Thanksgiving with Ozzie and Harriet Nelson

Thanksgiving is one of the quintessentially American holidays, so it is fitting that the all-American radio and television show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet would include scenes related to the holiday. The Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers at the American Heritage Center includes several photos and scripts from episodes with a Thanksgiving theme.

Ozzie Nelson carving a Thanksgiving turkey while wife Harriet and sons David and Ricky look on, 1956. Box 61, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In the 1940s and 50s, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson were one of radio and television’s favorite all-American couples. They starred in The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet which was first broadcast on CBS radio on October 8, 1944. The Nelsons had risen to fame as regulars on Red Skelton’s radio show. Ozzie was Skelton’s band leader and Harriet was the band’s lead singer. When Red Skelton was drafted into the Army early in 1944, his radio program was discontinued. Ozzie and Harriet, finding themselves out of work, decided to launch their own radio show, a family situation comedy, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Ozzie produced, directed, and wrote many of the scripts which revolved around the family life of Ozzie and Harriet and their two boys.

The real-life Nelsons had two sons, David, born in 1936, and Ricky, born in 1940. Initially too young to perform on radio, the boys’ roles were first voiced by professional actors. Then in February 1949, the Nelson’s real sons joined the radio cast. David was 12, Ricky was 8.

A partial “Thanksgiving Dinner” script from the radio show that aired November 24, 1946, featured the Nelson’s neighbor, Emmy Lou, enticing Ozzie to eat a piece of her mincemeat pie. At the time, mincemeat would have been a Thanksgiving favorite. But instead of soaking the mincemeat in brandy as the recipe called for, Emmy Lou had substituted vodka, giving the pie an extra kick. Ozzie was headed to his mother-in-law’s house to eat a second Thanksgiving dinner. He had just finished his own family’s Thanksgiving meal when he got the phone call from Harriet’s mother saying she was expecting them to come over for turkey dinner. Ozzie reasoned, “we can’t hurt her feelings and tell her we’ve already eaten.” Furthermore, Ozzie remarked, “I eat like a horse … and this afternoon I’m afraid I’m gonna have to!”

Page of the script “Thanksgiving Dinner” from the radio show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, November 24, 1946. Box 82, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Just a year later, the November 23, 1947, script titled “The Spirit of Thanksgiving” offered up a humorous take on the concept of Thanksgiving sharing. That episode of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet saw Ozzie reminding his sons that Thanksgiving is a “priceless heritage handed down to us by the Pilgrim Fathers.” Ozzie, carried away by the spirit of Thanksgiving, invites his neighbor Mr. Dunkel as a weekend guest. Ozzie says to Harriet, “It’s the least we can do for a deserving neighbor – to share the comforts of our home with a lonely man as the time for Thanksgiving approaches.” Mr. Dunkel proves to be a peculiar visitor. To Ozzie’s chagrin, Dunkel is a health food nut and a regular shopper at the Sunny Jim Health Food Store, where he purchases things like yogurt, watercress, and figs – foods that would have been exotic in 1947. In an effort to make Dunkel feel at home, Ozzie stocks up on groceries from Sunny Jim’s. Then Harriet serves up a meal of shredded seaweed, spinach juice and peanut loaf for the whole family. Ozzie isn’t too impressed with the food, but David and Ricky eat heartily. Ricky even says, “I like it better than stuff that’s good for you!” Before long Dunkel has ingratiated himself with Harriet and the boys, to Ozzie’s irritation. Ozzie conspires to get Dunkel to leave the Nelson house but is ultimately unsuccessful and the episode ends with Ozzie hosting both Dunkel and yet another neighbor for the weekend. In 1947, the show was sponsored by the International Silver Company, which used the commercial breaks to advertise “1847 Rogers Brothers Silverplate – fine silverware for the discerning homemaker.”

Page of the script “The Spirit of Thanksgiving” from the radio show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, November 23, 1947. Box 67, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In 1949, a Thanksgiving theme appears once again in the Nelsons’ radio show, this time in an episode titled “The Day After Thanksgiving.” Sponsored by Heinz, makers of “fifty-seven varieties of fine food,” it kicks off with Harriet remarking “It’s time … time to remind all the ladies listening in to be sure and ask their grocers about Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup – at the new lower prices.”

After spending Thanksgiving at Harriet’s mother’s, Ozzie and his two boys are so full of turkey and trimmings that they refuse their breakfast the next morning. Harriet worries about what they might have for dinner, with no Thanksgiving leftovers to serve. Ozzie bemoans the idea of more turkey saying, “We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner – but after every Thanksgiving we have nothing but turkey … turkey … turkey!” Ozzie’s neighbor, Thorny, claims that Thanksgiving kicks off his favorite week of the year, with “turkey salad, turkey hash and turkey fricassee.” Facetiously, Ozzie helpfully suggests “turkey upside down cake, turkey pudding, turkey surprise, and turkey with whipped cream on it.” But as the day continues, Ozzie and the boys develop a hankering for a turkey sandwich. And Ozzie’s neighbor Emmy Lou’s recitation of her favorite turkey leftovers “cold turkey, turkey a la king, creamed turkey, turkey croquettes, turkey hash and turkey soup” only makes them hungrier and hungrier. Eventually Harriet sends David over to his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving leftovers. The episode ends with Ozzie raiding the refrigerator for some leftover turkey.

