Way-Back Wednesday Asks, “What’s in a Name?”

The high-elevation town of Dubois sits at 6,946-feet and may not seem to have a terribly unique name, but it does have a fairly unique pronunciation, which is a sure-fire way to tell those who are visitors to the community from long-time residents. 

Annaliese Wiederspahn

January 19, 20226 min read

(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

In the middle of 1983 singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Joe Walsh released his sixth studio album entitled, “You Bought It – You Name It” two years after his successful album, “There Goes the Neighborhood.” Listening to the albums back-to-back on a long drive across Wyoming makes a person contemplate some of the unique town names in The Cowboy State. And while unique town names definitely have a story – yes, even Story, Wyoming, named after Charles B. Story, a rancher who established the very first building, a post office, in the area – it seems most towns in Wyoming have pretty cool stories surrounding how they were named. 

The high-elevation town of Dubois sits at 6,946-feet and may not seem to have a terribly unique name, but it does have a fairly unique pronunciation, which is a sure-fire way to tell those who are visitors to the community from long-time residents. 

The first occupants of the mountains and valleys surrounding what is now Dubois were members of the Sheepeaters, a group of Mountain Shoshone, who included the Wind River area in their regular annual migrations from the Great Plains through the mountains of Yellowstone and beyond. The Wind River Valley surrounding Dubois contains numerous remnants of these people who lived in the area for many hundreds of years before they were relocated into a nearby reservation. Evidence of their existence in the mountains and valleys around Dubois include numerous prehistoric petroglyphs, hunting traps and blinds, and stone tepee circles.

With the Wind River running through the town it’s no surprise that the first Europeans to enter the area were trappers, Francois and Louis Verendrye in 1742–43. In the years to follow, the Wind River Valley was visited regularly by the Astorians and other fur trappers and hunters. The first homesteaders arrived in the late 1870s.

In 1890, the year Wyoming attained statehood, Robert LeRoy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, owned and managed a ranch on the outskirts of Dubois. 

Charles Moore built the first of many dude ranches in the area, Ramshorn Ranch and Camp Yellowstone, at the mouth of the DuNoir Creek west of Dubois in 1907.

The original residents of Dubois, Wyoming wanted to name the town Tibo, after the Shoshone-language word for “stranger” or “white man,” which was the Natives’ affectionate name for their beloved Episcopal priest and missionary, Father John Roberts. St. Thomas Episcopal Church was founded in 1910 by Reverend John Roberts, an Episcopal missionary who served the Native American tribes on the Wind River. However, the postal service wasn’t happy with the name Tibo, deemed it ‘unacceptable’ and bestowed the town with the name Dubois after Fred Dubois who was an Idaho senator at the time. 

A Wyoming town named for an Idaho Senator made no sense to residents, so in protest, the citizens of Dubois rejected the French pronunciation, instead opting for Du, with u as in “Sue”; bois, with oi as in “voice” with the accent placed on the first syllable.

By 1913 the town expanded with the addition of a hotel, a bar, and a general store, anticipating the arrival of Scandinavian lumber workers brought there by the Wyoming Tie and Timber Company the following year. In the landscape surrounding Dubois are visible the remains of many wood flumes constructed by the tie hacks who provided the railroad ties that helped to develop the American West. These Scandinavian immigrants cut logs into ties and sent these via the flumes to the Wind River where they floated to Riverton, about 70 miles east, for processing.

The Dubois Museum has preserved and interpreted the natural and social history of the Upper Wind River Valley. Dubois is also home to the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center which focuses on public education about the biology and habitat of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep. 

The town is on U.S. Route 26, is the beginning of the Wyoming Centennial Scenic Byway and is breathtaking  where the U.S. Route 26 crosses the Continental Divide on Togwotee Pass.

Immense beauty doesn’t insulate from sorrow and sadness; the body of Marine PFC Chance Phelps was taken to his parents’ home in Dubois after his death in Iraq in 2004. The story is featured in the HBO film Taking Chance.

Tragedy struck the Town of Dubois on December 30, 2014, when several businesses burned to the ground in the downtown area. The air temperatures at the time of the blaze were hovering near -35 °F with wind chills in the range -50 °F. The brutal weather left firefighters to cope with freezing equipment and gear throughout the night to get the fire under control. The blaze was ruled accidental and inspectors reported that the origin of the fire appeared to be inside the rear of the “Main Street Mart” building in the attic above a wood stove. It’s said the fire was most likely caused by charring that resulted from the chimney coming into contact with building materials. Approximately half a block of Downtown Dubois was destroyed by the fire. 

The geology of the area surrounding Dubois is very unique not only in Wyoming but in the world for featuring examples of all three major mountain-building forces – tectonic, volcanic, and glacial – in nearly the same view. This is described in detail in the nonfiction book Rising from the Plains by science writer John McPhee.

Much of the videogame, ‘Firewatch’ takes place in the region surrounding Dubois. Players will notice it is mentioned on signposts within the game.

The National Museum of Military Vehicles is located a short distance from the town on U.S. Highway 26. Established in 2020, the 140,000-square-foot museum was founded by Dan and Cynthia Starks and built between May 2017 and August 2020.

This page from Wyoming’s rich history has been presented by Mick Pryor, Edward Jones Financial Advisor. While we can’t change the past, a financial strategy for the future can be planned. If you have questions, concerns or are simply looking for a friendly advisor to discover your goals, discuss strategy and look to your financial future, contact Mick Pryor today.

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Annaliese Wiederspahn

State Political Reporter