The Good Kind of Desert Dust

If you’ve spent any time driving through Wyoming, you’ve probably seen huge herds of wild horses on the roadside. These beautiful animals are an icon of the American West, and Frank “Wild Horse” Robbins spent his whole life working with and protecting wild horses. Frank Robbins was born near Box Elder Creek near Glenrock, Wyoming on November 7, 1894. He was a rancher and a cowboy his whole life. For a time, he even broke horses for the Army’s Remount Service during World War I. In 1935, after his time working for the Army, he moved back to Glenrock and began catching wild horses. He mainly worked out of the Red Desert, which is between Rawlins and Rock Springs, Wyoming.

Frank Robbins on his ranch near Glenrock.
Envelope 1, Frank Robbins papers, Collection No. 10496, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In March of 1943, the U.S. Grazing Service (today called the Bureau of Land Management) held a meeting to discuss reducing the population of wild horses on federal ranges in Wyoming. At that time, an estimated 100,000 wild horses lived on this land. Robbins attended this meeting and presented a plan to gather the wild horses and put them to use instead of just getting rid of them.

Robbins created “horse traps” (corrals constructed a certain way to prevent horses from escaping them) all over the Red Desert. After a few attempts at gathering wild horses had been disrupted by a mail plane flying overhead, he began to gather horses more efficiently by herding the horses with small planes. He captured an estimated 30,000 horses which were either sold as rodeo stock or sent to Europe to supply meat during World War II. Robbins would also take the best roan and buckskin mares back to his ranch near Glenrock and breed them with American Quarter Horses to create a breed called “Robbins Roans.”

Wild horses being corralled during a Robbins’ round up.
Box 1, Andrew Springs Gillespie papers, Collection No. 175, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

On a July morning in 1945, Robbins caught a wild palomino stallion which he later named “Desert Dust.” Verne Wood, a Rawlins photographer, happened to be riding along with Robbins on the day Desert Dust was captured. He took a photo of the stallion that soon became one of the most famous wildlife photos of the American West.

Desert Dust.
Box 714, James L. Eherberger papers, Collection No. 10674, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Verne Wood hand-tinted the photo and distributed several copies, including one to the Cheyenne Capitol building and one to Senator Joseph C. O’Mahoney’s office. The photo caught the attention of newspapers and magazines across the United States, and even the attention of Hollywood. In 1946, Universal Studios created an Oscar-nominated short film called “Fight of the Wild Stallions” which featured Robbins, Desert Dust, and Robbins’ method of using airplanes for wild horse gathering. Robbins even used the photo to promote his own “Robbins Wild Horse Rodeos,” which were held each year around July 4 at his ranch and used horses Robbins had gathered.

Desert Dust in action, Robbin’s Rodeo – July 4-5, 1947.
Box 1, Andrew Springs Gillespie papers, Collection No. 175, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

In the end, Desert Dust’s fame attracted the wrong sort of attention. In 1952, Desert Dust was killed in a drive-by shooting. The killer was never caught. Frank Robbins passed away on July 5, 1984, and was inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame in 2016. Even though Robbins and Desert Dust aren’t around anymore, you can still see their impact on today’s world. The corrals and rock formations Robbins used to capture wild horses, Desert Dust included, are still standing near Wamsutter, Wyoming. Desert Dust and Robbins’ work with wild horses also helped inspire the passage of the Wild Horse Protection Act of 1959 and later, the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Both of these acts protect wild horses in the West.

Post contributed by Archives Aide Sarah Kesterson, AHC Reference Department.


Posted in Agricultural history, Rodeo history, Western history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being Lothar Kolbig

I want to be like Lothar Kolbig when I grow up, to have as many adventures around the world as he did. It is quite apparent that the overarching theme of his life was seasoned by a spirit of wanderlust and encouraging other to join in the excitement.