Page of the script “The Day After Thanksgiving” from the radio show The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, November 25, 1949. Box 72, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

With the success of the radio program in the 1940s, Ozzie Nelson was persuaded to have his family give on-screen acting a try, with the film Here Come the Nelsons which was released in February of 1952. Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky played themselves on the silver screen. The film served as a pilot for what was to become one of the longest running family-oriented live action television sitcoms in American history – the televised version of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

In 1956, the Nelsons posed for some Thanksgiving promotional photos. The photo below shows them attired as pilgrims. Harriet is patting younger son Ricky on the back for bagging a Thanksgiving turkey with his bow and arrow, while David, armed with a blunderbuss, looks on chagrined. The sponsor of that year’s show was Eastman Kodak.

Harriet, Ricky and David Nelson posing with a Thanksgiving turkey, 1956. Box 61, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

A total of 435 televised episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet were broadcast from October 1952 to April 1966. Add to that the 402 radio episodes that aired, it’s no surprise that the American public was fascinated by the Nelsons. Over their careers in Hollywood, the perpetually cheerful family endeared themselves to listeners and viewers. David and Ricky had literally grown up in front of radio and television audiences. Radio Life magazine had even dubbed the boys “the crown princes of radio.” Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky Nelson each were honored with their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

If you are curious about how the Nelson family spent their Thanksgivings, you can see photos and scripts from some of the television shows and radio broadcasts of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in the Ozzie and Harriet Nelson papers. Happy Thanksgiving from the American Heritage Center!

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


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The “Peculiar Vibrations” of the Sweetwater County Seat

Were some of Sweetwater County’s earliest records stolen from the new county seat and lost in the desert way back in the 1870s? This is a popular story around Green River, the current Sweetwater County seat. It turns out, there is some truth to the story but as is usually the case, truth is more interesting than fiction. Although Green River has been the county seat since 1874, South Pass City had the honor first. Over the course of a few years, the back-and-forth political brawling and debate over what became the contentious move of the county seat was described by a journalist in 1875 as “peculiar vibrations.”

This clip from the March 29, 1875, issue of the Laramie Daily Sun describes the fight over the Sweetwater County seat as “peculiar vibrations.”

Today, South Pass City is a popular state historic site managed by the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources. Just over one hundred years after its founding as a center of Wyoming’s gold mining in 1867, the town was donated to the state, and it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Though this meticulously maintained site boasts more than twenty original buildings, including the impressive and recently restored Carissa Mine, it must be difficult for today’s visitors to imagine the bustling atmosphere of commerce and gold fever that once drew hundreds to this remote Wyoming town.

The town was so prosperous the year it was founded that it was declared the seat of Carter County, Dakota Territory. Later that same year, officials in South Pass City, finding themselves now in the newly formed Wyoming Territory, renamed their county Sweetwater for the river that flowed through it. At that time, Sweetwater County stretched from the Utah/Colorado border all the way to the Montana border.

However, South Pass City’s gold rush began to decline, and residents began leaving for prospects elsewhere. In 1873, the county commissioners started to discuss moving the county seat seventy miles south to Green River, which was a major town on the primary transportation route through both Wyoming and the nation: the Union Pacific Main Line or the Transcontinental Railroad. In the years leading up to the move, suffice to say some drama ensued.

The Sweetwater County Courthouse, circa 1890. In the background is Castle Rock and St. John’s Episcopal Church, Green River’s oldest church building, that still stands today. The courthouse was finished in 1876 and was built of adobe brick after a contentious transfer of the county seat from South Pass City. This image from the W.B.D. and Annette B. Gray Papers at the American Heritage Center and can be viewed here.

The rumors about the county records being stolen and even perhaps lost in the desert probably came from the back-and-forth that occurred after the decision to move the seat. County residents voted, apparently, for the seat to stay in South Pass City but the county commissioners proceeded with the move in May 1874. Disgruntled South Pass City residents didn’t let it lie and even demanded the return of the county records after they had been moved to Green River. The county commissioners held a special meeting and voted to return the records to South Pass City in October 1874. In all, the records were moved back and forth five times before finally settling in Green River by 1876 when the new adobe courthouse had been finished.

Here’s the hitch, though. Some of the treasurer’s records never materialized. The treasurer claimed they were stolen during the transfer from Green River to South Pass City. This is where the stories of missing records truly have their roots. Many years later, in a newspaper article from 1980, a man identified as Mr. Hinton told journalist Minnie Woodring that he knew the records still existed in Green River and that the reason they were never returned to the courthouse was that they would have shown evidence the treasurer was embezzling from the county. According to an article written by long-time Green River Star editor Adrian Reynolds in 1970, the treasurer blamed the missing records for his “inability to account for funds.” What an auspicious beginning that would be have been for Green River as the county seat!

The county records were again moved to Green River City in May 1875 and have remained there ever since. Of course, minus those few treasurer’s records, which shows that the truth of the matter—an early county treasurer likely embezzling from the fledgling Sweetwater County—is stranger than the tales of early records being lost somewhere in the desert due to confusion and fighting over location of the seat. Truth may not be stranger than fiction in this case, but it’s certainly curious!

Between the years 1890 and 1919, Congregationalist ministers W.B.D. and Annette Gray visited several towns in Wyoming and took several photos, including the two included here of the Sweetwater County Courthouse. Their collection at the American Heritage Center can be viewed here. The courthouse was finished in 1876 and received several additions over the years. By the 1960s, it was considered too degraded to continue to be maintained and the current midcentury modern style Sweetwater County Courthouse was completed in 1969.

This image of the Sweetwater County Courthouse was taken some time after 1890 and shows newly installed electric streetlights (which likely dates it around 1910). This photo is from the W.B.D. and Annette B. Gray Papers at the American Heritage Center and can be viewed here.

