoing UW President Aven Nelson, next to him in black hat and suit; longtime university board secretary, faculty member and historian Grace Raymond Hebard on the left in a green skirt; longtime psychology Professor and Department Chair June Etta Downey in a red dress; and next to her longtime Greek and Latin Professor and Dean of Liberal Arts Justus Soule, in gray suit and red tie. Photo courtesy Greg Nickerson/WyoHistory.org. https://www.wyohistory.org/encyclopedia/fountain-and-mural-remembering-tragic-cowboy-welcome

More additions and restructuring were completed to the Union in 1973 and in 2002. Although the soda fountain and the bowling alley were removed, the updates did create more dining options as well as vital campus programming relating to student government, Greek Life, diversity programs, and more.

Students can still play billiards at the Union. Photo courtesy UW Wyoming Union

The Union remains the university’s living room and offers a variety of entertainment, dining, and meeting options. Learn more about the Union’s history in the collections of the American Heritage Center. Also take a look at the Center’s virtual exhibit “Keeping History Alive: 136 Years of Progress” for more information on University of Wyoming building history.

Post submitted by University Archivist and Historian John Waggener with additions by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


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Wyoming’s Grand Old Man Joseph Carey

Many people who have visited Wyoming’s capitol city at one time or another have probably driven on Carey Avenue. This well-traveled thoroughfare goes through the heart of Cheyenne on the west side of the State Capitol. But from where does the prominence of the Carey name originate?

It all began with Joseph Maull Carey. Born in Delaware on January 19, 1845, Carey came to Wyoming Territory in 1869. Other members of his family found their way to Wyoming not long after. Shortly after his arrival, Carey was appointed the first United States Attorney for the newly-organized territory. He would go on to serve as an associate justice of the Wyoming Territorial Supreme Court from 1872 to 1876, after which he retired from the judiciary.

Joseph Carey was just a young man of 24 years of age when he arrived in Wyoming Territory. And only 31 when he retired from the judiciary. And that was just the beginning of his career. Photo courtesy Wyoming State Archives (WSA Sub Neg 15797).

On September 27, 1877, Joseph Carey married Louisa David in Cheyenne. They had two sons, Robert Davis and Charles David. Robert followed in his father’s footsteps into Wyoming’s governorship and the U.S. Congress. Robert Carey served as governor of Wyoming from 1919 to 1923. He was elected in 1930 to fill out the remainder of Francis E. Warren’s U.S. Senate term. Warren died in November 1929 at the age of 85. Robert served as a U.S. Senator from Wyoming until his death in 1937.

Robert Carey among a group of redoubtable Wyoming historical figures, ca. 1925. Shown (l-r) are U.S. Senator Francis E. Warren, Wyoming Governor Nellie Tayloe Ross, former Wyoming Governor Robert Carey, and U.S. Senator John B. Kendrick. Box 194, John B. Kendrick papers, Collection No. 341, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

From 1885 to 1891, Joseph Carey served as the Wyoming territorial delegate to Congress. He introduced and shepherded the bill through Congress that would eventually create the State of Wyoming. The State’s admission to the Union was controversial. Wyoming had granted women the right to vote in 1869, while the U.S. had not yet granted this right. Wyoming was ultimately granted admission with its women’s suffrage intact on July 10, 1890. Suffragists sought to leverage Wyoming’s admission to gain women’s right to vote nationwide. Among them was prominent suffragist Susan B. Anthony. She referred to Carey as, “the father of Wyoming’s freedom for women.…” in her invitation to him to speak at a convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1893. An invitation from Anthony dated May 24, 1894, asked Carey to address the New York Constitutional Convention in support of women’s suffrage.  She suggested that Carey’s words could encourage convention delegates to support women’s suffrage. In spite of his and suffragists’ effort, it would be another 23 years before women in New York enjoyed the right to vote and 26 years before women in the United States were granted that right via the 19th Amendment.

Letter from Susan B. Anthony to Joseph M. Carey dated December 2, 1893. Anthony requests Carey’s presence “as the father of Wyoming’s freedom for women” to speak at a NAWSA conference in celebration of the passage on November 7, 1893, of a popular referendum in Colorado that gave women the right to vote. Colorado became the first American state to enact women’s suffrage by popular referendum. Box 13, Carey family papers, Collection No. 1212, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In addition to Joseph Carey’s judicial and political careers, he had extensive business interests in Wyoming. Carey organized the J.M. Carey and Bros. Land Company, the Wheatland Development Company, and Wheatland Industrial Company. In addition, he was a president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association.

Joseph M. Carey died on February 5, 1924. Upon their father’s death, Robert and Charles continued to manage the J.M. Carey and Brothers Land Company. Charles Carey died in 1935.

The Carey family was influential throughout much of Wyoming’s early history. More information about the family can be found in their papers housed at the American Heritage Center. You can also view digitized letters, speeches and other documents concerning Joseph and Robert Carey in the AHC’s Digital Collections portal.

Post contributed by AHC Digitization Technician Sara Saulcy.


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Captured in Vietnam – One Wyoming Family’s Story of Despair and Hope

During the Vietnam War more than 1,800 Americans were held prisoner or were missing in action in Southeast Asia. Among them was Army Major Theodore “Ted” Gostas of Sheridan. Gostas was born in Butte, Montana, on December 13, 1938. After enduring a difficult childhood and an abusive father, Gostas enrolled in the University of Wyoming. He majored in English literature, with a minor in history. It was at UW that he met his first wife, Johanna.

Ted joined the Army and he and Johanna moved frequently as his career in the military advanced. Eventually Ted was sent for military intelligence training and then on to Army language school, where he learned German. He and Johanna and their two children relocated to Germany and Ted was assigned to the U.S. Army intelligence service there.

Ted Gostas in 1957. Box 3, Johanna Gostas POW/MIA papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Ted had advanced to the rank of Captain and, when presented the opportunity to go to Vietnam, felt called to serve. Johanna and their young family (they had a son, Demetrius, and a daughter, Laura, and Johanna was expecting a baby boy) returned to Sheridan to be near Johanna’s relatives. In Vietnam, Ted was initially posted to Saigon, but given the chance to “be his own boss”, he agreed to relocate farther north to the city of Hue.

His tour of duty was to have lasted a year, and things were going smoothly in Hue, where Ted was assigned to the 135th Military Intelligence Battalion Provisional. Then, unexpectedly, the city came under attack. It was the beginning of the Tet Offensive, and the battle for control of Hue. As the fighting in Hue grew more intense, Ted took his secret military intelligence files out of the safe and burned everything. He attempted to radio for help, but communication lines had been cut. Much to his dismay, on February 1, 1968, Ted and a small group of his men were captured by the Viet Cong. It was the beginning of a long living nightmare.