Lothar Kolbig of the Chicago Mountaineering Club scales Sentinel Rock in Palisades Sate Park at Savanna, Ill, ca. 1940.
Lothar Kolbig papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Lothar was a mountaineer and a noted whitewater rafter; the inventor the Corner-Paddle Modification, for paddles used in whitewater rafting today.

He was on the executive committee of the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club in the early 1960’s, and founded the Chicago Mountaineering Club, serving as their president in the 1940’s and 1950’s. To honor his work, a rock climbing area is named after him at Devils Lake in Wisconsin – considered by some of the finest rock in the Midwest for climbing.

Kolbig admiring the view of the Swiss Alps, undated photo.
Lothar Kolbig papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

His list of travel accomplishments are legendary. He documented his adventures in film, journals and travel logs from the 1930’s thru the 1970’s. Lothar chronicled his many back packing trips in Canada, Colorado, and Wyoming; whitewater rafting down rivers in Canada, California, and Peru; mountain climbing in Alaska, Africa, Afghanistan, the Alps, the Canadian Rockies, the High Sierras, India, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Tibet.

Kolbig in a sea kayak, ca. 1930.
Lothar Kolbig papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Having poured over his archived files at the American Heritage Center, I felt like a sleuth following the footsteps of his life. In my opinion, Lothar seemed to overindulge in everything he found adventurous, but not with reckless abandon, rather he applied a thoughtful scholarly astuteness to his exploits, carefully researching everything he could know about where he planned to travel. I suspect he wanted to make sure that no time was wasted and everyday could be enjoyed to it fill. With mindfulness he documented his adventures, to revisit and share with others later, and perhaps to encourage others to set out on their own escapades.

Kolbig’s Swiss Alpine Club climbing permit to climb the Matterhorn.
Lothar Kolbig papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Post contributed by AHC Senior Office Associate Matthew Troyanek


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The Tour de Fleece and Wyoming Wool!

The annual international Tour de Fleece is underway! Yes, the bike race the Tour de France is also underway, but this is the Tour de Fleece! Spinners (on spinning wheels, e-spinners and drop spindles) from around the world gather virtually to spin fiber daily, concurrently with the international bike race, the Tour de France.

Star Athena is credited with starting the first Tour de Fleece. She explained, “The Tour de Fleece is an online spin-along for everyone who loves to spin yarn and play with fiber! It’s an opportunity to challenge yourself while connecting with other spinners and having fun too… I started the first Tour in 2006 by spinning yarn along with the Tour de France. The concept was simple: they spin, we spin….  In 2006 we started out with just 16 spinners, though we had a lot of fun…..Currently, we’re beyond 10,000 participants.”   

So, while cycling history, the Tour De France, and the history of spinning and spinning wheels are not collecting strengths of the American Heritage Center, spinners frequently spin wool fiber, and you can learn about the business of wool in our collections!

The first sheep in Wyoming passed over the emigrant trails on their way to Utah and California. The first permanent flocks were probably established near Fort Bridger in 1846-1847.

Sketch of a ewe from box 28 of the B. C. Buffum papers at the American Heritage Center. Buffum joined the University of Wyoming as an agriculture professor in 1891 and went on to lead UW’s agricultural experiment stations throughout the state.

Sheep ranching as an industry truly began in Wyoming along the line of the Union Pacific Railroad in the late 1860s. Growth of the industry in central and northern Wyoming was delayed until railroads penetrated into these areas, because lack of transportation facilities prevented ranchers from moving their products to market.

AHC collections related to wool and sheep are broad and include organizational records, private company/ranch records, and the University of Wyoming’s Wool Department/Experiment Stations. Just a few samples are below. 

The Wyoming Wool Grower’s Association was founded in Cheyenne on April 11, 1905. Its purpose was to create an effective lobby in Washington to re-establish a wool tariff, to permit sheep grazing in the Forest Reserve, to control transportation rates, to eradicate predators, and to prosecute raiders.

The King Brothers Company was founded in 1892 in Albany County, Wyoming, by brothers Francis S., Herbert J., and Joseph S. King. The Kings specialized in breeding and raising purebred and registered Corriedale and Rambouillet sheep and won numerous prizes and honors for their wool.

