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The History of Wyoming
as it impacted Goshen County

It is important to anyone researching in Wyoming to understand the many boundary changes the Cowboy State went through prior to achieving statehood.  Wyoming is the only state composed of territory acquired from all four of the principal annexations to the original United States.  Parts of the state have been claimed at times by five nations, and some 30 changes of boundary have resulted in the present rectangle now on the map.  Without knowledge of these changes, the researcher may hit one brick road after another in search of ancestral lines.  Therefore, I attempt here to relate the history of Wyoming as it impacted Goshen County.  However, not everything on this page will be directly about Goshen.  After all, our county is but one small part of a big story...

Note: Clicking on links will create a pop-up to additional information.  Only the link to the Almanac will take you to a new page on this site.

European Claims

In 1493, Spain claimed the vast territory of the Mississippi Valley under the papal 'bull' as part of the 'countries inhabited by infidels'. Her claim was given greater force by De Soto's discovery of the Mississippi River in 1541. The Spanish claim to the country east of the Rocky Mountains was superseded by that of France following the 1682 expedition of LaSalle, who gave the territory the name of Louisiana.  Zip ahead 121 years now to  three important land transactions.....

In 1803, the United States purchased from France a major part the area we know as Wyoming, including all of what would become Goshen County.  The territory since known by the name of the Louisiana Purchase encompassed what is now the states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota (or the greater part of it), North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, part of Colorado and that portion of Wyoming east of the Rocky Mountains. It also included Indian Territory and Oklahoma.  The Purchase was formed into the District of Louisiana in 1804, and then into the Territory of Louisiana in 1805.

The eastern part of the State, of which we are concerned, became part of Missouri Territory in 1812. Then, in 1834, that same eastern portion was designated as part of Indian Country.  Meanwhile, the western half of the State sat in the territories of Oregon and Washington; and other large or small parts of the state were later successively included in the territories of Idaho and Dakota.

When the Republic of Texas organized in 1836 the territory claimed by it included some of southwestern Wyoming.  In 1845, when Texas was annexed by the United States, parts of what later became Carbon, Albany, and Laramie Counties, Wyoming came into the Union.  The following year a treaty with Great Britain established the right of the United States to the 'Oregon Country,' including parts of western and north-central Wyoming.  The undisputed right to all of Wyoming came to the United States with the cession of territory by Mexico, through the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. 

On March 2, 1861 the U.S. Congress designated the northernmost part of the Louisiana Purchase as Dakota Territory.  It included all the land from the Minnesota border to the Rocky Mountains.

During the next 20 years Wyoming was, in whole or in part, under the jurisdiction of Dakota Territory, Nebraska Territory, Utah Territory, Idaho Territory, and again Dakota Territory

In the course of its history, Wyoming’s boundaries were changed some 30 times.  Throughout these years of active map changing, most of its land remained unknown and unexplored.


The Fur Trade and Westward Migration

Although western Wyoming was explored by 1807, it was not until the 1820s that the fur trade was organized. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company, established by General William Henry Ashley and Andrew Henry, began to send trappers into the Wyoming country in 1822. The first company expedition sent to Wyoming was wrought with difficulties. The party lost cargo when its boat got caught on a snag in the Missouri River; later the group lost 14 men to a Native American attack.

Trappers in Wyoming did not establish strategic forts or trading posts, but instead met annually, starting in 1825, often on the Green River to exchange goods and replenish supplies. Trappers led a lonely, solitary life and the rendezvous system, as the annual meetings were called, gave mountain men an occasion to socialize, drink, and gamble. In the 1830s as beaver populations diminished in present-day Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, trappers from other fur trading companies, such as the Hudson’s Bay Company and the American Fur Company, began to trap in Wyoming territory. Mountain men continued to assemble at the annual rendezvous until the 1840s when the beaver had almost disappeared due to over-trapping.  Barely twenty years after it began, the fur-trading era in Wyoming had ended. The period of the mountain man had passed and the age of the pioneer was beginning.

About the same time, there began a tide of emigration to Oregon and California. Westward-bound traffic became important after John C. Fremont led a government expedition across Wyoming in 1842. The big wave of western migration started in 1843, when about a thousand pioneers made the journey.  Many former trappers and mountaineers had settled along the trail, furnishing horses and other supplies to the migrants and purchasing debilitated stock to be put to pasture and sold the following year. Many also found work as guides on newly developing trails to the West.  

The principal corridor followed the Platte and Sweetwater rivers and crossed the Continental Divide at South Pass. This became known as the Oregon Trail and, after Brigham Young led the Mormon migration through Wyoming into Utah in 1847, as the Mormon Trail. It became known as the California Trail after 1849. 

