Men of Mystery: Tom Horn, William A. Pinkerton, and Frank Canton

Tom Horn’s enduring reputation rests on the moment in 1903 when he was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming, for the murder of fourteen-year-old Willie Nickell. It was, in some ways, an ironic end, for Horn was not an “outlaw” like Jesse James or Butch Cassidy or any lesser-known thief. He took nothing from his victim. He was not a murderer with any personal motive. He had very slight acquaintance with Willie Nickell or any of his family and no personal quarrel with any of them. Tom Horn was hanged because his jury believed he was an assassin, a killer-for-hire.

Tom Horn braiding a rope in the Laramie County jail office in Cheyenne, 1902. Photo File: Horn, Tom, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

For most of his life, Tom Horn had been a lawman, or, at least, he had acted in the service of the law. He had been a civilian scout for the United States Army in Arizona in the 1880s. In 1890 he became an agent for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Pinkerton’s, founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton and carried on by his sons William and Robert, was a private detective agency with a wide reputation. Allan Pinkerton reported on assassination plots against President Abraham Lincoln and organized spies for General George McClellan during the Civil War. William Pinkerton developed a large clientele in the U.S. West, primarily among railroads and big business interests. The Pinkerton operation worked closely with government law enforcement but preferred to use undercover agents. “Rumors persisted that detectives secretly worked on both sides of the same case, kidnapped witnesses, bribed juries, [and] commonly used violence to break strikes and coerce confessions[.]”[1] As a result, the Pinkerton Agency’s reputation was somewhat mixed.

Horn remained less than five years with Pinkerton’s. However, he seems to have left on good terms with his employer. On April 12th, 1895, William Pinkerton recommended him to Frank M. Canton, undersheriff of Pawnee County, Oklahoma:

“Dear Sir:

I am in receipt of your very full and complete letter of April 7th and note contents. As we have not got the right kind of a man for this rough work out there, I have referred the matter to Supt. McParland at Denver, sending him copy of your letter. I was greatly pleased to hear from you and did not know of your change of place. I imagine that whoever goes out on this work will find it rather difficult to do and we have not got at this office available such a man as I feel satisfied would fill the bill in every particular.

Tom Horn who used to be with our Denver office would be a good man for the place, and I will ask McParland to communicate with him and see if he cannot be got for the service and for the length of time you want him. He is not in our service now. You probably know of him. He is well acquainted all through the western country among cattle rustlers and all that class of men, and is a thorough horseman and plainsman in every sense of the word. I note particularly that you want to get Jack Treganing [sic] who excaped [sic] from the Laramie penitentiary where you sent him for life and that he is down in that country. I should be very glad indeed to hear of his capture.

I trust Mr. McParland will be able to fit you out with the right kind of a man to go down there.”

Letter from William A. Pinkerton to Frank M. Canton recommending Tom Horn for a position. Letter housed at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Frank Canton, who received this letter, was another man with a checkered past. When he left Texas in 1877 his name was Josiah Horner, and he was considered a bank robber, cattle rustler, and killer. In Wyoming, though, Canton became a detective for the Wyoming Stock Gowers Association and a U.S. Deputy Marshal. In 1892 Canton was in charge of a contingent of Texas men imported to Wyoming to kill suspected rustlers in an extra-legal fiasco known as the Johnson County War.[2] Canton went on to law enforcement positions in Oklahoma and eventually became Adjutant General of the Oklahoma National Guard.

Frank Canton, ca. 1895. Photo File: Canton, Frank, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Canton apparently retained an interest in Wyoming. The escape of John Tregoning from the Wyoming Territorial Penitentiary on November 15, 1894, was, strictly speaking, no affair of an undersheriff in Oklahoma. Tregoning (going by the name of Smith) had shot and killed George Henderson (formerly known as John Powers), who was manager of the 71 Cattle Company on the Sweetwater River in Wyoming, on October 8, 1890 “in a dispute over employment.” Tregoning was believed to have returned to the Sweetwater area where he was assisted by friends.  He was never recaptured.[3]

It is not clear that Horn engaged in the search for Tregoning, but he was certainly in the Horse Creek area of southern Wyoming in the summer and fall of 1895, where, he later boasted, he had killed two men accused of stealing cattle.[4]  These murders, as much as the Nickell killing, established his reputation as an assassin.

Connections between these three ambiguous men, Tom Horn, William Pinkerton, and Frank Canton, are clearly shown by this letter, previously a part of the important Robert J. McCubbin Collection of Western historical materials. The William A. Pinkerton letter to Frank Canton about Tom Horn now resides in the collections of the American Heritage Center.

[1]Frank Richard Prassel, The Western Peace Officer: A Legacy of Law and Order (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1972), 134.

[2], accessed August 10, 2020;, accessed August 10, 2020.

[3] Elnora L. Frye, Atlas of Wyoming Outlaws at the Territorial Penitentiary (Laramie: Jelm Mountain Publications, 1990), 121; Alfred James Mokler, History of Natrona County, Wyoming, 1888-1922 (Chicago: R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company), 272-275.

[4] Larry D. Ball, Tom Horn in Life and Legend (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), 175-186.

  • Post contributed by D. Claudia Thompson, Supervisor, American Heritage Center Arrangement and Description Department.