Wool workers on wool bales at the King Brothers Ranch.
Photo File: Ranch-King Brothers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The William Daley enterprise was primarily a sheep ranch in Carbon County, Wyoming. The ranch was founded by William Daley. The ranch was managed by William Webster Daleys son, Perce Edward Daley. The company was active from 1886 to 1953.

The University of Wyoming College of Agriculture began to study sheep and wool in 1907 after passage of the Adams Act, which provided funding of $5000 per year for land-grant universities for sheep and wool research. The Wool Department was established in 1913 and conducted research, training, and experiments on sheep and wool in cooperation with the Agricultural Experiment Station before being merged with the Animal Science Department in 1955.

Sheep on experimental farm in 1901.
Box 6, B. C. Buffum Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

The AHC wool collection go beyond Wyoming, too.

The National Wool Growers Association (U.S.) was established in 1865, and was the first national livestock organization in the United States. The collection contains records of the National Wool Growers Association, as well as some for related and affiliated organizations such as the American Wool Council and other industrial and state organizations concerning livestock.

The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) was a national organization that represented and defended the interests of the sheep and wool industries. It was established in 1989 by a merger between the American Sheep Producers Council (founded 1955) and the National Wool Growers Association (founded 1865).

3,000 sheep crossing Platte River at Alcova, Wyoming.
Box 1, Joseph E. Stimson collection, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

So, there is much to explore at the American Heritage Center. While the Tour de Fleece officially runs from June 26 to July 18 this year, AHC collections are available for research year-round! Please visit and follow “The Catalogs” title to get started with your research. The Reference department is always available to assist with research as well. Please contact us or 307-766-3756.   

For those of you participating in the Tour de Fleece this year: Happy Spinning from the AHC!

Post contributed by AHC Archivist and Reference Department Supervisor Ginny Kilander.

#always archiving

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65 Years Ago: Ellis Armstrong and America’s Interstate Highway System

Described as the largest public works project in the history of the world, the monumental Federal-Aid Highway Act that finally made possible the building of a planned super highway system was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 29, 1956.

This map shows the National System of Interstate Highways. Note the original plan shows Denver as the I-70 terminus. Additional mileage was later added to the system, which allowed I-70 to continue west to I-15 in Utah. Box 112, Folder 1, Ellis Armstrong Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Wyoming was eager to begin construction on its 914 miles of Interstate. Soon after the federal highway act was passed, the Wyoming Highway Commission approved its first highway project, and construction commenced in September 1956 on a 13-mile section of I-25 north of Cheyenne between the U.S. 85 Exit (Torrington Highway) and Whitaker Road. This was one of thousands of sections of Interstate to be constructed across the nation.

The 1956 highway act expanded the national Interstate Highway System to 41,000 miles. Overseeing such a massive and coordinated building project would require the efforts of many individuals, including Commissioner of Public Roads Ellis Armstrong. Armstrong, who donated a large set of his professional papers to the American Heritage Center, was one of only four individuals to hold the position of Commissioner of Public Roads. The commissioner was the executive director of day-to-day operations within the Bureau of Public Roads. Thomas MacDonald (1939-1953), Francis du Pont (1953-1955), and Charles Curtiss (1955-1957) previously held this position. Armstrong was the last to hold the position.

Though the position that Armstrong held from 1958-1961 was abolished when a change in organization occurred in the Federal Highway Administration in October 1961, Armstrong left the position in March to become the president of the Better Highways Information Foundation. This organization was dedicated to public information with the goal of promoting the highway program across the nation with a focus on active state and local support for highway development.

Ellis Armstrong, November 1969.
Box 2, Newcomb B. Bennett Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Ellis Leroy Armstrong was born in Cedar City, Utah, on May 30, 1914. He remembers the days in the rural West where automobiles and improved roads were rare. In a March 8, 1961 address to the Fourth Annual Highway Conference, Armstrong said, “As a youngster, I remember our mode of transportation was the wagon and the old white-top buggy and that we’d clop, clop, clop to town every week or so for necessities.” He set that in contrast to the reality that came with the automobile and the national roads system of the 1950s and early 1960s, stating. “Summer before last, my family and I took a 6,000 mile trip across America during our two-week summer vacation.” He went on to describe this incredible evolution in transportation:

“The changes that are occurring are not the slow, comfortable changes of the past, but are sudden, and rapid, and often they are violent. And they are affecting everybody, everywhere in this world of ours grown small.”

He described the effort to transition as an, “accelerated highway program (that) is an attempt to catch up with the needs of our present automotive society. We got way behind during the War, when highways were expendable and expended and unfortunately, no one quite appreciated beforehand the highway problems created by the more and more and more cars that flooded our highways when civilian operations resumed following the War.”

The major response to this challenge was the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act. Armstrong said of the act,

“After extensive investigations, studies, deliberations, and review, the (highway act) launched the world’s greatest public works construction program to catch up with our needs.” He then went on to describe how the nation must view this massive program: “This is a program that requires a broad perspective to appreciate. Planning, designing, and construction of highways has become complex. Highway building and operation has become (one of the) biggest single operations of State governments.”

From “Proceedings of the Fourth Annual Highway Conference,” Box 110, Folder 4, Ellis Armstrong Papers.

In his leadership role with the Better Highways Information Foundation, he described the activities of the organization, which included, in part, ensuring that each state had at least one good-roads organization to disseminate information; working closely with each state highway department offering information that could be used in press releases, speeches, and radio spots; and traveling around the nation speaking at major conventions and to regional groups.

Armstrong was described as, “one of a vanishing breed that believes an engineer is a public servant” (January 3, 1988 Denver Post newspaper clipping, Ellis Armstrong Biographical File.) Armstrong lived to see the completion of the entire Wyoming Interstate System and the majority of the Interstate Highway Project across the nation. After a long career that also included serving as Director of the Utah Highway Department and as the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, Ellis Armstrong passed away at his home in Utah on January 26, 2001.

In Wyoming, the majority of the 403-mile-long I-80 was completed on October 4, 1970, when the Laramie-Rawlins section opened. The final link, a nine-mile section east of Cheyenne to Archer opened on May 4, 1977. The 301-mile I-25 was completed on February 2, 1982, when a section near Kaycee was completed.

Completed sections of I-80, shown in red, in 1966, in the southeast corner of the state.
Source: 1966 Official Wyoming Highway Map.
Completed sections of I-25, shown in red, are featured on the 1966 Official Wyoming Highway Map. Significant progress had been made just ten years after the signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act.
Source: 1966 Official Wyoming Highway Map.

The 209-mile I-90 was completed on October 10, 1985, marking the end of Wyoming’s portion of the Interstate Project. The final section to be completed was between Ranchester and the Montana border. The project was held up for several years, due to Montana’s delay in selecting the location of the highway near the state line. Today, thousands and thousands of cars and commercial trucks travel daily on Wyoming’s 914 miles of Interstate Highways. 

Progress on I-90 as of spring 1966 is shown in red.
Source: 1966 Official Wyoming Highway Map.

Post contributed by AHC Reference Archivist John Waggener.


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Celebrating the Stars and Stripes – Flag Day

June 14th marks the celebration of Flag Day in the United States. The date is significant in that the Second Continental Congress had, on that day in 1777, adopted the “Stars and Stripes” as the flag of a budding nation. The assembled body resolved “that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

As the nation grew, there were more stars added to the flag, but the thirteen stripes remained. Interest in honoring the flag grew as well. By the latter half of the 19th century, schoolteachers in Wisconsin and New York had begun arranging patriotic days for their pupils. Celebrations became grander and more elaborate. In 1894, 300,000 children participated in a day to honor the flag in parks across Chicago. President Woodrow Wilson established an official Flag Day by proclamation in May 1916. Not long after that, the United States entered into World War I. Patriotic sentiments were running high.