Immediately after his capture, Ted was marched for more than two weeks. He walked much of the way barefoot after he gave his shoes to a Marine. Leeches affixed themselves to Ted’s feet, which “swelled up like balloons”. Fire ants bit him as he slept in the rough. And a Viet Cong soldier kicked him in the face, breaking both his glasses and his nose. Eventually he and the others who had been captured were loaded onto a truck, and from there he was taken to a small cell. With dimensions of 6x3x6 feet, it felt like a coffin. He remained in solitary confinement, only to be interrogated daily. At one point, a Russian officer told Ted that a military tribunal had sentenced him to death. For months, each time a guard arrived at his cell, Ted was convinced that the trip from his cell would be his last.

Meanwhile, back in Sheridan, Johanna was raising Demetrius, Laura, and Jasen.

Johanna Gostas and the couple’s three children, taken from the Casper Star-Tribune, June 6, 1970. Box 3, Johanna Gostas POW/MIA papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

They all faced the terrible uncertainty of families of prisoners of war. Jasen had never met his father. Johanna held out hope that Ted was still alive, even though she never received a letter from him or any word that he was being held captive. She was concerned about her children, who “also daily carry this heavy sadness and fear in their hearts.” Demetrius, the eldest of the Gostas children, wrote:

Poem by Demetrius Gostas, son of Ted and Johanna Gostas, April 1971. Box 3, Johanna Gostas POW/MIA papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Johanna channeled some of her own worry in action. She worked tirelessly on behalf of her husband and the other Wyoming POW/MIA families as the Wyoming coordinator of the National League of Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Families. She organized letter writing campaigns. Tens of thousands of letters went out to congress members, foreign embassies and even the President of North Vietnam.

Form letter to the President of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Box 1, Johanna Gostas POW/MIA papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Johanna spoke in Wyoming to community organizations like the Jaycees and the VFW. Working to raise attention to the plight of the Wyoming prisoners of war and missing in action, she helped to prepare flyers and publicity featuring photos of the POWs/MIAs. She circulated petitions, wrote letters, rallied support, and attended endless meetings.

Flyer highlighting the Wyoming POWs/MIAs. Box 6, Johanna Gostas POW/MIA papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Through her activism, Johanna became aware of the horrific conditions the prisoners of war were enduring. Men had been chained in dark jungle prisons, in bamboo cages or forced to live in deep tunnel complexes, sometimes chained in six foot, grave-like pits in the ground. Johanna wrote “we, the families, know that with every day that goes by, there will be fewer of our loved one coming home, and those that do return will have less of a chance of returning home well, both physically and mentally, under the conditions under which they are being held captive.”

Ted was amongst those men. Kept largely in solitary confinement, he had been interrogated, bashed in the head with the butt of an automatic rifle, strung up from the rafters by his armpits, starved, deprived of water, subject to inhumane conditions and more. Ted was losing hope. He felt discouraged and abandoned. He had never been allowed to write Johanna and received no Red Cross packages or letters from home. This, despite the fact that Johanna had been sending him messages using official North Vietnamese forms.

Message from Johanna Gostas to Ted Gostas, August 10, 1970. Box 3, Johanna Gostas POW/MIA papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

As the war in Vietnam dragged on, the work of the National League of Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Families became more urgent. It was clear that North Vietnam and allies were not respecting the tenets of the 1954 Geneva Convention. Names of prisoners were not being released, prisoners were not being given sufficient food or adequate medical care and neutral parties like the Red Cross were blocked from having access to prisoner of war camps.

Flyer prepared by the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia outlining violations of the Geneva Convention. Box 4, Johanna Gostas POW/MIA papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Johanna’s involvement with the National League of Prisoner of War and Missing in Action Families took her to Washington D.C. where she lobbied politicians and ambassadors of foreign governments to put pressure on North Vietnam, the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao to abide by the Geneva Convention. She even traveled as far as Paris to meet with the members of a North Vietnamese delegation and to Geneva to raise awareness with the International Red Cross and other countries that had been signatories to the Geneva Convention.

As for Ted, he had spent nearly four and a half years in various jungle prison camps. After that he was moved to the Hoa Lo prison, colloquially called the “Hanoi Hilton” by captured prisoners. It was there that he learned from a North Vietnamese officer that his release was imminent. But first he had to learn to say “thank you for your humane and lenient treatment” in Vietnamese. Ted had been a prisoner of war for 5 years, 1 month and 15 days in anything but humane and lenient conditions.

Ted Gostas being greeted by the American ambassador to the Philippines upon Gostas’ arrival in the Philippines after his release from a Viet Cong prison camp. Box 3, Johanna Gostas POW/MIA papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By the time he was released, on March 16, 1973, Ted was gravely ill. His intestines were riddled with hookworms. He had eighteen abscessed teeth. He had been tortured, both mentally and physically. Captivity made him bitter. In reflecting on his experiences, Ted said “war brings out the worst in men and the best in men—but mostly the worst.”

After his return to the U.S., Ted was assigned to the 6th Army Headquarters in San Francisco. According to Ted, Johanna refused to move with the children to California, and she and Ted divorced. Ted went on to marry twice more. He wrote and illustrated a book of poetry titled Prisoner about his experiences in Vietnam. And he received a medical discharge from the Army in 1977. For his service, Gostas received a Bronze Star Medal and other awards. Today Ted devotes himself to painting and drawing and has raised funds for college scholarships for the children of indigent veterans.

Theodore “Ted” Gostas, November 6, 2020. Photo taken at the time AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener did an oral history with Gostas at his home in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Learn more in the Theodore “Ted” Gostas oral history and the Johanna Gostas POW/MIA papers at the American Heritage Center.

Post submitted by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


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The “Messiah” of the Desert?: Floyd E. Dominy and Water Conservation in the West

Concern over the future of water in the West is growing. Record breaking droughts and rapidly growing cities where water is already scarce has strained the current water infrastructure to its limits. The current path appears unsustainable, so in the words and imagery of W.B. Yeats, will the “centre…hold“?

I grew up in a small town in the Big Horn Basin of Northwest Wyoming. It’s a desert that has been nourished by the visions of people like William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and John Wesley Powell––my hometown actually bears Powell’s name. There’s another figure though, one I was unaware of until recently, who arguably did more to shape the current state of water in the American West than any other figure. He’s responsible for the dams named Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, and Navajo. His mark is everywhere across the West, and he made it clear that he knew his impact.

