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Wyoming History

Historic Sheridan Inn For Sale At $4.25 Million

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A significant piece of Wyoming’s history is up for sale — and it’s a steal at just $4.25 million.

The historic Sheridan Inn holds a unique place in the stories of the Wild West. Buffalo Bill held auditions on its porch for his “Wild West Show,” and it was once featured in “Ripley’s Believe It Or Notz” as the “House of 69 Gables.”

Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody took over as the Inn’s first proprietor in 1893 – almost 10 years before building his own Irma Hotel 150 miles to the west in the town that bears his name. 

The Sheridan Inn was the first property in what would become the “W.F. Cody Hotel Company.”

“It was his home until he went to Cody,” said Edre Maier, the former head of the Sheridan Heritage Center, which operated the Inn from 1990 to 2013. “He used to sit there at the bar, that’s a really famous bar – the second seat from the left was where he sat.”

Once touted as the finest hotel between Chicago and San Francisco, the Inn’s construction was financed by the Burlington and Missouri Railroad and the newly created Sheridan Land Company. The architect, Thomas Rogers Kimball, also designed the Nebraska capitol building in Lincoln.

Modeled after Scottish hunting lodges, Kimball’s design called for 64 bedrooms located on the second and third floors under a gambrel roof, with each bedroom having its own dormer window.

“The Sheridan Inn is credited with having had the first bathtubs and electric lights in this part of Wyoming,” Carrie Edinger, with the Sheridan Community Land Trust, wrote in an article about the Inn’s history. “Running water was provided to the whole building from a well in the basement.” 

For 70-plus years, the Sheridan Inn was the center of social life in north-central Wyoming, drawing guests from around the world, including celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway, President Herbert Hoover, Will Rogers and Bob Hope. 

But by the mid-1960s, the building had seriously deteriorated and it was condemned in 1967, just three years after being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But it wasn’t long before someone took on the task of refurbishing the Inn.

Neltje Doubleday Kings, an abstract artist (and heiress to the Doubleday Publishing fortune) from New York City purchased the property in 1967. 

She became known as “the woman who saved the Inn,” according to the website, and within a year Neltje re-opened the saloon, followed by the dining room, the Ladies Parlor and another social gathering room, the Wyoming Room. None of the Inn’s guest rooms were open to the public, however.

Although Neltje re-invigorated the property, making it once again the center of social life in Sheridan, less than two decades would go by before the Inn once again faced closure. 

Its next chapter would see significant changes under the umbrella of the Sheridan Heritage Center, a nonprofit organization charged with once again refurbishing the Inn and making it the showplace it was intended to be. 

“We refurbished it and ran it as a community center,” said Maier, who was the center’s executive director for more than 10 years. “Our goal was based on the National Trust Historic Preservation goals, which is, you use community funds to fix up a historic site, and then when it’s fixed up, you sell it.”

“It was the first building to have a historic preservation easement placed on it in the state of Wyoming,” Edinger told Cowboy State Daily, explaining that the easement was first imposed in 2008 to ensure the integrity of the design and architecture. 

As such, the Buffalo Bill Bar, stone fireplaces and exposed wooden beams – as well as the iconic dormer windows that caught the attention of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” — can never be changed.

While the Heritage Center accomplished a complete renovation of the outside of the building and addressed some of its structural issues, fundraising was an ever-present concern, and in October of 2012 the Inn once again was forced to close its doors.

But the story doesn’t end there, of course – a year later, the Sheridan Inn was purchased by Bob and Dana Townsend from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who accomplished what no one had been able to do in 50 years — re-open 22 of the guest rooms.

“Most of the rooms were based on names in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” Maier explained. “So if you go there, then whatever room you stay in, you can probably trace them back to his Wild West Show and what they did.”

And now, once again, the historic property is for sale.

“ The owners have made a significant investment of time and money in the complete renovation of this special property, but they are not experienced hotel operators,” reads the description on the sale website. “They know it is time for a new owner to help the Historic Sheridan Inn realize its full potential. ”

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Wyoming History: 83 Years Ago Today — The Last Stand of Earl Durand

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s been 83 years as of Thursday, but the story of how 26-year-old Earl Durand was killed during an attempted bank robbery after an 11-day crime spree still holds a fascination for people interested in true crime dramas. 

“Earl Durand was actually sort of an outlier in Western history,” said Brian Beauvais, archivist for Park County. “It was such a bloody event, but that sort of stuff didn’t occur as much as people sometimes think it did in the Wild West, but the story was so well documented at the time, we have so much evidence of what took place as it was occurring.”