The journey west was exceptionally difficult. One in 10 died along the way; many walked the entire two-thousand miles barefoot. The thousands of trailside graves give an indication of the toll taken by disease, starvation, attacks by Indians, and winter snows. Despite the hardships, telegraph stations (1861), the Pony Express (1860-61), and stagecoach and freight lines were established and used until the Overland Trail opened farther south.


Native American Hostilities and Increased Settlement

The Overland Trails

Expeditions guided by mountain men and led by Lieutenant John Charles Frémont explored the Wyoming country in 1842 and 1843. Frémont published glowing reports of its beauty. In 1847 another trail through the region was pioneered by Mormon emigrants on the northern side of the Platte River and headed for the Great Salt Lake. With the discovery of gold in California in 1848, many thousands more headed westward. The trails through Wyoming had become essential links between the Far West and the states to the east. From 1841 to 1868 an estimated 350,000 to 400,000 emigrants traveled through Wyoming, although very few stayed.

Up to the completion of the Union Pacific railroad these old trails teemed with life and business. Today all that remains are the old wagon ruts seen here and there and occasionally a grave. The heaviest travel was before 1855 but to show the magnitude of the freight traffic in later years, read the following figures: "In 1858 five thousand tons of government supplies and stores were conveyed across the country, up the Platte Valley and across the mountains to Utah. It required 2,000 heavy wagons, 2,000 ox-drivers and train-masters and from 18,0OO to 20,000 oxen and in continuous column represented a length of forty miles."

Displaced from their former homes in the east and west, and waging internecine warfare for control of the rich buffalo ranges, the tribes feared further encroachment by the settlers on their hunting grounds. They began attacking wagon trains, leading to prolonged warfare between the Indians and the U.S. government. Treaties were made and broken by both sides, and wars with the Sioux persisted, particularly north in the Powder River valley. Goshen County however, was relatively free of attacks.

Both skirmishes and pitched battles continued until 1868, when the Sioux were forced to sign a treaty at Fort Laramie by which they gave up most of their lands except for the northeastern part of the Wyoming Territory, which was created that same year.  The Indians also agreed not to interfere with track-laying for the Union Pacific Railroad through southern Wyoming.  Then gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874, and thousands of prospectors violated the treaty by moving into the Sioux reservation.  The battles between the Sioux and the U.S. cavalry began again.

Early pioneer settlers concentrated on running the railroad, exploiting coal and other minerals, and running livestock on the open range. Cattle ranching became big business, despite large losses of stock in the severe winter of 1887-88.  Few farmers settled in Wyoming under the Homestead Act of 1862, but ranchers and cowboys began filing claims and fencing the better range and waterholes legally and illegally toward the end of the century.

Settlers mostly became farmers, either buying land from the railroad, or homesteading 160 acres. The government gave the land to the settlers free if they lived on it and improved it for a certain number of years. If they were willing to plant and care for trees, they could receive an additional 160 acres as well.

In the mid-1860s the white population of the Wyoming country numbered less than 1,000, most of whom lived around Fort Laramie or Fort Bridger. In 1867.  A gold rush, stimulated by discoveries at South Pass (1867), brought the first heavy influx of settlers to that region; the flow was increased by the uncovering of vast coal deposits in SW Wyoming. Probably the greatest stimulus to permanent settlement was the completion in 1868 of the Wyoming sector of the Union Pacific Railroad. Towns and coal mines sprang up beside the tracks, and trade thrived on the demands of the road crews and the new settlers. By the time the rails across Wyoming were completed in 1868, the area’s population had reached 11,000. Laborers, merchants, speculators, miners, and adventurers filled the makeshift towns that sprang up along the tracks. More railroads and irrigation extension aided in the early development of the state.  

United States soldiers came to protect the wagon trains from hostile Indians, and established forts along the trails. The most important of the western military posts was Fort Laramie in southeastern Wyoming. Fort Laramie became a haven for gold seekers and weary emigrants. It was also an important station for the Pony Express and the Overland stagecoaches, and it served as a vital military post in the wars with the Plains Indians. The post witnessed the growth of the open range cattle industry, the coming of homesteaders and the building of towns which marked the final closing of the wild, western frontier in 1890.

With arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad and subsequent development of the cattle industry, people began to think about the establishment of a separate Wyoming territory.


Territorial Status and Economic Development


Territorial status and the name Wyoming were first proposed in 1865 by Ohio congressman James M. Ashley. In 1868, after defeat of efforts to name the territory Lincoln, the new territory of Wyoming was created from lands once part of the Oregon, Dakota, Utah, and Idaho territories.

A meeting in Cheyenne on September 27, 1867 began the effective organization of Laramie County, which had been created by the Dakota Legislature the previous January with Fort Sanders as county seat.  For the time being, all of the Wyoming country comprised just one county of Dakota Territory.  Carved from sections of Dakota, Utah, and Idaho territories, Wyoming Territory came into existence by act of Congress on July 25, 1868. The territorial government, with Cheyenne as her capital, was formally inaugurated May 19, 1869. The first territorial governor, John A. Campbell, appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant, took his oath of office on April 15, 1869.