Floyd Dominy (left) shaking hands with President Lyndon Johnson (right). Box 8B. Floyd E. Dominy papers, Collection No. 2129. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Floyd Dominy was Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation from 1959 to 1969 and donated many personal and career files to the American Heritage Center after his retirement. At the age of 90, Dominy, during an interview with High Country News in 2000, expressed that the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell were his crown jewels.

Glen Canyon Dam under construction. Box 8A, Folder 4. Floyd E. Dominy papers, Collection No. 2129. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Lake Powell has been a recreation and agriculture boon. Box 27 of Dominy’s papers contain remarks made Lady Bird Johnson in 1966 at the Glen Canyon Dam dedication: “[S]ome 3 million people have visited Lake Powell in the short time since Glen Canyon Dam has been built, whereas only a handful of hardy river runners had ever experienced its natural marvels in all the years past.” She also pronounced that the dam symbolized the “winning of the West.” This statement couples uncomfortably with her quoting of Daniel Webster just a couple paragraphs later, “What do we do want with this vast worthless area––this region of savages…” and her justification of the quote by claiming the “West was indeed an inhospitable land, no one yet realized the vastness of its resources.”

Misunderstood in these statements was that, for many, the land was not “worthless.” It held memory––the lives, history, and power of Native Nations and peoples for whose home this is. Remarks from Dominy and First Lady Johnson contain the brutal philosophy of Manifest Destiny, a rallying cry of the 19th century maintaining that white Americans were divinely ordained to settle and capitalize on the entire continent of North America. Remnants of that philosophy continued to echo into the 20th century and still reverberate today.

I’ve come to realize the very creations that have allowed for the American way of life in the West are faltering, and the vultures are circling. The dams and water projects of Dominy and other western visionaries are now viewed by many as ecological and social disasters. Dominy considered himself to be the Messiah of the West. If his prophecies and miracles were to fail, and some already have, the “centre [will not] hold.”

My home would not exist as it does without Dominy. However, when I run along the canals this summer and see the water flowing from a reservoir just outside of our nation’s first national park, I’ll see poisoned water. Water poisoned by states and a nation that continue to erase Native peoples and abuse Mother Earth.

To learn more about Dominy and western water conservation, see the Floyd E. Dominy papers at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by University of Wyoming student Cody Akin.


Posted in conservation, environmental history, Hydroelectric power, Uncategorized, water resources, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Just Who Did This Woman Think She Was: In Praise of Grace Raymond Hebard

“You are – I say it without a qualm – our star contributing editor. You have given us the most of any one on our list – and all good too.” When the editor of The Woman Citizen, Virginia Roderick, wrote this to University of Wyoming Professor Grace Raymond Hebard in 1922, she could only speculate on the treasure trove of what would become 87 boxes, or 44.3 cubic feet, of archival material—Hebard’s life work.

Grace Raymond Hebard with University of Wyoming’s “Old Main” in the background. When Hebard arrived in 1891, it was called the “University Building” because it housed most of UW’s functions at the time. Hebard immediately became a powerful figure at the University and remained so during her more than 40 years there. Photo File: Hebard, Grace Raymond, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

For the last several years I have been finding and sharing the stories I discover in Hebard’s collection in communities across Wyoming. In 1922, the same year Roderick reached out to thank Hebard, two Wyoming towns elected women to serve as mayor and on their town councils. As a historian wanting to know more about their stories, I can’t help but to feel the same gratitude Roderick expressed to Hebard. Hebard wrote to the elected women to both congratulate them and ask for their motivations in seeking office. The lively correspondence between Hebard and Cokeville’s mayor, Ethel Stoner, contains Stoner’s account of her arrest on a charge of assault and battery. Using Hebard’s collection at the AHC as my starting point, I was able to publish an article on Ethel Stoner in February 2023 in WyoHistory.org.

In June 1922, Ethel Stoner was elected mayor of Cokeville with a temperance agenda.
Photo courtesy the Wyoming State Archives.

In Hebard’s papers, you can find questions she sent to another female mayor, Gertrude Kirby, who served in Moorcroft, Wyoming. Hebard sent these questions at the end of Kirby’s year in office.

  1. Why did you and your two women Councilmen run for office?
  2. Did you have some special measure that you expected to put through?
  3. Had the social conditions in Moorcroft been such that you felt that a woman as Mayor might bring about desired results?
  4. Did you have much campaigning to do to be elected?
  5. What was your vote and what vote against you?
  6. How did the town of Moorcroft and the other members of your Council treat the idea of a woman being Mayor?
  7. Were you able to put across your desired projects?
  8. Why did you not run for a second term of office?

You can read some of Gertrude Kirby’s responses to Hebard’s questionnaire in Hebard’s file on Moorcroft, which the AHC has digitized.

Since her death in 1936, Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard has had her credentials questioned, her integrity as a historian tarnished, and unflattering egotism assigned to her motivations. As a result, one of the women who helped to shape the character and build the educational infrastructure of Wyoming from territorial days into statehood, is largely unknown and forgotten across the state. Having only read the caricaturized version of her found in the secondary sources and then learning she changed the original design of the Wyoming State Flag, I first approached her archival records with the question, “Just who did this woman think she was?”

Grace Raymond Hebard holds up a state flag in July 1930. The design featuring a bison was adopted by the State of Wyoming in 1917. The bison in this version faces the viewer’s left—implying that it would fly facing the flagpole. The flag’s designer, Verna Keyes, wrote in 1949 to Wyoming State Historian Ellen Crowley that Hebard demanded that the bison face that direction “and it was done, and few questioned or crossed her.”
Photo File: Hebard, Grace Raymond, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

It turns out, Wyoming wouldn’t have our state flag without the Grace Raymond Hebard I have encountered so far. She was both a deeply patriotic woman and the first historian to argue that woman “suffrage came to Wyoming as a by-product of the Civil War.” She invested her own money in the preservation and memorialization of history across the state. In letters with one of the last living soldiers of the Wagon Box Fight, Hebard agreed to send money for his unpublished manuscript of the fight, first explaining that she would be personally purchasing it and not the state. According to her letter, the state had set aside $500 for two years work and that summer alone she had spent more than that “from my own pocketbook.” Thanks to Hebard’s efforts to gather testimony and her willingness to personally finance the work, three different survivors of the fight came to Wyoming to help locate the original site, which was then marked by the state.

Hebard didn’t just gather testimony of western expansion and territorial days from former U.S. soldiers—she also gathered testimony from the Shoshone nation, and she kept a record of the activities of women and their accomplishments. Her efforts to gather and preserve the early stories of our state from multiple, often underrepresented perspectives make her archival collection at the AHC the treasure trove that it is. I say thank you, Dr. Hebard, for all that you have given us historians today!