Although Durand’s escapades were exaggerated and dramatized before his body was even cold, it’s undeniable that the handsome young criminal nicknamed “The Tarzan of the Tetons” went out on his own terms – and launched a legend that cast its shadow into the next century.

The showdown that occurred in Powell on March 24, 1939, was the culmination of life events that shaped an adventurous young man from Park County. Earl Durand was born to farmers who moved to Wyoming from Missouri shortly after their son’s birth in January of 1913. 

As a child, Durand is said to have been a hard worker on his parents’ farm, but also a voracious reader. According to reports, he preferred books about history and adventure and read all the way through the Bible five times.

His physical presence was as impressive as his intellect. Fully grown, he stood at 6 feet, 2 inches tall, was blond and blue-eyed, and reportedly weighed 250 pounds — all muscle. He ran several miles every day – in fact, rumor had it he could run 40 miles in one night.

Quitting school after eighth grade, Durand began turning into the mountain man he would come to be known as. He left Powell on a saddle horse with the intention of riding to Mexico. Along the way, he was jailed without cause twice – once in Mexico, the other time in New Mexico. 

When he was just 19, he moved to the Mojave desert and related later that he would have died crossing the desert had he not killed a wildcat… and eaten it raw.

Returning to Wyoming, Durand didn’t live in a house, choosing instead to reside in a wall tent on his parents’ property. He spent weeks at a time in the Absaroka mountains near Cody and Powell and became known as an expert hunter and trapper.

His skills as a marksman were legendary. Several accounts confirm that, using a rifle, Durand once shot through an airborne baseball four times before it hit the ground. When the rifle became too easy, he honed his skills using a bow and arrow.

All of Durand’s skills, which he could have put to use on the right side of the law, instead were used in the events that ultimately led to his death, as well as the deaths of two law enforcement officers in late March of 1939. 

What started with an arrest for poaching became an 11-day manhunt for an escaped inmate and murderer involving a local posse of volunteers, the Montana National Guard and a young bystander who would wound Durand just a few minutes before the criminal took his own life.

Durand had eluded searchers who were intent on bringing him in after his escape from custody on poaching charges. During the manhunt, Durand had shot and killed two Powell law enforcement officers, Deputy Sheriff D.M. Baker and Town Marshal Chuck Lewis; as well as Meeteetse resident Arthur Argento and rodeo cowboy Orville Linaberry. A number of other men were wounded. 

Seventeen-year-old Tipton Cox was playing hooky from school when he found out that Durand was in the process of robbing the nearby First National Bank.

Armed men surrounded the bank Durand tried to rob and a gunfight broke out as he appeared the bank’s window. It was Cox, armed with a rifle obtained from one of the men, who wounded Durand.

Once wounded, Durand retreated deeper into the bank, where he committed suicide.

Beauvais pointed out that although Durand undeniably committed terrible crimes at the end of his life, there are still people in Park County who believe he was a good man.

“Some people think that Earl Durand was a sort of Robin Hood, that gave poached meat to needy families, that he might have been justified in doing what he did,” Beauvais said. “But other people think that he was a stain on Wyoming. A lot of families in Powell, whose family members died from Earl Durand, are still pretty touchy about the topic.”

What stands out to Beauvais, as well, is the fact that the manhunt was played out in real time to newspaper readers and radio audiences.

“With the Earl Durand drama, we have this prolonged drama going on for a week, and news reports are appearing in the paper as they are happening, people are following along, ramping up excitement amongst Park County and the State of Wyoming, and then it all ends in a tragic scene,” he said.

The Earl Durand drama was big news around the country, as well. Books were written, movies were made, and the legend grew. 

Eighty-three years later, the story of the “Tarzan of the Tetons” is a true-crime drama for the ages.

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New Documentary Looks At Dark Era Of Wyoming History: Heart Mountain

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A dark era of Wyoming’s history is being brought into the light through the lens of a new documentary filmed by a former Cheyenne resident. 

The documentary “Beyond Heart Mountain” focuses on the lives of Japanese-Americans in Wyoming during — and after — World War II, and how their families were affected by the incarceration of thousands at the Heart Mountain Japanese Internment camp between Cody and Powell.

Alan O’Hashi is a former Lander and Cheyenne resident who now lives in Boulder, Colorado. 

His documentary and book of the same title tell the story of Japanese Americans who lived and worked in downtown Cheyenne beginning in the 1920s.