Posted in outlaws, Uncategorized, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Searchlight Club: Elevating Cheyenne’s African American Women

August 26 marks the date in 1920 when American women were enfranchised equally with their male counterparts. Nonetheless, African American women continued facing barriers to voting for decades, as well as negative stereotypes, harassment, and unequal access to jobs, housing, and education. Black women banded together to form their own clubs and organizations where they could try to effect change and focus on issues they cared about.

One such organization was Cheyenne’s Searchlight Club. A Club president, Sudie Smith Rhone, explained the group’s purpose to a local reporter in 1969,

We the Negro women of the city of Cheyenne, feeling the need of a systematic effort along social, charitable and intellectual lines, in order to elevate our people, to help others as well as ourselves, organized the Searchlight Club.1

April 1969 article in which Sudie Smith Rhone explains the founding of the Searchlight Club. Mrs. Rhone was the mother of the State of Wyoming’s first African American legislator – Harriett Elizabeth Byrd. Box 10, Harriett Elizabeth Byrd papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The organization was formed on December 4, 1904, as a literary and service-based group and was the first women’s club in Cheyenne specifically for African American women. Its goal each year was to have a minimum of 20 members, and they maintained that membership goal through the years.2

The Searchlight Club provided an avenue for Cheyenne’s African American women to have intellectual discussions on social and cultural topics of interest to them. The women also formed friendships and supported the African American community. One of the projects they especially enjoyed was giving baskets of fruit and candy to the sick and shut-ins during the holidays. They prepared the baskets themselves and personally delivered them.3

The Searchlight Club also gave scholarships to students. For instance, along with the Cheyenne Women’s Club, the club contributed to the education of Marjorie Witt Johnson who was born in Cheyenne in 1910, the daughter of a Buffalo Soldier. Witt Johnson went on to earn a B.S. degree in social work from Oberlin College in 1935 and founded a Black dance company, the Karamu Dancers, that stole the show at the 1940s World Fair in New York.4

Some of the charter members of the Searchlight Club. Back row, l-r: Mrs. Hudie Crutchfield, Mrs. Claton Landers, Mrs. James Ward, Mrs. James Smith. Front row, l-r: Mrs. Ollie Reed, Mrs. Cordelia Mitchell, Mrs. DeMarge Tolliver. Source: History of Cheyenne, Wyoming, (Curtis Media Corp., 1989), p. 432.

Activities of the Club are described in briefs found in Cheyenne newspapers beginning in 1905. The ladies met at each other’s homes on Thursday evenings to hear presentations and discuss topics with titles such as “Music: Its Use in Churches, Homes, Schools and on Public Occasions,” “Are We as a People Less Devoted to Singing than the Europeans?” “Heredity vs. Environment,” “The Press: Its Recent Developments,” “Irrigation in the West,” “Egypt and Its Customs” as well as to talk about notable African Americans and even vacation experiences.

At times the Searchlight Club joined with Cheyenne’s Colored Civic League to host events, such as one held at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in May 1919 to honor Lieutenant J.R. Leonard, an African American who had recently fought with the American expeditionary forces in France.5

In 1921, after a massacre of Black residents and the destruction of their homes and businesses by whites in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma during the summer, members of the Searchlight Club issued a newspaper notice asking Cheyenne residents to donate clothing for the almost 10,000 African Americans who had been left homeless. 

Article dated September 27, 1921, placed by the Searchlight Club in the Wyoming State Tribune/Cheyenne State Leader asking for clothing donations for victims of racist killings and property destruction in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, from May 21 to June 1, 1921.

The Club participated in annual multi-day meetings held in June of the Federated Clubs of Colored Women of Colorado and Wyoming. At the 1909 convention in Cheyenne, “a most cordial invitation [was] extended to all race lovers and those interested in the race to attend the meetings…to see the rapid strides these women have made in forty years…”6 Governor B.B. Brooks welcomed the conventioneers to Cheyenne in an evening address that began the conference. The ladies discussed such topics as the overall importance of education, the role of higher education for Black women, and livelihoods for African American graduates in the West.

By 1926, Wyoming had formed its own State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Their first annual convention was held at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Casper on June 10, 1926. Casper Mayor John T. Scott welcomed the ladies to his town on the first evening. The Searchlight Club was represented by Fannie Butler and was one of nine organizations at that first convention. Other clubs represented were the Cheyenne-based groups of Needlecraft, the Cheyenne City Federation Reciprocity Club, American Beauty Ceramic, and the Young Matrons Culture Club; Casper-based groups were the Wyocolo Art and Literary Club, Juvenile Literary and Art, and the Mutual Uplift Club; and from Sheridan came the Joliet Art and Literary Club. Ollie Reed of Cheyenne was elected as the organization’s first president with Emma Sander (Casper) as vice president, Mrs. DeMarge Tolliver (Cheyenne) as recording secretary, Julia Newsome (Sheridan) as corresponding secretary, and Ethel Henderson (Casper) as chairman of the executive board.7

There was also a Searchlight Club in Rock Springs with both men and women members that was first mentioned in the Rock Springs Miner in January 1904 and, like the Cheyenne-based club, held discussions on topics of interest that included everything from socialism and race problems to Darwinism, discoveries in physics, and early aviation. The Rock Springs club frequently shared presentation and study topics with the Cheyenne group.