Post contributed by Kylie McCormick, owner of KLM Wyoming Historian and Assistant Editor of WyoHistory.org, a program of the Wyoming Historical Society.



  • June 3, 1922, Letter from Virginia Roderick to Grace Raymond Hebard (GRH), Box 21, Folder 8, GRH papers, AHC, University of Wyoming (UW).
  • Letter from GRH to Gertrude Kirby, Box 29, Folder 7, GRH papers, AHC, UW.
  • November 11, 1919, Speech delivered by GRH, Box 21, Folder 6, GRH papers, AHC, UW.
  • Oct. 12, 1915, Letter from GRH to Samuel S. Gibson, Box 36, Folder 15, GRH papers, AHC, UW.
Posted in Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged | 3 Comments

Unsung Music Man Walter Scharf

Walter Scharf is one of the great, unsung composers & arrangers in film history. Anyone who finds themselves humming Pure Imagination from the film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971) is likely to recall, along with the melody itself, the raindrop-like, bell figure from the number’s introduction. This integral facet of the song is not the touch of the song’s composers, Bricusse and Newley, but Scharf ’s, whose signature touch graced films since the early days of sound pictures in the ‘30s, among them Holiday Inn (1942), The Nutty Professor (1963), Funny Girl (1968), and many, many more.

Born in Manhattan in 1910, he was the son of longtime studio musician Henry Scharf and Bessie Zwerling, who was among the most popular comediennes starting in the New York Yiddish Theater. Son Walter began playing music at an early age, helping his uncle play the piano in theaters for silent films.

After a brief career as a pianist and arranger for various dance bands, Walter Scharf came to Hollywood in 1935, to work with Rudy Vallee’s orchestra when the pop crooner was at the height of his fame. Warner Brothers soon noticed Scharf and hired him on. He then cycled through 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Republic Studios, and Universal International until deciding in 1950 to sever all studio affiliations and become an independent composer and arranger. According to his 1976 professional biography, this move signified that he was now “a complete musician”.

Walter Scharf shown at his piano, ca. 1975. Box 4, Walter Scharf papers, Collection No. 7194, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Much of his music was composed on a deck chair of his boat, the Lady Betty, that he berthed at Marina del Rey in California. “Some composers work in mountain cabins deep in the forest. Others have quiet places in the desert. For me, I am able to get some of my best work done on my boat,” he explained to a Los Angeles Times reporter in 1971. And while many artists require undisturbed spaces for their work, Scharf was in his best form composing while half listening to orchestration emanating from a nearby stereo. “I leave the radio on while I work,” he also stated to the Times. “I’m oblivious to what’s being played, but the tonality is important for me.”1

One of his most challenging assignments was that of musical supervisor for Columbia Pictures’ adaptation of Funny Girl, starring Barbra Streisand. The task stretched over a 17-month period during which he personally supervised every note of the two hours and 20 minutes of music, worked daily with Miss Streisand for some 38 weeks, and did the majority of the arrangements. Critics of the day lauded the result as perhaps the finest Broadway-musical-to-motion picture translation ever achieved.2

In an unpublished autobiography held in his papers, Scharf recounts working with Streisand on Funny Girl:

…there’s an extraordinary story about the recording of ‘People.’ Of course by that time the word had gotten out that a sort of musical history was being made and the requests were vast and numerous for people to come and watch and listen to Barbra to record. Some of them were executives and I couldn’t stop them from coming on the stage. This annoyed her very, very much and the matter of temperament started to show itself. I had to convince her that there was going to be an audience and many people watching her when she was shooting and she had to block out of her mind that anyone else were there other than what she was doing. I still couldn’t stop her from showing her temperament. Finally, I had to get very bold about the whole situation and after 40 some odd takes and I advised her that if we weren’t finished in fifteen minutes, I would release the orchestra and I would pick one of the earlier takes. She settled down and we eventually got a good take.

Box 4, Walter Scharf papers, Collection No. 7194, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Despite difficulties Funny Girl presented for Scharf, it wasn’t his biggest challenge. As he told International Musician columnist and fellow musician Leonard Feather in an early 1970s interview, “Hans Christian Anderson in [1952] was much more complex. We had well over two hours of music and four ballets, one of which was the most extensive ever seen in a motion picture, 17½ minutes long. At that time we didn’t have the improvements that we can work with today. There have been so many advances during the last decade in putting sound on film that I wish we could do that film again now. Evidently we were rather successful, because it has become a standard.” Indeed, the film was a success. It was one of the top ten grossing films of 1952 in North America and was nominated for six Academy Awards.

A surprising hit song composed by Walter Scharf along with colleague Don Black was “Ben,” which the pair wrote for the 1972 drama-thriller film of the same name featuring, of all things, a large vengeful rat. The song was originally written for Donny Osmond, but he was on tour at the time and unavailable for recording, so Black and Scharf offered the song to Michael Jackson instead. The song became a number one hit. Many listeners were moved by the poignant lyrics, never knowing it’s about a rat. Scharf and Black won a Golden Globe for the song, and it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Scharf’s career always seemed at the precipice of greater recognition – ten Oscar nominations, yet no wins; the great respect of his peers in the industry, yet today he is hardly a household name, even among film music fans. Except for Funny Girl, his music is sadly under-recognized.

His papers at the AHC contains many musical scores from the early days of the Hollywood studio system in the ‘30s and 40’s (he was head of Republic’s music dept.), as there were many uncredited arrangers and orchestrators whose names remain but a footnote in the history books despite having had such a large impact on the medium. Furthermore, many scores of this era have been destroyed or lost, making these resources invaluable to the understanding of the workings of film music departments in these glory days.

Scharf’s papers also include his TV work for series such as Mission Impossible, The Man from U.N.C.LE., and after his retirement from films-concert works (which have been performed by the University of Wyoming’s student orchestra under his baton), all necessary ingredients to present a full portrait of the composer.

Post submitted by AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener with contribution from 2021 AHC Travel Grant recipient Benjamin Rice.


[1] Charles Hillinger. “Music Man: He Composes in Lap of Sea,” Los Angeles Times, November 29, 1971.

[2] Leonard Feather’s “From Pen to Screen” column, International Musician, ca. 1970.

Posted in Composers, Hollywood history, Motion picture actors and actresses, motion picture history, television history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Madam’s Scrapbook: Remnants of Laramie’s Red-Light District

On the corner of the town stands a crazy, tumble-down rookery, full from cellar to shingles of liquors, gambling devices and everything that can be used to corrupt and rob men. Ruffians and tin-horn gamblers make night and day hideous with their orgies. Half a block away on the principal [sic] residence street, under the same management, is a house full of shameless women as vile if possible as the men who support them.