“It’s basically about my lifetime,” O’Hashi told Cowboy State Daily. “My lifetime in Wyoming, which was from when I was born until 1993 or so.”

O’Hashi, who primarily worked in local government while in Wyoming, has always been a storyteller. He has written professionally for the Wyoming State Journal, created screenplays such as “Stardust” (which won an award in the 2005 Denver Screenwriting Center contest), and has produced films such as “Mahjong and the West,” which premiered in October 2014 and is now available on Netflix.

When a commercial construction project in downtown Cheyenne required historical fact-checking, O’Hashi realized there was a story there that needed to be told.

“A high school classmate of mine and his brother have some property in downtown Cheyenne,” he said, explaining that the two were considering tearing down a historic building to create a housing project. “And one of the properties was the last building that was standing in the former Japanese neighborhood in Cheyenne, which was two blocks or three blocks in West Cheyenne.”

The project was controversial, according to O’Hashi, because of its historical significance.

“The Historic Preservation board of Cheyenne had to make a decision on whether or not they had to leave it or if they could tear it down,” he said. “And so the decision was that they could tear down the building, but they had to do a history of the area. And so just because of my anecdotal knowledge and experience in that two-block area, I said I’d help him with that survey. And so then that evolved into this other story.”

O’Hashi’s documentary begins with a short description of the neighborhood’s fate.

“The two-block area declined in part due to racial injustice towards the Japanese during and following World War II,” O’Hashi’s documentary said. “The community was finally dispersed by the 1970s. Since then, the neighborhood has been very quiet.”

Many Wyomingites may know about the history of Japanese Americans during and after World War II, thanks to the efforts of those who run the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center on the site of the former internment camp. The Center’s mission is to preserve the stories of the families who were incarcerated there for four years during World War II.

But O’Hashi’s book and documentary focus on the lives of Japanese-American families in Cheyenne following the end of World War II, after the Heart Mountain Internment Camp was shut down. 

“This story is a personal and cultural survey of the once-vibrant 400 and 500 blocks of West 17th Street in downtown Cheyenne,” O’Hashi said in the documentary. 

He interviewed four of his childhood acquaintances for the film about the racial discrimination they encountered after the war and in the years following.

Despite those negative experiences, those who lived in the neighborhood had fond memories from that era.

“I remember times when we would go (to the City Cafe), I think it was probably the Okomoto boys, and Ted Miyamoto’s kids,” Brian Matsuyama recalled.

“We always went there on Friday nights to watch the old Japanese movies,” said Terie Miyamoto, ”and all the kids and the women would sit in the restaurants and watch the movies.”

The documentary recalls the discrimination that these families experienced, drawing some similarities to today’s experiences with other Asian-Americans. 

O’Hashi also goes into some detail about the other internment camps around the country (there were 10, spread from California to Arkansas), and describes the efforts to right the wrongs against these Japanese American families. 

Politicians including U.S. Sen. Al Simpson of Wyoming and former U.S. Secretary of Transporation Norman Mineta, were childhood friends because of the time Mineta’s family spent at the Heart Mountain Camp. 

Together, Simpson and Mineta promoted the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which stated that a “grave injustice” had been done to Japanese American citizens and resident aliens during World War II. 

It also established a fund that made financial reparations to formerly interned Japanese Americans and their heirs.

For O’Hashi, the project allowed him to tell the stories of the people he knew as a child.

“It’s about growing an awareness about post-World War II experiences, even in Wyoming,” he said.

O’Hashi’s book is set to be released by Winter Goose Publishing in bookstores and online sometime this month – but the documentary version of “Beyond Heart Mountain” was broadcast on Wyoming PBS in December.

“Within maybe four days, there were 5,000 views,” O’Hashi said.

The documentary is available to view on PBS Passport.

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Wyo Weatherman Don Day Featured In WWII Documentary About Japanese Balloon Bombs

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming meteorologist Don Day will appear in a Discovery Plus documentary debuting this week about a little known attack on the United States involving balloons in World War II.

Yes, balloons. They don’t seem scary, unless you’ve read the Stephen King novel “IT,” but the Japanese actually used them as weapons during WWII.

Day will appear in the “Great Balloon Bomb Invasion” documentary, which will launch on the Discovery Plus streaming service on Thursday.

“I got a phone call from a balloon pilot friend in Pennsylvania who I’ve worked with on a lot of projects, and he told me he got a call from a production company and they had weather questions about how these guys could get balloons across the Pacific,” Day told Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Between 1944 and 1945, the Japanese military launched more than 9,000 bomb-rigged balloons across the Pacific, counting on the wind to carry them over American soil, where they could cause damage.