As of 1988, the Searchlight Club in Cheyenne was still active.8 If you have more information about the Searchlight Clubs in Wyoming, please let us know at the AHC.

Post by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


  • 2. Field, Sharon Lass (ed.), History of Cheyenne, Wyoming, Dallas, TX: Curtis Media Corp., 1989, p. 432.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 5. Cheyenne State Leader, May 01, 1919, p. 8.
  • 6. Cheyenne State Leader, June 29, 1909, p. 7.
  • 7. Casper Star-Tribune, June 10, 1926, p. 9.
  • 8. Field, 1989.
Posted in African American history, Uncategorized, Western history, Women -- suffrage, Wyoming, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Sharpshooter Annie Oakley Aimed at the High Mark

“Aim at a high mark and you will hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second, and maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting, for only practice will make you perfect. Finally you’ll hit the bull’s eye of success.” These wise words from Annie Oakley are as inspiring as she was herself. Annie Oakley is one of the most remembered female icons from the 19th century. Though she started with humble beginnings, her accomplishments and experiences paint a colorful history.  

Born August 13, 1860 in Darke County, Ohio, Annie got her start in shooting at a very young age. By age eight she began using a cap and ball Kentucky rifle that had belonged to her father. She not only shot game for her family to eat but was proficient enough that she sold surplus game to a local storekeeper.

At age 15, Annie performed in her first professional shooting match with a man named Frank Butler. The match was set up by her brother-in-law with Butler, who was a guest visiting his hotel. They each shot at 50 targets; Butler missed the final target and Annie scored a perfect 50. Roughly a year later in 1876, Annie and Frank were married.

Annie Oakley shooting over her shoulder as she appeared at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Annie Oakley Photo File, UW American Heritage Center.

Annie Oakley’s real name was Phoebe Ann Moses. Her sisters didn’t like the name, so they called her Annie. While visiting her sister and brother-in-law near Cincinnati, she spotted a section of the Ohio River called Hyde Park and Oakley. Susan M. Pajak wrote, “Phoebe Ann, who was called Annie by the family, very much liked the sound of ‘Oakley.’”[1]

When Frank’s show partner fell ill, Annie joined his show and began using the name “Annie Oakley.” She quickly became the star as her shooting ability outshone her husband’s.  As they traveled from town to town performing for local crowds, Frank would also set up matches between Annie and local champions. Annie almost always won, with Frank betting on her success. Soon Annie and Frank started joining wild west shows and circuses to display their talents. Although they had their start in small shows, they eventually joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in March 1884, where Annie soon became a celebrity.

E.B. Mann, in his article “Shooting’s Skirted Starlet” wrote, “When she became the protégé of Buffalo Bill Cody and Sitting Bull, when she shot before the crowned heads of Europe, when she was internationally famous and her name a byword in the language, these local triumphs would seem picayune and hardly more than amusing.”[2]

As her career progressed, her skills became world-renowned and she became known as “Little Miss Sure Shot.” Annie performed not only throughout the United States, but also toured in several European countries displaying her marksmanship for royalty such as Queen Victoria of England, the Sultan of Turkey, and the Grand Duke Michael of Russia to name a few.  

Annie Oakley shown on a tour through Italy. Annie Oakley Photo File, UW American Heritage Center.
Annie Oakley’s dressing room trunk she used on tour for seventeen years. Annie Oakley Photo File, UW American Heritage Center.

Even after two separate injuries that would have been crippling for most, Annie continued to beat the odds, shooting and performing well into her fifties. From 1915 to 1922, Annie managed the Pinehurst Gun Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina, and taught people of all ages how to shoot.

Photo taken in Annie’s later years when she taught shooting to children and adults as an employee of resort hotels in Pinehurst, N.C. Annie Oakley Photo File, UW American Heritage Center.

As a noted female icon, Annie was portrayed in multiple movies, television series, novels, and even a Broadway musical commemorating her life and career success.

One famous actress who played Annie Oakley was Barbara Stanwyck in the 1935 film Annie Oakley. The movie is based on the events of Annie’s life, although it takes liberties with details, especially with regard to Annie’s love-life.  

Cropped screenshot of Barbara Stanwyck from the trailer for the film Annie Oakley. Public domain image.

Annie Oakley is one of the most well-known women in American history, widely remembered for excelling in a male-dominated sport. A pioneer in her field, she was made famous by her own skills and determination to succeed. It can certainly be said that Annie Oakley aimed at a high mark and hit it.

[1] Susan M. Pajak, “Remembering One of America’s Heroines – Annie Oakley,” Pennsylvania Magazine (1996): 49.

[2] E.B. Mann, “Shooting’s Skirted Starlet,” GUNS Magazine (1966): 8.

– Post contributed by AHC Archives Aide Sarah Kesterson.


Posted in Hollywood history, Motion picture actors and actresses, popular culture, Uncategorized, Western history, women's history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

From Manhattan Project Scientist To Anti-Nuclear Crusader

Dr. Harrison Brown found ways to separate plutonium to devise the world’s first atomic weapons and then spent the rest of his life urging the abolition of those same deadly devices.

He was born in Sheridan, Wyoming, on September 26, 1917, the son of Harrison H. Brown (1880-1927), a rancher and cattle broker, and Agnes Scott Brown (1889-1963), a piano teacher and a professional organist. His father died when he was ten years old, and mother and son moved to San Francisco, where Mrs. Brown supplemented her income as a dental assistant by teaching music and playing piano for silent movies.