So lamented an anonymous Laramie writer, quoted by another in a May 1887 editorial published in The Daily Boomerang.

It had been pasted into a scrapbook kept by Mamie “Monte” Grover – a vivacious brothel madam and gambling woman who married Laramie’s prolific saloon keeper and pimp, John Grover. The author goes on to bemoan the state of vice on Laramie City’s main street.

Of the local prostitutes, they wrote, “Under the influence of whiskey or absinthe they ride about in their hired hacks and carriages and intrude their presence at all sorts of assemblies. […] They seem to take delight in making their presence felt and making themselves obnoxious to everybody.” Despite this rally cry, prostitution maintained its residence in Laramie for another sixty-seven years and became an economic pillar in the community. Scholars agree that Laramie typically moved to regulate the vice district rather than eradicate it altogether.

: Monte Grover’s scrapbook is bound in a durable blue cloth with embossed lettering.
The first column of an article bemoaning Laramie’s vice district critiqued the city’s tolerance of the activities there, calling it a stain on the town’s otherwise beautiful landscape.

Laramie’s brothel district played a key role in the town’s economic development, which can be framed through Monte’s scrapbook held in the Toppan Rare Book Library. The scrapbook shows her and her husband’s lively involvement in the vice district of Laramie beginning in 1884. As illustrated above, Monte pasted articles concerned with the brothels and saloons alongside newspaper clippings of poems and anecdotes. Carol Bowers, a past AHC archivist whose Master’s thesis recounted Laramie’s Victorian era brothels, argued that Monte chose newspaper clippings that reflected the attitudes of a proper middle-class, Victorian woman and wife despite her deep entrenchment in society’s margins.

Monte’s notorious reputation in the red-light district rested on John Grover’s past. Sometime before 1881, he met Christy Finlayson, a prostitute known to have been employed by Ida Hamilton in Cheyenne’s premier brothel, the House of Mirrors. John and Christy were married on September 17, 1881, and relocated to Laramie soon thereafter.

Christy managed to move to Laramie with a substantial bit of cash in hand – enough to commission the construction of an elite brothel and a personal residence on Grand Avenue. Bowers highlighted Christy’s taste for luxury in the latter’s probate lists. Among the inventory noted in the madam’s upper-class bordellos was a $500 piano, fine glassware, mirrors, walnut and ebony furniture, and silk upholstered chairs. Records also show Christy’s accounts with the Holliday and Stryker Company and Trabing Grocery where she was known to purchase expensive items for the girls under her employ as well as fine liquors for guests.

This 1900 photograph shows the corner of Third Street and Grand Avenue. Christy Grover’s brothel known as “The Blonde’s” was located in this intersection.

Bowers retraced the murky ending to Christy’s short life, noting that she had allegedly engaged in an argument with Monte over a theft before retiring to her room in a rage. John Grover then heard a gunshot ring out. He claimed to have found Christy there alive, but the bullet to her temple proved fatal. She died February 19, 1882, still in her early 30s.

“Whether Christy actually killed herself, or was murdered by Grover and/or Monte Arlington will always be open to speculation.” – Carol Bowers
Christy Grover’s gravesite in Laramie’s Greenhill Cemetery. Photo by Emma Comstock.

After Christy’s death, John claimed her luxurious $6,246.25 estate in his name and lived a comfortable life. He was able to purchase a saloon of his own on the corner of Second Street and Ivinson Avenue, and the brothel on the corner of Third and Grand became known as “Grover’s Institute.”

Christy’s estate enabled John Grover to open a saloon on the corner of Second and Ivinson Avenue. Despite some dislike of “Laramie’s most notorious pimp,” his liquor license payments helped keep the city coffers in gleaming condition. This photo was captured in 1908.

John and Monte were married on October 2, 1883, and Monte swiftly secured the title of madam of Grover’s Institute. Between the scrapbook’s beginning and end, Monte’s state of mind shifts from a happy temperament to a gloomy disposition. Whereas Monte seems to be relatively content with her marriage to John, clipping poems about marital bliss and Victorian housewifely duties, the final leaves are mired in hints of marital demise. During 1895, Monte began to refuse food. Despite close acquaintances’ assurances of safety, Monte had come under the delusion that someone meant to poison her. According to the madam’s death notice printed in a Kansas newspaper, Monte gradually wasted away from two-hundred pounds to a mere seventy-five before succumbing on October 13, 1895.

Various poems in Monte’s scrapbook hint at her apparent marital disillusionment and depression leading up to her rather bizarre death.

Although John Grover was ordered by the Laramie City Council to close shop two weeks after Monte’s death, Laramie’s prostitute population continued to flourish. Before departing Laramie, Grover rented his property to another town madam Minnie Ford. While living in California, he met a woman named Clara who he enticed into a nurse/spouse relationship with the promise that his estate would belong to her upon his death. They were married in May 1904, and Clara periodically traveled to Laramie to check up on Grover’s property. When Clara returned to Los Angeles after a trip in 1910, however, she found herself locked out of the couple’s apartment. John had written a new will, leaving his estate to a half-brother, Joseph Goodall. He died in 1912 after an incurable bout of syphilis; the Laramie Republican reported his death as a suicide. As expected, “The administration and final settlement of Grover’s estate was a nightmare for the probate courts of California and Wyoming,” but Clara and Goodall eventually agreed to split the profits evenly.

Up until 1954, brothels operated out of many downtown business fronts, curtailed more often by the federal government through wartime Selective Service Acts than by local residents. Laramie’s brothel workers were a boon for the city treasury as the police department routinely collected fines and carried out symbolic raids. Moreover, storefront owners were known to value the women’s cash-based business in an era where credit was king. As consumers with tangible cash to tender, prostitutes and madams were dependable spenders with tastes for luxury. It was generally agreed that so long as the red-light district under the watch of madams like Mabel Hartley and Dollie Randal refrained from causing trouble and noise, it would be relatively tolerated. Additionally, the prostitutes were required to undergo regular physical examinations by Dr. Pelton to stave off the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. As expected, the women were responsible for the bills and costs for any treatment.

Laramie’s brothel district continued at this pace until it encountered a fatal snag when Redbook Investigates published an article entitled “Sex Traps for Young Servicemen” in January 1954. Although the article’s author, Ernest Leiser, only mentioned Laramie in passing, the reference nonetheless shocked local authorities. City officials and University of Wyoming administrators, including University President George Duke Humphrey, worried that the college’s reputation was at stake. Mayor Oscar Hammond ultimately declared the immediate closure of the red-light district on February 24, 1954. With the brothel population officially ordered to disband, local businesses turned to other sources of income, including the growing tourist sector and the university student community.

