By the early 1700s, Arapahos were in what became Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota. They acquired horses in the 1700s, adopted the Plains Indian horse-and-bison hunting culture, and expanded further south and west. About 1811, Arapahos allied with Cheyennes and the two groups often traveled and hunted together in the central Great Plains. After signing the Horse Creek Treaty of 1851, the Arapaho and Cheyenne shared land encompassing one-sixth of Wyoming, one-quarter of Colorado and parts of western Kansas and Nebraska. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 left the Northern Arapaho without a land base, and by 1878, they were placed with the Shoshone in west central WY, on the Wind River Reservation.
Seventy-five years before Wyoming was admitted into the union, French Canadian fur trader and mountain man Jacques La Ramée trekked the great High Plains. He returned in 1820 for a season of trapping along the river that now bears his name and was never seen or heard from again. The details of his disappearance are still a mystery, but the town of Laramie, two rivers, a fort, a county and a mountain peak bear his name today.
Jacque La Ramee and other trappers came to this region and worked the streams for beaver from 1817 until 1843. Gen. William Ashley’s trappers traveled part of the future Overland Trail route in 1824-25, Jim Bridger knew of the route by 1835, and John Fremont camped along it in 1843. The Cherokee used it to travel from Oklahoma to California in 1849, for which it became known as the Cherokee Trail. Local tribes gathered ash for bows and held ceremonial dances in the nearby mountains to cure diseases. The use of ash for bows are said to be “good medicine” and this phrase gave the mountains, and later the national forest, their name: Medicine Bow.
Travelers along the Oregon, Mormon, Pioneer, California and Overland trails went across Wyoming in the central and southern corridors around 1840s, ’50s and ’60s. As many as half a million people may have traveled this corridor in the 19th century. To many, the environments of the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Great Basin seemed like another planet, full of strange and alien landscapes. Transportation through the years from the Overland Stagecoach, Union Pacific Railroad, Lincoln Highway, Early Air travel, Snowy Range Scenic Byway and Interstate 80 make Southeastern Wyoming a fun place to take a road trip even today!
A frontier military post built on July 19, 1866; Fort Sanders was originally named Fort John Buford. It was later renamed in honor of Civil War General William P. Sanders. Constructed mostly of wood, most of the fort deteriorated over time. Some of the original guardhouse stones are all that exist today. Erected to protect the Overland Trail travelers and workers constructing the Union Pacific Railway from hostile Indian attacks, the remnants of the old fort can still be seen three miles south of Laramie on Highway 287.
As the railroad moved westward, Wyoming end of track towns developed where needed, and not always in sequence. Some railroad workers moved in advance of the track laying, while others arrived with the construction. Temporary residents and business owners often moved with the railroad, but others chose to remain in the more settled towns such as Laramie.
Union Pacific Railroad track construction crews connected Laramie to the east coast on May 4, 1868. Passengers began arriving the same day and a regular train schedule was established less than a week later. The railroad brought in civilization, inspiring residents and newcomers to build a town out of the hell-on-wheels-style tent city. Laramie was Union Pacific’s western hub, but the company moved on when the first transcontinental railroad neared completion. Visitors can tour Depot Park to get up close and personal with the area’s ironclad history.
The oldest ranch in the county was the one started by Philip Mandel along the Overland Trail line (probably in 1862). Other ranches along the Laramie Valley included the Bath Brothers Ranch, which began in the spring of 1868, when Herman Bath and his immediate and extended family immigrated to the Wyoming Territory from Germany. Today, the Bath Brothers Ranch is 135 years old and remains in the Bath Family. In 2006 the Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office reinstated the Wyoming Centennial Farm and Ranch program, which seeks to honor Wyoming farms and ranches that have remained in the same family for more than 100 years. In 1947, Laramie’s first Jubilee Days Rodeo took place in celebration of Wyoming’s statehood. Rodeo’s roots and the cowboy culture run deep within Wyoming’s Wild.
Little Town on the Prairie. With this 1875 view, one would find it difficult to imagine that Laramie would eventually become a thriving community of 32,000 people. Endless wind, hard winters, and sparse population must have been extremely difficult, to say the least. What made Laramie a thriving community was the people that wanted to make a name for themselves and start a business in this town on the “Gem City of the Plains.” Entrepreneurs like the Ivinsons, the Trabings, the Prahls, the Cordiners, the Hollidays, the Wallis, the Baths, the Freund Brothers and other not so famous all of whom arrived early to help the community grow.
Laramie’s founding women made world history. Louisa Swain was the first woman in the United States to cast a ballot under laws granting women and men fully equal voting rights, Laramie, Wyoming Sept. 6, 1870. Eliza Stewart was the first woman formally subpoenaed to serve on a court jury. Laramie, Wyoming 1870 and Martha Symons Boies became the first woman in the United States appointed as a bailiff.
One of Wyoming’s oldest stone buildings, the Wyoming Territorial Prison housed more than 1,000 outlaws including the notorious Butch Cassidy. Built in 1872, the site served as a federal and state prison until 1903 when a new penitentiary was completed in Rawlins about 100 miles west of Laramie. The University of Wyoming was given the prison grounds to be repurposed into an experiment station for the College of Agriculture. In 1991, the historic site was opened to the public, and today, Wyoming State Parks manages the property as one of Albany County’s several historic museums.
Bill Nye, more formally known as Edgar Wilson Nye, was the first editor of the Laramie Boomerang. He named the paper for his mule because of what he described as the “eccentricity of his orbit.” As Nye’s son Frank said, something about the word “boomerang” piqued Nye’s imagination. “His mule, his mine, his newspaper, his (first) book (Bill Nye and Boomerang), all bore the trademark.”
The University of Wyoming (UW) started construction on Old Main in 1886, when Wyoming was still a territory. In September 1887, UW opened its doors with 42 students and 5 faculty members as befitted the university of “The Equality State”, both the students and faculty included women from the first day. Built on the outskirts of town in Laramie’s city park, Old Main was UW’s first building and held classes, the library, and administrative offices during the first years of the University’s existence.