Trained as a chemist, Brown did undergraduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, and then earned a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The subject of his thesis, thermal diffusion of argon and construction of a spectrometer for isotope analysis led, in 1942, to an invitation by Manhattan Project chemist Glenn Seaborg to join him in the Metallurgical Laboratories at the University of Chicago. Brown joined the project and moved later with the research group to Clinton Engineer Works in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where he devised ways to produce plutonium. The techniques he helped develop were used to produce the plutonium used in the Fat Man bomb dropped on Nagasaki, 75 years ago on August 9, 1945.

Dr. Harrison S. Brown, ca. 1945. Photo courtesy Atomic Heritage Foundation.

After the two bombs were exploded and the war with Japan ended, Brown and other Manhattan Project scientists expressed their grave concern about the future. Although they had strong justifications for their involvement in the bomb project, they were powerfully committed to preventing further development and spread of nuclear devices. To that end, Brown joined the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists (ECAS), becoming its executive vice chairman alongside its chairman, Dr. Albert Einstein. The Committee was formed to aid the public’s understanding of atomic issues by raising and directing funds for public education. 

In this 1946 discussion, Dr. Harrison Brown states, “We all must realize that the very existence of the atomic bomb jeopardizes [man’s freedom] in all its aspects. The fundamental issue before us now, as I see it, is that at all costs we must prevent another war. Nothing must be permitted to divert our attention from that fact.” Box 1, Harrison S. Brown papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

By December 1945, Harrison had completed a 160-page book, Must Destruction Be Our Destiny? (Simon and Schuster, 1946), warning about the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons. His passion led him to give 102 lectures within three months throughout the United States. He used royalties from the book sales to support the work of ECAS, which later became a working committee within the Federation of American Scientists whose aims and efforts were directed to proper regulation of atomic power and weapons.

On February 27, 1950, the New York Times published an article titled “Ending of All Life by Bomb Foreseen” in which scientists ponder the central question of the Cold War, that of mutually assured destruction if the Soviet Union or the United States employ nuclear weapons. Box 1, Harrison S. Brown papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

He maintained his anti-nuclear posture for the rest of his life and at his death in 1986 was editor in chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a publication produced by many who had helped develop nuclear bombs but who had become adamant in their opposition to them.

Learn more about Dr. Harrison Brown’s career and activism in his papers at the American Heritage Center. His papers contain his publications including books and journal articles as well as correspondence, subject files, a scrapbook, and audiotapes of interviews with Brown.

  • Post by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener


Posted in Cold War, military history, Political history, Politics, Post World War II, Science, World War II | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Breathing New Life Into An Old Cinema Dinosaur

On June 2, 1983, 54 boxes of materials arrived at the Western History Research Center, now the American Heritage Center. It’s always exciting to open boxes of new materials to find out what surprises might be in store. So, those AHC archivists 37 years ago most likely were in turns delighted, puzzled, and concerned when one of the boxes revealed the rusted model of a dinosaur known as a triceratops whose stiffened foam body was shedding its “skin” onto every surface it touched.

The triceratops’ donor was Sam Peeples, a television script writer and author whose most common genre was westerns. He had been a regular collection donor to the AHC since 1958 and went on to contribute 567 boxes of his papers by the time of his death in 1997.

Author Samuel A. Peeples, 1976.
Photo of Sam Peeples for his book The Man Who Died Twice (1976).

Peeples was also a literary science fiction enthusiast who provided advice and reference material to his friend and colleague Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the original Star Trek television series. Peeples wrote for the series as well as other science fiction series.

The triceratops was first used in an uncompleted 1931 film titled Creation, which was a project of renowned stop action animator Willis O’Brien. RKO studio producer Merian C. Cooper dismissed Creation as boring, but was impressed with O’Brien’s work. Cooper hired O’Brien to create effects for his 1933 film King Kong. Dinosaur miniatures and armatures, even some footage, from Creation was salvaged and reused for King Kong.

Poster from the film King Kong (1933).
Poster from the 1933 film King Kong. Box 111, Forrest J Ackerman Collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Unfortunately for the triceratops, its scenes from King Kong were left on the cutting room floor, although the original Creation test footage can be found on the R1 King Kong DVD released by Time-Warner in 2005 and on YouTube.

It’s not known how the triceratops model came to be in Peeple’s possession. He may have purchased it, or it may have been given to him due to his love of science fiction. Once it arrived at the AHC, the triceratops found a comfortable, protective home in a dark archival box. It was again in the spotlight for a time as a display in the AHC’s Loggia where it helped tell the story of stop action animation technology.

Triceratops model on display at the UW American Heritage Center.
Triceratops on display at the American Heritage Center.

In 2020, 100 years after its creation, the sponge rubber and latex armature is finding new life as a set of 3D computerized images. The AHC seeks to make all of its collection material available to researchers, but the aging triceratops was simply too fragile to handle safely. After all, it wasn’t built for permanence. AHC’s Digital Archivist Rachel Gattermeyer and University Archivist Sara Davis joined with the team at UW’s Shell 3D Visualization Center to make a digital copy of the triceratops before any additional deterioration could happen, as well as to create a new way for researchers to interact with it. With the 3D scan rendering almost complete, viewers will soon be able to rotate the model, zoom in, and examine it in greater detail on a computer screen.

Sara and Rachel were interviewed by the Viz Center team to give some background and context to this fascinating collaborative project, resulting in this interesting visual. Take a look to find out more.

– Post by AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener from contributions by AHC archivists Rachel Gattermeyer and Sara Davis.

Much appreciation to the team at the University of Wyoming’s Shell 3D Visualization Center for their help in this project.


Posted in Animation, announcements, Authors and literature, behind the scenes, Collection donor, motion picture history | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wyoming’s Woodmen of the World

I’ve walked through Laramie’s Greenhill Cemetery many times over the years and have been curious about the headstones carved to look like tree stumps. I finally decided to do a little research. You may already know this, but each intricately carved tombstone indicates that the deceased was a member of the Woodmen of the World fraternal society.

As is the way nowadays, I googled to find out more. I came across an interesting descriptive article from 2016 about fraternal orders, particularly the Woodmen organization, by Lisa Hix of the Houston Chronicle. I’ve excerpted from the article below.

Death was everywhere in 19th-century America: Fatal injuries, disease epidemics, and the Civil War made families acutely aware of mortality. For women and children, the death of a husband and father could tumble them into poverty. Only the wealthiest Americans bought private life insurance. Women were not allowed to take out policies on their husbands, and if the husband bought the policy on himself, the money wouldn’t be protected from creditors. 

And then, grieving families faced another layer of shame. In 19th-century America, taking charity was perceived as weakness. The thinking was, if a lack of industriousness made you destitute, well, then you got what you deserved. 

However, the middle and working classes did have a workaround. Men could join secretive clubs like the Freemasons and Oddfellows that provided networking, entertainment, and a moral education. If a man proved himself to be hardworking and of good character through his initiation trials, his social standing meant his family could quietly receive financial support from the lodge without the stigma of accepting charity.

Newspaper posting showing a note of thanks to Woodmen of the World for a $3,000 insurance payout in 1897 to a Laramie widow.
Permelia Roberts, the widow of Laramie resident John S. Roberts, received $3,000 in benefits from the Woodmen of the World organization after the death of her husband in 1897. Today this would be about $85,000. Article from the Laramie Boomerang, May 21, 1897.

After the devastating Civil War, well-established fraternal orders began to formalize their benefits into insurance subsidiaries. New secret societies known as “mutual beneficiary societies,” created with the explicit purpose of offering life insurance policies, sprang up around the U.S. Largely excluded from the original fraternal orders, women and African Americans even launched their own aid societies. Still, to join any fraternal order and receive its insurance benefits, you had to prove that you were no slouch — a hard worker with high morals such as thrift, self-reliance, discipline, and generosity. 

Parade float in Laramie in 1926 for Camp 2838 of the Royal Neighbors of America, an insurance society founded by women to benefit other women.
Royal Neighbors of America was founded by women in 1895 and was one of the first to offer life insurance to women. Shown is a parade float from 1926 for Camp 2838 of Laramie.
Box 8, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, American Heritage Center,University of Wyoming. 
(I see another blog post in my future. I have to find out more about the RNA.)

But fraternal orders weren’t all about restraint. Before the days of TV, radio, or fantasy football, fraternal lodges offered plays, rituals, and camaraderie, and allowed men to let loose, which kept members coming back for more. The clout of being an insider and the endless pursuit of mystical, esoteric knowledge ensured that men would make their insurance payments for decades to come.  The Woodmen came late to the party—incorporating in 1883 as the Modern Woodmen of America—but their leaders’ entrepreneurial innovations breathed new life into the fraternal insurance game. Founder Joseph Cullen Root, a Lyons, Iowa, businessman, seized the opportunity to create his own fraternal order when the mutual aid society Knights of Honor, which almost went under due to the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic, was selling its local lodge. 

To avoid a similar financial pitfall, Root made fitness a requirement to join his order, recruiting rural young men from the “healthiest states,” which meant those outside industrial New England. In the Woodmen, he fused Christian philosophy and pioneer values with ancient agricultural rites. “At that time, Root’s thought was that a cleared conscience and a cleared forest were synonymous,” says Bruce Lee Webb, who co-authored the 2015 book, As Above, So Below: Art of the American Fraternal Society with Lynne Adele. “The axe is an instrument that clears the forest but is also useful for constructing buildings and making progress.”

Musical band of Pilot Camp No. 46 of Woodmen of the World, 1917.
Band of Laramie’s Pilot Camp No. 46 of Woodmen of the World, 1917.
Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Box 33B, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

After an internal dispute with the other Modern Woodmen of America leaders, Root left the organization in 1890 and moved to Omaha to form a nearly identical “speculative woodcraft” order: Woodmen of the World. One of his innovations was to provide free tombstones—Root believed passionately that no member of his order should be buried in an unmarked grave. So, for 10 years, the Woodmen gave its members grave markers in the shape of tree stumps, inspired by the Victorian Rustic movement. (For another two decades, the members put down $100 apiece to reserve theirs.)

At a Woodman’s funeral, his personalized 4- to 5-foot tall tree stump headstone would be revealed in an elaborate ritual. The local stone carver, who might alter the pattern, would add embellishments reflecting the Woodman’s personality, such as axes and doves. 