Monte Grover’s scrapbook in the Toppan Rare Book Library is one of the only surviving artifacts that testifies to Laramie’s brothel history despite Monte’s forgotten existence. She is buried in an unmarked grave beside Christy Grover in Greenhill Cemetery. It tells a rich but tragic story of a woman who dreamed of a happy marriage and a contented life but who lived on the outskirts of Victorian society.

Post contributed by Toppan Rare Book Library Archives Specialist Emma Comstock.

Scrapbook Context Sources

Carol L. Bowers, “Less than Ladies, Less than Love: Prostitution in Laramie, Wyoming 1868-1920” (thesis, University of Wyoming, 1994).

Carol Bowers, “The Secret Scrapbook of a ‘Soiled Dove,'” in The Scrapbook in American Life, ed. Susan Tucker, Katherine Ott, and Patricia P. Buckler (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006).

“Christy A. ‘Puss Newport’ Finlayson Grover,” Find A Grave, accessed November 23, 2022.

The Daily Boomerang (Laramie, Wyoming), May 26, 1887. The Daily Boomerang May 26, 1887 — Wyoming Digital Newspaper Collection (wyomingnewspapers.org.

Denver, Colorado, marriage certificate no. 236 (1881), John A. Grover and Christy A. Finlayson; Division of Vital Statistics, State of Colorado.

Ernest Leiser, “Redbook Investigates: Sex Traps for Young Servicemen: The Red-light Districts Are Closed But Bars and Hotels Have Taken Their Place,” Redbook 102, no. 3 (January 1954): 28-31.

Germaine St. John, in-person interview by author, November 18, 2022.

John P. Woodward, “The Taming of Front Street: Prostitution in Southeastern Wyoming, 1930-1960” (thesis, University of Wyoming, 2010).

Laramie City, Wyoming, marriage certificate no. 202 (1883), John A. Grover and Mamie Lambert; Territory of Wyoming, County of Albany.

Laramie Weekly Sentinel, February 25, 1882. Wyoming Newspapers: Albany County. Microfilm, Coe Library, University of Wyoming.

“Mrs. Mamie “Mrs. Monte” Lambert Grover,” Find A Grave, accessed December 1, 2022,

Mrs. Monte E. Grover: Laramie Wyo.: July 16, 1887, 1887-1888, Scrapbook 0001, Special Collection: Anthro, Toppan Rare Book Library, University of Wyoming.

The Rush County Leader (McCracken, Kansas), October 24, 1895. https://www.newspapers.com/image/425984204/?terms=&clipping_id=51920918

Posted in Prostitution, Toppan Rare Books Library, Uncategorized, Western history, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Resources in the Toppan Rare Book Library for Black History Month

Black History Month is celebrated annually in February. It honors all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early 17th century to Blacks living in the United States today. But the commemoration goes beyond U.S. borders. It has received official recognition from the Canadian government and is also observed in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

We’d like to highlight resources in the Toppan Rare Books Library that explore or study African and African American communities. It is important to note that, historically, some books that were attributed originally to Black men and women were heavily changed by non-Black editors. This is important to keep in mind when assessing the accuracy and legitimacy of these accounts.

Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, vol.1 – The first volume of a 1782 collection of Ignatius Sancho’s letters to friends and contemporaries. Ignatius Sancho, a Black British writer, composer, shop owner, etc., was born into slavery in 1729. Through his connections, he escaped slavery and earned an education. His letters discuss life in Britain at the time from his unique viewpoint. Among other things. Sancho was also the first Black person to vote in a British election, being a man of property. This volume was published after Sancho’s death and the work was edited by Joseph Jekyll, a British Whig Member of Parliament. (Toppan Rare Books Library, Fitzhugh Collection: CT 788 S168 A3 v.1.)

The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901, Rayford W. Logan – This work is a political history in which Dr. Rayford Logan argued that the period from 1877 to 1901 was the nadir, or low point, of the treatment of African Americans in the United States. Logan was an African American historian, activist, and First World War veteran. He had also been a member of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet,” an informal term applied to a group of Blacks who served as public policy advisors in Roosevelt’s presidential administration (Toppan Rare Books Library: Coe Deacc. Collection: 1954.)

Black Man’s Burden, John Oliver Killens – A series of essays on race relations in America originally published in 1965. Killens was an African American novelist, civil rights activist, and Second World War veteran. The essays are on a variety of topics, from “The Black Psyche” to “The Myth of Non-Violence versus the Right of Self-Defense.” The essays are written in an extraordinarily vivid and frank yet informal style. Please note this book contains racially offensive language in its vivid description of racism in the American South. (Toppan Rare Books Library: William R. Coe Collection: E185.61 .K487 1969.)

Ebony Pictorial History of Black America, Editors of Ebony with Introduction by Lerone Bennett Jr., Vols. 1 and 3 – A large pictorial history of African American life beginning with ancient African history and ending in the 1970s. The first volume covers the “African Past to Civil War” while volume three covers the “Civil Rights Movement to Black Revolution.” Ebony was first published in 1945 by Black publishing magnate John Johnson with issues coming out monthly. The magazine changed hands in the late 2010s and the print publication ended in 2019. In 2020, the magazine was sold and is now published digitally. Google Books has made digitized copies of Ebony magazine from the 1950s through 2008 available online. (Toppan Rare Books Library: State Library Collection)

Page 278 of Ebony Pictorial History of Black America in the Toppan Rare Books Library.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth; A Bondswoman of Olden Time, Emancipated by the New York Legislature in the Early Part of the Present Century; With a History of Her Labors and Correspondence Drawn from Her “Book of Life”, Olive Gilbert – An 1875 copy of the narrative of Sojourner Truth, a former slave, abolitionist, and woman’s rights advocate. This book contains Truth’s life story, as told by Gilbert. The book also contains additional materials, including personal letters, letters to newspapers, a section of anecdotes. The back page of this copy also contains newspaper clippings related to her death in 1883. (Toppan Rare Books Library: Fitzhugh Collection: E185.97 T85x 1875.)

The below publications also offer insight and analysis of the African and African American community written by either governmental entities or scholars.