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



Reynolds, Adrian. “Sweetwater County to Mark 100th Year,” Casper Star-Tribune, March 15, 1970.

“The vibrations of the Sweetwater County seat,” Laramie Daily Sun, March 29, 1875.

Woodring, Minnie. “South Pass City lost county Seat Battle.” The Wyoming State Journal, June 30, 1980. & Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office, “South Pass City,” Accessed November 8, 2022 from,26%2C%201970.

Yates, William. “Sweetwater County Passes Fiftieth Anniversary,” Wyoming Labor Journal, September 2, 1927.

Posted in Local history, mining history, Scandals, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

‘Plopped Down in the Middle of That’: Indian Boarding School Life Documented in the Warm Valley Historical Project

The Warm Valley Historical Project, funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was conducted from 1990 to 1991 in coordination with the Shoshone Episcopal Mission to interview residents about Wind River Reservation life during the early 1900s. Research material focused on turn-of-the-century reservation life, experiences during the Great Depression, boarding school life, traditional crafts and therapies, employment opportunities, ranching, farming, language, etc. Though the project focused on Eastern Shoshone perspectives and memories, interviews were also conducted with Arapaho tribal members.

Shoshone Mission School with male students, ca. 1900. On the far left is Sherman Coolidge (1862-1932), an Episcopal priest and educator who spent 26 years preaching and teaching on the Wind River Reservation. He helped found and lead the Society of American Indians, the first American Indian rights organizations run by and for American Indians.
John Roberts papers, Box 3, Folder 3, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Eva Enos (1915-2003) was interviewed in 1991. She talked mainly of the government schools, or boarding schools. At six years of age, Enos began attending the Shoshone-Episcopal Mission School for Shoshone Girls, which had been built from 1889 to 1890 on the reservation under the direction of Reverend John Roberts, an Episcopal priest. Previously only a boy’s school existed. The girl’s school was made possible when Shoshone Chief Washakie made a personal gift of 160 acres as a school site, with the idea that all his people should receive an education so that they would be prepared to live within the quickly encroaching white society.

In her interview, Eva said that they “took ‘em from home when they were about six” and that they “stayed there all from one school year,” from September to May, and returned home for the summer and for the holiday season. Enos remembered living in “cottages” with fifteen other girls, the boys living the same way, and that the older students had to look after the younger students, even with housemothers around. The housemothers, and all the other teachers and staff, were white, all of whom were strangers to the children. The children were expected to get up, make their beds, bathe, etc. mostly on their own.

Shoshone Mission School with female students, ca. 1900. Reverend John Roberts is shown on the far right with two of his five children. John Roberts papers, Box 3, Folder 3, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Enos explained that classes were Monday through Friday in the morning and afternoon on topics such as history, geography, and math. The girls also learned how to sew and cook while the boys were taught woodworking, metal work, and farming. Sundays were spent largely at church with services twice a day. She remembers that on Sunday afternoons between services, the older girls would do beadwork – belts, buckskins, etc. – with materials provided by the school.

Nearly six years was spent at the mission school before Enos and other students were sent to Rapid City Indian School, located in South Dakota. It was a particularly strict off-reservation school, 28 of which were found throughout the United States. The main purpose of these schools was to compel mastery of English and to assimilate American Indian children into white society. Enos recalls that the students were kept on strict time schedules, regimented like the military, which was a huge change from freedom of life at home. She remembers having to refamiliarize herself as she navigated between school and reservation life. Headlice was a big problem, she explains, especially after students had returned to the reservation. They had to get checked every time they returned to school from their summer break. Eva also remembers the painful separation from her brothers while at school as boys were segregated to their own dormitories, dining halls, and classrooms.

Dormitory at the Rapid City Indian School. This setting would have been wholly unlike what the children were accustomed to at home. Photo courtesy the South Dakota State Historical Society.

Eva explained that many students tried to run away and return to the reservation or just away from the schools, but that an Indian cop or sheriff would bring them back or their parents would do so if they made it home. Indeed, according to Scott Riner, author of the 2014 book The Rapid City Indian School, 1898–1933, not only did the harsh regimen drive students away but so did hunger from measly meals that lacked nutrition or variety.

Yet, Enos found life at the South Dakota school freer than the mission school nearer her home in Wyoming. The Rapid City school had town days when students with money could go into town to shop. Eva was able to buy makeup. She also remembers school dances, particularly one at which she tried for the first time a popular dance step of the mid-1920s called the “Charleston.” Enos actually grew to like the school, which she attended for nearly four years before it was closed in 1933. Students were then sent back to school at Wind River.

From 1929, the girls’ Rapid City basketball team are in the top two rows. This photo was taken while Eva Enos attended the school, although it’s not known if she is pictured. Photo courtesy the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

Eva Enos was just one of many former students and American Indians who contributed to the Warm Valley Historical Project. Other interviewees also offered their memories of school life. Also discussed were traders who visited the reservation, the dwindling of the Arapaho language, the Great Depression, and a variety of other subjects relating to their lives. The most prevalent topic, however, was the schools. Whether it was the mission schools, the Rapid City Indian School, or other schools, all the interviewees had something to say about their experiences. The collection contains an exhibit catalog titled From Trout Creek to Gravy High: The Boarding School Experience at Wind River. The complete guide to the collection can be found at

Post contributed by AHC Archives Intern Brittany Heye.