Laramie wasn’t the only Wyoming town with a Woodmen chapter. A search in the Wyoming State Library’s digitized newspaper database “Wyoming Newspapers” reveals that there were Woodmen camps in Douglas, Rawlins, Sheridan, Green River, Newcastle, Casper, Grand Encampment, Big Piney, and most likely other towns I may have missed.

Woodmen of the World exists today as WoodmenLife (officially Woodmen of the World Life Insurance Society) and is still based in Omaha, Nebraska.

By the way, if you’re looking for images related to fraternal orders in Southeastern Wyoming, a great resource is the Ludwig & Svenson Photographic Collection at the American Heritage Center.

– Post contributed by AHC Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in community collections, Laramie, Local history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Digital Preservation 101: Demystifying the Digital

Have you ever wondered about what happens to the digital files that get donated to the American Heritage Center? Or what happens with files that were created on software that no longer exists? Can the AHC deal with 5” floppy disks and ZIP disks? What about email and websites?

A trip to the Born Digital unit reveals a trove of equipment and software that lets the AHC care for digital files – whether common or obscure. Among its assortment of hardware are drives and players that read both 3” and 5” floppy disks, Zip disks, Blu Rays, SATA and HDD internal computer hard drives, and DAT tapes. Its collection of software programs likewise opens a wide variety of files from the defunct – ClarisWorks and Lotus Word Pro – to the popular – Photoshop and Word – to the emerging – Microsoft Outlook email and WARC website files.

Assortment of obsolete and current storage media for digital files including floppy disks, Zip drives, CDs, and flash drives. Files on these disks are transferred to readable formats by the American Heritage Center's Born Digital unit.
Assortment of obsolete and current media that the AHC’s Born Digital unit handles on a daily basis.

In a strange sense, digital files are very fragile. It might not seem that way given how widespread they are, but it’s very easy to accidentally delete a file or make an unintended edit. It’s also not uncommon for a computer to make an error and corrupt a file so that you can’t open it, or the font suddenly looks like Wingdings characters – ehimrtvyz.. It’s the responsibility of the Born Digital unit to protect the digital files in the archive so that researchers can read them, be inspired, and make discoveries now and far into the future.

What steps does the Born Digital unit take to preserve digital files?


Computer errors can come up when you transfer files between folders or across devices. To prevent this, the Born Digital unit checks the digital fingerprints of each file that gets transferred from a disk, like a CD or a flash drive, and put onto the workstation computer. If the fingerprint remains the same after the transfer, all is good. If the fingerprint is different, the digital archivist will investigate what went wrong and fix it.


Digital files have a lot of metadata. Simply put, metadata is data about data. It tells us who created a file, when it was created, what software it was created on, how big it is, and so on. This information gives archivists clues about how to preserve it, as well as context into how one file might connect to a second file within a folder. The Born Digital unit collects this metadata and organizes it to prepare the file for researcher access.

Current and outmoded computers in the stock of equipment held in the American Heritage Center's Born Digital unit.
Do these look familiar? The AHC keeps a trove of current and outmoded equipment in order to ingest born digital files and then transfer them to formats readable by today’s researcher.


Files need to be in a stable format that can be opened twenty plus years into the future. This means migrating old or obscure formats from their original type to one that is very commonly used or open source. Open source means that the software code is openly available and if it becomes necessary, software developers can look at the code to recreate a way to read the file. In practice, this means converting an old .doc file into a .pdf. Microsoft may let you open a .doc file on Word now, but it’s an old format and it’s very probable that the company will no longer support it at some time in the future.

At this point, files get renamed as well. Renaming involves replacing spaces and special characters, like an ampersand or an asterisk, with safe characters, like an underscore or a dash. Some special characters or sequences of special characters mean a specific thing to a computer. By replacing them with safe characters, we remove the potential risk of a computer misreading a file.

American Heritage Center Digital Archivist Rachel Gattermeyer preserving a born digital file.
AHC Digital Archivist Rachel Gattermeyer preserving born digital files for research use.


Sometimes a file won’t open or tell you what kind of format it is. Sometimes you have a corrupted file and you want to dig around for clues to see if you can open any part of it. In these cases, digital forensics tools are used to take a deeper, computer-level look at a file.

Storage and Maintenance

Once a file is stable and renamed, and all the metadata is collected, it gets saved into three identical copies that have the same digital fingerprint. The three copies act as backups in case one of the files gets deleted or accidentally altered.

It might seem at this point that everything is finished and there is no more work to be done. This is not so. Digital files require ongoing maintenance. The files’ digital fingerprints need to be continually checked to show that they haven’t been corrupted or changed. File formats might need to be converted as software versions are updated or as companies go out of business. The servers or hard drives where the three copies are stored need to be replaced every 5-7 years before they die or crash. The care for digital files is an ongoing task.

The AHC works hard to makes sure that digital files are ready for you now and far into the future. Ask us how you can access our many exciting digital collections. To learn more about digital preservation, contact the AHC’s Digital Archivist Rachel Gattermeyer at

– Post contributed by Rachel Gattermeyer.


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Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher Leads at World War II’s Battle of Midway

The Battle of Midway occurred June 3 to June 7, 1942 – six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of Japan’s main goals during World War II was to remove the United States as a Pacific Power in order to gain territory in East Asia and the southwest Pacific Islands.[i] 

Unlike Pearl Harbor, the Americans were aware of Japan’s attack plan at Midway as U.S. Navy crypto analysts had begun breaking Japanese communication codes early in 1942.[ii]

Map indicating military action at the Battle of Midway.

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, the commander in chief of the U.S. Navy Fleet, had time to plan his defense and put Adm. Raymond A. Spruance as commander of Task force 16, including carriers Hornet and Enterprise, and Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher as commander of Task Force 17, including the carrier Yorktown. A month prior, in the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Yorktown suffered damages, but fortunately was repaired in a few days instead of a couple of months as anticipated and was able to join the fleet. 

First photo of the Battle of Midway showing a Japanese heavy cruiser after having been bombed by U.S. carrier aircraft, official U.S. Army photograph. Box 2, Frank Jack Fletcher papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In the morning of June 4, Spruance’s Task Force 16 was about 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Fletcher and Task Force 17, placing it closer to the Japanese fleet. Fletcher ordered Spruance to sail southwest and engage the enemy. [iii]

There had always been some confusion about who was in command, but Fletcher explained to Samuel Eliot Morison, official Navy historian and writer of History of the United States Naval Operations in World War II [iv], that arriving at Midway on the eve of the battle, although he was in overall command, he gave Spruance command of his two task forces. Fletcher said lack of time for preparation and organization brought him to make that decision. Later, Fletcher again put Spruance in command when the USS Yorktown was hit by planes from the Hiryu and a pair of torpedoes brought the Yorktown to a stop.[v]

Fire on the USS Yorktown, official U.S. Navy Photograph. Box 2, Frank Jack Fletcher papers,
American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The credit is often given to Spruance for the victory at Midway as he was in command at the end of the battle, but Admiral Fletcher was in command when the first three Japanese carriers were sunk, and it was Yorktown‘s VB-3, the Dauntless dive-bomber squadron that would sink the Akagi and the Soryu.[vi]

No matter Fletcher’s change of flagship to the Astoria, the Yorktown destroyed, and Spruance in command at the end of the battle, Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher played a key role in the victory over Japan. The U.S. Navy’s decisive victory in the air-sea battle and its successful defense of the major base located at Midway Island dashed Japan’s hopes of neutralizing the United States as a naval power and effectively turned the tide of World War II in the Pacific. [vii]

  • Letter from Samuel Eliot Morison asking Fletcher to clarify who was in command. Box 1, Frank Jack Fletcher papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

To learn more about Admiral Fletcher’s naval career, see the Frank Jack Fletcher papers at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Commendation from President Harry S. Truman to Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. Box 1, Frank Jack Fletcher papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

[i] “The Battle of Midway.” The National WWII Museum, Accessed May 7 2020.

[ii] “Battle of Midway.” History, Accessed 19 May 2020.

[iii] “Battle of Midway.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Accessed May 19, 2020

[iv] Morison, Samuel Eliot, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II

[v] “Battle of Midway.” Encyclopaedia Britannica.

[vi] Rickard, J (14 May 2008), Admiral Frank Jack “Black Jack” Fletcher, 1885-1973,

[vii] “Battle of Midway.” History.

Post contributed by AHC Processing Archivist Alexandra Cardin.


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Saying Goodbye to AHC Friend Hugh Downs

Radio and television broadcaster, announcer, television host, news anchor, TV producer, author, game show host, music composer, and AHC friend Hugh Downs died at his home in Scottsdale on July 1, 2020. He was 99.

Hugh was one of the few television personalities who remembered the medium’s earliest days in the 1950s. By that time, he was already a radio veteran. His smooth baritone voice was heard on TV shows like Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Sid Caesar’s Caesar’s Hour and, most notably, The Tonight Show where he was Jack Paar’s co-host. During those years he was also host of the popular daytime game show Concentration, a job he held from 1958 until 1969.

Although it meant double duty, he could not pass up the opportunity in 1962 to host NBC’s Today Show, which he performed ably until 1971. It was his most high-profile and prestigious assignment to date, one that established him as not only an announcer but a respected journalist. He then went on from 1975 to 1976 to co-host Not for Women Only with a young Barbara Walters, whose career he championed.

Hugh Downs standing next to an NBC TV van, ca. 1962.
A young Hugh Downs on the job as NBC Today Show anchor, ca. 1962. Box 196, Hugh Downs papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Later, while hosting Over Easy, a PBS TV program about aging that aired from 1977 to 1983, he earned a postgraduate degree in gerontology from Hunter College.

He became most known in later years as the Emmy Award-winning co-anchor, again paired with Barbara Walters, of the ABC TV show 20/20, a prime time news magazine program, from the show’s second episode in 1978 until his retirement in 1999.

His strong work ethic may have come from his childhood when his father Milton, a Lima, Ohio, machinist and battery salesman, lost work during the Depression, forcing Hugh to drop out of college after his first year to help support his family. He was hired as an announcer at WLOK, a radio station located not far from the family farm, for $12.50 a week. Within a year he was promoted to program director at twice the salary. He then moved on to Chicago where he joined the NBC radio network at WMAQ as an announcer, where he stayed until 1954.

He married Ruth Shaheen in 1944 during World War II, a time that saw her decorated by Naval Intelligence for her work on an undercover assignment. She graduated from college, moved to Chicago, and became a radio actress, as well as a director and producer. One of her employees was young Hugh Downs. The two fell in love and married, a union that lasted 75 years until her death in 2017. Their children are Deirdre and H.R.

Son H.R., Hugh, daughter Deirdre, and wife Ruth cutting a rug in the family’s living room, ca. 1960. Hugh was a talented musician and a published composer. Box 195, Hugh Downs papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In an AHC introductory video Hugh narrated in 1993, he explained why he donated his papers to the Center:

Several years ago, I was asked to place my letters, photographs, manuscripts at the American Heritage Center. My staff said, ‘Well, you ought to look at some other archives. There are a lot of them and leave your papers with the best one.’ Well, I said, ‘Research it.’ And they did and they came back to me and said that first one was the best choice—the American Heritage Center. That’s where my collection is placed.

In the same video, he noted that he kept track of the AHC. And, indeed he did. He served on the AHC’s Board of Advisors from 2008 to 2010 during a time of great growth of the Center marked by the establishment of upgraded acquisition policies and a resurgence in public programming.

Hugh Downs was kind enough to narrate an overview video of the American Heritage Center in 1993.

His papers give an excellent overview of all aspects of the public life he led. There are extensive general correspondence files, files about his public appearances, and photographs and audiovisual materials that document his multi-faceted career.

The American Heritage Center has been fortunate to call Hugh not only a donor of materials related to his legendary career, but also a good and gracious friend. Rest in peace, dear friend.

Post submitted by the AHC’s Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


Posted in announcements, Collection donor, Composers, Current events, found in the archive, Hollywood history, Journalism, Obituaries, radio history, television history, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Celebrating LGBTQ Pride: The S.J. Moffat Collection

While Pride celebrations have changed to accommodate pandemic restrictions in June 2020, we are highlighting the AHC’s “Out West in the Rockies” LGBT collections. “Out West in the Rockies” seeks to preserve and highlight narratives of LGBTQ people and communities from the Rocky Mountain West.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this month that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity. Title VII’s new protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender employees are an important legal victory for civil rights.

Shannon Moffat, known professionally as S. J. Moffat, was not able to witness this milestone. Born as Samuel in 1927, she moved with her mother to New York in 1930 after her parents’ separation. Moffat graduated from high school in 1945 and decided to enlist in the Navy, becoming an electronics technician and later attending the U.S. Naval Academy. After her military service, she attended Amherst College and became engaged to Mary Kirkpatrick. The couple married in August 1950.

Shannon Moffat as a U.S. Navy ensign, 1953. Box 14, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Shannon as a young Navy ensign in 1953. Box 14, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Shannon worked as an assistant science editor for the publisher Henry Holt and Company after graduating from Amherst in 1950, until 1952. During this time, she also served in the U.S. Coast Guard. Mary gave birth to their first son Bruce in 1953, and the family moved to Palo Alto, California, in 1954 where Shannon worked as a reporter. Their second son Bennet (Ben) was born in 1956, and their third child arrived stillborn the following year.

Shannon Moffat during her time as a reporter for the Palo Alto [California] Times, ca. 1955. American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
Shannon during her time as a reporter for the Palo Alto Times, ca. 1955. Box 14, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Shannon expressed great love for her sons, proudly writing in her diary of Bruce’s first steps in 1954. Her need for mental and physical affection became tiresome for Mary, and the couple grew distant from each other, eventually separating and divorcing in 1962. In a diary entry from February 4 that year Shannon wrote, “I had not been given much love as a boy [and] I want it most urgently now.”

Shannon had first worn a dress three years earlier. It likely belonged to her mother or her aunt Mildred. Shannon wrote of the experience, describing her emotions flickering from “compulsive desire to erotic high to anxiety about putting it back in the box to avoid discovery.” She cross-dressed at home and at first feared being discovered. She would marry Kay Cranston in 1966, and over the next two decades, work to become comfortable with purchasing and presenting herself in feminine clothing. Shannon realized her identity as female and began gender affirmation procedures in 1981.

Transitioning in her 50s, she continued her career as a freelance technical and medical writer working for private businesses and universities, including the University of Wyoming. She had donated much of her research and publication material to the AHC. The S.J. Moffat collection, totaling 86 boxes, also contains personal diaries before and after her transition which offer her perspective of how gender transition was perceived and presented in the 1970s and 80s. Shannon passed away peacefully in January 2009 at her home in Palo Alto.

Shannon Moffat in a formal portrait with a fur stole, ca. 1980. Photo courtesy of her son Ben Moffat.
Shannon in a formal portrait, ca. 1980. Photo courtesy Ben Moffat.

For additional insight into her transition, researchers can look in her collection for a file about Jan Morris, a transgender author and British soldier in the Second World War. Her collection also mentions the Venus Castina, a book from 1928 about famous female impersonators throughout history, celestial and human. A copy of Venus Castina is also available in the AHC’s Toppan Rare Books Library.

Shannon Moffat with her son Ben Moffat, 2006. Photo courtesy of  Ben Moffat.
Shannon with her son Ben, 2006. Photo courtesy Ben Moffat.
Shannon's signature soon after her transition reading, "Shannon (formerly Sam)." Box 25, S.J. Moffat papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

– Contributed by Morgan Walsh, AHC Archives Aide


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