At the time of its organization, Wyoming Territory had already been divided into four counties: Laramie, established January 9, 1867; Carter (later Sweetwater), established December 27, 1867; Carbon and Albany, December 16, 1868. These counties extended from the northern to the southern boundaries of the territory.  A portion of Utah and Idaho, extending from Montana (including Yellowstone Park) to the Wyoming-Utah boundary, was annexed and named Uinta County.  By the time Wyoming achieved statehood on 10 July 1890, eight more counties had been created from the original five.  Today, there are a total of 23 counties in Wyoming:




Parent Counties

1867 Carter   Original County out of Dakota Territory; renamed Sweetwater, 1869
  Laramie   Original County out of Dakota Territory
1868 Albany   Original County out of Dakota Territory
  Carbon   Original County out of Dakota Territory
1869 Sweetwater   Original County out of Dakota Territory; formerly Carter, renamed 1869
  Uinta   Original County out of Utah and Idaho Territories
1875 Crook 1877 Laramie and Albany
  Pease 1877 Created out of Carbon and Sweetwater; renamed Johnson 1879
1879 Johnson 1877 Originally created as Pease County out of Carbon and Sweetwater; renamed Johnson 1879
1884 Fremont 1884 Sweetwater
1888 Converse 1888 Albany and Laramie
  Natrona 1890 Carbon
  Sheridan 1888 Johnson
1890 Big Horn 1897 Sheridan, Johnson and Fremont
  Weston 1890 Crook
1909 Park 1911 Big Horn
1911 Campbell 1913 Weston and Crook
  Goshen 1913 Laramie
  Hot Springs 1913 Fremont, Big Horn and Park
  Niobrara 1913 Converse
  Washakie 1913 Big Horn
1913 Lincoln   Uinta
  Platte   Laramie
1921 Sublette 1923 Fremont and Lincoln
  Teton 1922  Lincoln


Economic Development

In 1890, one-fourth of Wyoming's population at that time was foreign born, originating from England, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, Canada, Russia, Denmark, Wales, China, Norway, Italy, Austria, and France. Population increase was steady, advancing from about 9,000 in 1870 to over 90,000 in 1900 (see the Almanac on this site). With an expanding population frontiersmen rapidly (and somewhat chaotically) established schools.

Following Statehood, no large industries or population centers developed. However, Wyoming continued to advance economically as huge herds of cattle were driven up over the Texas Trail. Native American resistance had been suppressed by the late 1870s. The Arapaho were placed on the Wind River Reservation with their former enemies, the Shoshone, and cattlemen safely moved their herds to grasslands throughout Wyoming.

Like other states, Wyoming underwent considerable hardship during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Agricultural prices dropped, a number of mines closed down, and oil production declined. Difficulties were increased by a severe and prolonged drought that began in 1926 and continued well into the 1930s. Large areas of land, especially in southeastern Wyoming, where dry farming had been prevalent, were completely dried up.  In 1933 Wyoming became the last state to request financial aid during the Great Depression. In 1934 Congress adopted the Taylor Grazing Act, which was designed to help avoid overgrazing. With the aid of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service some parched regions were reclaimed and returned to use as irrigated pasture land.  Additionally, the economy was bolstered by oil production, and the federal government constructed dams and hydroelectric stations, including those of the Kendrick Project on the North Platte River.

Dry farming, producing hay, wheat, and barley, is supplemented by the more diversified yield (especially sugar beets and dry beans) of irrigated fields. Most of the inhabitants of the state derive their livelihood directly or indirectly from farming or ranching. The most valuable farm commodities, in terms of cash receipts, are cattle, hay, sugar beets, and wheat. Sparse grasses over much of the region necessitate a large grazing area for each animal, and the average ranch in Wyoming is larger than in any state except Arizona. Sheep graze in places unfit for cattle, and both sheep and cattle range by permit in the national forests. Cooperative grazing tracts are on the increase. Horses, a prized essential in the practice of ranching, are carefully raised and trained.

Mining is the largest sector of the state’s economy, accounting for about one quarter of the gross state product. Oil wells were first drilled in the 1860s, and today petroleum is the state’s most important mineral. The production of petroleum and petroleum products is centered in Casper. Natural gas is also of considerable economic significance. By the late 1980s, Wyoming ranked first in the United States in the production of coal, sodium carbonate, and uranium. Considerable amounts of gold, iron, and various clays are also mined. Important manufactures include processed foods and clay, glass, and wood products.

Wyoming has almost 10 million acres of forested land. The state’s natural beauty makes tourism a major source of revenue. In addition, the multitude of rodeos, annual roundups, and frontier celebrations and the presence of numerous dude ranches draw a large number of vacationers every year.