Posted in American Indian history, Arapaho, Cultural assimilation, Eastern Shoshone, Indigenous Peoples, Uncategorized, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Meet Grande Dame Guignol at the American Heritage Center

This Halloween, we consider the sub-genre of horror films referred to as “Grande Dame Guignol,” also known as “Hagsploitation,” “Psycho-biddy,” or “Hag Horror,” and three films in that sub-genre that are represented in three of our collections.

Films of this type feature “a formerly-glamorous older woman who has become mentally unbalanced and terrorizes those around her.” Author Caroline Young in her book Crazy Ladies: The Story of Hag Horror notes that the films cast “an aging movie star as the monster, or victim, who lives in a creepy home with a creaking staircase that offers an easy metaphor for her descent into madness, with her basement or attic the womb-like space that holds her darkest secrets.” Such films include Dead Ringer (1964), Lady in a Cage (1964), Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), The Nanny (1965), What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969), What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), and Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1971).

Two stars who appeared in several of these films were Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and they both starred in what is considered to be the first film in the sub-genre, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Directed by Robert Aldrich and based on a novel by Henry Farrell, the film deals with a former child star, Baby Jane Hudson (Davis), who torments her paraplegic sister, Blanche Hudson (Crawford). 

A follow-up movie, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), was also directed by Aldrich and based on a short story by Farrell. As depicted in the recent TV series Feud about the decades-long rivalry between Davis and Crawford, both actors were to star in “Charlotte,” but Crawford left the production and was replaced by Olivia de Havilland.

The American Heritage Center has the papers of Frank DeVol, a prolific composer of film and television, who scored seventeen films for director Aldrich, including both “Baby Jane” and “Charlotte.” His scores for those films are included his papers. 

The AHC also has the papers of Forrest J. Ackerman, the editor of the fanzine Famous Monsters of Filmland, which include a poster for “Charlotte.”

A theatrical poster promoting Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1965). Box 132, Forrest J. Ackerman papers, Collection No. 2358, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Another prominent “Hagsploitation” film is Strait-Jacket (1964), which starred Crawford as a woman who, having killed her husband and his lover years earlier, is released from a psychiatric hospital as the film begins. Directed by William Castle and co-starring Diane Baker (who, almost thirty years later played Senator Ruth Martin in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs) as Crawford’s daughter, the film was written by Robert Bloch, best known as the author of the 1959 novel Psycho, the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film of the same name.

The AHC has Bloch’s papers, which include several posters for Strait-Jacket, one of which is from the release of the film in Belgium. 

A theatrical poster promoting Strait-Jacket (1964). Box 384, Robert Bloch papers, Collection No. 2256, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
A theatrical poster promoting the Belgian release of Strait-Jacket (1964). Box 15, Robert Bloch papers, Collection No. 2256, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Also included in the collection are copies of two drafts of Bloch’s script for the film, as well as Call Sheets for the film and for a trailer for the film that included Crawford, Bloch, and Castle. Many of the documents in Bloch’s papers include Bloch’s handwritten annotations.

A Call Sheet from the production of Strait-Jacket. Robert Bloch’s annotation says, “Crawford always insists on air conditioning – we froze!” Box 11, Robert Bloch papers, Collection No. 2256, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
A Call Sheet from the production of a trailer for Strait-Jacket. Robert Bloch’s annotation says, “I wrote and appeared in this 5-minute special advertising trailer – with Joan Crawford and William Castle. Crawford’s and my ‘clinch’ burned up the screen with its torrid romance.” Box 11, Robert Bloch papers, Collection No. 2256, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Happy Halloween!

Post contributed by AHC Archivist Roger Simon (our resident film expert).


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The Buffalo Bill Dam – Discover the Story of Wyoming’s Tallest Dam

The Buffalo Bill Dam was designed by engineer Daniel Webster Cole and built between 1905 and 1910. It was one of the first projects undertaken by the U.S. Reclamation Service (later known as the Bureau of Reclamation). The dam sits between Cody, Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park, up the south fork of the Shoshone river. It is surrounded by Rattlesnake, Spirit and Sheep Mountain.

Pipes used in the construction of Buffalo Bill Dam, November 1, 1908. Box 1, Buffalo Bill Dam Construction photograph album, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
The Buffalo Bill Dam under construction, October 13, 1908. Box 1, Buffalo Bill Dam Construction photograph album, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody photo file, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Shoshone Dam was the original name for the massive structure. “The name ‘Shoshone’ comes from Sosoni, a Shoshone word for high-growing grasses. Some neighboring tribes call the Shoshone “Grass House People,” based on their traditional homes made from sosoni. Shoshones call themselves Newe, meaning ‘People.’1 In 1946, the dam was renamed Buffalo Bill Dam after the famous William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who founded the nearby town of Cody, Wyoming.

The small town of Marquette was nestled where the Buffalo Bill Reservoir now resides. The town had a dance hall, post office, barbershop, saloon, and a general store. “Buffalo Bill Cody owned a small 80-acre tract in Marquette that was separate from his sprawling T.E. Ranch on the South Fork. The government paid him $3,900 for the property, or about $86,000 in today’s dollars.”2 Most of the buildings in Marquette that could be salvaged were moved, with many becoming part of the new town of Cody.

“Buffalo Bill’s” T.E. Ranch. William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody photo file, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Many of the laborers who worked to build the dam were immigrants. They faced considerable challenges. Tools at their disposal were rudimentary – shovels, buckets, 2-man hacksaws and wooden ladders. The men were dwarfed by the canyon and by the dam as it went up.

