Dennis Sun: Wyoming Stock Growers Celebrating 150 Years

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By Dennis Sun, Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The Wyoming Stock Growers Association (WSGA) has been in business for 150 years serving its members and other stock growers on a state and national level. Its longevity is unmatched here in the state. 

While earlier organizations were started, it wasn’t until 1872 cattlemen around Cheyenne and the nearby ranges started meeting to visit about their issues, theft being one of the main reasons. Out of these meetings, WSGA was formed and the rest is history. From its beginning, it quickly grew into the go-to organization to assist cattlemen with their issues. WSGA is believed to be the second oldest state livestock organization in the U.S.

In 1872, Wyoming was not a business-friendly state. The government in Washington D.C. wanted people to settle out West and develop communities. The Civil War was over, and the government wanted people to develop discoveries of gold in California, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming to help pay for the war. The transcontinental railroad had been completed and the southern areas of the state were being settled, but in areas north of the railroad and especially north of the Laramie Range, it was somewhat lawless. Building up a ranch was a hard business, but it didn’t stop people. 

The range was open and everyone’s cattle were kept to a certain area, but with no fences – cattle were mixed all the time. Large roundups were common, covering hundreds of miles as most ranchers were just getting started with smaller herds. Isolation was a way of life. Communities were far between, so ranchers had to protect themselves. WSGA was established to protect ranchers from rustlers. 

If you were an officer or member of WSGA, just getting to Cheyenne for meetings took time. Getting to a railroad to travel to Cheyenne was a trip itself. The determination and loyalty to the WSGA organization is still entrenched in its members today. Officers realize the need to be organized, just as much as they did in 1872. The commitment today of staff, members and officers is just as strong as 150 years ago.

Along with Yellowstone Park celebrating their 150th anniversary, this year is the 150th year the Sun family has been ranching. My great-grandfather Tom Sun Sr. staked his first deeded lands at Devils Gate in 1872. He had been in the area for some years as a scout for the railroad at Fort Steele, mined for gold around the South Pass and Seminole Mountains area and outfitted for wealthy Europeans in central Wyoming. He developed the ranch while outfitting and mining gold. When he first started ranching, unfriendly Native Americans were one of his biggest problems. 

Remember, Custer’s Last Stand didn’t happen until June of 1876. Going through diaries, I read of huge grasshopper plagues happening at the time. Sun Sr. helped map out a proposed railroad line from Fort Steele north to the Sweetwater River to mine for soda. He went to Oregon a couple times to trail cattle and horses back to the ranch. It would be interesting to know when he first joined WSGA, I think it was around the 1890s. 

There is no doubt in my mind WSGA will last another 150 years.  

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” 

I agree, but I think we also learn from history to form the future. 

I hope to see WSGA members and nonmembers in Cheyenne, June 8-11 for the big WSGA 150th Anniversary Celebration. It’s going to be a good time.

The Wyoming Livestock Roundup is a weekly agriculture newspaper available online and in print. To subscribe, visit www.wylr.net or call 800-967-1647

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