An Abstract of the Evidence Delivered Before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in the Years 1790, and 1791, on the Part of the Petitioners for the Abolition of the Slave Trade – A summary of evidence presented to the Parliament of Great Britain in favor of the abolition of the slave trade. Divided into chapters by topics that include the acquisition of slaves, their emotions, their mistreatment, and more, this book presents vivid first-hand testimony given by many people from a wide variety of backgrounds including ship captains, doctors, shop owners, and clergy. Also included is a fold out graphic of the conditions on a slave ship and a fold out map of the east coast of Africa. (Toppan Rare Books Library, Fitzhugh Dewey Collection: 326.1 Ab89.)

Cover of An Abstract of the Evidence Delivered Before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in the Years 1790, and 1791, on the Part of the Petitioners for the Abolition of the Slave Trade from the Toppan Rare Books Library.

Arator; Being a Series of Agricultural Essays, Practical & Political: In Sixty-One Numbers, Col. John Taylor – A series of essays on agricultural topics by American philosopher, politician, and Revolutionary War veteran John Taylor. Two chapters of this book mount a defense of the institution of slavery. Taylor – a slave owner – argued that while slavery may be wrong, it was necessary to the agricultural economy of the United States. Taylor additionally objected to the creation of a free black class, pointing to horrific bloodshed during the Haitian Revolution as justification, thus indicating the significance of that successful slave uprising for both free and enslaved Americans. This book contains outdated and offensive language. (Toppan Rare Books Library: Wentworth Collection (uncat): Taylor, John, Arator 1814.)

American Negro Slavery, Phillip Bonnell Ulrich – One of the first histories which seriously sets out to examine southern chattel slavery as an entire institution and how it and the broader American South influenced and interacted with each other. While Ulrich sets out to give a mostly economic and non-personal history of American slavery, in doing so he tended to ignore or overlook the personal experiences of all involved. More damningly, Ulrich’s racial attitudes caused him to downplay the agency and actual conditions the enslaved endured. (Toppan Rare Books Library: Coe Deacc. Collection: Phillips, Ulrich B. American Negro Slavery 1918.)

For more information on these and other resources from the Toppan Rare Books Library, contact the staff at ahcref@uwyo.edu or 307-766-3756.

Post contributed by Toppan Rare Books Librarian Dr. Mary Beth Brown and Toppan Library staff member Marcus Holscher.


Posted in American history, Black history, Racism, Slavery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wyoming’s Chinese Dragon

For more than twenty years, the communities in Rock Springs’ and Evanston’s Chinatowns shared and displayed a large, colorful dragon during their Lunar (Chinese) New Year Parade. The soon-to-be famous dragon first made front page news in 1895, when it was paraded through the streets of Rock Springs.

The Chinese residents had a grand parade last Sunday and a general rejoicing afterwards with a display of fire crackers regardless of cost. They patronized the home band and engaged it to lead the procession with American music. The line of the march was through every street almost of the city and the fancy colored costumes, banners and peculiar brass emblems which they carried on short poles made an attractive sight. The monstrous dragon which required thirty [Chinese men] to carry was the most prominent feature.

It was a world’s fair curiosity, measuring 150 feet, with a fierce looking head and a dangerous looking tail…It seemed as if the entire town had turned out to see the display for every side walk was lined with spectators.

Quote is from the Rock Springs Miner dated March 28, 1895.
Copy of original photograph. Both the Sweetwater County Historical Museum (SWCHM) and the Wyoming State Archives have original prints of this well-known image. You can see that this is a copy image—a photograph taken of a tacked-down print—probably made in the early 1900s. The SWCHM has many more images of the dragon during the Chinese or Lunar New Year celebrations in Rock Springs and of Rock Springs’ Chinatown.” This image is part of the W.B.D. and Annette B. Gray papers and you can view it here.

There had not always been such a friendly relationship between Rock Springs’ white residents and Chinese immigrants forced to live in the segregated housing of Chinatown. On September 2, 1885, a group of white miners became angry at a group of Chinese miners who had supposedly usurped a better work assignment and incited other miners and townspeople to raid Chinatown, loot any money or other valuables from homes, burn the homes to the ground, and kill at least 28 Chinese inhabitants. Many were forced to flee into the desert and were never found. Many were shot, but some burned to death or met similarly gruesome ends. Though the white miners focused their rage on their Chinese coworkers, all their complaints actually had to do with the practices of their employer, the Union Pacific Coal Company. For example, white miners complained that Chinese miners accepted lower pay and therefore lowered the white miners pay as well. In fact, the company forced Chinese laborers to work for lower wages, creating the wage competition. Given the racism of the time, it was easier for many people to focus their anger on those they saw as “other.”

This image is titled, “Chinese Quarters—Rock Springs – 1900.” It depicts some of the company owned housing in Rock Springs’ Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century. It is from the Samuel H. Knight Papers at the American Heritage Center, and you can view it here.

After the 1885 Rock Springs Chinese Massacre, the company rebuilt Chinatown and forced all the Chinese miners who fled to return to work in Rock Springs. There was a long period where the cavalry kept the peace in Rock Springs (staying so long, in fact, that they built barracks and dubbed the site Camp Pilot Butte). Ten years later, it was normal for the residents of Chinatown to have a much-loved Lunar New Year parade that included the dragon and fireworks. Though the ingrained racism of the time is still clear in the language of the contemporaneous newspaper accounts (it was treated as a spectacle of “otherness”), there was far less violence against Chinese residents by this time and Chinatown was an accepted, though still segregated, neighborhood in Rock Springs.

In 1885, people of Chinese origin who immigrated to work in the coal mines in Rock Springs made up over 60% of the population. The Chinese residents didn’t keep that high percentage of the population, particularly after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 banned new Chinese immigration, but Chinatown became a fixture in Rock Springs. Many Chinese-owned businesses were based in Chinatown; both Rock Springs and Evanston had joss houses (houses of worship) that were somewhat plain on the outside but ornate on the inside, and the annual parade became something both Chinese and other residents looked forward to.

The dragon was purportedly created in China to be displayed at the World’s Fair. The Rock Springs Chinese community bought it for a reported $2000. In later years, the dragon was well-remembered by Rock Springs residents.

The dragon was a magnificent thing, made of silk and [gold] scales on the body were studded with mirrors. The eyes which worked on a swivel, were large and shiny, and they almost flashed fire when the dragon was teased with a ball in the hand of some Chinese residents, which was part of the performance, making the serpent writh (sic) with anger, seemingly…The dragon was a mammoth thing, measuring close to one hundred feet, and it required one hundred men to carry it in the parade…It cost many thousands of dollars and was an object of pride and pleasure to the natives of the Celestial kingdom who lived in this town.

Quote is from the Rock Springs Rocket dated May 23, 1913.
This image features the exterior of the Joss House (an American term for the Chinese houses of worship) in Evanston’s Chinatown, ca. 1890s. Evanston has a recreated Joss house to visit next to the Uinta County Museum. The image is from the American Heritage Center’s photo files. You can view it here.

