CORA — Along the New Fork River in Sublette County is a town with a rich history of rugged individualism and out-of-the-box thinkers who left their marks not only on Wyoming, but on the entire United States.
Cora has been home to famous cowboys, politicians, ranchers, homesteaders and an influential counterculture leader who wrote lyrics for the Grateful Dead. Its post office was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.
In the early 1890s, one of its residents, Postmaster Minerva J. Westfall, delivered mail on a gray stallion, making the 70-mile round trip to Big Piney in a single day.
The community supported loggers who worked in the nearby forest cutting ties with axes for the railroad that opened the West and it supported the longest cattle drive in the United States, known as the Green River Drift.
"The Drift" is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Sublette County ranchers and members of the Upper Green River Cattlemen's Association have trailed herds through Cora along Highway 352 every year since 1896.
Local historian and author Ann Noble says listing a building on the National Register of Historic Places is an onerous task. It's a process that requires numerous reviews and painstaking research.
The process is “not in any way a gimme," said Noble, who is also a board member for the Wyoming State Review Board. "Many nominations are rejected."
Noble is the author of "Cora, Wyoming: A Brief History of a Western Rural Community."
"We often think of Cora as just a bedroom community to Pinedale," Noble told Cowboy State Daily. "It's not. It's an independent community in and of itself."
In her book, Noble tells the stories of many of Cora's early settlers, including some of her relatives. James M. Noble homesteaded a ranch in Cora in 1897. He built a general store and grew root vegetables to supply the tie-hack camps in Kendall Valley.
Eddie Edwards was a Nez Perce Indian and tie hack who is believed to have built the original Cora Store and warehouse at the Noble Ranch. Noble also had a blacksmith shop, saloon, printing office, schoolhouse and community dance hall at his ranch.
According to Ann Noble's book, the tie hack camps closed in 1904, and by 1910 most of Cora's businesses were closed. The town's "heyday" was over.
About 1917, Cora resident Henry Clodius convinced James Noble and others to invest in the Cora Mercantile Co. and revive the town. Modern transportation, trucks and automobiles needed a better road, and the state of Wyoming built Highway 352.
In January 1919, Clodius cut the building into three parts, hitched teams to the pieces and drug them about a mile over snow to the present location near the new highway.
Post Office/General Store
Around 50 local residents still collect their mail from the Cora Post Office, and remnants of the general store and saloon remain.
Shelves opposite the post office boxes are lined with old cans of Schilling spices. Ginger, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and mace sit next to a dusty oil lamp and a tarnished spittoon. There's a dented can of Miners Puddlers Long Cut Smokeless Tobacco and two shelves of tattered old books.
On the counter is a large, ornate mail scale and an old cash register.
Noble’s book is full of historic photographs that show how times have changed. There's a photo of the log that holds the signatures of Cora's first 44 registered voters. Sublette County was designated Nov. 7, 1922.
There are photos of kids in galoshes and their dogs in the snow on a winter day in 1937. In the background are trucks with snowplows and a bulldozer. It was the first time the Wyoming Highway Department plowed the road into Cora. It must have been quite an event.
The first color photographs show the general store and post office in the early 1960s.
Under the heading "Closing Thoughts," author Ann Noble wrote the following:
"Scattered throughout rural Wyoming and the west there were many small communities stores and post offices. ... These small businesses were important for their rural communities economically and socially. With transportation limited, early western communities depended on the small stores to provide staples for themselves and their farms or ranches. They also proved to be important points for socializing . … During the slower winter months and before television was introduced to Cora ranchers in the 1960s, locals often gathered in the post office, especially on Sundays to play cards and visit."
Guy Holt was born on a ranch near Cheyenne in 1883. He worked on several ranches in both Texas and Wyoming. While working on the Y6 Ranch, owner Charlie Irwin had a standing bet, offering to pay anyone who could out-ride Holt $1,000 in gold.
In 1903, Holt won the World Championship Bronco Rider contest at Cheyenne Frontier Days. B.C. Buffum later photographed Holt riding the famous bronc Steamboat in Laramie. The image was used to create the famous Wyoming cowboy symbol for the University of Wyoming.
Another famous Cora cowboy mentioned in Noble's book is Joe Alexander, who was born in Jackson in 1943. Alexander acquired a long list of rodeo accolades to include setting the bareback world record with a 93-point ride at Frontier Days in 1974. The record stood for 28 years. A New York Times columnist dubbed him "Alexander the Great."
He held the record for most bareback world championships from 1975 to 2021 and was part of the first class inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.
John Perry Barlow
Born in 1947 on the Bar Cross Ranch in Cora, John Perry Barlow was an excellent student who became a counterculture leader in 1970s.
He ran the Bar Cross Ranch for several years and contributed lyrics to the rock and roll band Grateful Dead. He hired John F. Kennedy Jr., who worked on the Bar Cross for six months in 1978, according to the book. The two men would remain lifelong friends.
Barlow also wrote for The New York Times and Wired magazine, became chairman of the Sublette County Republican Party and campaign coordinator for Dick Cheney's 1978 congressional campaign.
Later in his life, Barlow lectured around the world on civil rights, freedom of speech, the state of the internet and an organization he joined called the Electric Frontier Foundation (EFF). He served on the EFF Board of Directors and recorded several public conversations with fellow board member Edward Snowden. He also appeared in interviews with Julian Assange of WikiLeaks touting Snowden as a hero, according to Noble's book.
“Cora, Wyoming: A brief History of a Western Rural Community” by Ann Noble is available at the Cora Post Office and the Museum of the Mountain Man in Pinedale.