Several of the workers on the Buffalo Bill Dam, 1908. Box 1, Buffalo Bill Dam Construction photograph album, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
The Buffalo Bill Dam under construction, 1908. Note the tiny human figures suspended over the construction site. Box 1, Buffalo Bill Dam Construction photograph album, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The deep granite canyon was sometimes flooded by unpredictable Shoshone River flows rendering work on the dam impossible. And the site lacked natural deposits of sand and gravel needed for construction, so granite boulders were placed into the cement by hand. The remote nature of the canyon meant it was hard to find and keep laborers. Workers on the dam were responsible for what may have been Wyoming’s first labor strike. They demanded and received more than three dollars a shift.

Some of the workers on the Buffalo Bill Dam, 1908. Box 1, Buffalo Bill Dam Construction photograph album, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

“The Shoshone Dam was one of the most impressive engineering feats of the early 1900s, and it later served to inspire the world-famous Hoover Dam.”3 At the time the dam was finished it was the tallest dam in the world. Standing 325 feet tall, “it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and named a National Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1973.”4

Laborers poured the last bucket of concrete on January 15, 1910, with freezing temperatures reaching 15 below zero. In all, they had poured 82,900 cubic yards of concrete. The successful construction of the dam came along with its own sacrifices. Besides the ruthless weather to contend with, working conditions were extremely dangerous – workers were often suspended above water and on rocky cliff sides. Sadly, seven workers died during the construction of the dam.

The Buffalo Bill Dam, 1908. Box 1, Buffalo Bill Dam Construction photograph album, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Once complete, the dam made it possible to irrigate the Bighorn Basin, turning it from a desert sagebrush landscape to productive agricultural land. This was crucial for the livelihood of the people calling the surrounding areas home. The dam also played a significant role during World War II by supporting more fertile farmland for the Japanese American internees in the Heart Mountain Relocation Center. “At its peak, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center housed 10,767 people, many of whom worked on sections of the canal system originally slated for contract work, but which now supplied water to irrigate fields of the internees. Internees succeeded in growing a cornucopia of vegetables including green beans, peas, carrots, spinach, beets, corn, tomatoes, and potatoes, as well as barley and wheat.”5

Today, the dam irrigates more than 93,000 acres. The farms in the surrounding area still grow beans, alfalfa, oats, barley, and sugar beets, providing job opportunities for the tightly knit communities.  On the west side of the dam, you will find Buffalo Bill State Park and a reservoir where locals and tourists can camp, cliff jump, hike, fish, and boat.

This blog post is based on a Virmuze virtual exhibit curated by American Heritage Center archives aide Amanda Wells.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


[1] Loether, Christopher. “Shoshones.” Encyclopedia of the Great Plains accessed 21 May 2020. 

[2] Prevost, Ruffin. “Dam doomed tiny town of Marquette.” Billings Gazette, 15 November 2015. 

[3] Margaraci, Kim. “Most People Don’t Know the Tragic History of Wyoming’s Most Famous Dam.” Only In Your State, 26 September 2018. 

[4] The National Park Service. “Buffalo Bill Dam, Wyoming.” WyoHistory, 8 November 2014. 

[5] Ibid.

Posted in Agricultural history, Construction, Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Immigration, Irrigation, Shoshone Dam, Uncategorized, water resources, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How the Library of a 19th Century Club for Elites Ended Up at the University of Wyoming

In the Toppan Rare Books Library, there are several sub-collections of books. These sub-collections reflect where the Rare Books Library acquired the books, whether it was by donation, a transfer from a different part of the University of Wyoming, or purchase. One such unique subset of books is the Denver Club Collection, which is made up of a portion of books acquired from the Denver Club in the 1950s.

The Denver Club was a social club founded July 29, 1880, by prominent and wealthy male Denver citizens. The Denver Club followed in the steps of other social clubs such as the Cheyenne Club in Cheyenne, Wyoming, founded that same year. These clubs were to be spaces for the prominent elite to gather for business, leisure, or other purposes, with a main attraction being the connections one might make there. The clubs were purposely exclusive; the membership initially was limited to (white) men and in 1885 the initial membership fee was $100 with $80 in dues annually.

After meeting in a hotel in downtown Denver for several years, the Denver Club had a clubhouse built in 1888 at the corner of 17th and Glenarm St. The clubhouse featured luxurious accommodations, such as a dining room, private rooms for club members to reserve for meetings, a billiards hall, and a library for members’ use. The Denver Club library was an ornately furnished room clearly designed to evoke a refined appearance and feeling. The library collection held a variety of books including the works of Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson, as well as a wide selection of English literature in single-bound editions and volumes. The collection of books in the Denver Club Library likely reflects the tastes and interests of its members, as well as how the members might have liked their tastes and interests to be perceived.

The Denver Club building constructed in 1888. Courtesy Denver Public Library, call number X-25092.
The Denver Club’s library. Courtesy Denver Public Library, call number WHJ-10371.

In the 1950s, the Denver Club believed they needed new accommodations. The old clubhouse was torn down and construction began on one of Denver’s first skyscrapers, in which the Denver Club would occupy the top few floors. As part of this transition, furnishings and other items from the old building were sold and auctioned, including the collection of the club library. A Laramie Republican and Boomerang article dated July 21, 1952, notes that the University of Wyoming purchased the Denver Club library of 6000 books for a “very reasonable price” as well as the display shelves and catalog index. It took two trucks to bring the collection from Denver to Laramie.

Author’s photograph of Denver Club on American Heritage Center shelving.

The new DC Building still stands on the corner of 17th and Glenarm in Denver, and a selection of the books of the old Denver Club library are now housed in the Toppan Rare Books Library at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, where you can view any of the books that were once in the exclusive club library.

Post contributed by Toppan Rare Books Library Assistant Marcus Holscher.


Sources used:

Atherton, Lewis. The Cattle Kings. Indiana University Press, 1961.

Whitacre, Christine. The Denver Club: 1880-1995. Denver: Historic Denver, Inc., and The Denver Club. 1998.

Posted in Authors and literature, Book history, Toppan Rare Books Library, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Roped In: Sara Hagel and Horsehair Rope Making

What is simple work? In a fast-paced society, we often overlook jobs which require a lot of time, skill, and mistake making to master.

Many jobs today are considered “simple,” “easy,” or “low-skill” despite requiring specific skills and a great amount of practice and training. Many aspects of folklife are no different—especially fiber arts. In fact, most fiber arts are considered “women’s work” or considered “simple hobbies” and often treated less seriously, especially as manufacturers can quickly put out quilts, gloves, wall hangings, and more. This results in many people finding less importance and understanding in the value of handmade textiles. Other fiber arts are forgotten altogether, or not considered as such because they differ from the most known forms such as knitting or embroidery.

One particular fiber artist caught my eye while scouring the Wyoming Folklife Archive: Sara Hagel, a horsehair rope maker form Dayton, Wyoming. With a machine that has an interesting history based in accommodating disability and a love for her craft, Hagel has been making and selling rope for decades and has all but mastered her craft. Knowing what conditions make the best rope, how to twist hairs to create patterns, and even building her own shed to maintain humidity for the rope, Hagel’s work has certainly earned a spotlight.

A close-up of five ropes twisted by Sara Hagel. The ropes are made of black, white, grey, and various shades of brown horsehair with patterns of stripes and dots. Photo taken by Elaine Thatcher. Digital file ahcdm_545018_002, Wyoming Folklife Archive, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Hagel’s machine was built in 1929 for a man named Sam Champlin. Having previously been a miner, Champlin had been blinded after an accident at work. Without many social safety nets in place, his outlook for job opportunities and financial stability was grim. But friendship and community came to Champlin’s aid. One of Champlin’s friends had been taught by his father how to make rope, and he offered to pass he skill onto Champlin. Over a period of two years, Champlin’s friends gathered found and salvaged parts to build a rope machine for Champlin. Using tracks and pieces of carts from gold mines, this group of friends was able to help Champlin start a new career which provided for him and his wife until he eventually retired three decades later.

In 1959, Champlin went to the California State School for the Blind. His goal was to pass on the skill to another blind person, as well as give them his machine. Eventually Bob Mills and his wife accepted the offer. Having previously planned on being chicken farmers, the Mills couple lived with Champlin and his wife for a year as Bob learned how to twist and make rope.

From 1959 until 1995, Mills continued to utilize Champlin’s machine. On his left would be black hair while white hair would be on his right side, the fibers cleaned and spun by this wife Pauline. This system was very helpful for Mills as it meant he could reliably twist rope without worrying about accidentally using the wrong color when twisting either single colored or patterned ropes. As health problems causing Mills’ blindness grew worse, the couple eventually made the decision to retire and sell the machine to the next generation of rope makers.

Luckily, Sara Hagel’s family knew the Mills well. Hagel had taken up horsehair rope making at age 13 when her father taught her as a summer job. While he hadn’t been fond of the process himself, his daughter truly enjoyed it. After picking up the machine from the Mills, Hagel took it home and began working on rope on her own.

A picture of the hook which anchors the start of the rope. Hagel walks away from the hook as she twists, allowing the rope to become longer. Photo taken by Elaine Thatcher. Digital file ahcdm_545018_002, Wyoming Folklife Archive, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Now selling her ropes through her business, Hagels’s Cowboy Gear, she markets her ropes to a broad range of clientele. Some are cowboys willing to pay a bit extra for their rope, some are collectors, but mostly buyers are those who visit horse clinics and, seeing the use of Hagel’s ropes there, they then seek her services.

With as many clients as Hagel receives and such an intensive process to follow, Hagel has taken to keeping records of every rope she makes. Usually making ropes in lengths of 22-24 feet, Hagel numbers each rope according to the year and the order in which it is made, records the length and diameter, and even the humidity of the shed when the rope was made. Hagel says that humidity plays a major factor in whether ropes end up breaking or becoming too soft, and that she aims to keep her shed between 30 or 60 percent humidity in order to make sure that wherever her rope goes, it will not be too humid or too dry for the rope to properly hold. She says that 45 percent is the perfect spot. Keeping these records not only helps Hagel to know the best rope-making conditions, but it makes it easier to replicate orders so clients needn’t remember exactly what colors or patterns they like in their rope when they’re ready to order a new one.

There are many complexities that come with making rope, including the fact that the sturdiest rope is twisted just shy of being tight enough to snap and the process must be periodically checked to ensure there are no clumps in the rope. Unfortunately, many people still do not recognize the hard work that goes into Hagel’s craft. While demonstrating her work at an event hosted by the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, Hagel was dismayed to hear many visitors comment that her work was boring, reducing it to “walking backwards all day.” Hagel’s work does in fact require her to walk backwards, as she moves further back to add more fiber to the rope during the twisting process. Hagel quite enjoys this procedure, and it is a necessary step to lengthen the twists. Others insisted it was no different to their experiences learning simple rope-making as children in the Boy Scouts, ignoring the true craft of Hagel’s hard-won profession.