After more than twenty years of careful preservation by the residents of Rock Springs’ Chinatown and famed appearances in Lunar New Year parades, the dragon was destroyed in 1913. According to reports at the time, the new Republic of China banned worship of old idols such as the dragon, so the Chinese community in Rock Springs destroyed their “mammoth” companion of twenty years. The only parts that remain of the dragon are the huge glass eyes. They were reportedly given to a man named Robert Murphy to “keep them as a souvenir.” They were donated to the Sweetwater County Historical Museum by Robert Murphy, Jr. in 1968 and have been on display since, along with many items from the Rock Springs Chinatown (which was demolished in the 1920s and 1930s after the last of Rock Springs’ Chinese miners retired, some of whom returned to China).

This image shows the upper part of the altar in Evanston’s Joss House, ca. 1890s. The image is from the American Heritage Center’s photo files. You can view it here.

In 2022, the Sweetwater County Historical Museum (SWCHM) announced that the Rock Springs dragon had a “brother” in Bendigo, Australia. This was discovered after former director Brigida Blasi was contacted by a scholar of Chinese history in California who asked her to try to find a photo that showed the back of the dragon’s head. As it turned out, the SWCHM just happened to have one that showed Chinese characters. Later, a collaboration between the two museums resulted in a translation that helped provide some historical information.

Loong, as the Bendigo dragon is known (which means “dragon”), and the Rock Springs’ dragon were both created in the 1890s in the Sing Cheung Workshop of Foshan, Guangdong Province, China. Loong can be viewed at the Golden Dragon Museum in Bendigo or on their website and their Facebook page. They recently completed a one-year conservation project, so these photos can help you to imagine what Rock Springs’ dragon would have looked like in its heyday. Seeing these color images makes it clear why people in Rock Springs in the 1890s and early 1900s were so excited about seeing the dragon each year. What a sight it must have been!

Post contributed by Brigida “Brie” Blasi, AHC Public History Educator.



All the cited newspaper articles can be read in full on wyomingnewspapers.org.

The AHC has in its collections a first-hand account of the 1885 Rock Springs Chinese Massacre. You can read it here.

The Sweetwater County Museum Foundation published a book a few years ago on the 1885 Rock Springs Chinese Massacre, which includes the official 1886 government report and supplemental materials from the collections of the SWCHM. It can be purchased from SWCHM or on Amazon.com.


Bromley, Isaac. The Chinese Massacre at Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory, September 2, 1885. New supplemented edition (Sweetwater County Museum Foundation), 2018.

Blust, Dick, Jr. “The Rock Springs Dragon and his “brother” in Australia,” Wyo4News.com, October 9, 2022. https://wyo4news.com/news/the-rock-springs-dragon-and-his-brother-in-australia/

“Chinamen Celebrate,” Rock Springs Miner, March 28, 1895.

“Chinese Dragon No More,” Rock Springs Rocket, May 23, 1913.

“The Local Field,” The News-Register (Evanston), April 4, 1896.

Posted in Asian American history, Chinese Americans, Immigration, Racism, Railroad History, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I’m Sorry Mother, For This Lousy Letter…”: Viewpoints on the Vietnam War

January 27, 2023, marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, which signaled the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. It’s an especially appropriate time to remember the sentiments and experiences of those involved in and impacted by the Vietnam War. Though millions of people fit this criteria, I have chosen to highlight portions of letters written by Charles J. V. Murphy and James Mitchell Swan as they embody the divide of attitudes in the U.S. during the war.

Murphy (1904-1987) was a prominent U.S. journalist and former Air Force Reserve officer who corresponded frequently about Nguyễn Cao Kỳ with Colonel George Budway, who served as Commander of the Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam from April 1965 to May 1966. Kỳ was commander of South Vietnam’s air force when, through a military junta, became Vietnam’s prime minister for two years beginning in 1965. Although flamboyant, brash, and autocratic, Kỳ was able to end a cycle of leadership coups, and the U.S. backed him. Murphy, a war hawk, saw an opportunity to invigorate U.S. sentiment towards the war by writing a book about Kỳ. Although photographs of and interviews with Kỳ were gathered, the book never materialized. By 1971, Kỳ was largely sidelined politically. Nonetheless, the letters between Murphy and Budway provide valuable insight into the “pro-war” mentality. Budway donated the material gathered about Kỳ to the AHC between 1986 and 1987.

Kỳ and American President Lyndon B. Johnson confer privately at the 1966 Honolulu Conference on the Vietnam War. Photo taken February 8, 1966, by a member of the White House Photograph Office. Public domain image accessed through Wikipedia.

James Mitchell Swan was from Worland, Wyoming, and was drafted in 1968. An unpublished set of letters compiled by his mother detail his largely negative experiences and feelings on the war. He returned home in 1969 but died two years later in a car accident while attending the University of Wyoming.

James Swan headed to Army Induction in Butte, Montana, 1968. Box 1, James Mitchell Swan manuscript, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

I’m not sure whether to go hide again or go serve my country by picking up cigarette butts. – James Mitchell Swan, 1968

In much of the American press, in the “liberal” wings of both parties, in much of the assertive centers of the so-called intellectual world, the opposition to the Vietnam War has turned savage. Now the Negro leaders are shouting that white Americans must choose between them and the war, and the pacifists and neutralist liberals have joined in the shout. – Charles J. V. Murphy, 1967

I don’t believe in war at all. I don’t even want to think violence exists. All I want to do is go home, take a hot shower, forget this place, and go to bed. – James Mitchell Swan, 1969

The American public has wearied of the war. People don’t pretend to understand the political and military values––it’s all too complex, most say––all they care about now is ending the drain somehow. That means getting out. – Charles J. V. Murphy, 1969

I’m sorry Mother, for this lousy letter, but all I want to do is get out of this place, forget every involvement, and never let them do this to me again. – James Mitchell Swan, 1969

Where is our man Ky? Doesn’t the situation call for a hero? The man of indomitable will? Why do we not hear from him a clarion call to action. – Charles J. V. Murphy, 1972

A fishing boat with 162 Vietnamese refugees on board sinks near shore in 1978. Photo from PBS “The Boat People’s Journey.”

Although the Paris Peace Accords marked the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the humanitarian crisis persisted. It would be a mistake to neglect the stories of the people of Southeast Asia who did and continue to bear the greatest cost of this war. 

Post contributed by University of Wyoming student Cody Akin.


Posted in American history, International relations, military history, Political history, Southeast Asia, Uncategorized, Vietnam War | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment