Curious about what happened during COVID-19 in Wyoming? For over a year, the American Heritage Center has been gathering the stories of people living through the pandemic all across the state. We are very excited to show some of what we have so far with our new COVID-19 in Wyoming website: https://sites.google.com/wyo.gov/covidinwy/home.
The COVID-19 in Wyoming website is a joint project that brings together the many wonderful COVID-19-related donations cared for by the AHC, the Wyoming State Archives, and the Wyoming State Museum. Since March 2020, all three organizations put the call out to Wyoming residents to share their thoughts, observations, memories, creative pursuits, and experiences. The AHC’s COVID-19 Collection Project encouraged people to get creative, and there has been a tremendous response.
On the online platform you’ll see Governor Gordon’s press conferences, video messages from theatre studios, photos from downtown Laramie and Cheyenne, students’ reflections, and much more. There are stories of struggle, coping, and worry about what the future will hold. One University of Wyoming student said how hard it is visiting her grandma – “I’m just used to…sitting right next to her and giving her a hug when I leave, and that’s something I can’t do and that just breaks my heart.”
But there are also stories of hope and optimism. Many businesses in downtown Laramie had cut-out hearts on their storefronts with inspiring messages, like “in this together” and “#notmeus.” One UW student said, “it’s been pretty amazing to see gas under $2.00.”
There are some of lighter moments, too. Richard Travsky took a photo of the famous T-Rex statue outside of the UW Geological Museum wearing a cloth mask.
And there’s also a photo of the Ursus the bear sculpture wearing a mask at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.
These personal stories help shape our understanding of this dramatic and disruptive time. They provide glimpses and visuals into what people felt and what they observed, and give a depth to how we remember the past.
If you have a story to tell and want to get involved, visit our COVID-19 Collection Project website: https://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/covid-19-collecting.html. All donors can elect whether to remain anonymous and even to keep their contributions from being viewed for up to five years.
Help us make history! #COVIDWY #alwaysarchiving
Post contributed by AHC Digital Archivist Rachel Gattermeyer.
Thirty-seven students across Wyoming will represent the state at the National History Day Competition this June.
The 41th Annual Wyoming History Day kicked off with its first ever fully virtual state competition on April 22. And on May 3, the American Heritage Center hosted its first fully virtual award show connecting 120 students across 97,818 square miles in a singular virtual space.
This year’s history day theme invited students to explore and experience communication in history.
Wyoming History Day was able to award thousands of dollars in cash awards to students with the support of the American Heritage Center, the Wyoming State Historical Society, the Wyoming Humanities Council, Wyoming State Bar, the AHC’s Alan K. Simpson Institute, the UW Global Engagement Office the Wyoming Association of Professional Archaeologists, Wyoming Society of Archaeologist, the Cheyenne Frontier Days™ Old West Museum, the Hopkins Family, the Sommers Family, the Joseph Stepan’s family and Brigida Blasi.
Additionally, AHC Paul Flesher announced that the AHC will support all students moving on that national competition with $100 in scholarship funds towards their entry fees for the national competition.
May 11 is “Eat What You Want Day.” What does that mean? Well, it means for one day you can forget your diet and, health permitting, treat yourself to a favorite food. Today, you can say “Yes-Yes” to that slice of cheesecake or that mile-high burger and say “No-No” to them tomorrow.
It’s important to note that it’s not intended as an eat-as-much-as-you-want-day. Rather, it’s to eat something you otherwise wouldn’t. Maybe you want to eat just a small amount of that treat. But make it a treat.
Personally, when I think of a treat, cake is the first thing that comes to mind. Thanks to the AHC’s Digital Collections database, there is no shortage of images. To whet the appetite of fellow cake lovers, I present a photo of the interior of Laramie’s beloved Home Bakery.
This lovely and intricate cake was made in honor of an April 1928 wedding reception for photographer Hugo Janssen and his wife Jessie. Unsuspecting cake lovers may have been disappointed, however. The cake was made of wood by A. E. Longfellow, who managed American Telephone in Lovell, Wyoming.
A cake on wheels? I don’t think I can run that fast. How did the driver see out the window? Members of the Theta Eta chapter of Delta Delta Delta “baked” the cake for the University of Wyoming’s Homecoming parade in 1936. The Tri Delta sorority has part of the UW community since 1913.
Why should cake be limited to humans? That’s what Topper seems to be saying. Topper was the horse ridden by childhood hero Hopalong Cassidy, aka William S. Boyd, “the good guy in the black hat.” Topper remained Boyd’s favorite horse because he was a trustworthy not only with Boyd but also with children who would sometimes pull on his mane and other such things. Topper lived to a ripe old age of 26 years of age. Perhaps treating yourself to cake once in a while isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.
Today’s mountain climbers would call it free soloing, but in August 1923 it was simply three college students who were short on equipment. Brashly, they believed they could summit the Grand Teton.
David DeLap had taken up mountain climbing on a whim while a student at the University of Montana in Missoula. It was there that he met more experienced climbers Quin Blackburn and Andy DePirro. The trio set out in a Ford Model T with failing brakes they had purchased for seventy-five dollars. The goal: Climb to the top of the Grand Teton.
Blackburn had procured an outdated topographical map from the geology department at the university but had no other knowledge of the mountain. They only allotted one day to make the climb, and when they arrived at the base of the mountain, they were equipped with small day packs containing chocolate bars, raisins and bacon sandwiches. DeLap’s climbing shoes were football cleats that had been retrofitted with three quarter inch steel spikes. Blackburn carried a geologist’s hammer which was to serve as an ice axe. None of the climbers carried a rope.
Not long after heading up Bradley Canyon they got drenched by a rainstorm. Soaking wet, they traversed a glacier and then they came across an area of rockslide. They built stone cairns to mark the route of their climb. The group found ledges and crevices and eased themselves along, sometimes crawling across the mountainside.
Soon they came to a boulder eight feet above them. Below them was a canyon more than a thousand feet deep. A slip up would be a disaster. By then, it had begun to snow, and a cold wind was blowing. Blackburn climbed up on the shoulders of DeLap and DePirro, then DeLap boosted DePirro up. Soon DeLap was standing alone on the ledge, with no obvious way up. Improvising, DePirro was persuaded to take off his trousers and lower them down to DeLap as a makeshift rope.
Eventually the group came to a chimney coated in ice. Blackburn, using his geologist’s hammer, chopped footholds going 50 feet up. The three men clambered over each other in a human chain, only to discover another chimney to ascend. They repeated their human chain climbing technique, known in mountaineering circles as a three-man courte-échelle.
At last, they had reached the top, at 13,747 feet. To their surprise there was a large cairn of rocks with a metal banner imprinted with words “The Rocky Mountain Club.” Embedded in the ice at the top of the cairn was a cannister, left there in 1898, with the names of the original party which had ascended the Grand Teton. DeLap, DePirro and Blackburn marveled that they were the first party to summit the mountain in twenty-five years. They took photos at the summit using a Kodak Brownie camera.
DeLap took a blank check from his pack, noted their three names, the date and time and added it to the cannister in the rock cairn. By then it was 6:30pm and the group realized they would have to make their descent in darkness.
Climbing down two ice chimneys and from boulders to narrow ledges was even more hazardous than the ascent, but there was no other way down. Once again, they clambered over each other’s bodies. Thankful for glimpses of moonlight between the clouds and for the rock cairns they had built along the trail, the trio make their way back across the rockslide and the glacier until they reached the tree line. Exhausted, lacking sleeping bags or tents, they built a fire and huddled around it, eventually falling asleep.
DeLap, in reflecting on his experiences during the climb, remarked “there isn’t enough money in the world to take the risk of climbing back up there again.”
To celebrate May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the AHC would like to feature the life and career of Chinese American actor Richard Loo.
Loo was born in Maui, Hawaii, in 1903. As a young man he moved to the mainland to continue his education, studying foreign trade at the University of California at Berkeley. Upon graduation, he pursued a career in an import-export business, but his company met hard times and failed during the Great Depression.
Loo turned his attentions to the stage, with his first acting job at a small theatre in San Francisco. His role was as a Chinese-speaking rickshaw driver, but he knew no Chinese. He overcame this obstacle by memorizing a Chinese menu, shouting out the names of Chinese dishes in his scene.
Loo’s first speaking role on film was as a farmer in The Good Earth. The movie was an adaptation of Pearl Buck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the same name. The 1937 drama followed the lives of Chinese farmers struggling to survive.
During and after World War II, Loo made a name for himself playing Japanese villains in film. His next major success came in the movie The Purple Heart, where he was cast as Japanese General Matsubi, a part for which he had to shave his head. It was a significant role for Loo and at the time, considered a breakthrough in casting an Asian for an Asian role. Often, white actors were made up in yellowface to appear Asian, taking on Asian character roles.
The Purple Heart was part of a series of wartime propaganda films that portrayed the Japanese in stereotypical fashion. It was loosely based on the capture, trial and execution of eight U.S. airmen by the Japanese during World War II. The movie was released in 1944 and was controversial for the degree to which the storyline followed the harsh interrogation and torture techniques employed by the Japanese. The U.S. government feared retaliation by the Japanese military over the content of the film.
Following the war, Loo had so many requests to play the role of a Japanese villain that he had to turn down parts. His daughter, Beverly Loo, recounted that her father “was known as the man who died to make a living. He was always stabbing himself or committing hara-kiri or kamikaze”. Despite his typecast roles, Loo took a patriotic pride in his performances in his many war-themed films.
From the 1940s through the 1970s, he appeared in more than 200 movies and added television performances to his repertoire. If an Asian character was called for, Loo was usually the one the producers phoned. In the 1968 comedy western TV series Here Come the Brides he was cast alongside a young Bruce Lee. Loo took the role of the aged patriarch, Chi Pei, of the Chinese Green Lantern Society.
Loo’s last film was The Man with the Golden Gun, a 1974 James Bond movie. He played the role of a Thai capitalist, Hai-Fat, who bankrolled the villain, Francisco Scaramanga. Like many films, it was shot abroad. Loo’s work as an actor took him around the world, from Los Angeles, to London and Bangkok. Loo remarked “I have learned the value of travel… have learned to know and understand people living in other parts of the world. No other profession could provide the same wide experiences.”
Following his death in 1983, Loo’s papers were donated to the American Heritage Center. You can visit the AHC and pour through hundreds of film and television scripts where you can learn more about the many characters played by Richard Loo.
Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.
April 23rd, World Book Day, is an ideal opportunity to showcase one of the AHC Toppan Rare Book Library’s books. Lectures on Natural Philosophy by Margaret Bryan is but one sample of the many rare books the AHC has to offer. Published in 1806, it is an unusual treatise on a subject that few women at the time pursued – science. The book itself is handsome, with gold tooled binding and marbled edges. It features a frontispiece portrait of Bryan.
The year of Bryan’s birth is unknown, but likely to have been before 1760. In addition to being a published author of scientific literature, she also ran a school for young ladies at Blackheath, a village south-east of London. Bryan began her publication with an open letter to her pupils, which included her own two daughters, entreating them to apply the lessons towards bettering themselves. She dedicated the book to “Her Royal Highness, The Princess Charlotte of Wales.” In 1806, the date of publication, Princess Charlotte was ten years old, granddaughter of the King and third in the line of succession to the throne in the United Kingdom.
The book itself is a compendium of thirteen lectures based on eight years of study and seven years of practical experience as a scientist, in an era in which it was remarkable for a woman to pursue scientific interests. The lectures had been previously distributed singly to subscribers – lords, ladies, dukes and bishops as well as university professors and booksellers. Lectures on Natural Philosophy was intended to instruct pupils and interested readers in the fundamentals of physics alongside a brief study of astronomy. The lectures are supplemented with questions and exercises designed to test her students’ knowledge of geography and astronomy.
Bryan’s first chapter addresses gravity and the contributions to science of Newton and Galileo. It moves on to the study of fire, the science behind the mercury thermometer and evaporation as a key to understanding the function of the steam engine. Bryan believed that science was intertwined with religion and that God had granted humans with the intellect needed to study and appreciate science. Her discussion of mechanics reads like a modern-day Physics book, with examples of pulleys, levers, screws and springs. She segues seamlessly into a study of man as a machine and the human physiology that makes breathing possible.
Bryan illustrated her lectures with experiments and diagrams, explaining the function of pneumatics and the mechanics of an air rifle, an unusual topic of study for young women. She summarized the physics behind both the hot air balloon and the diving bell.
At the time, the scientific study of electricity was in its infancy, so Bryan outlined the two competing theories of the day. One of the two theories was Benjamin Franklin’s. Bryan’s book outlines more than forty experiments that her pupils could perform to illustrate the merits of both theories of electricity. She did caution them, though, not to repeat Franklin’s famous kite, key and lightning experiment, as the electricity in the atmosphere was known to be so powerful “as to destroy animal existence.”
Bryan concluded her book with a fifteen-page glossary of terms, including the forward-thinking aeronaut, defined as “a person sailing through the air” and corpuscles, described as “small bodies or atoms.”
Learn more about the remarkable Margaret Bryan and scientific understanding at the beginning of the 19th century by viewing Lectures on Natural Philosophy in the American Heritage Center’s Toppan Rare Book Library.
Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.
You’ve probably heard of Juneteenth, but have you ever heard of Emancipation Day? Emancipation Day has been celebrated on different dates in the U.S. since the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862. The tradition of Watch Night is still sometimes celebrated in Black churches on December 31st to commemorate the night that abolitionists waited up for word of whether Lincoln had signed the proclamation. For many, continuing to celebrate Watch Night and Emancipation Day on January 1st was also a way to commemorate another new year of freedom each
As you have probably noticed, January 1st coincides with another big holiday, so other dates were also used over the year but the federal government now officially recognizes Emancipation Day on April 16th, the day Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act. Juneteenth is an iteration Emancipation Day, first celebrated in 1865 and now widely recognized in the U.S., which commemorates the day enslaved people in Texas were notified of their freedom two and a half years after it had been signed into law.
At Cheyenne’s Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in the 1960s, Emancipation Day was recognized in January. The Allen Chapel AME is the oldest Black church in Wyoming. It was founded in 1878 by Reverend Whitlock and continues to operate more than 140 years later.
The American Heritage Center has a small collection of the Allen Chapel AME church’s records covering mainly the years 1967-1969. From these records, we can get a glimpse into what was important to the pastors and the congregation, including drives to raise funds for Christian educational and missionary work, annual conferences, Sunday school, and other special projects. For instance, Robert “Buck” Rhone included a letter to the congregation in the church service packet of 3 December 1968 appealing for funds for the church’s organ.
Robert “Buck” Rhone and his wife, Sudie, were active members of the congregation. Also active was their daughter Harriett Elizabeth Rhone, later known to Wyomingites as a dedicated teacher and the first Black woman to serve in the state Legislature, Liz Byrd.
In January of 1969, congregation member Casper Leroy Jordan included a multi-part history of Emancipation titled “Our African Methodist Heritage” in the church service packet. Jordan gave special emphasis to the role of various church leaders played in convincing Lincoln to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, like that of AME bishop Daniel Alexander Payne. Meeting with Lincoln just days before he signed, the “ascetic prelate knew the evils of slavery, and sought, along with other communicats (sic) of his church to persuade the President to free the black man.” Like many other churches, the Allen Chapel AME took the opportunity in January remember the roles that both abolitionists and churches played in the emancipation of enslaved Black people in the United States.
A rider and his horse thunder into view over the desert horizon, barreling towards the way-station where water and a fresh horse await. As the rider leaps off his horse and onto another, his mail bag swinging from his hand, he shoots the station manager a devilish grin. With a hollered “Thanks!” he’s off again, rapidly disappearing from view in the desert twilight.
The Pony Express has long been an icon of the American West. Although it only ran for 18 months, it played a crucial role in delivering important news, letters, and telegram messages across the country efficiently at a time when our country desperately needed it.
The Pony Express began operating on April 3, 1860, roughly a year before the American Civil War officially began. The route went from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California and covered nearly 2,000 miles.
The Pony Express was first created as an attempt to connect the West Coast with the central government power in the Eastern part of the country. The idea was first thought up by Senator W. M. Gwin, who proposed it to William H. Russell. Russell was one of the partners of the Russell, Majors, and Waddell freighting firm, currently operating in the Western territories.
When Gwin first suggested the ideas to Russell, he intimated that “the seeds of possible division within California, as between the North and the South, might be rendered impotent by fast mail communication east and west.” During this time, there was a movement to remove California from the Union. If the Pony Express had not been created by and maintained at a great personal loss to Russell, Majors, and Waddell, the only communication between the East and West coasts would have been the sea. The Pony Express was created to prevent massive miscommunication due to distance during a tumultuous time in America’s history.
Stations were placed along the entire route where fresh horses or riders were swapped out. When the Express first began, stations were 25 miles apart. This turned out to be too far of a distance, however, and the system was altered to make each station roughly 10-15 miles apart. Every 10-15 miles, the horse was swapped out, and every 75-100 miles, the rider swapped.
In total, there were about 190 stations along the Pony Express route. Each station was manned by two or three men and contained provisions needed for survival. One of the original Pony Express stations in Hanover, Kansas, actually still stands today and is preserved as a historical site. Of the stations, there were about 25 where riders would be swapped out. These were much larger to accommodate the riders who slept there. Riders were able to keep up an average pace of about 10 miles per hour and delivered mail from Missouri to California in eight to ten days.
An ad was placed in the Leavenworth Daily Times on April 2, 1860 reading “The great western enterprise, the Pony Express to California, starts on Tuesday, or April the 3d. It will run through in ten days, and will carry letters and messages at four dollars each. The telegraph on the California side, is finished to Carson Valley. Virtually then, the Pony Express will put the Atlantic States within eight days of San Francisco. For a private enterprise, this is one of the most important yet undertaken in this country.”
As previously mentioned, the Pony Express only lasted 18 months. During the time the Express was running, workers were busy stretching telegraph wires across the American West. By October 24, 1861, the telegraph wires connected the East Coast to the West Coast. On October 26, 1861, the Pony Express was terminated. However, the final letters in transit on the Pony Express route were not delivered until November.
Riders on the Pony Express were some of the toughest people in the West. They endured fast-paced, grueling horseback rides across the country in all sorts of weather, often riding through dangerous terrain for hours on end. Now, we’re able to send messages with a single tap of our finger. We’ve come a long way from paying someone to deliver a message by pony.
Post contributed by Archives Aide Sarah Kesterson, AHC Reference Department.
 The Kansas Historical Quarterly, Winter 1959, Box 89, Coll. 115, Agnes Wright Spring Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
 News of the Society Meeting Recap, March 1950, Box 89, Coll. 115, Agnes Wright Spring Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Like many American industries, the sugar beet trade grew from perceived opportunity and weakening in other formerly profitable U.S. markets. A decline in mining and agriculture in the 1890s led some entrepreneurs to seek their fortunes elsewhere. The sugar beet industry appeared to hold some promise as it could provide income for farmers, laborers, industrial workers, and capitalists. In 1899 a beet sugar factory was established in Grand Junction, Colorado, with funding from Denver mining magnates. In 1901, the same men incorporated the Great Western Sugar Company, which became the dominant producer of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska beet sugar for more than sixty years. Another company, Holly Sugar, was established in Holly, Colorado, in 1905 and became another mainstay in the Wyoming sugar beet industry.
Beets were heavy and perishable, making them expensive and risky to transport great distances. Therefore, to make the industry profitable, factories to process the beets were located close to the source. Factories of this type were opened near the Wyoming beet growing fields in Lovell (1916), Worland (1917), and Torrington (1923). Each new factory quickly became the hub of the agricultural community in which it was built.
Russian German families (who had experience with sugar beet farming), single Japanese men (until immigration restrictions eliminated them in 1907), and Spanish-speaking laborers from Texas, southern Colorado and New Mexico were brought in to help with the labors of sugar beet farming. Over the course of the twentieth century, the list of preferred fieldworkers would also include Native Americans, Filipinos, and South Asians. Low land prices in the early days of the industry led to upward mobility for Russian Germans as they were able to purchase their own farmland, a mobility not seen by workers of color.
The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 lessened the number of Russian Germans workers when the legislation restricted immigration by Southern and Eastern Europeans. But the Act set no limits on immigration from Latin America, due in part by lobbying by the sugar beet industry. Mexican nationals, called “betabeleros” (beet workers), were increasingly recruited to fill the labor void and lower field labor expenses.
Migrant laborers were almost exclusively perceived as “outsiders,” people different from the typical hired hands in the family farm system due to the work they performed and ethnic or cultural differences. While hired hands typically lived and socialized with the family for which they labored, this was a rarity for sugar beet laborers.
Growing sugar beets in the early twentieth century was an incredibly labor-intensive process, especially in terms of the hand or “stoop” labor that could not be mechanized. In the spring and early summer, laborers would first use a short-handled hoe to block (cut out undesired beet plants to have plants properly spaced) and then used their fingers on the other hand to thin (remove all but one beet plant from the cluster left by the blocking). A summer-long task was regular hoeing to keep out the weeds. By October, the beets were ready to be harvested. After the ground was loosened with a machine lifter, laborers pulled the heavy beets out by hand. Leafy tops of the beets were also cut by hand with a curved beet knife. The beets were piled in rows and then loaded by hand into wagons and hauled to a beet dump for processing or loading onto railroad cars.
Very early in the industry, labor gangs consisting of single men were quite common. However, recruiting families quickly became a high priority for sugar company agents. Families were readymade labor gangs with a cook and children, who were well suited to certain portions of the necessary labor. Indeed, after a day of fieldwork, women still had household duties of cooking and cleaning, making for a “double day.” By age 8 or 9, children were encouraged to take on work in the beet fields and were regularly pulled out of school. According to a 1923 study, children under the age of sixteen made up 52% of the labor force and accounted for 47% of the acreage tended. Although laborers saw education as beneficial, language barriers and the need for family income got in the way of effective education. Students often had to repeat grades due to the length of time they were out of school. Nevertheless, public school education was an integrative force as it allowed some immigrants to move into occupations other than field work, a crucial step to becoming integrated members of a community.
Laborers employed on farms near a city often lived in ethnically segregated settlements in the city and traveled daily to the fields. If the farm was too far away, they would live near the fields in temporary housing that was often shoddily built or run down.
The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 made things worse as the economic downturn hurt sugar-beet production. The rate paid to growers dropped from about $7.00 per ton in 1930 to about $5.15 per ton in 1932; total acreage fell 10%. A resulting labor surplus meant that companies and producers had little incentive to provide migrant workers with benefits or amenities to ensure their return the next year. Housing for migrants was often without indoor privies and water had to be drawn from wells and nearby streams. Children and adults of all beet-worker families during the Depression suffered high rates of illnesses and often lived together on the edge of starvation. In Torrington, children tied soiled rags around their bare feet and walked as far as a mile to school in temperatures twenty degrees below zero. Photos from the American Heritage Center below show living conditions of sugar beet workers in Torrington during the Depression in 1931.
World War II led to labor shortages and in 1942 the U.S. and Mexico signed the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement, creating what is known as the “Bracero Program.” The program, which lasted until 1964, was the largest guest-worker program in U.S. history. Sugar beet field work was one of the many agricultural areas in which they were employed. The Mexican government actually prohibited its citizens from working in Wyoming after 1963. But a discussion of the Bracero program in Wyoming will have to be left to another post.
As I was talking to my Wyoming native husband about this blog, he told me of trips in the early 1980s that he took from Sheridan, where he was employed, to his hometown of Green River. As he drove through the Bighorn Basin, at times he would see groups of about 30 laborers hand working the beet fields. By the early 2000s, mechanization, chemical applications, and hardier cultivars such as Roundup Ready sugar beets led a lessened need for human hands in the fields. 95 years after its first processing campaign, the Torrington factory closed in 2018, although the Lovell and Worland facilities are still operating as cooperatives.
There is a lot more to say about the sugar beet industry in Wyoming and the American sugar industry in general. Information can be found in holdings at the American Heritage Center, including the papers of University of Wyoming History professor Larry Cardoso, Wyoming historian Grace Raymond Hebard, sugar economist Joshua Bernhardt, Denver businessman John E. Leet, and others.
Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.
Margaret (Mardy) and Olaus Murie were fiercely dedicated to protecting America’s most beautiful places and wildlife. The couple enriched the concept of conservation, all while experiencing the outdoors and enjoying the wildlife and beautiful scenery around them. The story of their lives and commitment to conservation inspires me, as a fish and wildlife management major, to carry on their love for animals and the environment into the future.
Mardy Thomas and Olaus Murie met in Fairbanks, Alaska. They were both avid outdoors people and had a great interest in backing conservation efforts with science. Olaus worked with the U.S. Biological Survey doing research in Alaska on caribou. Later he was in Wyoming, doing research on elk. Throughout the time that Mardy and Olaus were in Alaska, Mardy wrote an autobiography of their married life and their activities there.
Olaus was quite successful during his time in Jackson, Wyoming, and was asked to take a council seat for the Wilderness Society in 1937. He was the voice for wildlife, encouraging people to respect animals and give them the space they need to be free.
Olaus and Mardy educated others on the importance of having protected wild land both for the sake of the ecosystem and the wildlife that inhabits it. The effect of their knowledge and passion led to the creation of Grand Teton National Park; however, they didn’t stop there. In 1950, Olaus moved on to be the president for both the Wildlife Society and the Wilderness Society.
Mardy and Olaus visited Alaska often after they made their move to Wyoming. During one visit, the couple thought that turning the Brooks Range in Northern Alaska into a refuge would be beneficial for wildlife, the ecosystem, tourists and environmentalists alike. With the help of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, they set aside nearly 8 million acres of untouched land to be protected by the US government, and it became known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The rise of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sparked a new movement in America. Conservation began to become a more popular concept, and people were excited about it. Olaus’ and Mardy’s names became well known for the conservation work they were doing and the difference they were making for the wild lands they cared so much about.
In 1959, Olaus Murie earned the Audubon Medal for his continued work protecting America’s beautiful places. In addition, the Wilderness Act was signed by Congress with the help of Mardy and Olaus.
After Olaus passed in 1963, Mardy continued her conservation efforts. She took a position with the National Park Service to help initiate the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. She eventually earned the Audubon Medal in 1980, the John Muir Award in 1983, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998. She died in 2003 in Moose, Wyoming.
The work that Olaus and Mardy did to help conserve wild lands will always be appreciated by conservationists and environmentalists, and I hope to continue their legacy in the future. To learn more about the Murie Family, see the Murie Family Papers at the American Heritage Center.
Post contributed by AHC staff member Ashley Townsend.