Hagel, pictured holding a bundle of horse hair in her arm while she twists a rope, walking further from the anchor to lengthen the twist. Photo taken by Elaine Thatcher. Digital file ahcdm_545018_002, Wyoming Folklife Archive, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Having spent this past summer working with the Wyoming Folklife Archive at the American Heritage Center, Hagel’s work stood out as I studied the fiber arts in Wyoming. Among knitters, weavers, and more, Hagel was the only rope maker to be found. Fiber arts often require precision, attention to detail, and dedication. Hagel’s work is certainly no exception to this. However, what stands out most about Hagel is that rope making is one of few textile arts often attributed to being “women’s work.” These ropes are especially important for ranch work and livestock handling and other such activities usually associated with men.

I wish all the best for Hagel, for more people in Wyoming to find interest in rope making, and for more people to understand that what may seem like simple work to them is incredibly skillful work, and an important part of Wyoming folklife that should be celebrated.

To learn more about Hagel, fiber arts, and folklife in Wyoming, see the Wyoming Folklife Archive at the American Heritage Center. You can also learn about other fiber artists in Wyoming by checking out the AHC’s online museum exhibit on Virmuze.

Post contributed by AHC Intern Ciel Larsen Hunter. Ciel, a student in the UW American Studies program, was a participant in a grant project from the Wyoming Arts Council to assist with the Wyoming Folklife Archive housed at the AHC.


Posted in Agricultural history, Agriculture, Artists, Folklife, Interns' projects, Livestock industry, Uncategorized, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating Archives Month (Hint: It’s actually bigger than just a month)

October is American Archives Month! To celebrate, we’re highlighting ways in which archives are staying involved in current events around the world, featuring the American Heritage Center’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Wyoming. Archives like the AHC assist communities to not only preserve local history but to reflect on the state of the world. Or, in this case, the state of Wyoming.

The project began during the pandemic as the Center sought to collect and preserve residents’ experiences, thoughts, observations, and stories about the impact of the virus on every aspect of life, whether work, education, or home. The goal was to capture this moment in history by providing a voice to residents who might not be otherwise be represented in the historical record. The state of Wyoming, like the rest of the U.S. and much of the world, largely shut down during the height of the pandemic, leaving in its wake many disruptions and corresponding emotions to those disruptions.

The AHC’s COVID-19 collection now contains oral histories, articles, website captures, photographs, personal stories, correspondence, newspapers, and screenshots. Many of the collection’s images include masks, as they became everyone’s new normal. They range from self-drawn portraits, like the one below of community member Sarah Reilly, to that of Ursus, the bronze bear statue at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens also pictured below.

Community members also weighed in with their reactions to the initial onset of the pandemic, social distancing standards, and, for University of Wyoming students, the sudden shift to online classes after an extended spring break as well as canceling of the traditional commencement ceremony.

UW student Annie Stratton interviewed fellow student Christie Wildcat whose reflections on COVID’s beginnings and the university’s reactions were probably felt by many students. Wildcat said that she initially thought the virus wouldn’t come to Wyoming, that China’s lockdown would prevent it from spreading. As it became more prevalent in the news and the university announced extended spring break, she thought, “Oh cool! Longer spring break. We’ll be back.” Then came the dawning realization that, since many students were traveling for spring break, the virus could easily spread at UW. That’s when the thought hit her, “School’s going to be cancelled.”[1] And she was right. The University of Wyoming, and all U.S. universities, quickly had to transition to online classes and were even forced to cancel commencements or move them onto platforms like Zoom.

Much of student life transitioned to Zoom, and it was a struggle for both students and teachers. Some of the oral histories in the collection relay that UW students felt like professors weren’t prepared for the online transition and it made classes more difficult. Others reflected that the campus community didn’t know how to use Zoom, so all had to learn as they went. Figuring out how to make presentations and to work in groups with members now spread all over the U.S. and abroad was another challenge. Students who struggled with online classes complained that they were confronted with whole new ways of learning on the fly, and it was stressful experience. The experience was especially disconcerting for seniors, such as Wildcat, who were on the brink of celebrating their graduation from college

The COVID-19 collection also highlights the impact on Wyoming communities in general. The images below are parks, businesses, and restaurants that had to adjust policies, limit customer interactions, or shut down completely.

People of all ages were impacted by the pandemic, and the AHC’s collection reflects on those impacts, but there are also messages of hope for the future, a light at the end of the tunnel. From displays in store windows to lawn signs, the Wyoming community figured out ways to come together to promote hope and love. Many images of that kind contain paper heart cutouts and the hashtag #WorldofHearts.

As the pandemic continued, businesses worked out ways to remain open amidst social distancing requirements. For example, restaurants transitioned to take-out, carry-out, and curbside dining, Those messages of hope continued, and people took advantage of the time at home to learn new things, spend time with family, and reflect on the world around them.

The American Heritage Center’s project gathered materials about the pandemic from 2020-2021, including newspaper articles from around the state, flyers from Wyoming Health Fairs, UW faculty and staff listservs, online news articles and stories relating to the pandemic, donations such as poems and artwork, and more. The collection can be viewed through its finding aid.

So, in honor of Archives Month, please consider how you could use your local archive to document your community. It could be donating your reflections and thoughts through an oral history, volunteering, interning, or attending a local historical event. It’s is all important, so don’t hesitate to join in.

Post contributed by AHC Archives Intern Brittany Heye.