About 300 of the balloons were found in the United States and one was blamed for the deaths of six people in Oregon. Some of the devices were found in Wyoming.

There were eight confirmed Fu-Go balloon bombs found in Wyoming near Thermopolis, Basin, Manderson, Kirby, Powell, Glendo, Newcastle and Gillette.

Day said there were also unconfirmed sightings of balloon bombs near Cheyenne and Fort Collins, Colorado.

One bomb exploded near Thermopolis in December 1944, creating a crater, according to a document from the Smithsonian Museum provided by Day.

The Wyoming weatherman noted that the Japanese intended to use the bombs more for psychological warfare than as truly devastating weapons. However, the United States kept the bomb sightings under wraps, mostly to keep people from panicking.

“By keeping it under wraps, it kind of nullified what the Japanese were trying to do, because it was really terrorism,” Day said. “They’re trying to freak people out, start forest fires and create an environment where you can’t feel safe.”

In the documentary, Day and another meteorologist run a computer simulation to determine where in the United States the balloon bombs might have fallen, as he believes about a third of the 9,000 balloons actually made it the U.S.

Unfortunately, he could not say what conclusions they reached, but said all would be revealed in the documentary.

“I will say, when I go out in the woods now to hunt or hike and I see something that looks like old mining equipment, I’m looking at it completely different,” he said.

There are likely still balloon bombs in the wilderness all across the western United States, particularly in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, and it is very possible they are still active.

“Be careful out there,” Day said.

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Wyoming History: 99 Dead In Kemmerer Mine Explosion on August 14, 1923

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

It was a quiet morning in Kemmerer, Wyoming, as families smiled amongst one another mere hours after wishing their fathers, husbands, and sons a safe day working in the local coal mines. Children played carefree while their mothers hung laundry, perhaps planning dinner, or thinking about the town’s latest gossip.

Then a deep, distant roar in the earth was heard and smoke was seen rising to the north.

Mothers, wives, and grandmothers alike stared towards the Frontier Coal mines for a moment; sad recognition filled their eyes with familiar tears as they waited for the news that they knew was coming.

Their only question: was it my husband, father, or grandfather this time around?

On Aug. 14, 1923, the towns of Kemmerer and Frontier were devastated by the second-worst coal mining tragedy in Wyoming history after 99 miners were killed during a mine explosion in Frontier Mine No. 1.

Whether by luck or divine intervention, only half of the workers that usually worked in the mine reported for duty; the other half had the day off because of a holiday. Only a third made it out alive after a Frontier Mine fire boss ignited gas accumulated in a room near the mine entrance while he was trying to re-light his safety lamp, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society (WSHS).

Rescue teams comprised of the American Red Cross and miners from surrounding mines in Cumberland, Glencoe, and Diamondville managed to save the lives of 36 miners, many of whom had barricaded themselves away from the flames still burning from the explosion. Once the survivors were back on the surface, the bodies of the others were recovered, according to local news reports.

The Meeteetse News reported that the final body to come out of the mine was that of Fire Boss Thomas Roberts, who had been found by his brother. The paper reported that Roberts’ body had been badly burned, indicating that Roberts was close to the scene of the explosion.

Kemmerer and Frontier, both towns were turned into places of mourning by the deaths of a member of nearly every family in each town, according to the Northern Wyoming Herald.

One week later, the tragedy still fresh in the hearts and minds of the mining community, the Kemmerer Coal Company announced that regular operations were to resume. It was just another day in the most lethal occupation in Wyoming in an industry plagued by more than a decade of mine explosions, trolley accidents, and workplace incidents.

The Frontier Mine incident occurred amid an attempted intervention by the Wyoming Legislature that, spurred by news of mining accident after mining accident, strove to make the occupation safer, per WSHS.

The legislature began requiring inspectors to make more thorough examinations of mines, giving them the authority to stop work in mines deemed unlawful and dangerous while increasing fines for safety violations.

As more and more mine incidents plagued Wyoming coal mines, the Legislature passed still more mine safety regulations granting mine safety inspectors more authority.

In 1939, mine inspectors were authorized to inspect both underground and surface coal mines, expanding the duties of the state mine inspector even further in 1957 to include other mine activities outside of coal.

The Office of the State Mine Inspector became a constitutionally established office in 1990 more than a century later, per WSHS.

Today, the office retains the authority to enter, inspect, and examine any mining operation in the state to protect the lives of workers in the Wyoming coal industry.

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