Here in Wyoming, University of Wyoming professor Grace Raymond Hebard took patriotism and respect for the flag seriously.

Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard with a small American flag.
Photo File: Hebard, Grace Raymond, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Dr. Hebard taught free ten-week long citizenship courses to prepare immigrants to become naturalized citizens. It was a progressive, and perhaps somewhat controversial, act which fell under the umbrella of Americanization. Her courses were held in her University of Wyoming classroom, against a backdrop of the American flag. All of her lessons included some aspect of the patriotism that was expected of the future American citizens. Immigrants who completed Hebard’s evening classes were recommended for citizenship without having to complete any additional exams. After the naturalization ceremony at the courthouse, Dr. Hebard pinned a small silk American flag to the coat of each new citizen.

Hebard and students from her naturalization class, March 8, 1917.
Box 21, Grace Raymond Hebard papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Following one such ceremony at Laramie’s courthouse, a lawyer present at the event said to Hebard, “Although you have no sons to send to war, you certainly have made three patriotic loyal citizens out of that number of aliens.”

Students of Dr. Hebard learned “The American’s Creed,” which was based on a statement written by William Tyler Page in 1917. Page had served as the President General of the United States Flag Association and was also the 28th Clerk of the United States House of Representatives. Referring to the Creed, Page said “It is the summary of the fundamental principles of the American political faith as set forth in its greatest documents, its worthiest traditions, and its greatest leaders.”

This copy of “The American’s Creed” was taken from a draft of a civics textbook written by Hebard, 1926.
Box 48, Grace Raymond Hebard papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Dr. Hebard’s patriotic endeavors extended beyond the classroom. She served as the State Historian of the Daughters of the American Revolution. In that role, she assisted in the erection of monuments and markers across the state of Wyoming commemorating the route of the Oregon Trail.

Hebard beside a monument marking the Oregon Trail, east of Fort Laramie, 1914.
Photo File: Hebard, Grace Raymond, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Whether it was in the classroom or in the community, Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard never shied away from waving the flag. You can pour through the papers of this patriotic University of Wyoming professor at the American Heritage Center.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


Posted in Holidays, Immigration, Immigration Policy, Political history, Uncategorized, women's history, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opening Chutes and Closets – Gay Rodeo

The chute flies open and out comes a bucking bronc, with a rugged cowboy astraddle, trying their best to stay mounted – this iconic image is associated with rodeos across the West. And since 1975, a similar scene has played out in gay rodeo. Conceived as a fundraiser for a Reno senior citizens’ Thanksgiving dinner, the Gay Rodeo originated in Nevada.

Facing discrimination, the rodeo organizers were initially unable to find any farmers or ranchers to lease them the necessary livestock. But they persevered. Interest in the rodeo spread across the U.S., first to California and then to Colorado and Texas. For LGBTQ farmers and ranchers, the rodeo offered a vital social outlet and an opportunity to meet other likeminded rodeo competitors.

In 1985 the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) was formed to provide some standardization of rules across the various state rodeos that had sprung up. Wayne Jakino, the founding president of the IGRA described the rodeo community as one that lets “competitors feel good about themselves and open closet doors.”

Gay rodeo events include everything in a traditional rodeo, from calf roping and pole bending to bull riding. Events are equally open to all genders and the competitors are entirely amateur. There are also a few events unique to the IGRA, known as “camp” events. These include steer decorating and goat dressing. There is also the “wild drag race” during which one of the three team members must dress in drag.

Shortly after the founding of the IGRA, Blake Little, an award-winning portrait photographer, began shooting photos of gay rodeo. Little’s black and white images captured candid scenes in and around rodeo arenas across the country.

Photograph of cowboy Jerry Hubbard taken in Burbank, California by Blake Little, 1989.
Box 9, Gregory Hinton papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Blake Little became so enamored with gay rodeo that he learned to ride steers and bulls, eventually being named the Bull Riding Champion of the Year in 1990 by the IGRA. Little continued to take photographs between competitions, in part to steady his nerves and distract himself from overthinking his next bull ride. His photos raised awareness and opened doors. Little remarked, “The gay rodeo pictures are of a community that tends to be in a more conservative environment because Western culture just tends to be more conservative. It’s a powerful thing for people in Western culture that are straight or have more conservative views to see these people as real, as essentially just like them.”

Eventually Little’s photos ended up on display in an “Out West” exhibition, which was conceived of in 2009 by author, playwright and filmmaker Gregory Hinton. The exhibition included art and memorabilia that highlighted the presence of the LGBTQ community in Western culture. Little’s photos were compiled into a book.

Cover of Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo, 2016.
Box 13, Gregory Hinton papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Today, IGRA events are held across the U.S. from Little Rock, Arkansas to San Diego, California and in Canada at the Canadian Rockies International Rodeo, near Calgary. The rodeo season ends with World Gay Rodeo Finals. Charitable giving continues to be a part of Gay Rodeo, with more recent rodeos donating to the Muscular Dystrophy Association and AIDS foundations.

Flyer for the World Gay Rodeo Finals, sponsored by the International Gay Rodeo Association, October 2013.
Box 1, Gregory Hinton papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

While the bulk of the International Gay Rodeo Association’s records are archived at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, you can learn more about gay rodeo, the “Out West” exhibition and the contributions of the LGBTQ community to the American West in the Gregory Hinton papers.

Post contributed by AHC Writer Kathryn Billington.


Posted in Agricultural history, LGBTQIA+, Out West in the Rockies, Sports and Recreation, Uncategorized, Western history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Preserving History, One Negative at A Time

The American Heritage Center is home to nearly 90,000 cubic feet of historically significant collection material, representing centuries of cultural heritage within a wide range of subject matter. Whether it be a paper document, work of art, three-dimensional artifact, analog photograph, born digital media, or something else, collection material in any format presents unique challenges to archival preservation. Among the most troublesome of formats is nitrate film.

Cellulose nitrate-based films were produced from the late 19th century until 1952. Nitrate was the first flexible film base, developed to replace glass plate negatives, and was widely used for photographic film negatives, motion picture film reels, and medical X-rays. Though its invention marked a significant step in the evolution of photography, its risk quickly became apparent, as nitrate film is highly unstable and prone to combustion at as low as 104°F. Once ignited, nitrate film burns hot and fast, off-gassing oxygen and poisonous gases, fueling its own fire and making it extremely difficult to extinguish. Nitrate has even been known to explode or burn underwater. To address the risk of catastrophic fires in darkrooms, movie theaters, and hospitals as a direct result of nitrate film, cellulose acetate film was developed in the early 20th century and marketed as “Safety Film,” eventually replacing nitrate as a safer alternative.

Severely deteriorated nitrate film, photographed prior to deaccessioning in 2011. AHC photo.

Nitrate film can be kept safely in a cold storage vault, which protects the negatives from fire and significantly slows its deterioration. Over time, nitrate film will turn yellow and brittle, release harmful fumes of nitric acid, and the emulsion on the negative will decompose into a flammable powder, by which time the photographic content is lost forever. Acetate, or safety film, is not flammable like nitrate but does also deteriorate over time, so it is often kept in cold storage as well.

The first nitrate negative digitized with the AHC’s 100 MP camera: Lincoln County Wyo. Students at State Fish Hatchery. Undated, but circa 1919.
Ah04459_0002, Box 4, Roland W. Brown Papers, Collection No. 4459, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

One of the ongoing projects within the AHC’s Photographic Lab seeks to address these preservation issues. We start by pulling a box of negatives from the Cold Vault and appraise each negative individually, identifying its photographic content, condition, and level of deterioration. The next step of the project is to digitize each negative in order to preserve the historic content while allowing us to dispose of the original negatives as hazardous materials. Because our intention is to dispose of the originals, it is crucial that we digitize them to an extremely high quality. As recommended by federal archival guidelines, the AHC recently obtained a 100 MP digital camera which will allow us to digitize these film negatives in accordance with the highest current archival standard. This investment has significantly increased our ability to deal with the preservation issues previously outlined, with the additional benefit of making the photographs more accessible to our patrons.

To achieve preservation quality, the negative is carefully placed between a light table and a piece of specialized glass, then photographed in quadrants using an overhead camera stand. The images are stitched together and inverted in post-processing to create a positive master scan.

In the past two years, the AHC’s Photographic Lab has individually appraised 2,006 nitrate and acetate negatives across 12 collections. So far in 2021, we have digitized 393 of these negatives to preservation quality using the new camera. The subject matter of these negatives include University of Wyoming botany class field trips led by Dr. Aven Nelson in 1919, a Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo held approximately a century ago, landscapes and portraits taken in the Himalayan Region in the 1920s-1930s, the aftermath of the Holliday fire which destroyed several blocks of downtown Laramie in 1948, and various other scenes illustrating life in Laramie and the surrounding communities in the 1910s-1950s.

An original nitrate film negative is visually compared with its preservation-quality positive scan.

The issues surrounding nitrate and acetate film are quite vexing, but the American Heritage Center is committed to preserving our share of photographic history for generations to come. The recent advancements of our digitization capabilities are exciting, and we are looking forward to sharing more of these photographs as the project progresses.

Post contributed by AHC Archives Specialist Hanna Fox.


Posted in 19th century, Archival preservation, behind the scenes, Photographic collections, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Year in a Pandemic: COVID-19 in Wyoming

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:

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.”

Rostad Law storefront in Laramie with heart cut-outs.
American Heritage Center COVID-19 Collection Project, Collection No. 560006, ahcdm_560006_002, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

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.

T-Rex statue outside of the UW Geological Museum wearing a cloth mask.
American Heritage Center COVID-19 Collection Project, Collection No. 560006, ahcdm_560006_002, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

And there’s also a photo of the Ursus the bear sculpture wearing a mask at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens.

Ursus the bear sculpture at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens wearing a mask.
American Heritage Center COVID-19 Collection Project, Collection No. 560006, ahcdm_560006_002, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

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: 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.

Posted in Collection donor, community collections, Current events, Pandemics, Uncategorized, Wyoming history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Connecting Wyoming at 41th Annual Wyoming History Day

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.

Screenshot from 2021 WHD Virtual Award Show Recorded on May 3, 2021.

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.

Official 2021 Wyoming History Day Poster Created by Jessica Perry.

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.

For more about Wyoming History Day 2021, including contest winners, see the History Day page at

Post submitted by Wyoming History Day Coordinator Cameron Green.


Posted in announcements, Current events, K-12 education, Uncategorized, Wyoming History Day | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Eat What You Want Day!

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.

In this photograph of Laramie’s Home Bakery, a customer could not only treat themselves to a delicious cake, but choose from cookies, pies, and more! Photo taken in December 1924.
Box 6, Negative No. 11709.2A, Ludwig & Svenson Studio Photographs, Collection No. 167, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

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.

Wooden model of wedding cake for Hugo and Jessie Janssen’s wedding reception in Lovell, Wyoming, April 1928.
Box 2, Folder 24, Hugh G. Janssen Photographs, Collection No. 11712, American Heritage Center, University of 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.

A mobile birthday cake sponsored by the Theta Eta chapter of Delta Delta Delta, Homecoming Parade in Laramie, November 5, 1936.
Box 119, Samuel H. Knight papers, Collection No. 400044, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

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.

Fans loved Topper as much as they did Hopalong Cassidy, ca. 1950.  
Box 115, Folder 2, William Boyd papers, Collection No. 8038, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Deep Thought for the Day: “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four, unless there are three other people. ” — Oscar Wilde

Post contributed by AHC Simpson Archivist Leslie Waggener.


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