This column is dedicated, with the deepest affection, to the memory of my friend, Mary Ostlund.
I went to work for Gov. Ed Herschler at around the same time that the Herschler Building was opened. There was a subterranean passageway constructed between the capital and the cafeteria in the new building, nicknamed by epicures the “Herschler Vomitorium”.
It was a long, poorly-lit tunnel that I always thought would be a good place to be mugged by an unhinged lobbyist. We tended to use it only with backup to watch our six.
Around that time, in my home County of Carbon, Billy McIntosh had a massive longhorn steer that kept tearing down his neighbor’s fences. Details are sketchy, but the rumor on the sagebrush telegraph has the exasperated neighbor finally shooting the vagrant longhorn graveyard dead.
Billy Mac had the longhorn stuffed, and the full-body mount sent to Gov. Ed as a gift. Herschler was a very resourceful man, but had no idea what to do with this monstrosity of taxidermy. So he stashed it down in the passageway to the Vomitorium, in the sure and certain knowledge that nobody would see it there.
It quickly assumed the moniker of “The State Cow”, and was still gathering dust there when I left state government ten years later.
Flash forward to today, when decision-makers have stashed two of the most powerful symbols of Wyoming’s heritage, Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie, down in the same tunnel that used to be home to The State Cow.
Esther Hobart Morris was, as you know, a tireless champion of women’s equality and the first female justice of the peace in the nation. There could be no more powerful symbol of Wyoming than this woman. End of discussion.
Washakie won the gnarliest single-combat, mano-a-mono fight in Wyoming history, when he battled Big Robber for hours near Crowheart Butte, and then rode back to camp with his opponents heart impaled on his lance. While that was cowboy as hell, it's only one reason why Washakie symbolizes the state we love.
Magnificent statues of these two Cowboy State luminaries were moved during the recent zillion-dollar remodel of our capitol building. These works of art, and all that they convey about Wyoming, were never restored to their places of prominence, but were – for weak and timid reasons – relegated to the space previously occupied by The State Cow.
It's almost as if we’re telling ourselves and visitors to Wyoming that we are ashamed of these two people who helped mold our state.
As a lifelong citizen of Wyoming, I would rather see the statues of Morris and Washakie dominating the entrance to our house of the people, instead of hidden where only a handful of tourists will see them.
I would like their historic visages to inspire awe in anyone who sets foot in our capital, and to communicate in their sculpted gazes that “This is Wyoming. Act Accordingly.” These two human beings can tell more about who we are as a state than a whole herd of bronze buffalo or antelope.
Concealing this aspect of our rich heritage and hiding these symbols of who we are as a state in some underground passageway is a slap in the face of our common history. It makes us appear ashamed of two of our giants.
Will it cost some dough to restore Esther Hobart Morris and Washakie to their hard-earned prominence on our capitol grounds? Hell, yes it will! But contrast that expense with what they have sacrificed and contributed to build Wyoming, and the debt we own them, and the decision is an easy one. And it's the right thing to do.
Put ‘em back, dammit. Put ‘em back!