[1] Transcription of oral history of Christie Wildcat by Annie Stratton. Item ah560006_2_3, COVID-19 Collection Project, 2020-2021, Collection No. 560006. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Posted in American Archives Month, COVID-19, Digital collections, Local history, Uncategorized, University of Wyoming history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Art of the Hunt: Jake Korell’s Story

Jacob “Trapper Jake” Korell (1914-2013) was a legendary Wyomingite who had a bright personality and a passion for trapping. He was skillful and thoughtful in his work and held great respect for the animals he caught. He began trapping when he was seven and did not stop until his death at 99. So devoted was he that it even kept him out of school. His schooling was cut short due to his trapping of skunks; the odor making his teachers send him home, combined with the working of beet fields for his parents.

Jake Korell in front of a taxidermy exhibit at the Wind River Heritage Center. Taken by Jessica King.
Digital Art of the Hunt Collections, Wyoming Folklife Archive, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Jake was born in Nebraska and moved to the Lingle-Torrington area of Wyoming when he was two years old. Korell said in a 2011 interview for the “Art of the Hunt” project conducted by the University of Wyoming American Studies program: “[I] kind of grew up with a trapping family. A lot of those things, I picked up and learned on my own. I really didn’t have a teacher on a lot of it.” His father had trapped wolves in Russia; the Korell family is of German Russian descent, immigrating to America via Ellis Island in 1911.

He spent many years of his life in Riverton, where he helped found the Wind River Heritage Center. Jake knew the value of cultural heritage and preservation, and donated thousands of dollars to the Center. In addition to founding and financially contributing, he would give his time, often helping visitors or teaching the next generation how to trap. He believed that there was a lot to learn about Wyoming animals, so his taxidermy ended up in the Wind River Heritage Center as well.

Antique trapping equipment at the Wind River Heritage Center. Taken by Jessica King.
Digital Art of the Hunt Collections, Wyoming Folklife Archive, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Respect for the animal, integrity in the hunt, and knowledge of the area were valuable concepts to Korell. He knew which animals he should not trap, down to letting mothers go or watching for rare ones that should not be killed, even though they would have more monetary value. Korell ensured that he was trapping what and where he should. He did not belittle taking the life of the animal.

“They say the traps are cruel to animals,” said Korell in the 2011 interview, “but if you know what you’re doing you use a trap according to the size of the animal and it don’t really hurt them all that much. I turn a lot of ‘em loose…like female bobcats, I pert near turn all of them loose ‘cause I just don’t believe in over killing. If I catch a kitten or a female, I turn ‘em loose. I keep a tom once in a while.”

Korell’s hands, showing nearly 90 years of trapping. Taken by Jessica King.
Digital Art of the Hunt, Wyoming Folklife Archive, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Jake Korell worked hard to be ethical in his work. Trapping was his life. He knew and followed the laws for when certain animals were in season and how often to check his traps. Learning on the fly and gaining practical experience was of utmost value to him.

Korell is featured in the “Art of the Hunt” project found in the Wyoming Folklife Archive at the American Heritage Center. There is also a book written about him titled The Last of the Breed: The Story of Trapper Jake (2013) by western author Kit Collings.

Post contributed by Elena Lompe, AHC Wyoming Folklife intern.


Posted in Digital collections, oral histories, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Holy Spectacle, Batman! Campy Fun with the 1960s Batman Television Series

As September 19 would have been Adam West’s 94th birthday, let’s look back on one of his best-known roles, Batman.

The campy, smash hit of the 60s was loathed by some and loved by many more. But the people who loved it the most were the ones who created and produced it. And that enthusiasm can be sensed in the final product. It’s a truism that people who enjoy their work tend to put out a better product. But you don’t have to trust my word on this because the William Dozier papers at the American Heritage Center can back me up.

Catwoman (Julie Newmar) kneeling over Batman (Adam West) tied to a giant mousetrap in the episode “That Darn Catwoman, Season 2, Episode 40, air date January 19, 1967.” William Dozier papers, Collection #6851.

A prime example of this enthusiasm is the joking nature of correspondence between executive producer William Dozier and head scriptwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. In one such letter Dozier begins by addressing Semple as Robin and ends the letter with “Batblessings.” In many of his letters to Semple, Dozier includes a bat-pun as a signoff. Even their correspondence feels camp. This jovial form of communication serves as a precursor to the entertaining use of camp for which the series became known.

This letter from William Dozier to Lorenzo Semple Jr. discusses the possibility of Burgess Meredith playing the Penguin, some production notes, and the start of scripting for the Green Hornet. Box 6, Folder 1965, William Dozier papers, Collection #6851, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The co-creators of Batman for DC Comics, Bill Finger and Bob Kane, were just as excited about this new take on the Dark Knight. Kane was very vocal in his support for the series. Finger even drafted a few episodes for the series with “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” making it to production. The Dozier papers include a copy of this script in case you’d like to read it.

This first page of a letter from Bob Kane to William Dozier expresses his excitement for the series. Box 6, Folder 1965, William Dozier papers, Collection #6851, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Adam West was an excellent choice for the Caped Crusader, and not just because of his skill at dancing the Batusi. Yet, while filming the pilot there was another potential Batman suited up. Lyle Waggoner lost the role to West, but a decade later wound up in another television show based on a comic book. He played Colonel Steve Trevor in the Wonder Woman series. Dozier apologized through correspondence to West for not telling him about Waggoner. West’s response was appropriate to the tone of the series: “Gotham City ain’t big enough for both of us Batmans, Batman…. (or is it Batmen?)”

To learn more about the production of the Batman series and maybe find correspondence from such stars as Kirk Douglas and Bruce Lee, see the William Dozier papers at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by Rob Kelly, AHC Reference Department.


Posted in Actors, Comic book history, Superheroes, television history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment